Some Autumn Day:-
It was the time of the year when we'd be off picking the spuds and other "edible" stuff weaing our boots with leather laces, no "wet weather gear" I 'm afraid Fr. O'Reilly - a priest at the Commission seems to have been under the impression that in the Industrial Schools we had clothes for all seasons!
We'd start marching to the fields in pairs at 9:30am and would arrive at the fields at 10:00am or so. We'd be in the fields sometimes until 8:00 pm, depending on how much was to be harvested. Most days we finished at 4:30pm and we'd be marched back for our "tea" of skinners (a thick piece of bread), with a bit of dripping and a mug of tea. During our days in the field we would sometimes get skinners and dripping and other times "Oxtail" soup. The soup was basically dark brown stock with a thick coating of grease but after working in the fields of "Ferryhouse Farms" it tasted much much better than rawish green spuds, or beet, or turnips or whatever else we managed to filch from the hedges.
"Ferryhouse Farms" consisted 80 acres, not all of it tilled as they had fruit trees, tomatoes, salad crops and a modern Dairy Farm with cattle. If memory serves me I believe in my time the Dairy Farm had 120 cattle. The cattle were regularly washed after leaving the milking parlours. The place was scrubbed from top to bottom literally and hosed down. Some of us felt that getting out of the workshops or classes for a few weeks was okay as it was a change from the drudgery of knitting, sewing, stitching etc., even though the work in the fields was back-breaking and dirty.
Some of even looked forward to the "shnagging
" of the turnips because we used them as a "supplement" to our usual "food". And at the time of the year there were plenty of blackberries, haws, elderberries and Devils Berries in the hedges.
We'd nominate a few of us to sneak off into the hedges to "acquire" our real harvest. I don't want to paint a romantic picture of this work but each fistful of blackberries we could "acquire" was a victory for us against "Them", we'd have "feasts" in the fields and still have plenty over for our return. There was many of us who had an almost permanent purple colour around our mouths. The Devils Berries had almost the same effect as watery cider as it would lift our spirits and make us more cheerful. These berries were fairly rare and that's probably a good thing as we always, always vomited after scoffing them. The vomit was very white and thick and I've heard since that they're supposed to be poisonous but we probably built up a resistance to them.
On the walk to the fields the sides of the roads would be covered with leaves of all colours and we used to drag one leg as we walked, this let us gather up huge mounds of leaves where we could then kick them and scatter them some more. It was just a childish thing with no harm and I'm sure we've all done it but Father Barry took exception to myself and Joe as we seemed to be having a riot. So he detailed the both of us to stay back and gather all the leaves around the front of Ferryhouse and bring them to the furnace to be burned. That meant we'd have no "diet supplements" that day! Anyway we made a game of it and gathered a few huge mounds of leaves on the road outside Ferryhouse, eventually we gathered them into one gigantic mound and played "cowboys & indians", or "king of the castle". Most of the time though we just dived into the leaves and burrowed our way through the mound.
The job of "bagging" the leaves and taking them to the furnace was forgotten and we eventually had moved all the leaves down to the banks of the River Suir where we proceeded to scatter them into the river. The sight of all these multicoloured leaves flowing down a fast flowing river is something I've never forgotten. The length of this carpet of leaves flowing down the river was at least 500 yards long and I'm sure plenty of people downstream got sight of it. I've always wondered what they thought of this almost endless carpet of leaves as it sped by them.
There were very few times in those places when we were allowed to be children - but that was one time .... a long time ago.