We are just finding our feet in the historic old town of Killaloe on the other flank of Clare. We moved into our new home there just as the first Christmas trees began peeping out from the porches of our new neighbors and as the street lighting systems began to blink and blaze all over the island of Ireland.
It is a bit surreal to be approaching a Christmas anywhere else but under the long thatched roof of Maisie's an hour's drive away now towards Shannon, but Killaloe is as serenely lovely as it is historic and we are relishing the change already. The December weather to date, like the rest of the autumn, has been goldenly gentle and kind.
I went for a short drive a little while ago and, whatever about the golden twilight above me, long old lazy Lough Derg, once so beloved by King Brian Boru and his Dalcassians, was curling and curving itself around the toes of the town like a silver bracelet.
I went for a brief stroll along the shore with the two eager dogs Anika and Pepper, and when I saw a holly bush in the whispering hedge I brought home one seasonal little branch of it for our new mantelpiece. Holly, above any other natural element, is surely the prime symbol of the season that is in it.
Looking at it now as I send a genuinely felt peace wish to every one of you readers wherever you are, the thought strikes me quite powerfully that my holly branch over the fireplace is, in truth, not just a symbol and icon of the serene season we approach again but, in many deeper ways, a kind of sylvan johari mirror reflecting not just the recent Irish realities but maybe even the realities of many facets of life in a far wider world. I will try to explain that as best I can.
If the summer and autumn in Ireland had been damp and wild and without any prolonged spells of good weather for growth promotion in the fields and forests, then you can be sure that the holly of that Christmas will be almost entirely devoid of the dramatically scarlet berries that garnish the emerald green and glossy leaves.
It is not just human populations that reflect the effects of austerity measures such as all Europe has suffered in recent years. In a harsh weather year you can search miles of hedgerows and find no berried holly at all.
I am delighted to report to ye that MacConnell's 2014 holly branch is groaning under the weight of flamingly bright berries. They are illuminating the whole room!
If I make a connection between that sight and all the recent economic reports that we have survived the worst of our dreadful recession and the New Year could be brighter then let us all hope that connection holds good.
There is another reality of course, sure there always is. As ever, every leaf of my holly is fringed with edges of sharp thorns. Those thorns are the most wickedly effective thorns and spikes in all the woodlands, and you really need to wear strong gloves when hunting holly at this time of year.
Is that not somehow relevant to many of our political and economic circumstances at the end of another year? I think it is indeed.
Many of the economic indices we are hearing about are, if you like, berried with the prospects of better times ahead but, at the same time, the government is being daily pricked by a crown of thorny issues related to elements such as the water rates, housing shortages, stubborn unemployment levels, and an extremely prickly series of exchanges in the Dail (Parliament) with a very angry opposition indeed.
We sadly know from history that crowns of thorns are not easily borne. The government of Enda Kenny is currently suffering badly, it has to be said, and there is little evidence of peace and goodwill in the corridors of power as I write. Hopefully things will settle down over the Yuletide but you cannot be sure that they will.
I look at the gleamingly glossy green leaves surrounded by their berries and thorns, and though maybe it is an optical illusion, I don't believe I have ever seen such a beautifully rich and rare shade on any holly. Another tribute to the splendid autumn weather, probably, all those long slanting suns.
But again, without being at all maudlin or sentimental, can I marry the mention of that resilient elemental greenery to yet more recent official statistics from the EC and elsewhere which state strongly that Ireland, despite recent stresses and strains, is once again a great place to reside in or to visit, is still as hospitable as ever, boasts unbeatable scenery and natural attractions and, like they used say about Naples, should be experienced at least once before any of ye head away to another dimension.
Lasting peace hope and serenity to you all from Killaloe.