|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
I love informing ye every spring about the return of the swallows to Ireland. It is always a watershed moment of the year. It has come again.
On last Sunday morning I'm sitting out in the garden with a cup of coffee, Anika the dog leaning against my legs, Tuppence the cat installed on my lap, the sun shining warmly, and suddenly five of them are overhead twirling and turning. I say Thank God and feel even better.
They always appear first over the roof of my friend Jimmy White's house across the country road.
There is a lake behind Jimmy's, and I'm certain they are attracted by the rich insect lode above the surface of the quiet waters there.
On closer observation it appears to me that these first arrivals of this year have had a tougher trip than usual. They look leaner, smaller, close to exhaustion.
But then there has been a lot of bad and windy weather along their route. They need the insects over the lough to recharge their biological batteries for sure.
I wonder idly how many of them did not make it all the way, and remember the merchant seaman telling me years ago about sometimes seeing entire flocks running out of energy simultaneously over the ocean and plunging to their deaths together.
Still, these beautifully iconic migrants have made it again. They will be courting in a week and returning to the nests in the rooves of my sheds. Life goes on.-----------------Read more: Irish priests say they will disobey new confession box law on child abuse Ten reasons why Bill O’Reilly is worth $10 million a year to Fox- VIDEO -----------------
Speaking of which, I was fascinated over the weekend by the postings connected with my piece in the Irish Voice of two weeks ago, in which I wrote about how warmly we as a nation regard our very own Yanks when they return on family visits.
The positive and negative views were, of course predictable, but I was interested in a couple of the threads in the debate. A pleasant one was the pride of so many of you in being Americans (first) who happened to bear Irish blood from way back. That is right and fitting.
Not so pleasant was the message from some that not all Irish families are so totally welcoming towards their American visitors, and that we are still an expensive holiday destination.
I suppose it takes all kinds to make the world, and overall most agreed that they feel welcome when they come here. That is good news indeed.
But an incidental element in the discussion was the fundamental formative impact on your great nation of the Quakers. I have to comment that I have often regretted not being born a Quaker myself, especially during sectarian episodes here at home.
All the Quakers I've met in Ireland down the years, beginning with the famous Bewley’s café family decades ago, have been very special people. All of them have been much more humane and humanitarian and caring than the rest of us.
They are also courteous and gentle men and women. Given our Catholic problems worldwide at present, it has always impressed me hugely that Quaker family homes generally serve as their churches and meeting houses, and that they do not have a permanent clergy like other denominations.
You or I could be leading the prayers next Sunday!
There was a Quaker community in Waterford during a year I worked there. I came to know and associate with many of them.
They were the most "good" souls I've ever met. They did not need huge soaring basilicas.
All of them were walking chapels of gentle spirits. We could do with more of them on both sides of the Atlantic.
I popped out of doors for a few minutes between paragraphs and, yes, my swallows are much more lively this afternoon. It is breezy and bright, a typical April day, and I send my best regards to the several friends and readers who dwell in your Midwest region around so-called Tornado Alley.
Watching the weather reports from there in recent days has been truly frightening for us. That kind of fierce and unpredictable weather, unleashing such immediate and lethal consequences, is quite beyond our ken. May whatever deity you put your trust in keep ye all safe from harm.
I was cutting a hedge in the cottage garden yesterday when I came upon an old bird's nest in the center of it. It was beautifully constructed and positioned, lined snugly with hairs which, given their silvery color, almost certainly included some of my own!
Poignantly, however, the long abandoned nest contained the broken brittle blue shells of three eggs.
Had the fledglings hatched safely the mother would have thrown them out to make space for the chicks. Clearly the cycle of life was broken along the way.
Sitting atop the wall nearby the cat, Tuppence watched me closely with her hunting, unblinking emerald eyes. Rightly or wrongly, because she is a lethal hunter, I blamed her for killing the mother.
But sure, as we know, Life goes on. And on.