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.
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.
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.