Division or an (imperfect) unity?

Just over 200 years ago, (in 1798) my namesake Henry Monro was hanged in front of his house in Lisburn, Northern Ireland for his support of a united Ireland. Son of a Presbyterian father and Anglican mother, he was a regular attender at Lisburn Cathedral. He was also on very good terms with local catholics, and they all often attended services in the Cathedral and the local Chapel, for Communion or Mass. He was highly respected for this, and his stance that Ireland should be united with ALL religions playing their part in governing it. This was to be his un-doing as he was a temporary Commander in the United Irishmen and was entrapped and summarily tried and executed.

Fortunately they have moved-on and, whilst still divided by a nominal line on a map, much co-operation has been achieved amongst the various factions. They have learned to forgive (if not forget) their history, and have seen that a political and social life is possible even when differing political viewpoints are seen. I think there are very few people there who would want to return to the divisions of the past, and one has to commend them highly for this.

Scotland has had a simmering element of Nationalism since the 1930s and almost a decade ago, power was achieved by them at Holyrood. There was an immediate and worrying sense of division in the populace; for and against independence from the rest of the UK. This was seen to be an ill-founded desire as in 2014 the populace voted quite strongly, and rightly in my opinion, to remain within the UK, and be politically attached. The SNP Government has steadfastly and stubbornly refused to accept this message, and appear to want to have another ‘once in a lifetime’ referendum. Nothing positive or constructive has come from all the discussions held at the time, but this idea of ‘Independence or Bust’.  Increasingly, time is taken up in the press, and Holyrood about trivial, or highly-controversial proposals, which have increased the deep-seated divisions in our society. I have seen nothing which could be seen as unifying this nation, of which I am proud to have been a part for over 50 years. It seems to be that there is even a fear growing about declaring one’s affinity for UK unity. The fact that it has worked pretty-well for over 300 years seems to hold no importance in the minds of those who want to divide. Even with increasing powers given to them recently, it has still to be proved whether or not they can handle the responsibility of ruling for ALL the people of a country.

Lady of the House, and I have just returned from visiting our Dutch friends from Limburg, in the Netherlands. Whilst they are definitely Dutch, they are only minutes from the German border, and are very close to Belgium and Luxembourg. They very kindly took us round to see as much of these countries as possible. We were treated by all we met with extreme courtesy, interest, and enquiries about why Scotland would want to separate from England, and why the UK would want to cease its involvement in the political life of the European Union. It was only for a short stay, but I sensed a group of people who had become used to each other. It is indeed a Union of many diverse countries, cultures, languages, religions, beliefs, histories, and political agendas, and yet they have each handed-over some of their powers to a central administration, in the interest of ‘togetherness’.  Like the USA, it is a family, with all the expected frictions, disagreements, and name-calling which appear within almost all situations where people come together. You never get everything you want, but it is a great lesson in realising that others have a right to be heard, and their opinion might well be more useful than yours. I voted for Ted Heath’s Common Market in the ’70s, and I don’t think we all knew that it would develop so far. It has, however, and we are where we are. Life and time are one and the same thing, a bit like the flow of a river. Reversal is not possible in either concept, and I believe that we must continue to move on or end up in a back-water (to continue the analogy). Even with the various problems with which it is beset, it is vital to be there, using our experience at the political table to continue to modify it for the better, instead of being ineffectively on the side-lines.

As if to indicate a confirmation of my views, Lady and I attended a Concert by the RSNO a few days ago, and the final piece was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, called ‘Ode to Joy’, and the music was sung to words written in 1785 by Schiller.

The music was chosen in January 1972, by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to be the European Anthem of the EU. The words, being German, have no international status, but it is true that they do hold part of the answer to mankind and his dealings with others.

Let’s not be known as the generation which threw out the EU with the bathwater of our complacency about what it has achieved. For two generations, in Europe we have had relative peace.

Let’s be happy about that, because there are a lot of possible friends out there!

 

 

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The Wee Grey Fergie

Not a title which means much to many people of this generation, but to those of us baby-boomers, and those with a connection to the land, it engenders an era gone past.

But to go back to the beginning…….

Tom Monroe on tractor  undated.jpg

My father was born in 1918 (so a baby-boomer of the First World War) into a family which might have been called gentlemen farmers. They obviously had a lot of farm machinery, and accounts which I have, show that they did lots of contract work for the local farming community who could not, or did not want to, purchase equipment which they would only use for a short time.

I have no records of when they bought their first tractor, but the above updated photo shows my father driving what I believe to be a Wee Grey Fergie. Now, I may be wrong because his model had many variants. The formal model name was TE 20, (from Tractor, England, 20 horsepower) not a very inspiring name.

