some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Tag: Vitamin Tonic

The Cough Bottle.

19 December Tuesday

In these weeks before Christmas, there is not a till nor counter in any shop without a bowl or tub of individually wrapped chocolates on offer for each and every customer. It is a little gift offered by a shop to its customers. Cadbury’s Roses. Heroes. Quality Street. In the butcher shop in Ardfinnan, there is a tin of Celebrations. People take a chocolate and chew on it while they are waiting their turn. Then they take another one after they have paid. The same sentence is repeated in every shop: You can worry about The Waistline in the New Year!  The dentist did not offer me chocolate today, but he did give me a pen with his name and telephone number on it.

20 December Wednesday

After not finding Tommie at home, I rang around to find him. It was not easy.  Eventually I located him. He is back in the hospital. Today I went to visit. He is in a ward with three other men. All of the men had visitors. Visiting hours are a lively and noisy time. The fluids support stand at the end of his bed was a free standing device. There were no bags hanging on it, so I hung my jacket on one of the empty hooks. Tommie reprimanded me and told me that the nurses would not be happy for me to be using the stand as a coat rack. The nurses were in and out of the ward and not one of them seemed to notice my jacket. Tommie is never happy to disobey rules nor to question authority. I left my coat where it was. After he told me three separate times to move it, I moved it.

21 December. Winter Solstice.The Shortest Day.

Another day of wild and noisy wind. The wind has been thrashing us for days and days.  It never stops. The noise is deafening. Today the label on the post box blew off. The label was a piece of duct tape with the word POST written in thick black letters. The lid of the post box blew off too, even though there was a rock holding it down. The rock and the lid blew off together but the lid did not go too far. I now have a larger rock on top of the box. The duct tape has been blown far away. It has disappeared completely.

22 December Friday

A tractor tooted its horn as it drove past me on the road. There was a length of blue and silver tinsel dangling from the side mirror.

23 December Saturday

Seamus has plenty of old batteries around the place. Some are car batteries and the other larger ones looked like they had been for his tractor. He uses two batteries to hold up the drooping shed door and a few more are clustered around as a way to gather like with like.

24 December. Sunday. Christmas Eve.

Tommie has been moved to Rathkeevin. He is in a room with one other man. This man spends all day in the Day Room. Tommie does not go to the Day Room. He was in a cranky mood when I visited today. His legs are giving him a lot of discomfort. He said he hopes that no one comes to visit on Stephen’s Day as he wants to give the horse racing his full attention. I promised him that I would not be visiting on that day. He asked me to spread the word.

26 December. Tuesday. Stephens Day.

I walked out along the narrow road to Ladys Abbey in between downpours. Thick ivy has covered nearly every bit of the stone building.  The shapes of the ruined Abbey exist as things somewhere between topiary and architecture.

27 December Wednesday

A pigeon has been massacred and eaten outside the door to my workroom. It was the fox who killed, ate and left the mess.  There was nothing I could do except sweep up the remains so that I do not step in them. I threw the whole mess over the stone wall.

29 December Friday

Everything remains closed. Shops and businesses are locked up tight. Supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies are open, with restricted hours, but nothing else is open. The Twelve Days of Christmas go on for twelve days.

31 December. Sunday. New Years Eve.

The shelf in Marie’s sitting room was narrow. It was made out of a single piece of wood. The shelf was just wide enough for a single can. Lined up along this shelf were seven spray cans of air freshener. Each can offered a different scent, or flavour. The caps were all different colours.  Marie was proud of her selection of smells. She had them spread out with a little bit of space between each can, just to make certain that each one could be individually admired. She waited for me to say something about the selection of cans but I found myself speechless.

1 January. New Years Day. Monday 2024

I brought in three wheelbarrow loads of firewood this afternoon. Already I can hear a wasp buzzing around the room. He came in with the wood. The heat has woken him up and now he floats around in a sleepy stupor. He is dopey but noisy.  If I can catch him I will toss him out the door.  The cold will probably kill him but perhaps he will find his way back to some timber for more sleep.

