BY SEÁN P. FEENY
A PART-TIME Donegal farmer is keep traditional means of farming alive on the outskirts of Letterkenny ploughing, planting and cutting his fields ‘the old way’.
Martin Mullen from Upper Ballymacool said he always wanted to learn the traditional ways of farming and realised one day that the people who could tell you about it were slowly but surely ‘getting light on the ground’.
“There’s a lot to learn about traditional ploughing, but it’s simple once you know how to do it. It’s an old way of life which I just didn’t want to see vanish. It’s part of our heritage.”
Martin used to watch his grandfather, father and uncles plough and cut fields in the traditional way. “I remember being out in the fields with my grandfather and after a day’s work he would throw you up onto one of the horses for the ride home.
When Martin decided to pick it up himself again nearly 20 years ago he called upon the expertise of his cousin ‘over the Mountain Top’.
“My cousin John (Crossan) keeps me right,” he laughed, “I’ve now been ploughing and cutting fields for 15 to 20 years, doing bits and pieces.”
It was also John that helped Martin purchase the plough, but getting your hand on old farming machinery can be very hard these days, Martin said. “A lot of it has been sold as scrap, but thankfully we were able to buy a plough which was read to go.”
Now that Martin has ploughed the field near Upper Ballymacool he will plant corn which will then also be cut the traditional way, doing the job the old way from start to finish.
“Normally you would have ploughed the field during the winter months, but as we do it in the summer you might get a tractor harrow in before to rake up the ground, but then everything else is done by traditional means,” said Martin.
Assisting Martin on the job, are the two big strapping cross-breed plough horses, half brothers Charlie and Tom. “I reared one of them on the farm and bought the other as a two-year-old. When you have good horses it makes the job so much easier.”
Martin said his son Geoffrey is a great help taking care of the horses, which is an all-year-round job.
Ploughing the traditional way is not as hard as it looks, Martin said. “It’s only tough because you know there’s a more easier and modern way to do it, but if you have good strong horses, you’re elected.”
Martin also does a lot of exhibitions and the reaction of older members of the public makes keeping this old tradition alive worthwhile.
He said: “We have taken part in the National Heritage Day in Gartan the past two years and you would get some older men come up to you and you’d let them have a go.
“Doing it takes them back years and seeing the expressions on their faces is priceless; you can’t buy that and I get great satisfaction out of that.”
Martin is hopeful that others would take up traditional farming methods to keep heritage alive, and maybe with the assistance of relevant government departments this wonderful tradition will not disappear.