The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: April, 2019

Passing Blustery Showers

30 April Tuesday

Hay barns everywhere are empty or they are nearly empty. There is not much left to offer to hungry cows. The cattle are mostly out in the fields but when the weather gets bad they disappear back into barns and under the roof for a day or two. It is like this spring cannot decide to settle.

29 April Monday

I am distracted just now by Simon on the phone to FedEx about a parcel pick-up. The person on the other end of the line is somewhere in England. The person does not know where Tipperary is. Simon explains to him or her that Tipperary is in the Republic of Ireland. That does not seem to help. He cannot believe that this person has never heard of Tipperary. He explains that there is even a song about it. He asks if the person has never even heard this song. Now he is singing the song. Simon is singing Its a Long Way to Tipperary over the telephone to the FedEx person in England. I doubt it will help.

28 April Sunday

Large piles of grey stuff have been dumped in various fields. Every time that I see these piles I am startled and I worry that cement has been dumped in someone’s field. I think it is cement because it looks like cement but it is not cement. It is agricultural lime for spreading over pasture fields.

 

27 April Saturday

Friday was really cold. We spent the entire day anticipating the arrival of Storm Hannah. The winds were ferocious well before anything  had even started. The radio advised everyone to stay at home for six hours starting from 6 o’clock. We were also told to stay well out of the way of power lines and falling trees. Some places were given an Amber Warning. Western parts of the country were given a Red Warning. We knew there was a good chance that we would probably lose our electricity. It was a good night to be going nowhere.

By this morning the worst of the storm was over.  The sun was out and it was bright and cold. The winds were still wild. As expected, the west of the country got hit badly as Hannah blew in off the Atlantic. Our local damages were small in comparison. It took us a lot of driving and detouring and backing up and turning around to get to Cahir but we were determined to get to the market. There was a large tree down on the Ardfinnan road. We were told that the tree knocked down the power lines and took out the electricity for most of the village. Big branches and small branches were strewn everywhere. Flower pots and buckets and garden furniture have been blown all over the place. The Castle car park was littered with geraniums and other bedding plants that had blown right out of the soil. Everyone was discussing who had power and who did not have power.  The market stalls were all pushed up against the wall for protection from the wind.

Jim started to tell me about Speedy and Rattles, two brothers who live close to him. Their elderly mother lives not far from the brothers and she lost her electricity last night. Speedy works for the ESB so he knew just where to go and what to do to get his mother’s power back on. He jumped on his bike and sped off into the wind. Jim never finished the story because one of the market tables full of scones and bread and cakes blew down and we all rushed to help to set it back upright and to save the baked goods. I would like to hear the end of the story but until I do I have been enjoying the names Speedy and Rattles in between the Passing Blustery Showers which we were promised.

26 April Friday

The young man told Anthony: “I gave him a Crossbar!” I heard this and I imagined a great whack with an iron bar. I imagined violence and blood. I imagined a hearty beating. I was relieved to be told that Giving A Crossbar was nothing more than providing someone with a sideways seat on the crossbar of a bicycle.

25 April Thursday

It is a fact that when any workman comes to wash his hands at the kitchen sink, he always reaches for the washing-up liquid. The washing-up liquid can be sitting exactly beside the bar of soap but no one ever uses the hand soap.

24 April Wednesday

There is a grey squirrel at the bird feeder. As a result the birds hardly have a chance to get at the nuts. This squirrel has found a way to crawl out onto a thin branch and to balance himself upside down while gnawing at the side of the feeder. This is a new thing. We have never seen grey squirrels here. I thought maybe it was just me who had not noticed them but everyone says the same. And now that we acknowledge them we understand that this is not good news.  It is bad news. The grey squirrel is an invasive species that pushes out the native red squirrels by eating the same things as the red squirrels but eating them before the red squirrels can digest them properly and by bringing diseases which eventually kill off the red squirrel population. Grey squirrels are not native. They were brought to Ireland from England and have spread slowly throughout the entire country. They are almost everywhere but not quite everywhere yet. 100 years ago, six pairs of grey squirrels were brought to a castle in County Longford as a wedding gift. It is difficult to imagine someone thinking that twelve grey squirrels would make the perfect wedding present.