2 January Tuesday

There is water everywhere. From a distance it looks like the Knockmealdown mountains drop directly down into a lake. It is not possible to see the far edges of the lake. The river is no longer a river. The river is part of the huge lake that covers every field in sight. It is beautiful but it is not good. There are swans on the lake where there are usually sheep in the field.

3 January Wednesday

I went to the pharmacy to get something for Simon’s cold and cough. I described his condition. The pharmacist said: “What you need is The Cough Bottle.” No one ever speaks of cough syrup. It is always The Cough Bottle.

4 January Thursday

I asked at the shop if they had any frozen spinach.  The woman at the till said No.  Not only did they have no frozen spinach but she said that they have never had any frozen spinach. She said I was the first person who had ever even asked for it.

6 January. Twelfth Night. Little Christmas. Nollaig na mBan. Women’s Christmas.

Today is the day for the tree to come down and the decorations and the cards and the wreathes to be put away or thrown away. If one has all of these jobs to do, the day is a busy one. The putting away and returning the house to how it was before the holidays can be a lot of work. At the end of this day, women are supposed to take time for themselves. To share food with other women and to have the evening off after doing so much work during the extended holiday. Clearing the way to take the evening off seems like a small reward indeed.


10 January Wednesday

Joe’s field stands two metres above the boreen. The boreen passes inches beside the house and the field sits above it. It is a peculiar situation. The machine cutting the hedges is roaring by at that height. It is necessary to look out the window and then to bend one’s neck upward in order to see the angled cutter crashing through the growth. The third time the tractor with its cutting machinery passes by, the side of the house is pelted with sticks and branches and thorny pieces of the hedges. It makes a racket. We can hear nothing in the big room until it passes. It feels like the house is under attack from something bigger than hail. The loud mechanical metallic chewing, tearing and spluttering makes it sound like something dangerous. Thwack. By the fourth time the tractor roars by, the sound is more even aggressive as the pieces being spewed at the house have been getting both smaller, and more plentiful. The hedge cutting man finishes the job in darkness with bright lights on the top and front of the tractor to guide him. After he departs, the silence is profound. I could go out with a torch and examine the scattered detritus, but I think I will wait until the morning.

12 January Friday

The man had only just been buried, so people were eager to say something good about him. The worst thing you can say about a man is that he was Harmless. That is a kind of insult. In the shop, I overheard several women reminding each other that Jack had been a great dancer in his day. When I reported this comment to Tommie, he told me Not To Believe A Word Of It. He said that Jack was not a good dancer, only that he himself thought he was. He said that Jack had spent his whole life two beats behind any music and that his wife learned to follow his lead even though she was well able to follow music properly herself.

20 January Saturday

The bathroom is cold. The entire house is cold but the bathroom is extremely cold. It is not a place to linger. The towel rack, made of copper pipes and built by our plumber friend, John, a long time ago, was intended to function as the radiator in the room. It is hooked up to the pipes where a radiator would have been. It is wide and generous, but it does not do much to spread warmth. I enjoy looking at it on the rare moments when there is not even one towel hanging upon it.

21 January Sunday

Two days of wild and battering wind. They are calling this storm Isha. There are multiple weather warnings as well as lots of rain. The rain is not falling but it is being blown in different directions by the endlessly gusting winds. Yesterday it was too wild to venture anywhere at all. Today I drove to the shop. On the way home, I had to stop the car twice to get out and drag large branches off the road. Neither branch had been on the road when I drove down to the village. Each had fallen while I was at the shop. One was large and heavy and I could scarcely shift it. The other one was not so big but it was large enough that I did not want to drive over it.

22 January Monday

All flights in and out of the country were cancelled yesterday because of the wind. Flights trying to land in both Dublin and in Belfast were re-directed to Paris. Thousands of people lost their electricity. We had our candles ready but we did not need them.

