RECALLING THE DAYS BEFORE LIGHT POLLUTION SPOILED THE VIEW
by THE DIGGER
'Sweet Ballymote, that friendly spot, where there my
eyes behold the light....' extract from
`Glenavy Dear' a local ballad by Hugh McWilliams
who once resided at
Dillon's Hill, Ballymote.
1925 WAS a year in which there were four eclipses, two of the sun and two of the moon. There was also a partial eclipse of the moon at midday on the 4th of August that year.
Two days before that a child was brought into the world in Ballymote, a townland situated to the north-west of Lisburn district.
There was a story reported in the local papers about an occurrence on that same day, Sunday 2nd August, 1925 in Brussels. It concerned the charging of a passing aeroplane by a Belgian bull, when it saw its "accustomed pasture" being invaded when the aeroplane had to make a forced landing owing to a mechanical defect. The incident may well have resulted in serious injuries for all concerned, but fortunately no-one was hurt. A strange story consisting of man, beast and travel, a formulae in this local story.
As it was in those days, a few of the ladies of the local area had gathered to assist the mother during her particularly long and difficult labour.
The newly born arrived just as the local church bell tolled, at 7pm.
One of the ladies from a neighbouring farm, present at the child's birth, was to experience a rare occurrence on her farm that same day. A mare on that farm would most definitely not be attending the horse show due to start in Dublin that week. The mare had given birth to twin foals, a rarity in the equestrian world. The mare and the birth of the twin foals would be the "talk of the country" for years to come.
Locally, however, the mare was branded a "kicking mare." It was well known that the animal was very hard to handle and in any other circumstances the owner would have sold it on. The owner was reluctant to get rid of the animal inviting much criticism from the local community. My old friend, who related the story to me of her entrance into this world on the 2nd August 1925, had been telling me about times when nights seemed so much darker than they are now. How true that is. Another acquaintance of mine, George Greer Busby, recalls travelling out from Belfast, during his boyhood, to spend his summer holidays in Lower Ballinderry.
The clear skies over Rose Cottage at Lower Ballinderry gave George views of the night sky that he had never experienced at his Belfast residence. In the mid 1950's George also recalls seeing shafts of light revolving in the night sky from his Lower Ballinderry bedroom. His uncle, George Glover, a watchman at the old Megaberry airfield site, informed him that the light emanated from Nutts Corner and were to direct the aircraft at night.
We are plagued today by a relatively new phenomena and now use a series of new phrases in our vocabulary such as "light pollution" and "light trespass". In some of our cities we have legislation to reduce and prevent light pollution. The skies above seem to be illuminated by the bright light of our towns and cities preventing us from experiencing that depth of darkness that fully allows us to see and appreciate what is in the heavenly skies above.
The last time we had legislation to prevent "light pollution" was during World War 2. Many people in the district fell foul of the law during that period, and were having to find the 5 or 10 shillings to meet the fines being handed out to them by the Resident Magistrate. They had been caught by the constabulary during the blackout times, and summoned for either permitting lights to show from their houses or cycling without properly screened lamps.
From time to time there were natural light displays in the skies above. On the 9th February 1907, just after 7pm, a brilliant display of the northern lights was witnessed in the district. The brilliancy of the aurora "was so great and continuous that it seemed like a moonlight night" and continued throughout the greater part of the night. The people living during that era thought the flashes in the sky were similar to those from a searchlight.
There was no light pollution or heavenly light show displays, however, on one particular evening in about 1929 or 1930, when at the age of about four or five years of age, my friend had accompanied her parents to one of the neighbouring farms. That neighbourliness, which was common in the district, consisted of the simple hospitalities of, friendliness, exchanging of local gossip and stories and perhaps a mug of fresh brewed tea and soda bread, thickly coated with country butter.
At the end of the evening's soiree it would be time to stride out down the well trodden "loanens" towards home again, under the cover of complete darkness. Being unafraid of the dark, my friend walked and skipped happily along in front of her parents.
Road safety was a relatively unknown concept. The chances of meeting a motor car in these parts was extremely slim. No-one about the area owned any of the Ford, Bayliss Thomas, Supreme, Hotchkiss, Chambers or Rover motor cars which were starting to travel on the roads elsewhere in the province. Man's best friend in this area, as in other farming districts, was the horse.
On this particular evening, it was so dark that one of man's best friends could not even be seen grazing next the roadside. Imagine the parents' horror when they discovered that their only daughter had actually walked between horse's hind legs. But this was not any ordinary horse.
This was the "kicking mare" that had given birth to the twin foals some four or five years earlier, on the very same day the little girl, who had just passed through the mare's hind legs, had been born on.
The "old people" who related the story on many an occasion after this event always said "it would have been a terrible tragedy if the mare had moved." It is said that when the owner of the mare heard the story, it helped cement his justification of the keeping the mare and informed everyone that "she couldn't be all bad, when she didn't kill the child." As the "little girl" states almost seventy years later: "Had the mare moved that night I wouldn't have been here to tell the tale today."
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