The Shape of All Our Yesterdays

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We will all gather proudly this year to recall the story of our school. One hundred years is a worthy period on which to reflect. Our school has established itself on the landscape. Its grey shape will conjure up many memories both happy and otherwise for the scholars of yesteryear. Many of these memories will no doubt be recalled and retold in the days ahead. Is not this among the more important reasons for our celebrations providing the setting and the atmosphere and the occasion when these stories can be retold, with suit able embellishment? It is good to reflect on the great doings of our yesterdays on the playing field and in the classroom. They have played no small part in shaping our todays.

There is however, the longer story of the plain of which the school itself, old as it is, is but a chapter, albeit an important one. It came into existence on a plain already well traversed by the passage of many feet.
The ordnance survey map shows the surrounding countryside dotted with the decaying evidence of human endeavour for at least a thousand years. The surveyor has done his job well, he has with diligence measured and recorded all that the countryside chooses to reveal to him. For the most part however, the crumbling walls and the raised banks keep their ancient story.

Cheek by jowl with our school lie the ruined remains of a habitation, that speaks a story so much older than ours. We would love to know some of the details of their lives and ambitions, what was the shape of all their days. Occasionally the half-remembered snippet inexplicably captured and held in the local memory will yield a tantalising clue. For the most part however, we are left with the scantiest of circumstantial evidence and must wait until the resources and motivation can be brought to bear to persuade the banks and stones to yield up their ancient story.

These “keepers of our yesterdays” were a strong sturdy people. The mortared walls, three foot thick of a keep measuring thirty feet by fifteen tells us as much. The double embankment with a josse or moate between enclosing a space of over a rood of ground speaks to us of a strongly entrenched people. If we consider the amount of labour that needed to be committed to the construction of such an elaborate edifice in the days long before JCB’s, cranes or mechanical dumpers then we will readily understand that here were a people of quite considerable wealth who believed strongly in themselves and their right to defend what was theirs.

We know something of them from our knowledge of their contemporaries. In one very important way they were so like us. The cow was central to their economy just as it is to the dairy farmers of Carnaun today. Like their latter-day successors, their thoughts would have dwelt often on milk yields, fodder provision, herding and pasture, disease prevention and the building up of a strong healthy herd. They may not have needed the modern mechanism of creamery vats and creamery cheques but their dependence on the cow was more direct. On her both they and their families depended directly for food, footwear, protective clothing, harness glue and to a lesser extent fuel and light. Animal needs and basic human needs don’t change that much, it is only the ways in which we supply for these needs that change. The slatted sheds may have replaced the stockyard or “buaille”, the milking parlour may have replaced the milking pen or the forage harvester the silage pit and the grain silo may have replaced the good oak forests where our fourteenth century ancestor drove his cattle for winter forage and shelter. But some things do not change. The rich plains of Tobarnaveen and Ballybacka still provide the pasture and grazing as they have for hundreds of years, and in doing so, provide us with that tangible link with our past.

Like his modern counterpart, our middle ages farmer would have keen ambitions for farm income, consolidation and enterprise expansion. His thoughts however, would not have run on western package schemes or EC initiatives or even headage payments. The risk-taking he understood had nothing to do with bank loans and repayments. His highly skilled and no less arduous methods of herd expansion had all to do with the simple expedience of cattle raiding. Here was a jousling much more to his mettle than any negotiations with the bank manager. In the one single enterprise he stood a chance of doubling his herd and at the same time by mixing the stock eliminated all danger of inbreeding. Together with that there was the possibility of a good few weeks sport with his neighbours as he showed the braggarts from Turloughmore or Abbert or Annaghdown who were masters and all for the risk of a few broken heads. What better way he might have thought to educate his fledging sons in the ways of the world and preparing them to maintain the family heritage than by having them along.

This is but vain musing, seeking to put flesh on the bare bones of our knowledge. So little do we know of their living and loving, their education, their striving, their winning and their losing. Yet we have a common heritage and common links of which the plain and the cow appear the most durable. As we enter the 3rd millennium, that may change forever the shape of both agriculture and society in this part of the world. It is a sobering thought that future people as far removed from us as we are from them, may well link us both together as “Herders of the Cattle on the Plains“.

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About this record

Written by Michael O'Malley

Published here 05 Feb 2021

Page 286 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.

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