Selling Turf in Sligo

In this story Reco and Cecil make a trip to Sligo on a horse and cart in wintertime. Reco is twenty-two years old and Cecil is nineteen.Whatever your means of travel it is some 16 miles from Boggaun to Sligo, avoiding steep hills, and the return is shorter by 3 miles if you take the route over Benbo Mountain.  

A shower passes over Benbo Mountain, seen from O’Donnell’s Rock.
Image from Google maps.

Their Mother Annie sees them off to the bog.

“After days of rain, it finally stopped. Before lunchtime Reco and Cecil set off to the bog on two empty carts, the horses well fed. I made them up a basket with eggs, bread and bottles of tea. They would need it when they got to the top of O’Donnell’s Rock. There’s be no shelter up there, a cold wind always blows, worse in November. Maybe they’ll hunker down behind the turf stacks for a while. I was up there once, in the summer but it was enough, I’ll happily leave it to the men. It’ll be after dark when they get back, there’s not much daylight now. And tomorrow they’ll have a longer and harder day, if they can get through the floods.”

Their Father Richard sends them to Sligo Town.

“There’s a powerful price to be got for turf, what with the curse-ed Germans sinking all the coal boats. Arragh, we should’ve gone into the war with England, this neutral thing’s a cod, we’ll pay for it yet, mind my words. I bought extra turbary up on O’Donnell’s Rock these last few years, it’s paying black gold now. Reco and Cecil are taking two load to Sligo tomorrow morning and we might get another two off next week if the weather holds. It will be a long day for them, but they are young, there’ll be no loss on them. The radio forecast says it’s to stay dry and I’ve arranged for their cousin to meet them in the town and make sure all is well. Anyways, I had harder in my day.”

A neighbour meets them on a flooded Sox Line.

“I met the two boys coming out of the Bonet flood water on Sox Line.  I was coming home from Dromahair with a bag of flour on the bar of the bike. They were taking the long road to Sligo, on account of the full carts. Cecil looked soaked and miserable. Apparently, he was leading the horse through the flood, couldn’t see the edge of the road and fell into a pool of water. Must’ve have come up over the top of his head by the look him. His over coat was hung on the cart, dripping and he was shaking the water off him like a drowned dog. Reco and himself wrung out the big coat. No heat in the day either. I told him to come to the house dry off, but he would hear nothing of it.

‘I’ll take a sup of the warm tea, and if I’m still cold I’ll call into Ena in Gillmor’s shop in Dromahair.’ He says.

I don’t think he ever did. A hardy young buck he was. There’s nothing to bate the good woollen clothes when you get a wettin like that.”

Their cousin meets them in the Market Yard.

“The midday Angelus was still ringing when they came into the packed Market Yard.

‘What took ye so long?’ I asked them. ‘I’ve been here this hour.’

‘Arragh, Cecil fell into the flood coming over Sox Line, held us back a bit.’ Said Reco.

When they found a place to park the cart, Reco pointed to the town and said to Cecil.

‘Go down there and into the first place you smell a hot dinner. Don’t come back without getting something into to you.’

He put the nose bags on the horses and we chatted, all the while hoping for a quick sale. The yard was full, with a good few loads of turf but the boys had the right black stuff and was it sold before Cecil came back.  I got away fairly handy and I’d see then again around Christmas”

A woman from the town buys their turf.

“Myself and a neighbour woman bought the two loads. The turf was the best, hard and black and would keep the fires lit and the cooking done well into next year. Grand young lads they were, not a complaint between them, unlike my fella. We lived close by the Market Yard in James Street, so at least they didn’t have to go too far before unloading.  They carried the turf in creels through the house to the small yard at the back and the both carts were emptied in just over an hour. I had tea and a few rashers ready for them when they were done, but they hardly sat down to eat it, said they wanted to be on the road with over two hours to get home. I felt sorry for the two of them having to set off into the darkening evening with such a long way to go. But they were lucky, after the days of rain we’ve had, it was a dry and they had a bit of a moon.”

Phyllis waits for them to return home.

“I heard the dogs bark as they turned into the lane. It was after six and thick dark. I saw their lamps from the window and heard the carts rattle up the lane. The youngest, Jack started shouting their names.

‘Reco! Cecil! Reco! Cecil!’

Earlier, after I got home from The Tech, we all got their jobs done before it got too dark. Mammy had a big dinner ready for them. They were famished when they came in. We were full of questions, but they just ate and ate without a word. It was only after they were finished and sat back from the table that we heard Cecil’s story.”


Notes: This story was given to me by Padraig Fitzpatrick. I have told it through six imagined voices.

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