The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: January, 2017

Leper’s Squint

24 January Tuesday

Three narrow slits in the front of the Augustinian Abbey down at Molough were purposely included in the building so that lepers could watch a mass without entering the church and infecting everyone else with leprosy. I am not sure how much could be heard through the slits.  These slits were called Leper’s Squints.  I assume the word squint was because anyone looking through could only use one eye.

22 January Sunday

All of the plants in their large heavy flower pots were carried into the barn for the winter.  I cut the plants back and tried to give each one sufficient window space to get light through the winter months.  I watered the plants over several weeks before I had to accept that not a single one of the plants was alive.  The early heavy frosts killed everything well before I got around to moving them inside. I can still walk out and into the garden and find fresh leaves of mint, thyme, sage and rosemary.  No amount of frost affects their growth in the ground all through the winter. I am now avoiding the job of carrying all of the heavy pots back outside but I will have to do it.  It is depressing to be working at the big table surrounded by dead plants.

19 January Thursday

There is one traffic light in Ardfinnan.  It was installed last year.  The stone bridge over the river is a worry.  It cannot take the weight anymore.  If the bridge is closed, life is not possible. There is only the one bridge. Many people in each direction will be cut off from one another and from the places where they need to go.  The traffic light now allows a single line of cars and trucks and tractors over the bridge.  The wait is not long.  There are never more than five or six vehicles waiting at any one time.  The short wait takes a lot of stress off the bridge.  If the bridge collapses no one knows how long it will be needed to build a replacement. No one wants to think about a future without the bridge.

Greg was waiting at the traffic light in Ardfinnan today when a swan crashed into the bridge and tumbled  onto the road. He got out of his car and carried the swan across the bridge and down to the green. He lowered it into the water.  It swam away.  He felt that it swam away happily.  No one else crossing the bridge showed the slightest bit of interest. They were not interested in the swan nor were they interested in him. He said when he picked up the swan it’s heart was pounding.  He said that the nearer he and the swan got to the water the more calm the swan’s heartbeat became. Greg felt himself getting calmer too.

17 January Tuesday

Our address remains a problem for a lot of people.  The Dutch post office continues to be outraged about it.  They have refused to deliver things to us as there are no numbers in the address.  We have always made up codes for them and also for the Germans, as well as for any internet ordering.  The made up numbers amuse John the Post. Most times we write our address one word per line. My mother says it looks like a shopping list. Often I have to explain it to people from away.

Ballybeg is the townland.  A townland suggests a small area of land which is locally recognizable. A narrow stream at the bottom of the meadow is the beg. Bally, from the Irish for little town, is the immediate settled area. In this case it is just our one house.  Further down the fields and on the exact same stream there is another townland of Ballybeg, but that is in the village of Newcastle.  Ballybeg is an extremely common name in Ireland.  There are hundreds of Ballybegs. Or if not hundreds, there are at least dozens. The playwright Brian Friel set his plays in a fictional place called Ballybeg.  Ballybeg is so much a work of his fiction now that sometimes people are surprised that we really live in an actual Ballybeg. I am not sure if a townland and a parish are the same thing.  Maybe I should not be beginning this description of place without some research.

Grange is the village.  Grange is another common name. There are lots of Granges. The village center has Frank’s shop, a church, a graveyard, and an elementary school.  After that there are miles of farmland in all dirctions.  We are at one far end of Grange.  We are nearly Newcastle.  If we were to be more specific we could say we are just  below Knockeen or up from Ballynamuddagh or down from Tullameghlan.  These are three other surrounding townlands. There is no sign anywhere with these names on them. Townlands are not identified by signposts. People just know townlands because that is how we all know where we are.

Clonmel is the biggest town nearby. It might be the largest town in the county. I am not certain about that.  It is not a city because it does not have a cathedral.  It has a population of about 16,000.  Laurence Sterne was born there.  The word Clonmel means Meadow of Honey and it is indeed a very fertile area, known especially for apples and a healthy bee population.  It is about 8-10 miles from us, depending how you go.

Tipperary is the county. Tipperary is the largest county in Ireland.  On our license plates we used to have TS or TN to denote Tipperary North or Tipperary South. Now the newer cars just have a T.  Our bit of the county borders closely onto County Waterford.  There is a town with the name Tipperary too.  Any address there would read Tipperary Tipperary.  Sort of like a stutter.