23 January Tuesday

Three plastic feed bags from the Italian firm Mazzoleni have been blown down from the farm over the last few days. They have arrived at different times. The bright white and red and black of the bags is cheerful and a stark contrast to the heavy grey sky.

24 January Wednesday

Today is calm. There is no wind. There is barely any sound at all. The world feels different. The sun is out, as are the snowdrops.

25 January Thursday

A letter for an appointment at the hospital always arrives in a sealed brown envelope with a piece of clear tape over the flap, for extra security.

26 January Friday

Another calm morning.  It would be beautiful except for the stench of slurry. I know when Slurry Spreading will happen because the big blue hose is visible in the farmyard.  I think it is used to bring the slurry from the holding tank into the mobile spreading unit. I do not really need to see the hose. The sharp smell tells me what is happening.

27 January Saturday

I repaired my cardigan. Again. This cardigan is old. It might be twenty five years old. It has stretched and drooped and it is now long and shapeless. It is big enough that I can wear it on top of any number of bulky garments. There are many small repairs. The sleeves were shredding a few years ago. I rolled the cuffs up a little bit and stitched them into position. Today I repaired another unraveling down the front that kept getting caught on things. It is not a beautiful repair but I am pleased with my efforts to keep the sweater going in this cold house.

28 January Sunday

Tommie had three outdoor hats laid out on the back of his armchair. He had three spectacle cases on the table in front of the television. He had three glasses of water beside him on the big table. One glass was half empty. He told me that he has been told to drink three big glasses of water every day but he does not enjoy drinking water so he avoids it. The three glasses were placed right beside him so that he could not forget.

29 January Monday

The word Mind is used frequently. It is used in the sense of taking care and watching out: Mind the Child. Mind One Another. Mind Yourself.

30 January Tuesday

My egg sizing device is one of my favourite things.  It is a scale for measuring one egg at a time: Small. Medium. Large. Extra Large.  I have a rubber egg which I keep in position on the little curved hand.  I think the purpose of this egg is to be hidden in a nest to encourage a chicken to lay.  I have no chickens so I keep the rubber egg on my sizing machine. Because the egg is rubber and lightweight, it frequently gets knocked off the little curved platform , and then it bounces away.  Sometimes I have several spent days looking for it, but it always turns up again.

A Fine Flat Acre

31 January Wednesday

The birds are voracious. The more frequently I fill the nut feeders the more they eat and the more quickly the feeders are emptied. I am always rushing to give them more even when it is raining and I should think they would want to be under cover.  They eat and eat and eat.

1 February Thursday-The first day of spring

I have walked greyhounds at PAWS, a local rescue facility for dogs. They sent each of us volunteers out with one dog at a time. On a normal morning, I walked four different greyhounds. There are a lot of homeless greyhounds because Coursing is a popular racing event in this country. I cannot call it a sport. After a dog passes his or her best racing days, it is retired. Cruel people cut off part of the dog’s ear where a number has been tattooed so that the dog cannot be tracked back to its owner. Many dogs get dumped on a road far from home, with or without a bleeding ear. Some of them get hit by cars.  A lot of them end up in rescue centers. The rescue places are full to overflowing with greyhounds. I have been told that some get sent abroad to live as pets. They are gentle and easy companions. The Italians love greyhounds. I love them too. I like to imagine a retired greyhound living out its life sleeping under the trees in a sunny olive grove. I miss having a dog. Each time I see the red van from the Greyhound Trust, I am tempted to give a home to an aging greyhound.

2 February Friday

Looking through the Farmers Journal is never dull. I enjoy seeing advertisements for machinery I have no use for and most of which I do not understand. I do like the idea of the Calving Cameras. It is not hard to figure out their function. A farmer can sit in the warm comfort of home while fully alert to a cow going into labour.


