The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Living off the land, GAA sporting pride and economic woes bring sad times too
Posted on Saturday, June 01, 2013 at 08:14 AM
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I'm in the cottage kitchen with the door open because it is fine outside and a lady butterfly comes dancing in. She flutters around my head for a moment before elegantly fluttering away out into the sunshine again.
Some days in the west are garnished by stray little images like this, matterless things that actually matter. She changes my morning mood infinitely for the better.
From nowhere at all I think of an illuminating line, maybe from Emily Dickinson, about joy and hope being something feathered which perches on the edge of your soul. Like that anyway.
The Dutch Nation is on a long shift in Ennis which means that I am in charge of dinner when she comes home in the evening. I had not an idea in my head about what would be on the menu until a neighbor man came in an hour ago with the gift of silvery mackerel freshly caught in the Atlantic at dawn.
At this time of year when the mackerel shoal off the coast, it is frequent that fishermen catch many of them and neighbors are likely to benefit. So I decide that it will be chowder which will form the spine of the dinner because I already have a nice piece of cod in the fridge. That is why I was over the saucepan when the butterfly came dancing in.
You are not going to have to put up with any kind of culinary lesson here, I promise, but while I was putting the chowder together I suddenly realized that one good neighbor's gift of mackerel fillets was going into the pan with another neighbor's gift of big juicy Spanish onions and carrots that had also been a present from yet another neighbor.
Is that not a rural community functioning at its very best and brightest? We give gifts in return, naturally, especially, ironically, containers of crystal water from a distiller which Annet bought some months ago.
There is something very heartening about being one link in a community chain combating harder times than those of yesterday. I think that when the Celtic Tiger was roaring through the land that many of the old customs like this were sharply diluted. It is mighty they have revived and strongly survived.
The dancing butterfly and the silvery mackerel, as I said, brightened a mood which had been somewhat more somber earlier, largely because of the absolute thrashing which Mayo's footballers handed out to Galway 24 hours earlier in the first round of the GAA Connacht championship.
County prides flare up at this time each year when the GAA championships ignite them. I am not a Galwegian, as ye know, but my kids are and they will be in low mood for the rest of the week at least.
My bad times lie ahead, as a Fermanagh man, because a strong Cavan outfit surprisingly defeated Armagh in the first round of the Ulster championship, and we have to face them next. I will need that feathered something that perches on the edge of the hopeful soul for sure.
For those of you who are interested in Gaelic football and hurling and the county prides and achievements over the years can I say, especially for readers with Mayo blood in them, that the total destruction of Galway in the first round clash was the worst thing that could have happened to Mayo.
It guarantees that this team of fine and highly trained footballers will not win the All-Ireland final of 2013 either.
They are likely to trounce Roscommon in the next round and to end the summer as Connacht champions full of hope and promise yet again.
And it is after that, right up to Croke Park in the September final, maybe, that for some complex reason beyond me, that they flatter to deceive. They do not deliver what they are worth. If they were golfers they would be chokers.
I've seen Mayo teams served by the finest individual players in the land somehow playing away below their best when the crunch times arrived.
They should have won Sam Maguire at least twice in the last 20 years. They have not. They have not delivered since away back in the forties of the last century.
And that is a crying shame for the most loyal and passionate supporters in the country.
For what it is worth, as a tip I suggest ye keep an eye on Dublin's progress this year. They are a seasoned and hungry outfit now.
I checked the mailbox a little while ago as the chowder began to bubble beautifully and the cats siesta'd on the cottage windowsills. It was empty again, and that is both telling and sad for the future of rural Ireland and indeed Ireland generally.
The authorities in Dublin, on economic grounds, are on the edge of closing down scores of small post offices in the provinces, largely, I fear, because emailing and the web are rapidly supplanting snail mail.
Most of what is being delivered by rural postmen nowadays, sadly, is junk mail on behalf of the hungrily competing supermarkets and fast food outlets.
Our postmen have always been a special element of country life, right from the time when they cycled through their long rounds and carried the news of the parish from one door to another. They were far more than mere mailmen, and so were the little post offices which were their bases.
The harsh economics which are closing down scores of small Garda (police) stations, many small schools, even small hospitals, and the concurrent dwindling numbers of country shops, filling stations and pubs are all combining to create a climate where, soon, there will be far fewer neighbors calling to each other's doors with gifts of mackerel and onions and carrots.
I'll leave it at that before the impact of the butterfly's lovely dance fades away altogether. See more: Irish Roots , GAA