Post Info TOPIC: Irish labourers in Hollinsclough
Angela Taylor

Irish labourers in Hollinsclough

I've been told that irish labouers used to come to Mosscarr at hollinsclough and help get the harvest in, Has anyone else heard of this?

David Gregory



This is my transcript, from a tape I made about four years ago, of mother's recollection of Irish labourers at New Barns Farm around 1915-1925 

Irishmen (In the early 20th Century)

The Irishmen mother remembers coming to New Barns were from the Godpers, or Godjers family of Southern Eire and they came every year until sometime between 1925 to 1930.  The Father’s Christian name was Jim and he had five sons the youngest of whom was also called Jim.  The sons used the periods working in England to accumulate enough money to allow them, one by one, to emigrate to the United States


They always started [the season] in Lancashire, in the early potato fields, then they came to the North Midlands for the haymaking then, they went on into Lincolnshire for the corn cutting.  This is when corn cutting was done with a scythe, they were very good scythe mowers, this is what they came across for.  When things got a bit hot a lot of farmers were very glad to get an Irishman to help them with the hay harvest because a lot of the English homes1, same as we were with Harry, he went to the war but when he came back he was not fit for work until about 1922.  He had had a dose of that German gas and he was a very poorly man, in fact, of course, he never really got over it.2  


The Irishmen always drank only strong beer during the working day3;  this was purchased especially for their consumption.  They never worked on Sunday and on that day of the week the family walked to either Macclesfield or Buxton to attend Mass.


The final year they came the family father Jim Godper told Grandad Slack that he was too old to come the following year and as his four oldest sons had all emigrated to the United States his youngest son, Jim, did not wish to come over working alone.


There were a lot of them came [Irishmen to do harvesting work in England] but there weren’t many of them in Hollinsclough because they’d [the farm tenants] most of them got farms that were big enough or something about them that they got their boys out of going to the war, but Harry……………….(end of tape).


Mother records a lone Irishman helping in the harvest in 1931 when Grandad Slack had Glaucoma and was unable to work but her description indicates he was likely to be an itinerant/vagrant worker unlike the families of scythesmen who came from Ireland in the years around the first world war.


End Notes


1 farmer’s homes

2 The nub of mother’s comment was that farmers without mature sons, or who’s sons had been conscripted  into the trenches, were very glad of the labour provided by Irish scythesmen during the critical weeks of haymaking because the entire viability of a farming livelihood depended upon gathering a good harvest in sufficient quantity to allow the farm’s stock to survive the winter. Failure meant that stock would have to be sold to eek out the food available. This placed the business in a weakened financial position the following Spring with a reduced income and the need to rebuild stocking levels over the following two or three years or, in the very worst cases, the complete failure of the business.

3 This provided the energy needed to sustain hard manual labour and the liquid to replace that lost from their system by perspiration. 

4 Mother was uncertain as to which


Additional note

"Irishmen" were expert scythe mowers and this required an intimate knowledge of how to set up a scythe snaith and blade assembly for each individual user and how to prepare the scythe blade’s cutting edge, by “peening”, a process of repeatedly light hammering along the blade, on a small anvil, just behind the cutting edge, to thin the original metal thickness to produce a thinner section behind the cutting edge thereby allowing the blade to be honed to a razor sharp finish for use.  To this they added physical endurance and the ability, acquired through watching the technique of older mowers and accumulated personal experience, to “read the ground” and produce a stroke of the scythe that gave clean, close mowing consistently hour after hour, day after day, whatever the ground conditions.  


Hope this helps - David G.



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