3 February Saturday

Simon spent the entire day at the hospital. He was there for eleven hours. It was not so much that he was poorly as that the health system is broken and there are simply not enough people to make it work efficiently. He was surprised to see a priest moving around in the Accident and Emergency ward. The priest was a middle-aged black man wearing a long grey cassock and moving from person to person asking if they would like The Blessing of the Throat. He was carrying two fat white candles which he held crossed against a person’s throat as he said the blessing. Simon refused the blessing, but he watched with interest as every other person, including the nurses and porters on duty, accepted the offer. We are always reminded that this is remains a heavily Catholic country.

4 February Sunday

Breda, Siobhan and I drove up into the mountains.  We had decided on the route just off the Mount Mellary road, at the Tipperary-Waterford border. We could have walked right and climbed straight up but we went left, through a broken gate and continued up a just visible track and then circled around the hill in a large loop that took us off a recognizable track through thick heather and lots of mud. It was difficult and slow going with a strong wind against us on the uphill part, but the day was clear and dry and beautiful.

5 February Monday St Brigid’s Day Bank Holiday

This is only the second year of the new three day weekend celebrating St. Brigid. Her official Feast Day is 1 February which is the First Day of Spring. She is regarded as the patron saint of dairy farmers, cattle, midwives, babies, computers, blacksmiths, and beer. She is one of three patron saints of Ireland and the first female saint to be celebrated with a national holiday. It seemed an auspicious day to walk up to Lady’s Abbey.

6 February Tuesday

Torrential rain all day. It is difficult to think. The rain from inside the house sounds loud. When inside an automobile, the sound is impossible. The roads are running with water and floods are promised.

7 February Wednesday

The boreen is lined with dry stone walls on both sides. There is growth both over and through the walls. The stones are barely visible. When a rock falls out and onto the track, it is not possible to drive around it. The boreen is too narrow. It is too narrow for both a stone and an automobile. The only solution is to get out of the car and to move it, if I can. If it is too heavy, I roll it along to a gap where it might rest until someone stronger comes along. Stones tumble out for any number of reasons. A lot of heavy rain can cause a section of wall to loosen. A fox, a badger or a cat using a regular path through the hedge and wall as it moves into or out of a field can cause a stone to be dislodged. Today I walked up and found that a medium sized stone had rolled down, probably because of yesterday’s all day torrential downpours. I picked it up with two hands and lifted it up over my head to heave it over the hedge. It hit the thick dense branches, bounced back and hit me hard on the shoulder. I am lucky that it did not hit me in the head. I spent the rest of my walk, with a sore shoulder and upper arm, working on a murder mystery in my head. I was trying to figure out how the victim could be hit by a stone in a similar manner and killed, and the ensuing confusion about who threw it at them.  I gave up before I got back home. I decided that such a death would be considered a suicide, or perhaps a death by misadventure, rather than a murder.

8 February Thursday

Yesterday I drove Tommie into town for a shopping trip at Dunnes’.  The day was bright and dry.  It was as unlike the day before as it could be. Tommie was happy to be traveling out in such perfect weather but he was not prepared for the outside world nor did he remember a shopping list. Walking into the store made him feel confused. He forgot what he wanted to purchase and his legs were too weak for the necessary standing and walking. I ran around and up and down the aisles fetching the things he wanted and returning them when I got it wrong. It is hard to locate the right kind of foot cream in a brown container that starts with the letter A, or the correct kind of soup when he says that he likes all soup but really that does not include tomato soup or chicken soup. It means that he only wants leek and potato soup but how could I know that if he did not say it. It was an exhausting trip for both of us. I drove him home with a different and slightly meandering route so that he could view changes in the neighborhood and ask questions about things. We pulled over and watched the work being done around the land of the cottage once lived in by Liam Boyle’s mother.  He called the land A Fine Flat Acre and informed me that Liam had a piggery a corner of the land at one time.  When I got him back into his house with his messages unloaded and spread out on the counter in his kitchen, he announced that his Bad Knee is A Friend For Life. He said that he needs to give up any possibility of it ever getting better.

