|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
Cherry blossoms are exploding all over the west this week in that first demonstration of the arrival of another holiday season.
They are poignant and exotic and lissom things. They are beautiful young geisha girls in delicate saris suddenly landed in a foreign climate.
It is a bit sad that after the wonderfully mild March our April has arrived with its normal ration of showers and windy weather, and so the geishas are vanishing as quickly as they appear. But there is a mighty transient beauty involved in the brighter light of the longer days.
More enduring is a sign I saw on the roadside two days ago when passing through the fabled village of Spancilhill in East Clare, home of the internationally famed summertime horse fair every June.
Most of you know at least one or two verses of the famous ballad which celebrates one of the most colorful rural events of the year. I saw the sign close to Duggan's Pub, where the veteran balladeer Robbie McMahon still charms all comers with his version of “Spancilhill” and the other great old ballads on the first Friday evening of each month.
The sign simply read "Donkeys for Sale" and reminded me that while the fair itself is a horse fair, it has also always been noted as a donkey market.
I've seen the vagaries of that market sharply defined down the years. Long ago you could buy an ass for maybe a five pound note, maybe 30 years ago, but there were recent years when you would have to fork out more than a thousand dollars for a good young mare.
Donkeys became fashionable across Europe. I don't know what they fetch today, but we will only now have to wait a few weeks to find out on the day of the fair.
There were other signs, many of them in big red lettering, on the approaches to the Galway town of Portumna further down the same road. These were indicators of the New Ireland rather than the old.
It seems the European bosses who now think they own us (they probably do too!) want us to preserve about 50 of the raised blanket bogs which have largely been cut away across Europe. It's an environmental issue, and our government is trying to enforce it.
The last generation of the ancient turfcutters of the land are fiercely opposing the ending of a culture.
The many signs proclaim their intent to continue to cut their turf as usual this year again despite all the new regulations and stiff penalties. They warn all park rangers and inspectors to stay off their lands in the strongest of language.
One of the leaders of the national campaign is the colorful Roscommon politician called Luke "Ming" Flanagan. He has already been pictured turfcutting in his Castlerea bog.
There's the makings of a strange battle here nationally. You could see hunger strikes and jailings.
It has been my experience that when the quietest and most peaceful sections of rural Ireland are angered by something, then they are the most implacable opponents of all.
One is reminded of what happened some years ago when a Fianna Fail administration tried to force anglers to take out an angling license. The gentle anglers reacted like commandos. They easily won in the end.
The turfcutters are likely to triumph too, or at least receive levels of compensation which will make their fight worthwhile. Mark my words.
All these local issues conspire to shove our most serious economic problems well under the daily headlines through the Easter season. To my mind that is probably a good thing, at least in the short term.
The one worry I have just now is that our coalition (and it always happens), is beginning to display the first real signs of stress between Fine Gael and Labor. It has to happen sooner or later, but we need an election now like a hole in the head.
Read my colleague John Spain closely for the next month and he will fathom out the details for sure.
For my money, much would be solved by jailing a few disgraced bankers and financiers soonest rather than pursuing the harmless turfcutters.
Finally, on the Ripley’s frequency, in this amazing land of ours, I heard this morning from a reliable source that a real genuine witch hunt and ghost hunt is likely to commence soon in the County Roscommon I mentioned earlier in relation to the turf affair. It seems that there is a high-powered group, equipped with all manner of high-tech gadgetry, now in action in Ireland in scientific pursuit of paranormal activity.
In other words, they are ghost-hunting. And my information is that they have made application to the authorities in charge of beautiful old Strokestown House in the town of Strokestown to carry out an investigation there.
That should be interesting if and when it happens, and I will keep my eyes and ears open on your behalf.
Are ye not a lucky bunch? John Spain can be counted upon to look after the sharper and more social and economic matters of the era. And I will report on the ghosts of the west.