23 April Tuesday

It is sometimes hard to tell people who do not live in the country how much death there is out here. Last night I woke to the sounds of a screaming struggle just under the bedroom window. There was a final high-pitched shriek followed by complete silence. A fox had killed a rabbit. These are familiar noises. I am sorry that I know these sounds so well. The shrieking makes my heart race with fear and with helplessness. The rabbit cannot help what is happening to her and I can do nothing at all to help. Even hearing the sounds means that it is already too late. There was no sign of the struggle in the morning. Instead, I found a dead mouse in the book barn. He was caught in a trap under the table. His body was swollen and smelly. This was not a recent death. Just outside and near the door I found a dead bird. Some other creature had torn the front of the bird open and ripped out his organs. There were feathers everywhere. I walked up the path later and found a tiny rabbit with its head bitten off. I expected to see the head further along the path but I did not. There is not always so much death visible in one day. In between all the corpses, I am finding many broken eggs of varying shades of blue. Thrush eggs  and blackbird eggs and probably others I am not able to name. Young birds are popping out everywhere. The pieces of shell and the sky filled with birdsong make all of the death seem less grim.

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A Roundy Birthday

22 April Bank Holiday Monday

The fox was zig-zagging up the field. He wandered a bit to the left and then he wandered a bit to the right. He was always heading uphill but he did so in a desultory manner. He was in no rush to get anywhere. He moved slowly while looking around. He did not notice me beside the fence or maybe he did notice me but he did not worry about me because he had the advantage of four legs. I was close but not close enough to be a threat. This is the same fox I have seen every single day this week. Most days I have come upon him when walking down the boreen. I always see him at the same corner. He sees me and he jumps up the banking and away into Scully’s wood when I approach. This fox is young and shiny with a dark orangey-brown coat and a dark brown tail. I have no proof but I feel certain that this fox is a male fox.

21 April Easter Sunday

We met Tommie outside the shop. I thought he would be going to an Easter Mass either in the village or in Fourmilewater, but he said he was going into town to visit Margaret in hospital. He said that she has been there for three weeks already. The doctors cannot determine what is wrong with her. She felt dizzy while she was having her hair done at The Hair Den. The hairdresser called the ambulance and Margaret was taken away and ever since then he has been visiting her every day. He did not seem unduly upset. He has had a difficult time taking care of her at home because she is blind and mostly deaf and she cannot move around easily. She had a broken hip and even though the hip is healed, it has never been right. He said that it will never be right. Tommie says that he spends a lot of time shouting at Margaret when they are at home together but since she cannot hear much of what he says she does not notice that he is shouting and he just gets more and more angry. These three weeks have been like a holiday for him. He was in cheerful mood this morning. He was wearing a sweater tucked into his high belted trousers. The sweater and the trousers were covered in food spills. He looked down and said that if he were going to Mass he might change his clothes and put on a jacket but he said Margaret will not see what he is wearing and anyway he will be sitting down all the time that he is in the hospital visiting her. He lowered his voice when he told us that each day they give him his dinner on a tray while Margaret gets her dinner. He was looking forward to a special feed today since it is Easter.

20 April Saturday

Ter is a common nickname. It might be short for Teresa, or it might be for Terence.

Ger might be short for Geraldine, or for Gerard or for Gerald. It might even be for Jerome, but then it would be spelled with a J even though the pronunciation would be the same.

Phil can be short for Philomena or it might be for Philip.

Pa is shortened from Pascal, or sometimes from Patrick.

Pa is never used as a name for Father.

19 April Friday

Niamh explained The Nun’s Embrace to me. Or she tried to explain it but then she had to do it to me to show me because she could not explain it and now I can not explain it either but it is a kind of gently pulling the person with one arm while pulling stronger with the other arm. It is not a hug and not an embrace but it is a two-armed pull not really a hug and traditionally a way for the person being embraced by the nun to have no doubt that the nun is the one is charge.

