There is a hardiness and resilience about the wee wild Irish roses now in full bloom in the hedges of the west which perhaps reflects the best of what we are ourselves.
They are not floridly flaming scarlet animals like English Tea roses which have always been popular in the gardens of the nation. No, they are somehow hiding themselves away as much as possible, giving the impression of being shy as they try to conceal themselves behind glossy ivy and briars and hawthorns in the hedges and ditches. But their wee pink heads are very evocative too about the tides and seasons of their lives and ours.
There is one roadside rose bush that I have known very well for many years since I was informed of some folkloric elements of its lifetime at a remote enough place called Cassidy's Cross by a wiry postman on a bicycle that I stopped to ask for directions a long time ago now.
One word, as always, led to another and we had a great wise encounter before parting because a shower was coming in fast and he had his rounds to complete. It was summertime and the small roses were bright against the hedge and stone wall at Cassidy's Cross.
After a long absence I had occasion to stop there again last weekend, and the first thing I recalled was the yarn the postman told me about how and why the little bush was uniquely known in the townland and hamlet down the road simply as Rosemary. And had a lot of history attached to it too.
What he told me was that the road we were on was the road to the workhouse in the dread time of the Famine. There was a high mortality rate on that awful trek, as we all know, and dreadful things happened.
Nothing hit the surviving folk around Cassidy's Cross, however, as hard as the shock discovery of the skeletal remains of a young girl in the roadside drain at the cross.
No funerals then. They just shoved the bank of the drain, down atop the remains and that was that until, the following summer, when, remarkably the wee rose bush sprouted up from that very spot and began to climb the wall.
Somehow, from somewhere, it was learned locally that the dead girleen -- like so many -- had been named Mary, hence, as the pishogue (superstition) developed in the easier post-Famine era, the rosebush became the focus for considerable veneration and earned its name. A touching kind of living memorial if you like.
The postman told me that at First Communion time in the parish many parents of the girls would come to the site, say a few prayers for the lost Mary, and pick a bunch of the fragile pink roses to bring to the chapel on the big day. The same thing happened at Confirmation and, on those big church occasions when petals of many flowers were strewn in the path of the processions and Eucharist.
Up until the late 1980s and early
1990s that was such a live tradition that, said the postman, often if a family came late they would find that all of Rosemary's wee roses were picked already.
I recall, as we chatted before the incoming shower, that it was clear many of that summer's blooms had already been picked and the roadside grasses were trampled down by the callers.
Times change do they not, and rapidly too. It is a long, long time since the Famine even though it is a marrow memory for many of us.
But what struck me most powerfully at Cassidy's Cross the other evening was that arguably a mutated kind of rural Famine is ongoing even today. The little wild rosebush called Rosemary was covered along every branch with a profusion of beautiful nodding pink heads the likes of which you will rarely see. Breathtaking. But it is clear that no First Communion girleens are coming any more with their families to sustain the old tradition.
Anyway, the school in the hamlet is long since closed because of falling numbers and the few children of a decimated population are being bussed away to the big town. The Catholic Church has lost most of the power that fortified the old generations and traditions too.
And the young generations of today are scattered as widely across the globe as they were back in the really bad old days of yore. That is the way it is.
I looked over the wall across the boreen with a spine of green grass down the middle. The two cottages of the two Cassidy families that once dwelt here are now tumbledown and quite forlorn.
I suppose the descendants of those families, if any. have now followed the imposed drift from rural to urban. That indeed is the way it is.
One thing about our wee wild roses is that they do not long survive being plucked. They are not like the English Tea roses that can flaunt themselves for a week in a vase of water.
I did not pluck any of the lovely little things before me against the ivy and the briars. I just gently touched the crown of the nearest one and said an Our Father for the long lost Mary of Cassidy's Cross. And then I went away.