Our summer arrived recently with the nation's clocks being forwarded one hour to usher in the season, and I find myself sitting in the back garden drinking a coffee and surrounded by the most melodious dawn chorus from the wild little free birds from the lands around Lough Derg and Killaloe. Soul-warming so that I close my eyes with pleasure like an old cat on a sundrenched windowsill.
But more than that by far, a moment of magic and memory flickers from nowhere and somewhere and that is why, believe it or not, I can say to all of you that, in six months or so, because of that magic moment and the rich folklore connected to it, my personal spirit and substance, in a unique way, will enhance and protect the dawn chorus.
And, as I leave the garden with some urgency to begin the process, I say thanks for the folkloric knowledge, long ago, of my dear father Sandy.
Bear with me as I saunter up the hill from home into town, buy a morning paper and then, for the first time in about three years climb the stairs leading to a unisex hair salon called Strands and almost don’t have the courage to enter that salon because it is packed with womenfolk of all ages.
I am the only man under the busy roof. I have more hair on my male head than any three female customers. I feel like a herring in outer space until the extremely friendly lady in charge of the house suggests I join the short queue and she will get to me soon.
I hide behind my paper, reflecting that it is the first time I have been inside a unisex hair salon. The atmosphere was totally male and macho and garnished with burly barbers with leather strops and glittering cutthroat razors back in the days when I was a regular enough customer. Long ago now.
Anyway, I eventually reached a chair and the charming hairdresser wittily agreed to cut my silvered locks down to the skull at no extra cost for the extra work involved. She also instantly agreed to place the shorn locks in a plastic bag which I had brought with me when I explained there was an old family tradition involved.
As she snipped away we had great craic altogether. At the end of the process she told me I looked a decade younger, presented me with my plastic bag, and was only going to charge me €5 for her skill. (There is a message there for the Patrick McDonnell who I was critical of here last week over his rip-off Ireland piece on IrishCentral). I had to almost fight with the good lady to give her a small tip.
I walked home slowly remembering the wisdoms of Sandy and one fragment, especially at this time of the year when it is nesting season for our wild birds.
When Sandy got his haircut in this season he would place the shorn locks out on top of the hedge in the back garden in line with an ancient superstition. The hope and reality too was that the finches and sparrows and tits and dunnocks and robins would take away the hair to line their new nests. This was said to bring good luck both to the man, woman or child who owned the hair, and also to the entire family.
The birds did take it away quickly back then, I remember, and my father was always delighted by that. But there was another element to the superstition which Sandy only informed me about, almost by accident, many years later.
It is at this time of year, too, that the cuckoo arrives in Ireland and, as we all know, she builds no nest at all. She lays an egg in the nest of a smaller bird always.
Her chick when it hatches, ejects the native eggs or indeed tiny fledglings from their own nest, and the parents of the nest are subsequently stretched to the limit to keep food in the nest for the relatively huge and voracious young cuckoo. Which, of course, flies away in midsummer, leaving them exhausted behind. It is a fact of nature.
But what is also a fact is that Madam Cuckoo does not deposit just one egg in one nest. I am told that she can deposit up to dozen eggs in vulnerable nests throughout an entire district.
The impact on the incoming population of the small birds, especially in environmentally challenging times like these, is significant and becoming more pronounced in recent years.
But the old folklorists like Sandy always believed that, for whatever reason, the cuckoo would never ever deposit her egg in a nest which had been even partially lined with hair from the head of a human!
Accordingly, walking in the footsteps of the old ones before my time, I went down the garden when I got home and spread out my silvery gift along the top of the back wall as the birds sang all around.
There was not one strand left when I checked the next morning. And that is how I have contributed so uniquely, according to Ulster superstition at least, to the dawn chorus of the upcoming summer when young ones join in.