Ireland should be written as the Republic of Ireland, or Eire, to differentiate from Northern Ireland which is still legally part of the United Kingdom.  We live in a separate and free republic which is not ruled by a monarchy.

So, from the bottom up, everything gets more specific and closer to our exact location. To aid in locating places we were assigned post codes last year.  The government was so tentative when they sent out our new codes to us that they told us we did not have to use them if we did not want to.  I am not sure what good they are if no one uses them.

16 January Monday

Snowdrops are fully in blossom now.  They are everywhere.  There are even more than I thought there were when they were first appearing in bud.  Em’s little stone has a lovely cluster of snowdrops all around it. The sheep did not destroy them.  I never heard any more about those sheep after they disappeared up over the hill.  Either the man who owned the sheep came looking for them and led them off home or else enough people spoke of them around the area and eventually the sheep which were missing and which maybe had not even been noticed as missing were claimed and recovered.  Maybe they just found their own way home, eating as they went.  No one seemed worried so there was no need for me to worry.

15 January Sunday

We went off walking in the late morning because Simon had cut his thumb and it kept bleeding on the pages he was folding.  We thought if he walked he would not be using his thumb and it would be better. Which it was.  We went over to Goatenbridge and walked through the forestry where the mosses were bright and glowing green.  Eventually we circled back along the road which was lovely because we were tucked right under the mountains. from inside the forest we could not see the mountains but from the road the mountains were completely present. There were many fields and houses to look at along the road and even a little bridge I had never looked at closely. You do see more on foot.  We walked and walked for much longer than we had planned to walk. It was a beautiful cold day. The sun was bright all the time.  We met several people that we knew and so we exchanged Happy New Year greetings.  One of the people wanted to talk and talk and talk.  He wanted to talk our ears off so he did.

14 January Saturday

Jessie is a lucky dog.  She was rescued by Mick who met a man who was about to move to London.  The man had the dog with him and Mick admired the dog.  The man said “She is Giddy and Lively but she’d swim the English Channel for you.”  The man found it annoying that the dog would jump into any water even if that water was in a bucket.  She simply could not stay out of water.  He also found it annoying that she was supposed to be a gun dog but she was skittish around guns. When Mick asked if the man was taking his dog along to London with him the man said he was not. He said that if she had not been so skittish he might have sold her. The man said he was just that minute taking her over to a local farm and the farmer was going to shoot her.  He said it was too expensive to go to the vet to have her put down. Mick offered to take the dog even though he had no room for her himself.  He delivered her to the animal sanctuary and she was given a foster home for one week.  She has never left that home.  Not only is she Giddy and Lively and A Water Loving Dog, but she is a Lucky Dog.

Snowdrops. Sheep.

sheep

12 January Thursday

Snowdrops have been pushing up daily.  In the last few days they have been appearing all over the place. They seem to be everywhere and many are in places where I do not remember snowdrops.  They have multiplied and they are  forming a blanket over the lawn and through the beds.  Not one snowdrop has blossomed yet.  They are just getting themselves ready. It has been a gloomy and bitterly cold day. A little rain has fallen.  The sun has been out and bright but only for brief moments. The wind has been strong and noisy all day. Some snow blew around for a short time but it was never enough to settle on anything. An all weather day.  On a day like today, the snowdrops make me feel hopeful.  I have made each trip up and down to the barn as quickly as possible.  As I leave the house or go back down to the barn I rush across the wet grass with my shoulders hunched and a wool hat pulled down low.  I took off for another rapid journey after lunch and stopped short when I saw sheep in the grass between me and the barn.  The sheep were surprised to see me. I was surprised to see them. I counted six.  They ran to get under the fence into Joe’s field to distance themselves from me.  Joe does not keep any sheep.  Neither does the other Joe. I made inquiries by phone.  They are not sheep belonging to Donal.  Donal no longer keeps sheep.  Maybe they belong to Paul.  I went to the village with the post and bumped into Tommie.  I told him about the sheep and he was as confused as I was.  He knows for a fact that all the farmers with fields around us are cattle farmers.  He immediately asked what colour faces the sheep had. I told him that there were two with black faces, and two with white faces. I told him I had not really paid attention and I did not know what colour the other two were.  He was disgusted with my lack of attention to detail. The two with black faces had horns.  I was pleased to be able to tell him that. Tommie was certain that whoever owned those sheep would come looking for them once he knew they were missing.  When I got back home the sheep were still in Joe’s field.  They had moved far up the hill near to Scully’s wood. They were almost out of sight.  They had not returned to this side of the fence. I inspected my snowdrops and was glad to see that the sheep had neither eaten them nor trampled them too much. If it had been cows there would have been a terrible mess but even fat sheep are quite light on their feet.

