by the Rambler 14/12/2001
THIS week I wish to use the space at my disposal to salute a good and dear friend who has just passed the 96-years post - the best known and equally well-liked citizen of Aghalee.
How did the old song go?
' If I can help somebody as I pass along
Then my living shall not be in vain.'
Alfred has lived out that wish. Instead, I would upgrade it. If I can help everybody as I pass along has been Alfred's watchword. Certainly he has helped me, more than any other neighbour. The depth of his knowledge of local lore is unexcelled, and his willingness to share it is a joy.
The man should surely be in the Guinness Book of Records - under a variety of headings, but particularly in the field (or should one say 'moss') or peat harvesting.
His father and grandfather sowed the seeds as contractors in the turf-making industry, and from he was able to lift a peat - Alfred was a helper. For maybe 75 years or more he was out there and he stayed while all the rest had packed up.
Back-breaking spade, shovel and rake work. Mixing turf mould into a slurry with water from a nearby bog hole. Shovelling it out on the bank in a precise depth, baking the 'carpet' of clabber into rectangular tiles, setting them up to dry in serried row, age-old formations. Carting them home with an ass and cart, and finally setting them up in the open grate in an exact arrangement to provide the only sort of household fuel available to his generation. An arrangement which guaranteed maximum warmth and economy of consumption, i.e. accurate tong work.
Many places of leisure and playful pursuits now exist, furnished with the latest of technological inventions, but a seat at the hearth with a turf fire blazing and Alfred in good voice spinning yards is real living. No artificial aids needed. He is still at it, 96 years along and long may he continue.
I have been privileged to record on tape and on paper many thousands of Alfred's gems of reminiscences, a priceless library which I treasure.
Alfred is the finest living exponent of the now defunct art of making mud turf and harvesting it, going back to the time of the outbreak of World War One, and he was the last to lay aside the tools recently at the local turf bog ("The Moss"). In fact, his stock of self-harvested peat has not yet been exhausted.
Is there anyone in the Guinness Book to beat that?
The local book on Osier Culture and Basketmaking sets out Alfred's equally impressive performance as a weaver of willow rods, known as 'osiers'.
Space doesn't allow me to rehearse that. I will simply say that apart from the local man Mulholland, who set up the Aghagallon basket factory between the wars, no-one was able to match Alfred's performance in quantity and quality.
I could go on - and on e.g. to chronicle Alfred's career as village postman. He dealt with corns and bunions, even made and fitted splints when a customer broke a leg - far from surgeries or A&E units.
As an interlude he cycled 15 miles to and from Aldergrove RAF station for years to wield a pick, shovel and spade and show 'the rookies' how to move earth..no JCB'S needed (or at least not available).
As a subsidiary occupation, he kept a significant number of customers happy with short-back-and-sides in his barber's shop, working to midnight of a Friday evening and all day Saturdays. If hard work is lethal, Alfred should have had himself worked to death, say, 25 years ago. On the contrary he had demonstrated that hard work and loss of sweat are the best health foods on the market.
I salute you, Alfred! May you continue to set an example to all who behold you. I'll not say a word about 'Glenavon' the team that you loyally supported for 60 or 70 years. I know you have certain views!
Good luck and good health.