Every April of the last 20 years and more I have the joy of writing a magical sentence on this page. It is simple enough. It is always the same five word sentence.
I only get to write it once every year wherever I am located at the time, be it in Connemara on the edge of Galway Bay, close to Shannon Airport, or today on the edge of the silvered Shannon on the Tipperary border.
So I write it again now: "Our swallows are back again!"
That appears to be a minor matter but, no, it is hugely important across the scale of life and living in the west that the incredibly graceful feathered travelers have returned again to garnish the brightening skies.
Yes, it is a standard avian migration event at one level but, certainly to me and to many, it is so much more than that.
It is a declaration that another cold, dark winter has disappeared into all its dank and murky and drenched yesterdays. It is the arrival of brightness and light and long golden evenings across
Galway Bay and the Aran Islands and Connemara and, here and now, as I write, the flick-along shadows chasing themselves across the face of the Shannon.
It is the promise of brighter times and existences ahead for all of us!
Forgive me if I come across as a little maudlin here, but the arrival again on our shores of the swallows is in many ways spiritual, sacramental even, soul-warming, heartbreaking in its own way too.
It is many years ago now, away up high in the Curlew Mountains of Sligo, that
I was writing a story about a mighty traditional fiddler named McDermott. The photographer with me, a Dubliner called Mick Loftus, was taking shots of the musician outside his cottage door when we all spotted the first swallows above our heads, and McDermott instantly launched into a reel he had composed himself as a young man and had called "The Humors of the Swallows."
And he said there was a pishogue (superstition) around his home place at the foot of the mountains about the swallows.
He said the old people believed that the most of them did not travel across the earth and the oceans to come to Sligo at all. None of that.
Many of them had actually descended down from heaven for the summer to again experience the sights and sounds of home because they were, in fact, elements of the souls and spirits of the folk from the mountains who had died during the cold hard winter and still were not quite as happy, even in paradise, as they had been atop the airy Curlews.
Sure I was and am a sucker for yarns like that, so I wrote it all down and Mick took his photographs, and the swallows flew overhead close enough for him to capture one or two of them in the shot. We got a half-page spread for the story and both of us got a byline and went away happy as Larry below the lissome fliers.
And Mick said to me on the way he had heard before of the superstition, which was widespread enough in the country in the old days, when some folk suggested there was a deeper link between the departure of the old men and women from this world and the return, year after year, to the home sheds and cabin rooves, of the nesting swallows.
I suspect many of you are laughing at me now, but I am so overjoyed this evening at what I am seeing up against the clouds that I don't care at all. Indeed that story reverberates with me on this special day every year.
I have lived long enough now for my parents and their generation, and indeed my first wife Ann and a brother and sister too to have already migrated, if you like, to that other dimension beyond our ken.
Is it not more than a little comforting and heartwarming this evening for me to hear the echoes of that reel from the Curlews in my head as I look at the beautifully graceful new arrivals around me?
And surely there is nothing wrong in hoping that indeed some element of those I have loved and lost are in some fashion closer to me now than at any time during the cold hard winter.
Strangely, out of nowhere, like a dash of the colder waters of reality and this world, I now recall something else which Mick told me back then before he headed back to Dublin with his photographs.
He had been a merchant seaman in his youth, he said, and during the swallow migrations at this time of year he had several times viewed a natural event which shocked him.
When the winds were strongly blowing against the swallows heading for Ireland, the flocks routinely sought shelter and respite on the masts and super structures of the big waddling ships below. Before they began their migration, you see, they would have been feeding up for the long flight.
Then the winds came and exhausted them and, Mick said, all the birds of a large flock would, as he put it, run out of fuel at exactly the same time. If they did not reach the safety of the ship they all fell down into the cold Atlantic at the same time like a confetti of death.
Enough of that. The lovely fliers over the Shannon this evening made it all the way safe and sound.
And soon they will be mating and nesting in the comfortable crannies of the cattle sheds and cabins in Clare and Tipperary, using the same spots their ancestors used in their time and season for the same elemental purposes of life.
And come September the young ones will be well fit to fly away from us again. Back up perhaps to paradise.
Chuckle away. I'm happy anyway.