18 April Thursday

The waitress told the people at the next table that they did not take any credit cards in the restaurant and that they would need to pay for their lunch with cash. She thought she should warn them before they ordered their food. The man was foreign. Maybe he was Dutch. He said he had no cash. The woman with him had no cash either. The man said he would go immediately to find a cash machine. The waitress said, Oh, there is no rush for money. Order your food and have yourself a good feed and then you can go out and look for some cash. There is a machine out on the main street. She said, Why they might even give you some money up at the petrol station.

17 April Wednesday

Any birthday that ends in a zero is called A Roundy Birthday.

16 April Tuesday

Today was the first day this year that the cows arrived in the near field. Maybe it was not the first day but it was the first time I have seen them in this field so for me it was the first day. I was in the book barn when they came rushing over the hill. They ran and jostled one another. The long winter days and weeks under cover mean that each new field marks a joyful adventure. They have been out in some other pastures before today, but today was the first day in this particular field which is their geographically-furthest-from-the-farm field. The cows pushed and rushed at each other and ate bits of grass erratically from all over the place and they lined up and looked in the window at me and then they all lay down at the same time. They stayed laying down for about twenty minutes and then they all got up and ran back over the hill and out of sight.

The Borrowing Days

13 April Saturday

The wind is brutal.  The wind is unrelenting. Every time I think of something that I might do out of doors, I change my mind. Instead I find myself something more to do in the house.  I do not want to even walk across to the barns. The light is inviting but the wind is wicked. The birds have disappeared. They cannot land on the feeders. The wind gusts and drops and gusts and drops. The sounds of buffeting and blowing are constant. It is difficult to remember life without this wind.

12 April Friday

The weather continues to be changeable. It should not be a surprise anymore but it is. Each morning starts cold and bright and bitter. It might rain. It might get warm. There might be sleet. The winds are ferocious in turns. Then there will be something else or there will be a repeat of some sort of weather that occurred earlier. There is no way to be prepared for what might come next. Tommie says that the weather is In And Out Faster Than A Fiddlers Elbow.

11 April Thursday

The woman was clutching a piece of paper in her hand. It was windy. She was holding it tight so that it would not blow away. She was a bit bent over and moving in a sideways direction even while she was going straight ahead. She walked over to me on the pavement in Thurles. I assumed she was going to ask me how to get somewhere. I do not know Thurles well so I was prepared to tell her that I could not direct her to wherever she was going. She did not ask for directions. Instead she stood up tall right in front of me and said, “I’d be very short of The Money.” I watched her continuing around the square approaching various people. Each time she said the exact same words: “I’d be very short of The Money.”  She kept the piece of paper in her hand. I guess it was a prop so that each person would think that she was in need of directions, and not just asking for The Money.

10 April Wednesday

The doorway at Clonfert Cathedral was well worth the detour. It is not a large building but nevertheless it is called a cathedral.  It is more like a small chapel with an amazing entrance. The Romanesque carving offers an fine variety of animal heads, motifs, foliage and human heads. We were unable to go inside as a woman in the nearby house holds the key and she had gone out to do her shopping.  The farmer in an adjoining field directed us to her door but he said that he had no way of knowing when she might return.

Raggy Trees appear here and there around the country. They are also called Wishing Trees.  There is always more than one name for anything. People use the trees to make wishes or as a form of prayer to get something they need or want. They make an offering in order to pass an exam, to get a job, to regain health or just generally to ask for good fortune. The tradition is that one should return to the tree three times with a request to ensure that the wish or prayer will come to pass.  I do not know what makes one tree into a Raggy Tree and another nearby tree just a regular tree. How does its power become established?  St Brendan’s Tree, just through the little gate beside the cathedral, is a horse chestnut tree. Maybe proximity to the cathedral is enough to have given this tree it’s magic. It is a real mess. Perhaps it is a mess because a lot of the offerings have been there all winter. They have been rained upon and the wind has beaten them. There are coins hammered sideways into the bark of the tree and lots of rosary beads and caps and photographs and toys and packets of pills and bits of fabric. Things are hanging off the tree and things are strewn all over the ground. For some reason there are a lot of socks. A LOT of socks. Pairs of socks and single socks. Maybe socks are the easiest thing to tie onto the tree.

