Well-known West Cork writer and historian Diarmuid Kingston is the author of the widely acclaimed book ‘Beleaguered, A History of the RIC in the War of Independence’, the first edition of which has been sold out. He also writes poetry and some of his poems such as ‘The Gathering’ have been published in places as far apart as the US and Australia. He hopes to publish his first composition of poetry entitled ‘Poetry, Prose and Verse’ before the end of 2014. He holds an M.A (Hons) in Local History from UCC.
This reflective verse is a true account of my first time being on a thresher at twelve years of age, in the late fifties. It was owned by brothers Con and Patsy Coakley from Ballinglanna, Ring, Clonakilty.
‘Keep those sheaves coming’ – his voice carrying above the whirring whine of the speeding drum as he loosened the sheaves and plunged them head first into the narrow nerving chasm where golden grains were flailed clean segregated from chaff and straw.
Con – the feeder man – in command of the eight foot high floor of the Ransomes forty eight inch mill, his status affirmed by his central position in the box behind the drum.
An uncut sheaf disappears down into the spinning abyss – a loud bark followed by a groan, as the mill struggles to ingest the intrusion, then a low-pitched receding moan, as it slows, slowly, agonisingly, to a stop.
The long driving belt from the Fordson Major lies curled up like a limp snake on the grass, cast off its driving pulley by the shock of impact.
‘What happened, what’s wrong’, the question asked as if they didn’t know and they glad of the respite for a few minutes. ‘Ah, the belt is off, the young lad let down a whole sheaf ’. Time for a mug or glass from the keg, for the pioneer, a mineral or red lemonade.
‘Tis mighty gear altogether’, the neighbour said, ‘twill make short work of the haggard, if we can do without stops, we should be through before the dark’.
Men in open-necked shirts with rolled-up sleeves grasping long-handled two pronged pikes stand silhouetted, picturesquely framed against the azure sky of the crisp September morning. Round towered stacks of oats and barley stand sentry-like at each side of the threshing mill awaiting denouement.
Sheaves piked forward with pin-point accuracy onto the floor of the thresher. Each sheaf correctly turned, the heads of grain facing forward. ‘Neallie is the most important man in the haggard’, said my father, ‘he will keep going all day long at that same pace’.
The steady stroke, a half turn and the lift, a flick of the wrists, the sheaf flies off the shiny prongs like a stone from a catapult, landing on the boards at the sheaf-cutters outside hand. A move replicated this day, many days, thousands of times over. This man could swop his pike for a pair of oars or a camán any other day.
I was told get up on the thresher when the usual sheaf cutter had to go to a relatives funeral. ‘That knife you have there would not cut butter, here, try this one, it would slice the devil’. The difference apparent straight away, no need for pressure on the handle, just a light touch to sever the sisal.
The whole sheaf escapade now receding into the hazy autumn evening. Dusk creeping in allayed to tiredness, then a sharp nick and a spurt of blood. ‘Show me that’, says he, with a concern unfeigned, ‘ah, the blood makes it look a lot worse than it is, we are nearly finished anyway, you can get the dog to lick it’.