Making The Rick - 20th Aug. 1949

20th August 1949


Nothing races faster than time. We are apt to forget this occasionally, but not for long, for always something occurs to remind us forcibly that time, indeed, is fleeting. It seems only a few days ago since the sound of the first mowing machines of the season was heard in the meadows; now most of the wynds have disappeared off the fields, and the haggards are gradually being filled, with little outward show or fuss. If hay-barns were not so numerous there would be much more work to be done; much more coming and going, much more activity to be noticed these days.


The coming of the hay-barns spelt the end of many of the big days of the countryside. Wynds can be drawn into the hay-barns in ones or twos in the in the evening after work, at slack hours in the morning, or whenever opportunity offers. There is no need to set aside a special day for the task; it can be spread over many days –- a few hours to-day, a few hours tomorrow, and so on. But before the hay-barns raised their iron canopies over the hay haggards things were different. The work could not be done in dribs and drabs then; it had to be done in one great day of eating and effort – the day of the rick.


Should rick be spelt "reek," I wonder? For that is how it is pronounced by the people who should know –- the people who make the ricks. A rick, as almost all of you are aware, is round, with a conical head. Sometimes, though rarely of late, the hay is built, not into a rick, but into a siog, which is rectangular in shape. Siog is a pure Irish word, for which I never heard an English equivalent.

I can almost hear country readers saying now: "What a lot of raimeis to be wasting paper with; sure everyone knows what a rick or a siog is". Country readers may be right, but let them remember that there is a possibility that there may fall on these lines the eye of a city dweller, who wouldn't know a siog from a sidhe-ghaoithe.


The day of the rick was, and is, a great day. When we were going to school we always looked forward to it. Ricks were made somewhat later in the year then; I think -– in September, even in October, at times. Chief attraction of the day was the long drives on the float -– than which nothing was more thrilling or comfortable, according to youthful imagination. Thirty or forty could easily pack themselves on the hay float, as many as possible sitting around the sides and tails with their legs dangling. Those not so fortunately placed had to content themselves with a seat on the floor of the float, which was a comfortable enough position, until the vehicle gathered speed, travelling over uneven fields and out stony gaps. Then with every bump you bounced from an inch to ten inches off the hard timber, and felt that with the next bounce you'd be shattered into smithereens.


Arrived at the wynd you jumped off the float. Willing hands then pulled the edge of the wynd clear of the entangling grass, to make way for the rope that would draw it up on the float. The float was "heeled" and kept "heeled" by six of eight youthful helpers, who stood on its tail while it was being backed under the edge of the wynd. Strong hands then got to work on wheel or handles, and inch by inch, foot by foot, and yard by yard, the wynd was drawn up the inclined floor of the float, until at last, when all the wynd sat fair and square on the float, its weight lowered the front of the car, raised its tail and caused it to clang into its normal position. Immediately the float set out for the haggard, leaving behind it a red-brown circle in the lush green after-grass that for many weeks would tell where the wynd stood.


But in the golden days of rick-making, that came and went before our time, there was no talk of floats. The wynds were forked on to common carts then, and an expert curled it into rolls at the corners and built a firm secure load that a hurricane wouldn't upset. The place where the rick was to be made was cleared, and a circular bed of rushes or old hay was laid down. On top of this the rick would be built. Three or four men worked on the rick, one taking the hay from the man on the ground, and pitching it into the rick-maker, who put each forkful in its proper place. Two more were mostly engaged in tramping on the hay, "possing" it to make it firm.


When the rick got too high to fork the hay on to it from the ground, a bench was erected. A bench usually meant a farm cart supported by some barrels and planks. This platform could be made as high as desired by loading hay on it. One man, or two if necessary, stood on the bench, took the hay from the men on the ground, and pitched it up to the men on the rick. Sometimes a ladder was used instead of a bench. Men were placed at regular intervals up along the ladder. The lowest man was given a fork of hay, he raised it aloft over his head, and the man above him grasped it, and passed it on. The empty fork was passed down in the same manner from one to one. You had to be careful when working on the ladder: an insecure foothold on the rung, or awkward handling of a fork, and out you'd fall on your face and hands, bringing all underneath with you.


Early on the morning of the rick the first neighbours began to arrive. Nowhere was the 'praise-worthy custom of "coring" more in evidence than at the rick. Half the townland came to give a helping hand. The people who were being helped made ample preparation for the "mehul." A few big earthenware jars of mysterious content were brought from the village on the night preceding operations, extra cakes were baked, and half a drill of spuds was dug. On the rick day there would be "lashings and lavings" of food and drink, nua gacha bidh is sean gacha dighe," home-cured bacon, white cabbage, floury spuds, jugs of milk, delicious bastable bread, gallons of tea; and for those whose thirst still remained unquenched, mugs of frothy porter.


Rick-day was a feast day, a day of hard back-breaking work, lightened with snatches of song, stories, tricks and practical jokes. Everyone was in a merry mood. The great days of rick-making almost invariably concluded with a "big night" of dancing, feasting and fun. Modern methods and machinery may have been fewer in those days, and work harder; but there was more laughter and song to be heard, than, before the hay-barn came to cast its shadow over the haggard.


As most of you are aware, I have extended the closing date of my local History Competition to September. The last date now for receiving entries is September 30th. Entries so far received have been very few. Is it possible that only the merest handful know the history of their native districts? Can you stand at your doorway and recite the story of all the countryside within a radius of 3 or 4 miles of you? If you can, write it down and post it to me. Remember, it is local history I want, the history of your locality or parish. Much of this history may never appear in books. Seek it out: only tell me where you got it, whether from some old person, or in some book or paper. I am awarding valuable book prizes for the best entries – In Irish or English – received before closing date. Post your entry to: "An Mangaire Sugach," c/o "The Limerick Leader," 54 'Connell Street, Limerick.


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