When I was growing up on our farm, I took the star-filled winter skies for granted. In winter, it would be night before the milking was finished, and on frosty nights, the beauty of the heavens was at least some consolation for the muck, the odd kick from a cranky bovine and the freezing cold.
The Smyth clan were all back in Rahugh a few weekends ago and, while the rest of them snoozed off my mother’s dinner by the fire, I wandered outside for a look at the sky. The night was so clear that I could walk around the field behind our house with only the light from the stars as a guide. On the top of the hill, the trace of the Milky Way arched over our neighbours’ house in the next field. Though the landscape has changed over the centuries, the view in the sky has been constant forever – at least since the first of my paternal line rolled into that part of Westmeath, probably as part of a Baptist troop that acquired the land as a reward for taking part in Cromwell’s brutal subjugation of Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century. The descendants of that group eventually were assimilated into Roman Catholicism, became tenant farmers and, as the saying goes, became more Irish than the Irish themselves.
That house in the next field [pictured above] marks the next generation of our neighbour’s family, and in our own field will one day be another house, housing a further generation of Smyths to gaze at the heavens.