9 February Friday

Taking the walk up the Mass Path after so long has been wonderful.  It was so densely overgrown in the autumn that it was impassable. Now a lot of the brambles and tangles have died back.  Some hunters have been through and they whacked their way through the vegetation. There is a lot of deep mud as well as a few fallen trees to crawl underneath, but the favorite circuit that I call Going Around is an option once more. I took one heavy fall into the mud. Next time I must take a stick to do my own whacking and to avoid landing in the mud. Again.

10 February Saturday

I miss the presence of language which people in towns and cities take for granted, or perhaps they find it annoying. There are plenty of signs in nature but there are rarely words to read as I walk the fields and lanes. There is plenty of machinery to look at. I am curious about a lot of things because I do not know what they are being used for or what a covered trailer is carrying. I am curious about these functions but not curious enough to ask questions to find out about them. I just enjoy being curious and considering my own solutions.

Weather is Not Everything.

11 February Sunday

We stood in cold bright sunshine waiting for the bus. We were early. A school marching band was practicing for the St Patrick’s Day parade. We watched them through wide cast-iron gates. A clump of tiny girls with blue and gold pom-poms came first. It was good to know that they have another 5 or six weeks to get better. They were completely chaotic. They needed a lot more practice. Then came the band, followed by older girls with full sized flags. They twirled and waved their flags, marching with high knees, and sweeping the ground with the fabric of their flags. A woman stood beside me and pointed out her grandchildren, as well as assorted nieces and nephews. It appeared that she was related to half of everyone and proud of them all. They circled the old army barracks three times before the Dublin bus arrived and we all got on, leaving the marchers marching.

12 March Tuesday

Some bus journeys are noisy, with chatter and laughter and music and the pinging noises of mobile phones. Some bus drivers keep the radio turned up loud for the entire trip. Today’s bus was a quiet bus. The driver barely spoke to people as they boarded. He was neither a talkative nor a welcoming driver. There was not much conversation among the passengers either, and what conversation there was, was subdued. As we traveled south from Dublin airport, our driver pulled over at the side of a busy road. The place where he stopped was not a bus stop. He walked to the center of the bus, down two steps and into the teeny toilet.  He did not say a word.  We waited. We waited for a long time. The bus was completely silent. No one spoke. Eventually the driver came out of the toilet and he went back to the front of the bus, sat down and drove away. He never said a word. Neither did anyone else.

13 March Wednesday

Joe explained that the woman was a small woman and that she was Low to the Ground, but he added that she was a fierce lady with a dangerously quick temper. For emphasis, he added: She’d eat you without salt!

14 March Thursday

After making a house call, the doctor told him that he must go to the hospital, but Tommie said that he had had enough of hospitals and that he would prefer to stay at home. The doctor told him that he is Dancing Close to the Rim, but finally agreed to allow Tommie to stay at home. He has returned three times now to check up on his patient. Tommie told me that he is not a whole lot better, but that he is no worse.

15 March Friday

It had been a lovely day. The sun was out and there had been no rain and we all felt a bit of hopefulness. In this atmosphere of weather optimism, almost everyone had come out without wearing enough warm clothing. Michael Hickey died on Wednesday. We attended his wake in Cashel today. The line of people waiting to pay their respects stretched all the way up the street. The pavement was full. Everyone was talking quietly to the people around them. People left their place in the queue and went to speak to other people along the way. The forward movement into the building was slow. The late afternoon was cold and getting colder, but no one complained about the wait. The shock of Michael’s untimely death was foremost in every single conversation. He was too young. Too healthy. Too funny. Too full of life and vigor and plans and always full of his usual questioning manner. The word tragic was frequently used.