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8 April Monday

The two woodcutters who have been felling the ash trees for hurleys were back at the edge of Cooney’s wood today. They were loading up some of the sections they had cut. They put a few into the front end of their van and when I walked by they were putting a few more into the back of the van. I did not stay long enough to see if they would fill up the entire space. One man had a long beard and he did not talk at all. The other man talked enough for the both of them. He told me that some trees are thick enough to make as many as five hurleys, but that two per tree is more normal. This man had been to cut ash trees in Romania and Massachusetts and England. He said that ash trees everywhere have been hit by a disease and soon there will be no more of them to harvest. He does not know where future hurleys will come from when all of the ash trees are dead. He said he is worried for the future of hurleys but at least he won’t be out of a job because by then he will be sitting at home and collecting his pension. The job ahead of the men in the next days and weeks is to slowly drag out the rest of the hurley wood, and then get back into the forest to cut everything else up for firewood.

7 April Sunday

Dead shrew on the mat outside the kitchen door. Dead bird outside the door of the book barn. At first look, the bird seemed like it might be simply stunned, but it was dead.  The shrew had a big bite taken out of its side.

6 April Saturday

A busload of German tourists arrived at Cahir Castle. They walked over to the gate but they were not allowed to go in. There were security men at the gate. This is not normal. There were more security men around the back in Inch Field. The men were wearing high visibility jackets and they were turning away anyone who approached the castle. The tourists were confused and some were a little angry. They all took photographs of themselves in front of the castle. They took photographs of themselves with the geese and without the geese. They wandered around for a little while and then they all got back on the bus. They were all grumbling. No one at the farmers market seemed certain about what was going on at the Castle. Someone said that maybe there was an important dignitary inside and they needed protection. Someone else said they were in there filming an advertisement for a car. I walked over to one of the security men and asked. He said that they were filming a scene for a movie. He said that they needed a castle and this castle was as good as any and better than most for the purpose. He said it might be Walt Disney who was making the movie or it might be someone else.

5 April Friday

The starlings are back and they are busy building nests in the roof of the book barn. A wren is building a nest in the yew hedge. We watch her from the kitchen window. She is busily taking twigs and things into the private place she has found. All of her movements are full of purpose. We cannot see the nest but we can see that she is very busy. I have been busy too. I am sewing up the sections of a book with red thread. This morning I noticed that the wren has collected my tiny off-cuts of red thread from the compost heap to use in her nest. She dropped a few strands on her way into the hedge. Now her entrance is brightly signposted.

4 April Thursday

The Skinning of The Old Cow. The Irish expression for this is Seannrioch or Seanriabhach. It is used to describe these first seven or ten days of April. Some people say seven days while others swear that it is always ten days. The expression comes from the idea that everyone expects April to be warmer and good and nurturing but in fact it rarely is. It is more normal for April to have borrowed some days from March to continue with the bitter, wild and harsh weather.  These days are also called The Borrowing Days. Hay supplies have run down in the sheds and some of hay barns are completely empty, while the grass in the fields is not really long enough to feed the cattle. There has been no rain. The word April implies springtime but the actuality is much more haphazard. There is wind and there is the sharp, desperate chill. These are thin days for eating and they are colder than any of us would like.

3 April Wednesday

I attended the coffee morning at the Community Hall in Grange. It is a newish event planned to take place on the first Wednesday of each month. Since Frank’s shop closed down there is less and less opportunity for people who live in Grange to ever catch sight of one another. The entire hall was set up with tables and chairs in little groups. It looked like they might be expecting as many as 60 or 80 people. There was easily enough food for 60 people. There were heaped up plates of scones and there were seven different kinds of jam, along with butter and margarine, and brownies and biscuits and flapjacks and all kinds of home-baked goods. For 2 euro you could eat as much as you liked and you could drink coffee and tea for the whole two hours if you wanted to. There were not 60 people in the hall. There were more like 16, not counting the ones who had done the work of setting it up. I saw some people I knew and I met a few people I had never met before. The older people were firstly interested to know where anyone they were introduced to lived. They needed to locate the person in the landscape of the townland. I explained to one elderly man that I lived in Willie English’s old cottage, just down the boreen from Johnny Mackin. He was delighted at the information that I lived below the late Johnny Mackin. He was not interested to know another thing about me. He was happy to tell me what he knew. He said Johnny was not like any other man in all of Tipperary. He said that to have been Johnny’s neighbour was a good bit of luck.  He told the small group of people near to the cake table where we were standing several stories about Johnny. He said it was a known fact that The Man Had Buckets of Brains.

