The dramatic Norman keep of Trim Castle provided the backdrop to the annual Trim Haymaking Festival and the Donkey Breed Society of Northern Ireland provided the foreground. Lorna Shannon reports. First published in Carriage Driving August 2019

The Festival is staged every year on the third Sunday in June and is a celebration of a traditional way of life. Attractions on the field included steam and vintage tractors, a scything competition and even a roll in the hay! The DBS(NI) were invited to add their particular skills to the mix.

Despite recent wet weather, the day dawned dry and warm. An area of the field had already been mown and first on to the grass were Ashley and William Brown with Lady pulling a wonderful old hay kicker. Lady is now retired her from the show ring but she is still very active and demonstrates the versatility of the donkey. The hay kicker dates from the early 1900’s and is owned by the Brown family. This implement mechanically tosses the hay to help with the drying process. As with much of this type of machinery, it was originally made to be horse drawn but as it is superbly balanced, one donkey is easily able to pull it.

On another part of the field Declan Feeney, Anne Brown and Caolan Cochrane were adjusting the harnesses of Camilla and Charlie who were yoked together to pull the reaper. Camilla and Charlie started working together earlier this year and are becoming a reliable team either ploughing or pulling Declan’s four-wheeler. The reaper was made for a single horse by Pearce of Wexford some 100 years ago but has since been converted for two donkeys. The reaper was shown for many years by Robert Orr but hadn’t cut grass for 40 years when Declan bought it.

Declan was joined in the reaping by the only pair of horses to attend this year’s festival and although the donkeys were dwarfed by the draught horses it was a splendid sight to see the four animals driving across the field together. In short order the grass was cut and a cheer went up as the last pass was made.

With the hay shaken out it was time for the field workers to arrive with grapes and carts to lift the hay and start to build the stooks. Anne McHenry led the way with Blossom pulling her liveried flat van. The van was painted to represent a greengrocer’s vehicle by the late Mr Gordon Colhoun of Sion Mills and Ann has had many successes with the vehicle in traditional classes at the shows this year.

Junior members pull their weight

10 year old twins Adam and Tristan Brown were driving another flat van pulled by their donkey Harry. This small flat van is beautifully proportioned and suits Harry and the boys perfectly. Harry has been a part of the Brown family for many years and even attended Ashley and William’s wedding. He demonstrates how valuable a donkey can be in bringing junior members into the Society.

Another junior member, Carragh Cochrane was driving a stiff cart from the traditional standing position and this was loaded for her by Sinead Doran. The stiff cart was only built 40 years ago but is a faithful reproduction of the type of vehicle that would have been found on farms all over Ireland up until the middle of the 20th century. Another method used for transport around the farms was the creel. Two of these baskets were hung from a wooden cruck on the donkeys back. Local mother and daughter team Caroline and Rebecca Giles-Lee demonstrated the use of creels with two of their donkeys.

There were plenty of hands willing to rake and throw the hay onto the different vehicles from where it was offloaded and expertly shaped into stooks by James McHenry and Peter Short. The hay was gathered and stacked just in time, as the sky darkened and a light rain began to fall.

The DBS(NI) would like to thank the organisers for extending the invitation and for supplying the much needed tea and wheaten at the end of a successful day.

First published August 2019