Tuesday, 14 April 2015

April in Ireland

The lovely and sunny Irish spring has given me the opportunity to bicycle in the mornings; I ride a few miles down the canal, from our house to the nearest village, where I pick up the bus to work in Dublin. In theory I’d love to do this all year, but during the winter it’s not possible – not only is it cold and almost constantly raining, but it’s totally black in both the morning and evenings, and of course we have no streetlights out here. As soon as spring comes, however, I can start saving fuel and exercising more, often waving to our neighbours getting their own start to the day, working in their fields as the low mist rolls around them. 

Near our house I pass the old turf rails, once used to cart peat from the bog to the canal. Peat – called turf here – looks strange to newcomers, irregular reddish bricks like dried clay. It began as sphagnum moss thousands of years ago, and in the oxygen-starved bog-waters it could not decay. People here burned it for fuel from long ago, and the canal was built through the Bog of Allen three centuries ago to harvest it on a massive scale. Workmen shovelled chunks of it out of the bog and loaded it onto wagons on the rails, where horses pulled it up tracks to the bog, other men threw it onto barges, and other horses pulled it along the canal to the cold families of Dublin at the far terminus of this canal. 

On such mornings I get to see the local wildlife, and I remember how commonplace birds and animals were for our ancestors, before we sped past them encased in metal and glass. By the turf rails I look for footprints of the fox that killed our chickens last year; my daughter remains determined to find and kill it.

My daughter and I saw a kingfisher the other day, leaping from an upper branch and plunging into the water; they must surely have padded skulls to avoid killing themselves when they hit a fish, like a kamikaze pilot hitting a boat. 

The heron that we so love to watch is back and quite visible along the canal, now joined by his (her?) mate. This is the rare time of year to see two herons at once, before they resume their solitary fishing ways. 

The cows have returned to the field next door, the hens are laying again, and our rooster has renewed his conversation with his rival in the neighbour’s yard. The sheep, whose muddy coats can blend in with the grey background during the dismal months, shine brilliant white against the green fields these days. Tiny lambs orbit each mother sheep, leaping to and fro and occasionally tumbling face-first into the grass. 

Cowslips and primroses are erupting across the edges the forest, and our apple saplings are bursting into flowers at the tips – halting my apple grafting experiments until winter. I took the opportunity of a sunny day to walk along the banks of the River Liffey, where I used to take The Girl when she was a toddler, and I picked nettles there as I used to, giving me lunches all this week. 

My daughter asked if she could begin riding her bicycle to school in the village every day, just as I do to the bus stop there earlier in the morning. In theory, I believe in a more free-range, adventurous childhood than most children get these days, but her request brought out the nervous father in me; there’s a stretch of main road where trucks roll along far too quickly, and Irish roads have no shoulders. Last weekend, though, I rode there with her, giving her advice and watching for dangers, and finally told her she could do so. She was nervous despite herself, but yesterday she made the trip solo for the first time. 

“You were right,” she said as she snuggled up with me that night. “I was scared before I did it, but once I started, I was fine. I really enjoyed it.” Yes, I said, most things in life will be like that. Enjoy everything while you can.


Anubis Bard said...

Here the bees have only just emerged from the hives. Only the crocuses and snowdrops are blooming. But the bees seem to be gathering a good deal of pollen from somewhere - probably the skunk cabbage down in the swamp. I look forward to the greening that you're already enjoying.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful write up.

Brian Kaller said...

Anonymous, thank you!

Andy, I love the resourcefulness of bees. I think many things here come earlier in spring, even though it never reaches summer weather by continental standards.

Ronald Langereis said...

I agree with Anonymous, beautiful writeup and recognisable in every instance.
Peat is called "turf" in Dutch, as well, with the R a little more audible in pronunciation than in English. The Netherlands were a peat bog as much as your part of Ireland and turf was widely used for heating up until the Sixties. I remember my grandparents burning it in their potbelly stove, the tea kettle softly simmering on top of it. But in the Fifties we discovered our great gas treasure in the north of the country and the North Sea, and since, all heating and cooking was turned to NG.
For decades, the only use of turf that people know of is for gardening and as stuff to fill up flower pots.

Brian Kaller said...

Thank you Ronald - those sounds like great memories.

If we ever move away from here, I will miss the distinctive and earthy smell of burning turf; on the other hand, gas is probably less polluting while it lasts. And turf makes good compost as well. :-)