I would like to speak about the drine skeg or hawthorn hedge, which, although not recognised by law as a boundary hedge, is largely used to separate fields, especially in the lowlands. The planting of these is of special interest. The hawthorn seeds or skegs were gathered in autumn and during the long winter evenings a ball of straw-rope or suggane was taken and, starting at one end with a peg of wood shaped like a marline-spike, a hole was made in the rope and a skeg was dropped in. This was continued at the distance of a closed hand (about four inches) all along the rope and the rope again made into a ball.
When it was decided to plant a thorn hedge, a straight trench about four or five inches deep was scraped in the required position. The straw rope was tethered at one end and rolled along the trench, pulled taut and pegged down at the other end. The trench was then filled in and tramped well down. The skeg remained dormant in the ground for one year and germinated in the second; this gave time for the suggane to decay and so provided a comfortable bed of decayed vegetable matter for the tiny roots. It would be impossible to find a more simple or ingenious method of planting a hedge, where you have every plant an equal distance apart, rooted at the same depth and in a perfectly straight line.
I would like to point out that the word ‘fence’ is ambiguous. I have already mentioned ten different kinds of hedges – these can be looked upon as fences proper. But there are two more – the mystical fence and the imaginery fence. The first is concerned with the traditional folklore of Kirk bride.
An old woman known as the ‘Witch of Cranstal’ owned a small croft. She put on the pot and ‘brewed a filthy brew,’ and, dipping her stick in the mixture, she drew a line across one of her little fields. Then, when she turned the cow into the field, it never crossed the line. In this way she grazed one half of the field, and the other half she cut in hay and so saved herself the trouble of building a visible hedge.
The imaginary fence can best be explained by telling a more modern story. The scene is the Michael bus, the time, Monday night after the Ramsey Mart. The bulk of the passengers are typical Manx farmers, some of them slightly mellowed by good ale. A conversation is in progress and a place is mentioned, a place with which I am quite familiar – a small derelict farm about 35 acres, used all my lifetime as a summer run for cattle and with fences in a deplorable condition. This is the conversation:
“I hear Johnnie is giving up Ned’s place for November.”
“Aye, tha’s wha’ I hear them sayin’.”
“Y’ know I haven’ been on Ned’s place for many a long year. I wonder is she well fenced?”
“Aw, fenced like Tynwald yussir, fenced like Tynwald!”
In case some of my readers are not acquainted with the procedure at Tynwald Court on 5th July, I would like to say that the Coroner of Glenfaba is requested to ‘fence the Court’ which he does four times* by word of mouth and then declares the Court well and truly fenced.
This fence of course, is purely imaginary; but it aptly described the fences on Ned’s place!
* I fence this Court in the name of our Most Gracious Sovereign Lady The Queen. I charge that no person do quarrel, brawl or make any disturbance and that all persons do answer their names when called. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this whole audience to bear witness this Court is now fenced.
(source: Legends of a Lifetime by George E Quayle (1973); photograph is from the same book and shows Drine-y-skeg, hawthorn tables; ‘Fence the Court’ text from http://bit.ly/1G7PI9z)