Gold On Our Hillsides - 11th May 1946


Gold On Our Hillsides: Text Version

11th May 1946


There can be few lovelier sights than a hillside ablaze with golden furze. From the green and purple and brown of the surrounding country the glory of the yellow blossoms bursts into view, as if nature had grown tired of sober hues, and in a moment of recklessness had poured the colours of the sunset down the slope of some shadow covered hill.

There is intoxication, music, magic, even sauciness in a field of blossoming furze. There is brilliance, there is life in furze, and a rare perfume, that some one recently suggested we should bottle and sell as superior even to Eau de Cologne. Above, and beyond all, there is beauty, the glittering golden beauty of nature.


Beautifying the countryside is not the only use of the furze though the golden glory of a furze bush in spring is justification enough for its existence. Formerly dyes were made from its blossoms, and if the dyed article could capture any of the glitter of nature's colouring it must have been a pretty sight to see.

In some places furze are chopped up and fed to horses. This practice was more general some time ago. Little plots of furze used to be grown specially for the purpose.

Talk of furze reminds me of an incident in the life of Barney Wattletoes, that most wonderful character in Charles Kickham's immortal "Knocknagow." One day Barney was sent out with two packets, one containing furze seed, to be sown on top of a new ditch; the other containing turnip seed, to be sown in a drill. Barney did as directed –- or thought he did, but he had a great habit of doing things "bun os cionn." In due course the seedlings came up -– a fine crop of young furze down the centre of the garden, and a still finer crop of turnips on top of the new ditch.


A famous Irish patriot used to gather furze seed to send to America. He was Thomas Russell of Cork -– "the Man From God-Knows Where." He was one of the leaders of the United Irishmen, and was hanged in Downpatrick Jail in 1798. Mrs. Florence Wilson's fine ballad –- "The Man From God-Knows Where" deserves to be known by every Irishman who takes an interest in his country's past.

"I was brave and near to the end of the throng,

Yet I knowed the face again,

An 'I knowed the set, an' I knowed the walk,

An' the sound of his strange up-country talk,

For he spoke out right an' plain.

Then he bowed his head to the swinging rope,

Whiles I said 'Please God' to his dying hope

And 'Amen' to his dying prayer,

That the Wrong would cease, and the Right prevail;

For the man that they hanged at Downpatrick Jail

Was the Man from God-Knows Where!"

More than 150 years before Thomas Russell "bowed his head to the swinging rope," the people of Ireland used to recite the lines of an old prophecy, which looked to the furze for the sign of the coming of freedom.

"Bliain a dachad beidh aitean gan siob gan bhlath,

'S an bhliain I n-aice beidh Sasanaigh sinte ar lar."

- "In the year'40 the furze neither flower nor seed will show.

In the year to follow the Saxon will be beaten low."

It may be that no furze blossomed in 1640, but when the Gael took up arms in the year that followed the Saxon was not beaten low.


There is a tale in Irish about two men who had a disagreement as to which of them had the right to some furze growing on a hillside. For a long time they were bad friends. Then one day the two of them met, and one of them said:-

"Imtheochaidh a dtiocfaidh is a dtainig riamh;

Ach ni imtheochaidh na grasta o Dhia,

Imthecoaidh mise is tusa as an ait seo,

Is beidh aitean annso nar ndiaidh."

Roughly translated these lines mean:

For all to be and all that was will pass,

And only God's grace remain;

When you and I will have passed,

The furze will bloom the same.

That piece of poetic wisdom ended a feud of long standing. For that reason we may call the furze the flower of reconciliation, and think even kindlier of our neighbours than we do, every time we see a hill top peeping above a sea of gold.

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