Co Laois is described as “doubly land-locked,” the only county that does not have a boundary with a county that has a coastline. If there is an undisputed claim regarding the furthest point from the sea on the island of Ireland, it would probably be around where the counties of Laois, Offaly and Tipperary meet. The sea is still barely more than one hundred kilometres away, yet there are moments when its moderating effects on the weather seem very far away.
On one of the coldest days of the year, there was a wish for the mild climes of south Co Dublin, where palm trees grow in gardens and where the spring blossom appears early. A biting east wind cut across the flatlands of the east of the county. The road topped a ridge to the south of the Slieve Bloom mountains and flakes of snow swirled in the freezing air. It was a day when a significant fall might have quickly settled and accumulated, to the delight of the younger and the dread of the older. The flurry faded as quickly as it had appeared and the grey gloom re-established itself.
The farmhouse stands at the highest point of the road, a steep approach from the east and gentle decline to the west. Neat, compact, a tidy yard, a low doorway. The sitting room is dominated by a range, the heat from which offered a relief from the penetrating chill.
The farmer sat in his customary chair, coverage of a hurling match filled the screen of his television. Another chair was drawn up to the range.
Conversation always ranges far and wide. He described a visit from an agricultural inspector who had pointed out that a short length of new fencing was two feet away from where it should have been placed. The farmer had agreed, but had thought that the matter of a few square yards of land would not have been an issue.
A penalty notice had come in the post, “for five and a few cents,” said the farmer. I had assumed that the “five” referred to hundreds, surely it could not be less?
“Anyway,” he said, “I got a phone call from them last week because I had not paid. I told the girl, “You’ve little to be doing if you are phoning a man of eighty-seven about €5.’ She slammed the phone down on me.”
We laughed. I suggested that next time he went to the town, he should obtain €5 in one cent coins, and then go to the office and pay them. He agreed, and then reflected, “it would probably get lost.”
The warmth of the range had to be left and the icy wind faced again. He was still laughing at the thought of five hundred coins.