My partner of these past three decades loves having a real fire in the home. While we lived in England we had to make do with one of those gas fires withÂ fake coals to mimic a real fire. But it wasnâ€™t the same. To live in a house without a real fire is akin to exile for Tony.
This is partly because fire was his first friend. Born the second of a pair of premature twins in 1950, before incubators and hospital births were standard practice in Ireland, his farmerâ€™s-daughter grannyÂ took charge and improvised.Â She built up the turf fire, nailed a thermometer to the wall, pushed the twins’ cots close to the hearth, tented them to protect them from drafts and then proceeded to keep them there for the first three months of their life.
She maintained a steady 70 degree temperature in the room, tossing sods of turf on the fire and raking out the ash like an ancient temple goddess.Â The â€˜Miracle Twins of Milfordâ€™ put on weight and survived. Tony started out in this world weighing no more than a bag of sugar, but grew over six feet tall with one of those fast-acting metabolisms that require a lot of feeding; heâ€™s one of those enviable humans who can eat their weight in cake and not put on an ounce.
With our move to Ireland he had a real fire once again, and it was a joy for him to weave what he called â€˜Belfast firelightersâ€™ or â€˜Ulster firelightersâ€™ from newspaper. It looked like origami to me and involved taking a corner of a sheet and folding forward and back into an accordion pleat. Then it was twisted and tied into something that looked a bit like a corn dolly to me.Â It remains an arcane skill to me still and I am considered too girly-girl to master it. (The fact that his mother taught him this method absolves him of being accused of making a sexist comment.)
When we bought our permanent home, for energy saving purposes we installed a multi-fuel burner with a glass front. As long as he can see the flames he is a contented man.
The spiders are spinning their webs around our window sills. They creep out of the drains. They are weaving their webs and drawing us into our home and hearth. We are entering that more contemplative time of year when the fireside will be our paramount focus. However, there is some preparation necessary.
Now is the time to get your chimney swept. Birds may have nested inside over the summer period. Removing the soot is important if you donâ€™t want to have a chimney fire. Take time to prepare the rest of your hearth as well.
This is also the time of year when we need to get in touch with the local log and turf man to make a delivery. While burning turf is an ecologically sensitive subject in Ireland, for reasons that Tony feels are practically religious he lights the fire with a small amount of turf. It lights easily, but it is also an homage and gratitude to his Granny Dobbin. Turf kept him alive and its sweet, smoky scent is a tincture of life itself.