After an hour, we finally entered the hallway of the funeral home where we signed the book of condolences and we waited some more. I was distracted by a model of the funeral home itself. It had been built by a 92 year old man and painted by someone else who was related to the family of undertakers. There was a small sign on the front of the building explaining these facts. I was impressed by the model and I pointed it out to those around me. No one seemed particularly interested but I did feel that Michael himself would have had something both funny and appreciative to say about it. He would not have failed to acknowledge the model building. It had an extremely steep pitch on the roof. I made a note to myself to look at the actual roof of the building when I went outside. And I wondered if there was a tree beside the building, mirroring the one painted on the side of the model. When we finally entered the room where Michael was laid out in his coffin, we spoke with Ute and her two sons. She consoled and thanked every person graciously for coming. It was as though it were her job to give kindness and sympathy rather than to receive it. She gave each person a careful and personal amount of attention which is why the line was so slow to move. Not one person minded the wait.

16 March Saturday

I did not know what the structure was as I approached it. From afar, it looked like a bit of mad archway architecture but it had never been there before. It was not until I smelled the stench of the slurry that I understood. The hose for carrying the slurry from the tank to the fields where it was to be spread, had been lifted up and off the road with a digger extended upwards. Cars and people could pass under rather than driving over the hose. It was high enough that even the big milk tanker could pass underneath without a bother. Sometimes metal ramps are placed on the road to prevent and guide cars from driving over the actual hose. This was a much more exciting solution.

18 March Monday Bank Holiday

Everyone is weary of the rain.  It falls endlessly and even when a day begins clear, the dryness does not last. The rain arrives in gusts or drizzles or torrential downpours. It is soft or it is hard and noisy. It arrives in all forms but what it does not do is stop.  There is so much mud and there are such big puddles. As both a topic of conversation and a state of being, we are all tired of the rain.

19 March Tuesday

Burke’s Ironworks in Cahir has painted black gateposts on the outside of their building. On the wall, they then attach examples of their cast-iron gates. The real gate is attached to the illusion of a gatepost. Sometimes a gate is removed and delivered to a house or a farm and then the posts stay empty for a while until a new gate is fitted onto the wall.

20 March Wednesday

The doctor told me that she is originally from Iraq, but that she has been in this country for twenty-three years. She feels that this is a good and gentle place to be. There have been no wars and she feels certain that there will be no wars. She said Ireland is A Safe Place to Live. She said that safety is the best thing that anyone can hope for. She has never been back to Iraq and she said that she will never return. She has no family there any longer. She is happy to be here even though the weather is damp and often grim. She finished by saying that weather is not everything.

21 March Thursday

I saw the first primrose today. My initial thought is that it is early but then I think that I think this every year. In spite of all the rain that has been falling almost without cease for three or maybe four months, a lot of things are suddenly in flower. The magnolia tree up at the farm is glorious. Primrose. Stitchwort. Gorse. Lesser Celandine. Dandelions. Flowering currants. Fruit trees are in blossom. There are many late daffodils. Wild garlic is everywhere with its shiny long leaves. No flowers yet but the fresh smell and taste is added to everything we eat.

23 March Saturday

The Madonna in the corner of the car park at the supermarket has been given several bunches of flowers wrapped in cellophane.

25 March Monday

Dalton’s Tyres have a waiting room that is made to look like a log cabin from the outside. Sometimes the door is wide open and sometimes it is closed to keep the heat inside for the person who is waiting to get their tyres replaced or for their wheel alignment to be completed. Inside, a small electric heater warms the cabin, and a television is always on, with or without any sound. There is a couch, a big chair and a stack of car magazines on the coffee table. It is bleak while it is trying to look like home.

26 March Tuesday

Siobhan and I drove past the field where Jackie Murphy’s lambs are grazing. We knew they were his sheep because there were two llamas in the field with the sheep. He is the only sheep farmer around here to have resident llamas. They are there to keep the foxes from attacking the baby lambs.  As a method, it works. He has not lost a single lamb since the pair of llamas have been on duty. I wonder if they will reproduce and that there will soon be more llamas.

27 March Wednesday

The Christmas poinsettia is now outside.  I had the idea that I could keep it going and growing in the house until the weather was warm enough to put it outdoors but I now accept that it is not meant to survive. A seasonal plant with built in limitations. I put it on the table near to Simon’s words.

