My dad, William (Bill) Byrne was the Weights & Measures inspector for the county of Kildare (based behind the courthouse in Naas) from 1981 through to 1993. When he retired, Liam Kenny did a piece in the Leader on the role of W&M and its relationship to the local economy.
My dad passed away recently. I wrote a poem about the old weights and measures which people of a certain vintage (unfortunately my age and upwards) can relate to — having had the arcane tables beat into us in school. Inches, feet, yards, chains, furlongs and miles aren’t used any more — nor much of their cousins in the pounds and pints families either other than perhaps imbibing in McCormacks, Kavanaghs or Tommy Fletchers.
Anyway — if you thought it might be of interest to your readers, I’d be delighted and proud for it to appear in the Leinster Leader in memory to my dad’s odd profession. The role of Weights & Measures used to be a Garda function. But in recent times this has passed to the NSAI who have responsibility for ensuring that the goods sold conform to the published measures. This poem harks back to a time of pounds, shillings and pence when LSD was the money and not an offence. Imperial measures had odd quirks and jumps.
Retail goods weren’t pre- packaged. They were bought in bulk and measured at the point of sale. So loose flour, butter or sugar would be weighed as would the sweets from the jar into the paper bag containing a quarter. Petrol pumps and pint glasses were used to ensure the correct volume was dispensed.
The brass yard on the counter would measure the cloth in a milliners or chain or baling twine in a hardware store. Cattle or grain would be measured on a weigh-bridge.
All the aforementioned would have to be verified by the inspector of Weights & Measures as being full and true.
And this is what Bill Byrne did for over a quarter of a century. On the subject of pints, pounds or yards In North Kerry and in Kildare, Bill Byrne’s word was law.
An Ode to Weights & Measures
A dozen inches makes a foot
Just three of which will stretch a yard
A score and two you’ve got a chain
Repeat ten, a furlong; it’s not that hard.
Times two, times two, times two - a mile
All this this made sense to the old guard.
Seven thousand grains of barley
Together make the imperial pound
Comprising ounces two squared squared
And making stones where 14 found.
A hundredweight, despite the name
Compounding a century plus a bonus dozen
And twenty times to reach a ton
Imperial measure consistency doesn’t.
For volume, the gill is the unit to treasure
Five fluid ounces being the customary measure.
The Irish dispense quarter gill of fine whiskey
The English, meager sixth, will leave you less frisky.
Four gills to the pint and two pints to the quart
Or eight to the gallon, if you favour that sort.
Uncle Sam mucked it up with his oddly sized gallon
Sixteen fluid ounces instead of our twenty.
With the King’s finest measures he played hanky panky
Perhaps avoirdupois was too French for the Yankee.
Imperial measures are fit for a king
In name and in number a most pleasant thing.
You can take all your metric with its neat powers of ten
For Boneparte’s system is lacking in zen.
The pound and the pint and the foot are eternal
And that Système International d’Unités is infernal.