11 January Wednesday

Oscar joins us if we walk the road near his house. He hears our voices or our footfalls and he comes rushing down his drive and out around the corner.  He walks along the short length of road until we get to the turnoff for the boreen.  Most times he continues with us and walks all the way to the house. Lately, he has taken to turning around and  returning to his house when we leave the road.  It might be that he is getting old or it might be that he is just getting lazy. He is a bit fat in that way that labradors often get fat. When he walks in the road Oscar does not pay much attention to the cars.  He does not chase them but he does little to move out of their way. Today a car slowed right to stop while I attempted to convince Oscar to move out of the way. The motorist opened his window and shouted at me to get my dog under control.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He went on for a while about hitting a dog and the damage it might do to his car.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He said money was tight enough in January without replacing car parts.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He sputtered on a bit longer about this and that and then he apologized.  He said “I failed to wish you a Happy New Year.  That was rude of me.” I answered, “And Many Happy Returns.”  He rolled up his window and drove away. I have never seen this man before.

10 January Tuesday

Few is the word used to define a quantity.  It there are a crowd of people or animals or things they will be described as A Good Few.  Or A Fair Few.  No one ever says A Lot when they could say A Fair Few. And if someone sneaks something by without anyone seeing or knowing about it the comment will be “….and few would be any the wiser.”

9 January Monday

The woman is a strange and timid woman.  If she sees us walking towards her she sometimes tries to change direction with her two dogs.  One of her dogs is a Jack Russell and the other is a sheep dog. She holds them tight on their leads and never lets them run loose even in the big open fields.  I think she is shy.  She is skittish. I see her often. We are not strangers. If I say good morning or hello she rarely responds.  She looks at the ground.  This woman is not old.  But she acts and moves like an old woman.  Today we were walking up the track approaching the big shed.  The shed is made of corrugated metal.  The shed is huge and high.  It is maybe three stories high.  It has three closed sides. One long side is open to the weather.  The shed is stacked to the top with bales of hay. As we approached we could hear the dogs barking like mad.  Even with all of the hay which might have muffled the sound, the metal walls and ceiling amplified the noise.  The metal made the wild barking much louder and much wilder.  As we reached the open side of the shed we saw the woman crouched down low far back between the hay bales.  She was squeezed into a narrow space with the two dogs held close to her.  They were barking like crazy. She was looking down and holding tight on the leads. We did not say hello. We just walked past as though we had not noticed her and her dogs. I think that is what she wanted.

 

tea-cosy

7 January Saturday

It is not everyday someone brings you a tea cosy. It is a very special day indeed when someone brings you a tea cosy.  I have never had anyone arrive with a tea cosy.  Niamh not only brought the tea cosy but she knit it herself. This tea cosy is the first tea cosy I have ever owned. I am especially pleased with the little turn-up at the bottom.  The tea in the pot stays warmer and I am sure it tastes better.

Ear Tag

wreath2

6 January Friday. Little Christmas. Epiphany.

Traditionally, Little Christmas is the final day of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Traditionally, this is the day when the women of Ireland go out together for drinks or dinner or tea, and the men stay at home and take care of all the things which the women usually, traditionally, do.  Traditionally, this is a well deserved respite from the whole holiday palaver of endless food and feeding and family and washing up and taking care of every little thing.  The day has evolved and is now called Women’s Little Christmas.  One day does not seem like much, as rewards go.  Little Christmas is also the day when the decorations and the tree, if you have one, and the cards and the wreaths and all manner of decorations get put away or thrown away.  The last day of Christmas is the last day of Christmas and after today things are schedualed to return to normal.  As well as clearing out the decorations, it is the time for clearing out the refrigerator and eating up all of your last scraps of holiday food.  If the scraps have already been taken care of, then it is the day to eat something completely different from what has been eaten over the holiday. I guess that is where the going out to a restaurant comes in.  I am not sure how the women get to accomplish all this clearing and cleaning and then still consider it a day off.   Traditionally, the idea is to put Christmas and all it entails behind you.