28 March Thursday

“There’s going to be a Famine!” This is what Michael shouted to me across the passenger seat of his little van. The seat held a big green bucket that had recently held some form of animal feed. It was now empty, damp and needing a wash. I had pressed myself into the undergrowth to allow Michael’s van to pass but he did not pass, instead he had stopped and opened the window. He shouted some more. He said, “There is a crisis coming! The fields are too wet and the mud is so deep that machines cannot drive out over them. No one can plant potatoes. Or oats. Or grass for silage. No one can plant anything and if nothing is planted there will be nothing to eat. There will surely be a famine if this rain doesn’t stop!” He repeated his message about the impending famine a few more times, then he shook his head, saluted and drove on down the narrow lane.

30 March Saturday

We all hoped that Pat would have some asparagus on his table at the market today, but it is a bit early yet.  I came home with leeks and rhubarb.

After The Grand National

4 April Thursday

A second bright day. There is rain forecast for later but right now the day is bright and the sky is blue. The cows have been turned out and it appears that every field is full.

5 April Friday

I have received a summons to appear for jury duty. I sat on a jury some years ago and after that I was given a piece of paper saying that I need never do it again. The day that I was selected for that jury, I met an older woman in the car park who recognised me from the morning of jury selection. She had been among the initial group but she had not been chosen. She was deeply disappointed. The woman was nicely dressed. She wanted to appear tidy and respectable and reliable. I felt she was lonely and perhaps hoped for the activity of sitting on a jury with a group of people as a way to fill her days. She said that she was envious that I had been chosen. We talked for a few minutes and then she wished me luck.  As she turned away, the woman said, “And you, you are not even Irish.” I was not sure if I was meant to hear this. Nor was I certain if her comment was simply an observation or if she felt that someone born in the country should have priority in these situations.  I decided not to ask what she meant.

6 April Saturday

Storm Kathleen is bludgeoning us. We have been warned. The sound is endless and interrupted only by lashings of hard beating torrential rain. I watch the bird feeders being blown left and right and waving in the air fully horizontal. The birds hold on and they keep eating, no matter which way the feeders are blown.

8 April Monday

Forget-me-nots. Robin Run the Hedge. Honesty. Bluebells. Ferns. Harebells. Grape Hyacinths. Apple blossom. Wild Garlic flowers. Every day there are more spring flowers and plants to see. There are ones that I know and others that I do not have names for.  I am happy to see them all.

9 April Tuesday

The bright red board with yellow squares around the edges is in position to alert and to prevent anyone from backing into the structure behind it. I do not know what it is protecting but it is at the petrol station, so it is something to do with fuel.

10 April Wednesday

A shallykabukie is moving slowly across the window. I would not have noticed this snail in its striped shell except that I have been running to look out the window at the men above in Joe’s field. The men are replacing the utility pole. A few hours ago we lost our power. Looking on the ESB app, we found out that 452 houses had lost their electricity. The engineers were looking to locate the problem. Within the hour, 451 houses had their power restored. We remain without electricity. The pole beside us has fallen down. Its bottom is completely rotten and the weeks and weeks of unending rain meant that there was no way for it to remain standing. The afternoon is windy but dry. Eight men and two big JCBs arrived to do the job. Every so often, I run outside to watch and report on their progress.  Sometimes I just look out the window. The shallykabukie keeps making its way slowly across the window. By the time the electric is restored, it still has a long way to go.

11 April Thursday

The display for Signed Prayer Cards is large, and it is new. Twelve cards are on display for seven euros each. I asked Stacey why anyone would want to buy a card that is already signed by someone else. She explained that the cards are signed by the priest and also by the sender. The card is a guarantee to the recipient that the priest will mention the death or the illness of whoever the card is sent to during his next Mass. The priest will get everyone to pray together for that person. All for seven euro.

