Reveling in the sunlight of the long awaited Irish spring, our man in Clare recalls the seven messengers that herald the end of winter.
Many of you who were born in Ireland know all about the mythical Seven Sleepers whose arrival annually truly signals the advent of our gentler spring after winter has reluctantly withdrawn its harsh fangs.
My great news from the west this week is that the Seven Sleepers are back in action, the Emerald Isle is beginning to warm and greenify itself as only it can when given half a chance. Hearts are lighter, smiles wider, the golden evenings longer and brighter under a spectacular sliver of a moon. It is all extremely heartwarming.
In case some of you in the faraway have forgotten about the Seven Sleepers who flitted into being the springs of your childhood, I jog your memory. The sleepers are the bee, the bat, the butterfly the cuckoo and the swallow, the corncrake and the weather-bleat and, as the old folk used say, all the rest will quickly follow the original messengers. It has always happened that way even after the harshest and longest winters such as the one we have just endured.
I have not yet heard the cuckoo in Clare this year, and the once widespread corncrakes are now less numerous than they were along the Shannon a few decades ago, but as bees and bats and butterflies ornament my local landscapes now on a daily and nightly basis (in the case of the bat population) it is impossible not to be touched deeply by the real perennial miracle of the changing of the seasons.
The early swallows, beautiful as ever, have been flitting around the place for more than 10 days now, the bees are droning in numbers, the grass and shrubs are growing strongly and vividly, and, any morning now for sure, in this most strikingly scenic stretch of Europe, I am sure to hear the first cuckoo.
There are not as many of them hereabouts, I’ve discovered, as there were in Connemara during the years I resided there. But you still hear and see the odd one around the place, usually with angry small birds chasing her away from their precious nests lest she come in and eject their resident eggs before claiming squatters’ rights.
As for the corncrake, the truth is that if I don’t hear him or her at all this year I will be a happier man and likely to enjoy a better night’s sleep. Their harshly unending ventriloquism from the meadows of my Ulster boyhood when you had been sent to bed behind golden curtains far too early in your view is a memory I can easily do without.
So, quite likely, that is the case for many of you too. Schoolboy sleeping and corncrakes do not happily cohabit for sure.
Anyway, as the butterflies glorify the gardens again, it is equally fair to report that the west has rarely appeared so magnificently and awesomely beautiful as it does this year. The new green growth in the fields is as delicately lissom and gossamer as the silken dress of this year’s crop of Confirmation schoolgirls.
The claws and snows of winter cleared the extra wild weeds away from the peaks of the airy highlands, the lakes and rivers are pristine silver, any showers of rain to sustain the growth pass through quickly as April ebbs away because they are being driven away by warm ridges of high pressure from mainland Europe rather than coming in with their bellies full of rain across the wild Atlantic as is more usual.
If you have Irish blood in your veins, as many of you do, you should try and make it over to your birthland for even a short vacation this summer or fall. So many visitors in the past have told me that their first trip to the Ireland of their ancestors was a truly spiritual experience for them right from their first day on the old sod.
It is also true that all the airports on the island are offering an infinitely wider range of cheap flights this year than were ever available before. Check those out and be amazed at what is available.
I better stop here and now lest I become too maudlin as is likely to happen at this time of the new season. My excuse for running off at the mouth a bit is that I am writing this column for Debbie in our sunroom, and a big brown and yellow butterfly is fluttering around my fingers in a high state of curiosity. I have to be careful not to do damage to his or her wings so I will finish up soon.
Incidentally, again on a warm community note, I was telling ye last week that the Shannon Airport authorities, as a community gesture, were offering the grass from the edge of their airstrips to local farmers whose supplies of fodder were running out. Much of that green grass has already been cut and brought home to feed cattle who will soon be able to go out of their sheds and paddocks on to the grazing lands now being pointed out to them by those magical Seven Sleepers.
The brown butterfly has now been joined close to my fingers by a fat black bee, again with no respect for an old hack at work. Since he can sting sharply that’s as good an excuse as any for me to shut up shop for the evening. Is that okay by you?