Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
I was once fortunate enough to see the birth of a filly foal to a Connemara mare on home ground beneath the Twelve Pins near Roundstone. The mare selected a quiet corner of her tiny field surrounded by grey stone walls and it was on an autumn afternoon.

The birth was fast and explosive, the foal a slicked image amidst expired body fluids, looking more dead than alive but, within moments, struggling up on to her incredibly long and tottering spindled legs under the licking tongue of her mother.

She leaned against the mare to keep her balance but shortly was suckling in the sunshine, new life against old wise stones beneath the Pins.  The mother became what the horsie folk call "a mare with foal at foot," her daughter always only suckling distance away for months, leaning against the sturdy support of the mother, poignantly dependent. It was a touchingly beautiful image.

I think of infant years like that since. They are somehow dependent upon their elders and begetters for months.

We are there again. I wish all of you the peace and blessings of a new year.

In the dying hours of the old year I stood outside a cottage near Craggaunowen in Clare.  It was mild and gentle and we were invited to a party within to celebrate the arrival, if you like, of the new foal of a year in a few hours time.

The gentlemanly English householder showed me the tiny red roses in full bloom against the cottage wall. In the dying hours of December!

He got them, he said, out of a rubbish skip in Holland years earlier, discarded probably by a nursery. Now the winter wall is blazing with them.

Check out IrishCentral's The Gathering page here

Inside the cottage it was mighty to see an authentic flagstone floor of Moher flagstones. They are getting scarcer and scarcer by the day.

I told the Englishman there was almost certainly a broken iron pot buried under one of the flagstones near the blazing hearth. The old folk did that, I said, so that when sets were danced on the floor at times of celebration the menfolk could make the flags "ring" by battering them with their boots during the ritual movements of the passionate dance.

And, despite these harder times both for ye and us over here, there are still ringing flagstones in the West of Ireland. It is the way things should be. The reality warms my heart.

There is a kind of limboland, I think, between one year and the next, and over here those days are still in it at time of writing. It is unreal to think that in the wider world ye just about avoided tumbling over that fiscal cliff that would have impacted on the global economy and that Ireland's leaders, beginning their six months EC presidency term, are technically in charge of leading Europe away from the brink of its fiscal cliff.

My friend Josie Muldoon said yesterday, “Jaysus they can't lead us out of our mess, what kind of chaos are they going to create in Brussels?"

Maybe he had a point but, dammit, we've survived worse in our history so let the flagstones ring.
There's still as much craic around the place as ever in the nooks and crannies of the real Ireland.

The Gathering was officially launched in Dublin on New Year’s Eve. I have my views on it and I expressed them here already, but the fundamental truth is that Ireland will always be a special place to visit, especially for those with even a tincture of Celtic blood in them, and there are always special, spontaneous gatherings to be enjoyed -- with or without the capital letter -- so do visit if ye get the chance and maybe dance on a flagstone floor with a ringing stone. You will never forget that experience.

Our clan has a whole series of birthdays around this time of year. Sean and Mickie, my brothers, were born in the one 12 month period and are actually the same age for the week between one birthday and the next.  I also have a birthday in January so, despite all the odds, the entire generations are meeting up for a celebration at the beginning of February for a weekend of craic.

That will be our personal Gathering and, by heavens, if there is a flagstone floor anywhere close to the bar it will be well tested for its resonance before the weekend is over.
And why not!