(DEARLY beloved, please have pity on this poor divil as we approach the holy season of Easter. It is his job to discover witty and whimsical elements of rural Ireland for your weekly delectation.

That was joyous and easy up until 18 months ago. Times have changed for the worse since. The economy has crashed, failed bankers are being arrested every day, bishops are resigning because of horrific clerical child abuse revelations which they never dealt with, unemployment and crime levels are soaring, the government is wobbling and ministers are dropping out of it like flies.

There are lines outside the passport office as people leave the country in droves. Great pubs are closing down through the island every week, both morals and morales are in the gutter. Smiling faces are scarce.
Yet this poor divil here is going to do his level best to avoid all that gloom for yet another week by telling ye about his Easter eggs.)

Real genuine hens' Easter eggs were a central part of the traditional Easter 50 years ago throughout the land. The mothers boiled dozens of eggs for the family on Easter morning.

Many of them were brightly painted to celebrate the end of Lent. Usually there were smiling faces painted on them.

It was a matter of pride how many of them you could devour with your thick slices of buttered toast and cups of sweet tea. A lad of 10 might be able to manage four or five, and he would be boasting about that for a week.
There were not that many chocolate eggs around then.

I will have my own genuine Easter eggs this year. A fortnight ago I was down in the Honk, and a friend and neighbor told me he had purchased a few dozen cheap hens from a huge commercial producer in Limerick.

This producer has 7,000 or 8,000 laying hens and he changes them very often so he always has young enthusiastic laying hens. My neighbor said once the hens he'd bought had got a bit of free range and a rest from commercial production they would begin laying again. Was I interested in taking a few of them off his hands?

A pint later and I was the owner of five exhausted red hens for about 25 dollars of your money. They were to be delivered as soon as I had erected a coop for them.

In a month, free gratis, the neighbor would also supply my red hens with a young and virile rooster to garnish the quality of their lives. I was delighted with my deal.

The following day I set about the construction of my coop around a suitable small shed attached to our large one in the back garden. The shed was full of junk. I emptied it totally.

I went to the hardware store and bought a roll of chicken wire, paling posts, staples and nylon ties and various other sundries, including a large sack of chicken food. I then set to work with a will.

It is relevant that I am the unhandiest man with any tool that you could ever meet. But I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot all about bishops and bankers and unemployment for the whole day.

I suffered physically. The ground was so hard I had to crowbar the deep holes for the fence posts. I wounded my soft typist's hands with both the small hammer and the sledgehammer. When driving home the staples I inflicted major damage on one finger and one thumb.

I had to construct a little gate for the coop, and this took me the better part of the next day. It is a terrible thing to be unhandy.

However, by the end of that second day I had erected roosts in the shed, created a laying area with planks and sawdust, supplied a feeding dish and water. During the latter stages I broke the head off my small hammer. That's par for the course for me.

But again, happy as Larry, never thought about the economy at all. And the Dutch Nation was delighted with my work and the impending arrival of our flock.

They arrived the next day when I was away for an hour getting plasters and ointment for my wounded fingers. The neighbor left a note on the cottage door saying they were installed in the coop.

They were there indeed, in the little shed, complaining bitterly, still squatting in two cardboard boxes. I released them immediately.

They were five matronly red hens clearly not in the first flush of youth. They attacked the food and drink immediately and later inspected their new quarters, clucking all the while.

We were delighted with them. We would have our own Easter eggs maybe with a bit of luck.

I locked them in their shed at nightfall because this countryside is alive with foxes, pine marten and wild mink. When they were released the next morning there was one beautiful brown egg on the sawdust. The Dutch Nation had it boiled for her breakfast and was over the moon.

By teatime that evening one of them was gone. When I inspected my fence I found the weak place beside the old mortar wall through which she had escaped. Bad workmanship.

There were no feathers outside, but for sure she was a fox's dinner by then. I repaired the fence. The Dutch Nation was brokenhearted.

She was even worse the following evening when there was another escapee. I reckon this one was startled, maybe by one of our cats, and simply flew over the fence.

Desperate measures were needed. I bought more wire and made the fence nearly twice as high.

Then, as I captured and held the angry matrons, I had to cajole the Dutch Nation to clip their wings. She did not want to cause them pain, and we had the father and mother of an argument when I kept insisting that she cut the feathers shorter and shorter.

Meanwhile, the three red hens were raising Cain. I had no time to think of bishops or bankers or the state of the nation.

But I was as stiff as one of my own new posts, and my hands were bleeding in several places.

When I went down to the Honk that night word of my project had arrived before me.

I was the butt of many cruel jokes and was nicknamed The Eggler! I thought sourly to myself over my pint that I had spent a couple of hundred dollars at that stage for dinner for two foxes, or two dinners for one fox, and my only return had been one egg. As expensive an egg as you'll get anywhere.

And that led to dark thoughts about the economy again, and bishops and bankers and scandals. Not a good night.

Things have improved sharply since, however. The three red hens are now happy in their new coop, show no signs of trying to escape, and are presenting us with at least two brown eggs every morning. Neighbors say they love to hear the sound of them cackingly boasting after they have laid those eggs.

The Dutch Nation has forgiven me, the lads in the Honk have stopped calling me The Eggler (not a complimentary term in the old days!) and the young rooster is scheduled to arrive in about a week.

All is well with the world when you look at it from that perspective, and I am recouping my investment and will have my very own Easter eggs this year.
Maybe, like in days of yore, I will paint a smiling face on one of them.

Why not?And I hope one or two of ye smiled during the last couple of minutes while reading this.