A Low-Sized Woman

2 April Tuesday

I set off for a walk this afternoon in the bright cold. There was a sharp wind. It felt chilly for April. I was not worried about the wind because I knew that once I started to move I would warm myself. Nor was I bothered about the wind because I was wearing a wool hat, gloves and a jacket. I was surprised to see snow across the tops of the Knockmealdowns. After less than a kilometre, clouds appeared and the sky went completely dark. Sleet lashed down on me. I turned around, walking straight into the downpour heading for home. I was frozen solid by the time I arrived and by then the sun was back out and the sky was blue.

1 April Monday

Two older women were talking. The first woman was a little confused. She could not remember the name of a lady she was making reference to so she attempted to describe the woman’s appearance. She hoped if she could describe the woman well enough the woman she was talking to would recognise her and provide her with the name she had forgotten. She was unable to offer much by way of description. She said, “You’d know her yourself. She is A Low-Sized Woman.”

31 March Sunday

It is a small field with ten or twelve sheep in it. The lower half of the gate is cluttered with clumps of wool. The gate has a wire mesh fence attached to it so that the sheep cannot slip underneath. It looks as if some of the sheep tried to squeeze through the fence and their wool was pulled off them by the wires. Or it is as if the wool has blown off the sheep and the wind has dashed it all against the fence and the gate. Only one of the sheep looks scruffy as though she has lost clumps of wool. The others are fat and fluffy and do not look like anything is missing.

30 March Saturday

I saw Mary at the market. I had not seen her since before Christmas. She was looking distressed and confused and then she straightened up and announced to no one in particular because no one was standing very near to her, “It’s in the car. I left my stick in the car. It is okay. I have not lost it. My stick is in the motor.” I offered to go and collect her stick for her but she declined. She was happy enough just to know where it was. Mary’s husband never gets out of the car. He drives as close to the market stalls as he can get and he sits in the car and waits for Mary to do her shopping and have her conversations. He never seems impatient. He just waits for Mary while he stares straight ahead through the windscreen. Maybe he is listening the radio. As for Mary, she was looking well. She looked like herself only much thinner. I think perhaps the winter has been hard on her. Her coat was the same winter coat as she always wears. It is the very end of March but it is still cold enough to need a winter coat. The coat looked enormous on Mary, but the coat is the same size as it always was. The coat is big and she is not.

 

29 March Friday

The wild garlic is everywhere. It tastes like spring and it smells like spring when I walk through it.

28 March Thursday

I needed to get the saw and cut some branches down near the stream before I could walk up the path. A few trees and branches had toppled in and over the stream and over the path. I was not in the mood to crawl through the mud to go underneath them. It was the cutting of the timber in Tom Cooney’s forestry that had caused the trees to fall into one another and knock some others down. The men who were doing the felling had come down the Mass Path from the top on a Quad bike. The normal single track now looks like a road. A muddy road. The men are not just cutting trees for firewood, they are felling ash trees for hurleys. PJ explained part of it to me. The trees are cut about one and a half metres from the ground. In order to do that other trees have to be cleared all around the desired ash tree. Then the bottom of the tree is cut as low into the roots as possible. This cutting is done with a series of cuts to allow for the curve. The cutting goes almost under the ground. The strange looking stump left after the felling is called a hurley butt. A finished hurley has a curve at the end of it and the curve has to already be a part of the natural flare at the bottom of the tree. First a curve and then straight up. The stick is kind of like a hockey stick but it is rounder, maybe fatter, and shorter. Ash wood is both strong and flexible and apparently it is the only wood that makes a proper hurley. I understand very little about hurleys. I understand very little about the game of hurling. The game is so popular that there is a need for at least 400,000 new hurleys each year. The rest of the ground around where these trees have been carved out looks like a massacre.

27 March Wednesday

Annie shouted hello across the wall. She declared that she was far too busy from one end of the day to the other. She blamed the longer days and the extra light. She said, “I haven’t the time to bless myself!