The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Nothing like the springtime return of the swallows to Ireland
Posted on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 10:53 AM
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- A lovely tale of island life in the paradise of West Clare
- The Boarding Out orphan was a wonderful pick
- How do the Irish regard their American visitors? With pride
How many times now have I informed ye with the greatest of joy that the swallows have returned to Ireland after their long winter in Africa?
It is a couple of decades, is it not, because I've been writing for the Irish Voice with pleasure since the very beginning, more than 20 years ago.
Well, the week has come again. The swallows are back.
I think I've been in the habit of writing that they are small scissors of things that come back to cut away the last remnants of winter. Let me use that sentence again.
They are doing just that over the thatched roof as I write. And they are reminding me that they have been tweeting for far longer than this digital generation has been at it.
The sight of them over my life always touches me more deeply than anything else in nature, nowayears a small bit more poignantly since I know I've seen them return to this Emerald Isle far more often than I will see this week again. But never mind that sort of thinking.
The important point is that they are back, flitting across the faces of brighter and warmer suns. And I will surely hear the cuckoo any day now.
I met him today actually. I'm talking about Cuckoo Noonan the mechanic.
I know him now for about the decade I've been in Clare and I have not an idea what his proper Christian name is. It does not matter at all either because Cuckoo is among the minority of nicknamed Irishmen to whom you can use the nickname directly.
Ironically given the paragraph above I know one man widely known as Swallow who probably does not know that is his nickname. I know how he got it too.
His photograph appeared in the local paper about 30 years ago when he was in his youth. He was best man at a formal wedding and had to wear a swallow-tail coat.
He's a short man, the coat was not a good fit, the tail was trailing the ground all day and he has been The Swallow ever since!
But only behind his back. When you are speaking to his face you call him Christopher.
But back to Cuckoo Noonan the mechanic. I admire him hugely, not because he is good at his trade and rescued me once from a raining roadside breakdown.
Mostly I admire his precise and colorful deployment of the Queen's English as spoken (and improved) by the Irish. Nobody can use English as precisely as Cuckoo because he has his very own system for catching the qualities of men and women, accurately, in a single sentence and, often enough, in a single word.
That takes some doing but Cuckoo's system is perfect.
What he does, in synopsis, is apply the good and bad features of motor cars and trucks and vans to human beings. It works to perfection.
When we were talking this afternoon, for example, I mentioned the sudden passing of a decent farmer at the other end of the parish the previous night.
"He was a Ford of a man," said Cuckoo, meaning that our neighbor had been reliable, dependable, quiet, nothing showy about him at all.
And later on in the chat, when I mentioned a young wild lad who had gotten himself into a fight on Saturday night, Cuckoo said, "He's a Hiace, like all of them.”
Over here the Hiace van is often associated with the small section of the traveling people who are no strangers to trouble and petty crime. It may be an unfair and unjustified connection, but it exists in the language.
Cuckoo has a brand for men and women of all ages. Young lads sowing their wild oats but of respectable stock are Hondas.
Decent farmers, as we've heard, are Fords, beautiful flighty young women are either Fiestas or Citreons, commercial folk are likely to be called Opels or Peugeots, doctors are BMWs or Volvos, school teachers, if he likes them, are Saabs; if not they are Fiats, a brand for which Cuckoo has no respect at all.
Fianna Fail politicians (his party) are Mercedes Benz models. All other politicians are Renaults, and about all foreigners are Volkswagens.
The list is long, and when you relate your own knowledge of the person Cuckoo speaks of to the brand he applies to them it is deadly accurate.
He uses the names of trucks and construction plants too where applicable. He's a great man for following Gaelic football, for example, and still says that the mighty Kerryman Paidi O'Se was a JCB, and he describes the non-stop Tyrone player Brian Dooher as a Land Rover.
I think if I knew more about cars and trucks than I do then I would understand the nuances of his comments even more richly. But any chat with Cuckoo is both stimulating and enjoyable.
He has not been in the chapel for years, and he describes all priests and bishops as Ladas, for whatever that is worth or whatever significance it has.
On his unique scale Michael Collins was a Bentley but de Valera was a Rolls Royce and so, he said to me lately, is your President Obama!
Since I am not a native of this parish and, furthermore, originally from the North, I rather fancy I'm an old Volkswagen! I'll have to check that out soon with one of my friends, certainly regarded as a Ford of a man by Cuckoo. I'll do that one of these fine early summer days and fervently hope that I'm neither a Lada nor a Hiace on the scale.
In the meantime the swallows are back and the days are bright.
Can I please finish up now and head down to The Honk for a late pint with a couple of Fords and an Opel?