Back in my day

When I was young a long time ago, we lived on a farm in a place called the Illies. There were nine children in the family and we all had jobs to do every day. Our land at the front of the house sloped down three fields to the river and the field at the river was the longest and the steepest. The field in front of the house was called “the shoemakers garden” and the long one at the river was called “the black park”. At the bottom of this field the river Crana gently meandered on its way to the sea in Lough Swilly in Buncrana. When you crossed the river you were in the hill (or the bog as some people call it) and you started to climb uphill again to get to the turf. We usually walked to and from the hill or maybe the horse and cart might be going and you would get a lift. In later years when daddy had a tractor we would sit in the trailer. To get across the river you had to jump the steppingstones which we called the “steps” these were large stones placed in the shallow part of the river so you did not get wet crossing. If there was a flood and a stone or two got moved you might have to jump further. We always threw stones in the water trying to splash the person on the steppingstones. On the way back from the hill we would take off our shoes and walk across in the water. You had to be careful because sometimes there was slime which you could slip on and fall into the river. We liked playing at the river and in the summer time when the well was dry and there was no water my mother sometimes had to take the washing down to the river, light a fire to heat the water and wash the clothes by hand. A little way above the steps was what was known as the big hole, this was much deeper and we were afraid of it and more careful. My brother sometimes tried to swim in the big hole in the summertime but it was difficult to see where the stones were. They also fished in the river with homemade rods and sometimes caught a trout which they would proudly bring home. There were tall pine trees on the bank of the river and we used to climb them especially if there were nests in them. In Summer and into Autumn the cows would be in the hill all day. In the evening they would come down from the hill and cross the river to eat the good grass or corn which would be growing in the black park. We could see them wandering down at their leisure from our house and as soon as they started to move two of us would be sent to the river to “hurd” the cows, this meant keeping the cows on the hill side of the river and out of the crops. This job we hated even though we were beside the river and could play there, but the biggest problem was the midges small flies which bite and make you itchy. They were worse in the evenings because it was sheltered and calm at the river. We seemed to have to stay there for ages, you could not go very far away as the cows were very crafty and would try to cross if you moved away at all.