In 1916, Harry Ferguson started development on ‘The Ferguson System’ to make a plough and linkage become part of the tractor as a whole. He got a patent granted in 1926, and then worked further on the linkage in the early ’30s. Production of the pre-TE20 models began in Huddersfield in the David Brown Factory in 1936, and in 1939, Henry Ford in Detroit, in the States, took on production of some 300,000 Ford Ferguson units to 1947.

There were some problems between Ferguson and Ford about the production location, and by 1945 the Wee Grey Fergie TE20 was built by the Standard Motor Company, Coventry (who built the Standard car). In all, from May 1936 to July 1956, approx one million units were sold worldwide.

So why am I such a nerd about this tractor? Well, I never knew my paternal grandparents and their farming business, but I did know my maternal grandparents, also farmers, with a relatively-small-holding near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. An undated photo of my grandparents, shows the compicated kind of mechanical reaper which was used with horses.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknown.jpg

This 1966 photo shows their Fergie with direct linkage from the tractor engine to the reaper blades…

Bobby Stewart ploughing Jul 1966.JPG

…..and this one of the same year shows a different mechanism attached to ‘turn-over’ hay to dry it off. Nice to see the evident equality with my aunt driving the tractor…..

Bobby and Agnes Stewart on 'wee grey Fergie' Ballymullan.jpg

…..and still manual labour was necessary until the farmer could afford another module  for their Fergie to do the job…

Agnes, Bobby Stewart, and mother Marg Crawford, Ballymullan.jpg

So I was regularly at the farm with my brother and eventually at about the age of 11 or 12, was allowed to briefly drive the Fergie. I can clearly remember the cold winter’s day in a field of kale, which was being cut by my uncle, and thrown into a trailer, and I was empowered to move the tractor and trailer forward. I don’t think my Grandmother or Mother were informed! It was not an easy vehicle to drive but eventually I believe I made some small contribution to local agriculture!

Hence my strange ‘attachment’ to this farming machine……

Move forward to a week ago when I received a birthday present which delighted me immensely. A little scale-model of the TE20, along with a lovely drawing of a rural scene by Trevor Mitchell showing a Fergie, ploughing, a postie on a bike,  a church clock-tower, and a flock of birds…..

P1060058.JPG

P1060059.JPG

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!

You scratch my back………..

My maternal and paternal grandparents made their living off the land in the area of Lisburn, which is now a major City in Northern Ireland, but in those days (1940’s and ’50s) was just a sizeable market town about 8 miles south-west of Belfast.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknownMy mother’s folks were humble, but hardworking, farmers with cattle and lovely arable land which afforded a beautiful vista over Belfast from theagnes-bobby-stewart-and-mother-marg-crawford-ballymullan[1] Ballymullan hills. All the ground was based round a little cottage, in which five children (four girls and a boy) had been brought up, and although the facilities were primitive, it had a lovely Ballymullan homestead...seen better days Jan 1969warmth about it….maybe the subject of another post. You could walk to anywhere on their farm within 15 minutes so it was not extensive. They grew potatoes and wheat, along with hens, pigs, and their herd of cows, which provided the farm with eggs and milk, as well as some income. I don’t remember horses being used but the ‘Wee Grey Fergie’ tractor was where I started to learn to drive about the age of 11′

On the other hand, my father came from what must have been Baling 1943 Jim Monroe on rt, Tom Monroe 2nd from righta relatively-wealthy family. All the photos I have from two generations back, are smartly-dressed men and women, posing with staff in front of large houses. The H's Monroe g'parents + unnamed uncles large houseMonroe family was well-known in Irish history, (specifically in this area) although this was not really discussed at the time. They had an agricultural contracting company (to do work for local farmers who did not have, or require, the expensive machinery), bus company, brickworks, a large farm, workers houses etc  and as far as I know.the road was named after the Belsize House where they lived. With little imagination the company was called ‘Monroe Bros’

So there were two quite different families in the same area, and the common link was the marriage of my mother and father in 1943. Four ladies (Monroe)My mother had worked in some office in Belfast so was aware of accounting practices. It appears that she took on the position of Book-keeper within thePerhaps great aunt Minnie firm, and I recently came upon an old accounts book for 1944/45. She probably gave up when I was born in 1945.

It makes wonderfully-interesting reading, at least for the family, as many of the customers of the agricultural contracting business were individuals (or their descendents) whose names were mentioned regularly in our childhood, but we as children would never meet them. There were also titled people whose estates obviously needed extra help during the ploughing, planting and harvesting seasons.

