Alf Seale Recalls working in Woodlawn Forestry
Those two fields, I remember them planting those. They were all planted by hand at the time, and dug by hand. They dug all the drains by hand. ‘Twas a sort of a two man job to dig the drain. One lad cut the scraw and the other lad had to drag, pull it out. They could work pretty fast then. Another man came along after that and carted up the loose stuff. A drag would be like a four-pronged fork with the prongs turned down. They had to keep all those tools and mind them and… they had a little shed built inside there. I remember them building it. ‘Twas made with two bits a hazels, batons inside and outside and down between, about nine inches apart. Down between the hazels, they had it stuffed with rushes. So, ‘twas totally environmentally friendly. Of course it was thatched with rushes as well.
Trying to keep dry on a very wet day wasn’t easy. They had oilskins alright but they would wet you. You would be wet inside, pretty wet now, because in the forestry you were always getting wet because rushes were wet. And when it would stop raining, the trees would keep dropping for a long time. There were a lot of trees down along there. They were all cut out of it in the war years, some of them only cut for timber. They were cut and split – there were lime trees in it that Maguire and Patterson got for making matches. They were special because lime it seems was scarce enough. Beech was very plentiful. The beech nearly all went for firewood – and any other use they could make of it.
The Art of Sawing
At that time ‘twas all cross-cuts. Two men with a big saw that was nicely sharpened, get your rhythm going. Even at that time they used to plank it out with a saw pit. One man on top and the other on the bottom, they cut the tree up and down, after knocking it. They would have to build a little ramp sort of thing. One man was down in the pit and the other lad was on top and they would change around then every so often. That was his art, to saw straight.
Clogger in Woodlawn
There was a clogger in Woodlawn at one time. They used to cut the alders especially for him and they had to be cut a certain length. The clogger, all he did was split them. If he split them right, he could get, I think, four soles out of every log. The rest was waste then. You could buy clogs up to lately. Around Cavan you’d see the aul lads with the clogs on them. But he was actually from Ahascragh, the clogger – Raftery. There was even a song about him. I don’t know all the words of it but the only bit that I can remember is the “The clogger” or “Raftery making clogs in Ashtown’s bogs.” That’s the only bit I can think of. The hut was in your [Des Doherty] direction now. It’s near the railway. The aul clogger’s hut, the remains of it, was there til not so long ago, (maybe 20 years ago).
They [the forestry lads] had a hut in the back road, made with hazels. Hazel rods, every six or seven inches up along on a frame. The hazels were running horizontal but they had a couple of stronger ones then. They only drove them into the ground like a stake so high and nailed them on each side then and packed in between them then with rushes and thatched it with rushes so as to keep their tools and oilskin coats and other gear that they had.
The forestry man had his axe and he had to get his couple loads of hoppers every day. They used to bring away the waste then. That went off for firewood. But the finest of firewood, the two outer bits, would be left. He had to split them the right thickness then. ‘Twas all railed away then what was cut in Woodlawn. Was drew down to the station, horses and carts, loaded into covered wagons. ‘Twas all man-handled, manual labour, ninety-nine percent of it. Now if they had a really big tree, all right, they used set up a tripod and they pulleyed the logs, otherwise they just man-handled them up on to it, maybe four or five men. There were a lot of men worked in Woodlawn at the timber that time. It went on for a good few years. It was all inside in the [Ashtown] Demesne before Coillte, or the forestry took it over, replanted it. There were a lot of trees then. They were blown down as well. They had to be cut up and manufactured. A lot of it went for firewood. It was valuable, it was all mature at the time.
Privacy for Lord Ashtown
When Ashtown was doing his deals with the State, he stipulated that the lands around the demesne that was to be kept had to be planted, good or bad of it, to keep his privacy inside in the demesne in his own plot. So that’s why a lot of it – there was good land, some of the best land in Woodlawn, was planted. That was the reason for that. The only two places that were kept inside the Demesne wall were what Paddy O’Donnell got and what Black Joe Kelly got. That was classed as The Demesne. They were the only houses inside the estate, inside the Demesne wall, we’ll say, as it runs up along the main road. Outside that, you see, Ashtown kept no land or held on to no land.
Drawing manure from the station
They know a lot more now about what trees suit different places. That time they used to manure them all with the ground rock phosphate. Now they do it with a helicopter but that time, they used to have a man with a bucket and a measure and he went along and he put the measure at every tree. When I was 15 or 16, I used to draw in the manure from the station, bags of rock phosphate with the horse and cart. Oh yeah, two hundredweight bags.
Good Land at Grucock’s
All up Grucock’s and up there. They used to draw a lot of trees around there. That was nearly the best land in Woodlawn. I remember bringing up trees with the mare and cart, up to Grucock’s, up Hall’s Hill, with bundles of trees where they were filling up gaps where trees had failed and the other ones, maybe six or seven years old, at the time. Then at one stage, I brought a load of trees, maybe a couple of thousand trees, up to the forestry in Estwell. It was a day’s work from Woodlawn with a mare and cart to get there and back again, get loaded up. Bossy Reilly was the man who came with me at the time. He went on ahead on his bicycle to get gates open and things ready and somewhere picked out to put them safe. He was only a young lad at the time. Oh he was fulltime and the man in Kilconnell was the ganger at the time – Mick Treacy. I forget the other fellas that worked. But all they had was the hazels again, stuck in the ground and bent over and the canvas threw over them for the bit of shelter while they’d be havin’ their break at dinnertime and boil the kettle with sticks. Yeah, the way they could move it from area to area and ’twas only an ordinary little canvas. If it was really wet, you could get in under it.
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My grandfather John Grocock worked on the Ashtown estate and lived in Grucock’s castle in the 1930s and 40s with his wife Alice and daughter Molly (my mother).
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