The Nire Valley

The Nire Valley
The Heart of the Comeragh Mountains.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Shearing sheep.

Hand shears

Woolly black-faced sheep munch heather and grasses on the slopes of the Nire Valley. They are herded in during summer for shearing; contractors with electric shears make short work of it. This wasn't always the case however, as up until the 1980’s they were all shorn by hand! It was a unique system of shared labour, and a reflection of the spirit of the Nire people.

It was a community endeavour; farmers consulted Old Moore’s Almanac for long range forecasts, and listened anxiously to the Wireless for the weatherman to ‘give a few fine days’. By some mysterious decree it was decided that, for example, the shearing would  begin in Lyre or Knocknaree, and all of the sheep-men would turn up there, before moving to the next farmer and so on and so forth.

Neighbours with Collie dogs rounded up the sheep and brought them in from the hill.  Each farmer had a distinct mark on his sheep, e.g. blue on the ‘poll’ or head and red across the back. They would be penned in ‘terrots’ or fields surrounded by stone walls lower on Croughdubh and separated out into rams, ewes, weathers and hoggots and shorn accordingly. The Shearing usually took place in the ‘haggard’ beside the house. 

Every shearer brought their own shears, two very sharp blades arranged similarly to scissors, the hinge being at the end farthest from the point and bound securely by leather twine.  It was a specialist skill honed to perfection over time. The shearer worked on one knee and had his own way of holding the sheep, using his ‘good’ hand to clip away the wool.

The fleece was wrapped into a special fold, the cleaner woollier side turned inside and packed for collection by O’Donnell’s Wool Merchants. They worked heads bowed, to a rhythm of clipping sounds and bleating sheep. The smell of greasy wool carried on the breeze. Children usually ‘raddled’ the sheep. A stick was dipped into a can of paint and the sheep then marked on the head or the rump or across the back in the right colours and woe betide you if you got this process wrong.  The women were relegated to the kitchen and worked as hard inside the house as the men did outside.

The shearers retired to the farmhouse for ‘the feed’, usually bacon and cabbage with a ‘hape of spuds’ washed down by the "tae" before the ‘Session’ started. Porter was served as was the ‘Uisce Beatha.’ Everyone had a party piece, a favourite being a resonation of the match from the previous Sunday … ‘Hello and welcome to Fraher Field, it’s a great day here, the first-half was even, the second-half was even worse ...’  ‘Courting’ was a feature of the Shearings and matches were made. Waltzes and quick steps were common, and the night was never complete without the ‘Sliabh Gua Set'. Though this tradition has past, the sense of community remains steadfast and strong in the beautiful Nire valley.

by Maura Barrett.

Sheep Pen in the Nire

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Praying in a tea-pot.

The ruin of the Church

In 1847 Clonmel Architect William Tinsley designed a house in Ballymacarbry, for mill manager and landlord's agent, Abraham Coates.  Tinsley is also credited with designing the Protestant church that 
was built near Deerpark Bridge about a mile from Ballymacarbry village.  I have not been able to find any documentary evidence of this, nor can I see his trademark “palmette” on the building, but that may have been over the main door, which was demolished, but there is strong indications that Tinsley designed the Church as his daughter Ellen was married to Charles Fry rector of Kilronan (Fourmilewater).    
"Palmette" on the White Memorial Theater Clonmel

The church, the teapot, as it was locally called, was for the landlord and his staff, it is a small chapel that seated only about 30 people. Local lore tells of a young boy, who was crippled, was abandoned in the locality, he was taken in by locals and became a gifted stone-mason, and he supposedly was the mason who built the Church. Another piece of lore is that a Downey family lived on the land and they were evicted, a number of years ago a Ballymacarbry woman met a Downey who told her that their family had a story of them being evicted so the landlord could build a Church.

William Tinsley was an important architect and he built and designed many "Great Houses" including what is now the Minella Hotel, White Memorial Theater, extensions to Curraghmore (stable etc) and several great houses in and around Fethard like Grove. He later emigrated to Indiana USA.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Whorts and fraocháns.

If you are out on the mountain this time of year you will come across whorts also called fraocháns or bilberries. These delightful black berries with a shimmer of electric blue are in full season. They are a real treat on the mountain.
Whorts were once picked on a commercial basis and in 1941 Ireland exported almost 400 tons (CSO) of the berry to Britian.
Michael J. Conry's book "Picking Bilberries, Fraocháns and Whorts in Ireland" goes into great detail on the commercial and socio-economic importance of the crop. Michael interviews many people who picked whorts in the Comeraghs, Knockmealdowns, Galtys and Slievenamon.
For me I love to pick them with wild raspberries, then blend both berries separately and pour the resulting syrup over a slice of vanilla ice-cream. Magic.
Whorts growing in the Nire Valley.