The various activities involved in this business were numerous, and many would not be known to urban dwellers and the costs are well detailed. They included the following (with modern-day coinage in brackets):-

  • Ploughing, £1/5/00d per acre….(£1.25)
  • Cultivating, Discing, grubbing, carting, digging, harrowing, sawing…7/6d per acre…… (38p)
  • Threshing…..10/00d per hour….(50p)
  • Binding bales, 14/0d per acre……(70p)
  • Tractor work including 2 men, 8/00d per hour……. (40p)Tom Monroe on tractor  undated

But the one set of entries which intrigued me most was the one, in 1944, where my father’s father’s business did work for my mother’s father’s farm at Ballymullan. It came to £14.16.00p, a not-insubstantial sum. It may have been that the bill could not be paid immediately due to a cash flow problem, but the accounts show quite clearly that cash of £4/16/- was paid on 16th October 1944, with the £10 balance being paid-for by 2 tons of potatoes!

I have no way of confirming the value of potatoes in 1944, so cannot comment on which side felt they had done well out of the deal, so perhaps someone can enlighten me if such information would be available…….

A very dry summer, and a few lies!….

I was reading one of my blogging friends’ posts and was reminded of an incident from childhood…..almost 60 years ago

…………………..as a child, on our grand-parents’ farm-land, there was a large clay-pit, no longer used, which filled-up every year with rainwater, and then slowly emptied through evaporation. There were two pools, one very small which dried quickly, and one which had never really completely dried before the rains returned, and no-one really knew how deep it was.

My brother and I were warned never to go near, but curiosity meant that one year we ventured down to the area, and discovered the small pond was almost completely-full of frogspawn. As it was a hot summer (weren’t they all?) it was evident that in a short period they would die from lack of water, so we decided to rescue them by transporting the jelly-masses by bucket-load and tipping them into the larger pond.

This proved to take several days for two young boys to achieve. Parents or grand-parents could not be advised of the project because of the prohibition on approaching the steep sides of the clay-pit, so we had to provide a number of plausible un-truths as to what we were doing each day!

Suffice to say, the project was completed successfully and we may have been responsible for the large number of frogs in the area later that year! Fortunately there were no houses in the immediate vicinity, and we were able to inform parents and grand-parents of the project. We felt good,about it (I think justifiably!), and had something to write in the inevitable essay which had to be prepared on our return to school..

….needless to say, the whole area is now covered  with houses and the incident forgotten, but it still remains fresh in the mind of a boy who never really grew up….

Good Gracious!

I had to attend a meeting on Saturday in Stansted regarding my profession of audiology. Like many others we can only keep our licence to practice, by acquiring a number of ‘points’ . These indicate that we are keeping ourselves up-to-date with current ‘best practice’.

They can sometimes be no better than social events, but this one actually proved very good. The final speaker was from a charity called Hearing Concern, on the south coast of England, and was given by someone of whom I had never heard. However, I occasionally detected a slight intonation or phrase from my home country Northern Ireland. I was just about able to say the county from which it came, and then the thought would be ‘Maybe it’s just my imagination.’ There had been some questions and answers at the end, in which I participated.

She came over to speak to me afterwards, and it was then that I asked her where the accent was from. ‘I was just going to ask you the same question’ she said. It turned out that we were both from Lisburn near Belfast; both went to the same small High School; knew manyof the same teachers, despite a 9 year difference, and she lived very close to where my folks had lived!

Some co-incidence!

The Emerald (and Somewhat Tiring) Isle

Did you notice the change of header ? The format seems to be easier to pick-up on some computers, but if you have any problem receiving this Blog correctly, please let me know. But I also like the picture!

Just back from a short break with the Young Lady of the House, to Ireland. On Saturday, had a non-eventful trip from Troon to Larne, which was followed by a longer-than-expected car journey to Enniskillen, where we were staying. Dumped the cases and straight along the south edge of the Lower Lough Erne to Bundoran, just over the Border (where exactly was the Border?). Immediately to the almost-empty beach to see the Atlantic rollers, and the three surfers. Only enough time to get slightly cooled by the biting wind, before  on to the town of Donegal, but too busy to park….super meal at a hostelry just on the Border.

Next day, to church and visiting old friends ,where we ate too much…..but what’s new about that in Ireland?

Monday saw us travelling across country, to see another friend, and then off early to the ferry to get a good early position. Took off 45 mins late and bad weather slowed progress so that we arrived much later than the plan said, (we were actually LAST car off!) followed by a tiring drive north and home.

Who calls these events holidays….I think they should be banned! Things would have been quieter and less tiring at work! But at least we saw some places we had never seen before, and people whom we had not seen for too long. 

On balance, definitely worthwhile…..but why, Oh why, is wonderful Ireland so far away by car?