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Maytime in Ireland is beautiful

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There is something right and fitting and spiritual even about the fact we only need three bright letters of the alphabet to describe the beautiful resurrection time that is May, whilst it takes about a third of the entire alphabet to realize the dank, dark, dreary chilled months of November and December and February.

Even the sounds of them are different.  May is light and airy and full of life, and here in the west very lovely this year after a harsh winter of storms and elemental fury. 

I was awestruck in the wonderland that is the Burren the other evening to see the sun sweeping over the unique lunaresque landscape of rocks and mountains, foothills and screes, the tiny green triangular fields trapped within intricate stone walls, the roadeens twisting like silver eels amongst it all, the cuckoo calling from afar, little bull wrens, unseen in the walls, uttering mating calls as loud as the hungry calls from the herring gulls sweeping overhead from the muttering Atlantic a few  miles away, the faraway barkings of black sheepdogs, that strange of total silence and peace occasionally in between.

And the sun was walking across that world with great gilt bars and rays to make me, for whatever reason, think that those rays resembled the ankles and bare feet of the Almighty on a rare day off after a demanding winter, ambling towards Black Head and Fanore to cool His toes in the lukewarmth of the purest brine in all of  Europe. Ye know I am a bit cracked, but I think you also know what I mean.  

Anyway, as a clan, we had a special kinda spiritual weekend too above in Spiddal in Connemara where we celebrated the First Communion of my adorably gentle oldest grandchild Orla, the daughter of Niamh and Cuan on the Saturday, and baptized their youngest daughter Annie the following day, all in Gaelic and very special. 

Our Annie was born 25 years to the day after the passing of her grandmother Ann, God rest her, and so was given namesake status.  Do not tell me that the Almighty did not deserve a day off after contriving such a situation. 

During the parties that followed, incidentally, much of the entertainment was provided by sparkly and feisty middle daughter Lucy.  Our Lucy was born with brittle bones so she has spent much of her five years to date in a wheelchair, and there has been a deal of hospital time. 

But she will soon be walking unaided, her mind is as bright as her bones are brittle, and I predict that this mighty little lady in the fullness of time will be the MacConnell who will be the best known of all the clan of all the generations since Stuttering Mickie. Mark my words.  

On the way back down to Clare on the Sunday evening with Galway Bay so silvered and calm, one would think you could take a running jump out to the Aran Islands -- they looked so close. 

We passed the mouth of the road leading to my former home in Barna, and that bred the memory of a Maytime chat I had over the telephone in the 1980s with a special priest over in Scotland called Canon Sydney MacEwan that those of you who were born here will certainly remember with pleasure.  

He was the boy, son of a Portadown mother, who was gifted with a golden tenor voice which eventually, in his prime, brought to Ireland the eternal Maytime anthem called  “Bring Flowers of the Fairest.” Properly I suppose it is a hymn, but broadcast over national Radio Éireann every May it did become the anthem of the month. It still is and you can find his version via Google to this very day.  

Anyway, I had a brainwave that May morning to phone him in his retirement in a Highlands parish to write a piece about him and to check if he knew how special his song was for us. He knew well the impact it had and was delighted about it.

He said that during his touring career as one of the most celebrated tenors  of the time he had always loved to come to Ireland.  He described the island as the tabernacle of hospitality. 

What he did not say was that he turned his back as an international singer on a life of riches and fame and fortune, to study to be a priest in the small remote parishes of the Highlands of Scotland. 

And what he did not say was that as a parish priest up there he only sang publicly to raise funds to build new chapels for his flocks!  

We had a great chat on the twanging telephone lines of that era.  He radiated  peace and serenity.

I remember being surprised when he told me that one of the first peers to advise him to take up a singing career because of his vocal gift was none  other than Count John McCormack. There was indeed the same golden element in both their voices. 

Then frail, retired from his ministry and gazing out through his presbytery window at the Scottish island of Arran, he told me that his voice was now gone and he was singing no more.  That was not quite true because our chat ended with MacEwan and MacConnell duetting down that twangy telephone line and he sounded as good as ever.

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