THE HEN IN THE HEDGE

 

Who today is familiar with the names Black Minorca, Wyandotte, Light Sussex, Rhode Island Reds? There are many other varieties of hens, but these were probably the best known. In every farmyard, but also in many a suburban and even city garden or backyard. Not cooped up in houses all day, but rambling around for any extra grubs of scraps they might find in their environment. A useful aid to the household economy and, when on a farmhouse scale, traditionally the responsibility and the source of cash income for the farmer's wife. Today she may have a part time or full time job off the farm.

Some people will still remember the child's job of hunting the hedges when a hen was known to be "laying outside". Nowadays hens are part of a large manufacturing and marketing process. You hardly ever see, even on back roads, the scurry to safety of one of them as your car approaches. Though, until recently, hens could be seen in the hedges alongside the main Navan to Kells road, just about the mill at Martry. With the widening of the road they seem not to be out foraging, but are hopefully in the back yard.

A colleague swears he hasn't seen a hen since he was in Poland, where he often came across the old style holding with manure heap, hens and ducks and small duck pond. This comes to mind on looking up a book which most usefully reminds us of the artefacts with which we lived over the past two hundred years, with hundreds of black and white drawings on the building of a house; the kitchen and hearth furniture; washday; cooking utensils, and implements used in ploughing, sowing, birdscaring, beekeeping, harvesting and generally the tools of the farmyard.

A remarkable production by Olive Sharkey, Old Days Old Ways, published in 1985 by the O'Brien Press. Some things to amaze us today, almost Heath Robinson we might think in our superior way. There is a woven rush door used before wooden doors could be afforded. A woven bucket, too and a hanging woven pear shaped nest basket. Harnen stands for bread of many patterns.

Estyn Evans was the first person most of us knew as the historian of such effects. Olive Sharkey has done a magnificent job.