Since we barely celebrate, I have not got much to get rid of as far as seasonal stuff goes.  I was pleased to notice an old evergreen wreath from three years ago hanging on the outside wall of the sauna.  I moved it to a nail on the front of the round-topped shed and I felt it looked fine.  It is dead and brown.  The needles are falling off.  But from a distance it looks like a cheerful wreath.  I may leave it where it is for another week.  Then I will return it to where it was.  Maybe it will still have some needles left for next year.

5 January Thursday

We all enjoy spotting the Whooping Swans in various fields at this time of year. They arrive in enormous numbers with a big group wing flapping noise.  I do not go searching for them but I enjoy their surprise appearances. They choose a field and return to that field day after day. Each year they choose different fields. At various times of the day they move to a different field where they were the day before at that same time.  We heard one farmer complaining that they were eating everything in sight. This year Breda has become obsessed with the Whooping Swans.  She is keeping track of their stopping places all around the area.  She has been getting up in the dark and going to one particular field to be there when they arrive. She loves the silvery quality of their bellies as they settle down out of the darkness.  This morning someone she knows but not someone she knows very well came along while she was standing beside a gate before dawn waiting for the field to fill up with birds. I saw her in the afternoon and she was still feeling embarrassed at having had to explain herself.

4 January Wednesday

The winter sun was low but very bright as it came through the window.  I thought the bathroom light had been left on.

 

eartag2

 

3 January Tuesday

I have had a plastic ear tag in my jacket pocket for a few years now.  I cannot remember when I picked it up.  I cannot remember exactly where I picked it up.  I think it must have been while walking up Joe’s track toward his barns.  That is where the cows walk so one of them must have lost it.  I know that I dug it out of the mud because the bright yellow plastic caught my eye.  It showed up so vividly against the mud and muck.  At the time of finding it, I thought maybe I should tell Joe that I had found it and I should see if it was important for him to have it back.  Then I must have forgotten about it because there are always other things to think about on a walk.  Each time my hand located the tag in my pocket I probably had the same thought but I never had the thought when I was speaking with Joe.  Now I think it has been a very long time.  The cow who had that number and that tag might not even be around any more.  The cows each have two of these ear tags. One for each ear. There is a bit that goes through a hole in the ear and clips into the back part of the tag. The two parts of my tag are very tight. I cannot separate them so I think this tag must have torn a part of the cow’s ear in order to have ended up in the mud.  Farmers must get allotted numbers or maybe they apply for numbers when a calf is born.   Each calf gets a number and then they can be kept track of.  It is a form of registration.  I assume that any movement of a cow can be traced back to this number and this tag.  If each cow has two ear tags, one can be lost and the animal can still be identified. I love my ear tag. I love finding it in my pocket again and again.  A few months ago, I considered sending it to my friend who was recovering from heart surgery. I knew she would love it as much as I do.  Selfishly, I just did not want to let it go.

Drab Brown Birds

 

shophours

1 January 2017

We have been saying Happy New Year to people since the day after Christmas. We shall continue to say Happy New Year for at least two more weeks. Every year I feel it goes on and on and every year I am determined to note the day when everyone stops saying it. It is probably not a single day but still I would like to recognize when we stop saying it.  Saying Happy New Year is a politeness, like The Salute.  It is polite to say it and rude not to say it so it is best to keep on saying it until you have said it to every single person you meet. The light is getter brighter and longer each day. Saying Happy New Year several times each day is a cheerful thing.

31 December Saturday

There was a wedding in the village.  There is always a wedding at this time of year. Actually there are often quite a few weddings because there are a lot of people home From Away.  The McCarra family have gathered together from London and South Africa and California and Australia, as well as from other parts of Ireland. It is a good idea for them to do all of the celebrating that might need doing while they are Home since they have come from so far away.  There is no question that these same sons and daughters and babies will travel back in a few months when the weather might be better simply for a wedding.

