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Memories of Airlie Stud

Reading an account of Airlie Stud in a recent Newsletter stirred some memories for me.

I was born and reared in the village of Lusk in north Co. Dublin. During the ‘50s when I was growing up, Lusk was in many ways I suspect not unlike Lucan during the same period in time. Both small villages on the outskirts of Dublin city, yet very rural in nature and activity.

Lusk was very much a farming and market gardening community and the accents of the locals were very much country rather than Dublin. When I came to live in Lucan many years later I discovered pretty much the same thing, a local Lucan accent.

When I was going to school in the 1950s, early ‘6s, all the boys from the school worked on local farms during the summer months. Picking potatoes, planting cabbage, thinning and snagging turnips and so on. It was never a question of would you work during the summer or would you not, it was just a question of who you would be working for. We were paid ten shillings a day, that amounted to £3 per week, it was a six day week, no such thing as a half day on Saturday and finishing time was 6.00pm every day, with Sunday as the only free day.

The women picked peas during the summer months, at three shillings a bag. A typical day picking peas for a person on their own would be three bags, amounting to nine shillings a day. A woman wouldn’t be able to get to the field until about 10am in the morning, having gotten the breakfast for the whole family and seen ‘himself’ out to work, then do the house tidy-up before setting off to the fields on her bike. However she would more than likely have a number of smaller children in tow, those too young to spend whole days in the fields at the potatoes and so on, you didn’t start that until you were much older, i.e. about ten or eleven years of age. The younger ones were expected to play their part in the pea picking. Some families were able to fill up to seven or eight bags of peas in a day, earning the princely sum of twenty-one to twenty-four shillings. The women would leave the fields at 4.00pm in time to get back home and put on the dinner for ‘himself’ and the rest of the family.

Now to get back to my main point, ie Airlie Stud! During the 1950s early ‘60s my Dad worked for Butterlys in Rush. They had acres of glasshouses, growing tomatoes and other hothouse produce. My Dad would regularly drive lorry loads of tomatoes etc to the market in Dublin city. Setting off before daybreak in the early morning, arriving at the market around 6.00am. I often travelled with him during the summer or even on a Saturday during school term.

What does this have to do with Airlie Stud?
Well, the Butterly family in Rush also grew mushrooms and they had a contract with many of the stud farms (and other horse using premises, such as the dairies, Dublin Dairies for instance, in Crumlin, Finglas, Killester and Rathfarnham, all later to become Dairies) to collect the horse manure to be brought back to nurture the mushrooms.

One such contract was with Airlie Stud and I have very vivid memories of going to Airlie with my Dad around 1960-61, maybe as late as ’62. I was about eleven, twelve years of age at the time. I recall meeting Captain Rogers many times.

When my Dad arrived with the lorry, making his way up the driveway from Tandy’s Lane, which at the time to me seemed to be a very long avenue, the farm hands would already have ‘mucked out’ the stables and there would be a pile of horse manure outside each stable door. My father would drive the lorry into the impeccably maintained square stable yard and he and his helper, he always had another man as a helper, would start pitching the dung on to the lorry with hand forks, moving the lorry along as each pile at each stable door was cleared and on to the next. It would take quite a number of hours to complete the loading task and they would continue until the lorry was loaded to a height as far as the two men could reach up with the forks.

There was a tea break during the morning and all the men working in the stud would arrive at one of the corner stables that was used as a canteen for the men. It seemed to me at the time that there was an ‘army’ of men congregating for the tea. It was in that canteen that many a story was told, true or untrue, as long as it was a good one. My Dad was always up for a good ‘tale’ and a bit of banter. He would joke with the local Lucan lads about football and his and their club teams. He was a GAA man, mainly hurling. He won a county club medal in 1951 during his playing days with Round Towers in Lusk. It was during one of these tea breaks that one of the men handed me a sandwich from his lunch box to have with my tea, it was a marmalade sandwich, I hated marmalade and still wouldn’t touch it to this day, well over fifty years on.

When I came to live in Lucan years later, my Dad often asked me if I ever came across a man called Tommy Spade, I suspect it should have been ‘Speight’. It seems himself and Tommy hit it off well, and I think I am correct in saying that Tommy even called to my Dad’s house in Lusk on one occasion to visit him. I think it may have been the football slagging that got them friendly.

My very distinct memories include Airlie Stud being impeccably clean throughout, I suppose it had to be given the valuable horses they had there. The courtyard ground around which the stables were formed consisted of a perimeter concrete path immediately around the stables, with a tarmac central area. When the men were taking the horses in or out of the stables they never brought the horses across the tarmac but rather always went around the path to the arched exit, no short cuts across the yard was allowed it would appear.

During the dung-loading process I was invariably given a big yard brush by my Dad (well it was big to me at the time) to follow on behind the lorry sweeping up any bits of straw and manure that were left behind and too small to be taken up with a fork. It wasn’t acceptable for any residue to be left on the yard surface; cleanliness was of the utmost importance. I very vividly recall Captain Rogers coming over to me on one occasion, taking the brush from me and demonstrating its use to make sure every last piece was collected, I never forgot it. I don’t know if it’s from this period and experience but to the present day, even though I know little or nothing about them, I love the smell of horses and even horse manure.

On the way back from the stud farm with a now loaded to the gills lorry full of horse manure, heading on the Lucan Road towards the city, of course to get to Rush in the north county at the time you had to go through the city, Dad’s helper Pat would say “Jemmy, we’ll we stop for ‘one’ in the Deadmans”. Even though my Dad wasn’t much of a drinker at the time, (although he liked an odd one), Pat his helper being an older man, he didn’t like to refuse him after all the thirsty work. So they would park the lorry loaded with the horse manure and go in for one bottle of stout.

Since I came to live in Lucan in 1976, my Dad would come to visit us. I brought him on a few occasions up around Airlie.

The last time I had the opportunity to do this was about five or six years ago. My Dad was visiting us, he was 91 years old at the time, and I brought him up around the now derelict farmyard. He looked up at the main house and recalled that every so often he would have to call to the house with a cheque from Butterlys, (his employer) presumably to pay for the manure, and he said that Captain Rogers always handed him a few bob for himself, even after almost fifty years had passed and he in his early nineties, he hadn’t forgotten that.

My Dad passed away just two years ago (this coming March 2nd) at the age of 94.
I’m glad I brought him to Airlie just those few short years ago.

Dermot Russell