Connections with the past can be flimsy, tenuous, conjectural, even purely imaginary. I can appreciate the joy an archaeologist would experience on opening an Egyptian pyramid tomb; that fabulous connection with times and people past; the riches of the history contained in such a site; that touching back through the centuries. To touch something formed and held by another centuries before gives a reassurance to our humanity; a spanning of the generations giving assurance that we have continued and that we will continue into the future.
In Ireland, we have the Hill of Tara – which predates the Egyptian pyramids – and connects us with people of pre-history who were so astutely aware of the sun and its movements through the skies that they constructed their grave mounds so that the rising sun on the shortest day of the year would hit the back of the passage to the centre of the mound. Such knowledge and such achievement still amaze us so many centuries later.
Connections are oftentimes less solid. I was digging a patch of ground in the garden this morning – retrieving it from its years as a hen run and returning it to grass once again – and came on those regularly found reminders of days past. There were small pieces of crockery, pieces of plates or saucers, some glass and a cup handle.
Digging is a very pleasant occupation; a time of quiet and rhythm and gentle work, and there is nothing so foolish nor so unproductive as digging in haste. Such an approach only suits the feverish efforts of hiding an incriminating corpse. I have always enjoyed digging. I reckon it leads to a state of mind akin to that sought by those who practice yoga or meditation. It is no wonder to me that manual work formed a major part of the lives of monks in their monasteries in times past. It induces thought and wondering and wandering of the mind – in this instance on the little findings I encountered as I turned the soil.
Some of the pieces show a little of the pattern and it is obvious that they are from a previous style – that, and the fact that this ground hasn’t been dug for a generation, at least, and perhaps, longer as the farmland around, on which our house was built, was a dairy farm so the land was in pasture as long as can be remembered. I wondered how they arrived in this spot. Our house is here about 40 years now and these bits and pieces predate our arrival. I imagine a time of farm workers, a time before the big machinery of today, a time of greater manual labour, of the meitheal when neighbours helped each other in turn to bring in the harvest – in this case, possibly to save the hay, winter feed for the cows. The host farm would provide the refreshment and the food. Tea would be brought to the field to the workers; a time to sit and chat, to discuss the weather, the harvest, the local news and a time of jokes and trickery and children galloping around. A plate would fall, a cup would break and their pieces remain as silent reminders of those times.
Good days! Good memories but the days are gone and the people are gone and we can only hold the cup by the handle for that is all we have, for the cup is gone!