The idea of Home is always at the forefront of everything. Christmas is the most important time for Home. Everyone must go Home for Christmas.  We spoke with Rob and Geraldine about their plans.  They were going to Waterford.  Geraldine was going to stay at her mother’s house with the twins.  Rob was going to stay with his parents.  On Christmas morning he would join her and the boys at her mothers house and then he would return and have his Christmas dinner with his parents.  He would stay on with his parents for several days.  She was planning to remain with her mother for at least a week, maybe longer.  Going Home from Newcastle to Waterford is not the same as returning from somewhere like Australia. It is only a 50 minute drive away.  Going Home is the thing.

29 December Thursday

The seasonal closing of the world goes on and on. Some places are open sometimes.  Today and tomorrow the post office is open. The post men are delivering the post.  After Friday the post office will stop again until next Wednesday.  I went to the shop and the postman was parked out front. He was standing near his van and handing out letters to people in front of the shop.  If someone stepped toward their car, he shouted Don’t Go!  I have something for you!   It was not our postman John. A different man does the village route. I do not know his name. Since it was not our postman I felt a little left out. I knew I would not be shouted at and summoned over.

28 December Wednesday

She studied the card carefully.  Her eyes are poor so she held it right up close to her face. The card had a bright red cardinal on it.  The cardinal looked extra bright against a background of snow. She looked carefully at the card and she kept repeating that the cardinal looked like a lovely bird.  She might have been sad but instead she sounded angry. She said It is a pity we have no cardinals here.  We have nothing but drab brown birds. 

27 December Tuesday

Twice now I have walked up the Mass Path and past the house of the Killer Dog. Twice he has not rushed out onto the road. He is no longer on the loose. I have been nervous about taking that route.  Each time he is not out I feel better but I wonder if I shall ever be completely relaxed about that stretch of road again.

 

bull

26 December Monday

A bull has been in Joe’s front field for a few weeks now.  Twice in the time that he has been there I have seen people standing beside their parked vehicles out on the road looking at the bull. I assume they are admiring him.   As bulls go I do not think he is the biggest I have ever seen but he is large and black and strong and he does command attention. I have no idea how to judge a bull.  I just look at him.  I say hello whenever I pass if he is near enough to the track to hear me. He seems interested and he seems to respond to my voice.  I do not think it is me.  I think any voice would cause his head to turn.  In the last few days, he has mostly been in a narrow little finger of the field which seemed silly as it was the smallest place he could be.  He is sort of crammed into the space.  There does not look like enough space for him to turn around.  His face is coated in mud. Then I realized that his attention is directed across at the cows in the lower field. He is either longing for the company of the cows or he is longing for some kale. This little space is probably the only spot from which he can view the herd.

The cows are in what I call their winter Cow Kale Field. They eat the specially planted kale in a long line as they eat their way downhill. They eat together one cow beside another in a long line. There is nothing to see but the backs of the cows. Their bottoms and their legs and their tails. It will take many days maybe weeks for them to reach the bottom of the field. It is a big field. It is four or six acres. Joe once told me how big it is but I have forgotten. Each day Joe moves the little white string and the metal posts. The string stops the cows. I have never really known if this white string has a little electric charge in it or if it just looks like wire which might be electrified and that is enough to convince the cows to go no further. I do not know if a visual deterrent is enough. I do not know how visually alert cows are. However it works, I marvel that a herd of cows can be stopped by one fragile string when the other side of the string is full of things they want to eat and the side they are on holds nothing but trampled mud and stalks. Each day they eat the allotted amount of kale and then they wander off to find some grass in the next field.  The bull is watching closely from across the track. There is a stone wall and a ditch and a strong fence between him and the kale eating cows.  I do not think a white string would be sufficient to stop him if he wanted to get out.

25 December Sunday

We set off to walk up in the Knockmealdowns. On the way, we saw heavy cloud cover settling over the mountains and felt some light drizzle. The walk plan quickly changed.  It became a different walk.  The new walk took us along a side of one hill. Every walk has a name. We call this walk The Des Dillon as it starts on the road out of the village and it passes his cottage before the rough track gets rougher and before it becomes a rocky muddy riverbed. We met one farmer who was off up the hill to tend to his animals.  He shook Simon’s hand and wished him a Happy Christmas.  I received a salute, from a distance.