A WHILE WITH YOUR OWN ONES, by Patricia McSorley, was published in 1989. It was an attempt to gather together many of the historical and geographical facts that formed the thesis for some of the oral stories and anecdotes that emanated from one community in County Tyrone, Eskra. Mrs. McSorley has graciously provided me a copy of that work and because it's long out of print I’d like to share some snippets from this valuable work.
“Flax was a time consuming crop, especially before the era of the flax mills, when all the processing was done on the farm. Sown in late April or May, it was ready for harvesting a hundred days after it was sown. Rushes were cut and made into bands for tying the flax which was hand pulled. The tied bundles were never called sheaves as with grain crops: they were known as ‘beets’ and the tyings as ‘beeting bands.’
“The beets were put into the dam of preferably soft water and ready for removal in ten to fourteen days, depending on temperature and water quality. Then a scantily clad man went in to the dam and threw out the beets, sometimes having to rinse the top row to remove clay which had come from sods used to keep the beets submerged. The smell was vile, but eventually became unnoticeable to the workers. Spread thinly on a clean grass field until dry, it was re=tied and built into a ‘reek’. The valuable thread, which grew on the outside of the now rotten stalks, was removed by the ’scutchers’. A scutching handle was a piece of good quality wood shaped like a very large butcher’s knife. The knife blade was blunt. A small quantity of flax, called a ‘streak’, was held by the end and beaten with a downward motion until the husk was removed from the fibre. Before scotching, it was spread on a frame over a slow fire, then beaten on a flat surface.
“This was known as ‘melling’ or ‘beetling’ flax. The final process was ‘heckling’ and there was tradesman known as a ‘heckler’. The common phrases: I’m as sore as if I was beetled’, and ‘as thin as a scotching handle’, originated in flax labour.
“The scotch mill had several revolving handles against which the scutcher held the flax. Missing fingers and damaged hands were the trademarks of the scutchers, who also owing to the dusty conditions, often over-indulged in drink.
“There was a by-product called ‘tow’, valuable during World War One, since it could be mad into cord, twine, coarse yarn and upholstery padding. ‘Shows’ or ‘wakes’ – the useless husk, provided an evil smelling fire in the scutchers’ homes. Women worked at the processing of the tow and were called ‘Tow Tagers’ and it was no mark of respect to term any woman a ‘Tager’.
1 post • Page 1 of 1