The crops were blessed this evening in time to beat the skiffs of rain that came in from the Slieve Blooms. There were many occasions in the past when the rain was not avoided; when open air gatherings meant getting soaked.
It was the third Sunday in July of 1978 and the rain was lashing down.
The annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Memorial rally was drenched. Dampness permeated everything. Even with its poles resting on the ground, as the rally gathered around the platform for the speeches, the banner had become heavy; the fiery yellow colours at the centre of the banner had been dulled by the soaking. Standing in the rain, even the cheery notes of the brass band had ceased as the speakers began their addresses.
It came the turn of a government minister to speak.
‘Are you all wet?’
‘Yes’, shouted the crowd.
‘Are you all soaked to the skin?’
‘Don’t you think the men from this village who were transported to Australia would have loved to have stood here? As they laboured in the heat, don’t you think they would have loved to have felt the falling rain? Don’t you think they would have loved to have stood under grey Dorset skies instead of being on the other side of the world, sent there for no reason other than trying to organize themselves?’
The crowd roared its approval.
Ever since that Sunday afternoon, being wet has brought thoughts of the men from Tolpuddle.
It was a cold and gusty as we gathered this afternoon and this evening, to bless the seed sown at each end of the parish. There was a wind that went through you rather than round you. It was hard to turn the pages, to read, without someone else holding the page down. The May chill continues unabated; the growth of the Easter- sown barley stunted by night frosts and biting days.
But the Tolpuddle Martyrs would have relished the chance of standing in grain fields in Offaly and Laois; the temperature would have been of no consequence to such weather-hardened men.
It was not the Dorset men of the 19th Century who were mentioned this evening, rather the people of 21st Century Sierra Leone; the situation of many of them probably worse than that faced by the people of Tolpuddle two centuries ago.
Perhaps the chill was appropriate, sharpening the senses, making one more keenly aware of reality.