13 April Saturday

Breda told me that she saw the first swallow on the 9th. I have yet to see one myself, but I am on the look-out.

15 April Monday

Everyone is discussing The Grand National. Irish horses did very well on the day. Everyone is proud. The whole country is proud, even those who do not regularly follow the horses. A woman in the shop was thrilled that a horse named I am Maximus won Big. She announced to everyone in the shop that she should have bet on that horse. She was as excited as she might have been if she had actually bet on the horse. She said she should have bet on that horse because her dog is named Maximus. She said she would have bet on that horse if she had known his name and if she had someone to place a bet for her. She said that she had never before bet on a horse, not even once in her life and she did not even know how to place a bet but if she had known about this horse with the same name as her dog she would have surely bet on it and then she too would have won Big.

16 April Tuesday

Anthony told me that Mena was away in France for The Bones of Two Weeks. She might have only been away for eight or nine or ten days but by saying The Bones of Two Weeks, he meant most of that time. The implication is that there is not much left of two weeks by the time she returns. He could have said that Mena was away for a little more than a week but he did not. Mena is short for Philomena.

17 April Wednesday

I set off up the Mass Path.  I was pleased at how much drier things were, but then I stepped on a mossy rock and it was too slippery to hold me. I fell flat into the mud. I landed hard with my whole body. It was a thump that took my breath away but I felt proud that I had been able to keep my face from landing in the mud. I turned around and went back home. I was too wet and cold and heavy with clumpy mud all over my clothes and my hands to continue.

18 April Thursday

Five, maybe six, days now without rain. We are all reeling with pleasure. It is cold. The wind is sharp. But it is dry. Ploughing is being done in all directions. The tractors race along the roads from field to field. Everyone is in a hurry. Every field without cows or sheep in it is being prepared for planting. The whole district feels busy.

19 April Friday

Today I received notice back from the Courts Department. The letter excused me from Jury Duty with the expression: “on foot of the summons served on you…” I have been thinking about this terminology all day.

20 April Saturday

In my life, there continues to be a mix-up between the words call and ring. I always make the mistake of saying that I will call someone and they respond by saying: “Oh, no need to call! Just give me a ring.”  To call is to drop by and visit. Calling in on someone means they will be obligated to offer tea and maybe some biscuits. A call demands etiquette. A quick chat by phone is something else. When someone says that they tried to ring and the phone Rang Out, it means that no one picked up the incoming call. It rang and rang and there was no answer. When a number Rings Foreign, the person ringing can tell that the telephone is out of the country. I seem to be the only one who does not understand how the dial tone sounds different when the person at the other end of a phone line is abroad.

The Egg in The Window

17 May Friday

I was feeling deeply exhausted with a terrible headache and all kinds of muscle aches.  I finally decided that I was suffering from more than ordinary jet lag. I took a test and discovered that I had Covid. It seems unfair that I strolled all the way through the many months and years of the entire pandemic in Full Health and now I get this nasty variant that is making the rounds. I cannot write more. I must go and lie down.

20 May Monday

Simon has it too. No wonder we all worked so hard to avoid Covid during all of those many weeks. We are both feeling horrible and not really knowing how to identify one kind of discomfort from another. I must go and lie down.

22 May Wednesday

It is a month ago today that we heard the cuckoo. I had taken Barbara up into the Knockmealdowns to walk across to the Mass Rock and I promised her that if we were lucky we might hear the Cuckoo. We were lucky. Over the next few days, we told every single person we saw about hearing the cuckoo, and everyone we told was pleased and a little bit envious. There is an extremely short period of time in which to hear the cuckoo. Increasingly one needs to be far away from people and civilization, preferably in the mountains at the exact right time. Tommie told us that he had not heard one for fifteen years, or more.

24 May Friday

Each morning, I am woken up by birdsong. This is a good thing. They are busy and noisy all day long.

25 May Saturday

I am finally able to read again. It was impossible to read much of anything with the throbbing Covid headache. As always, I turn to the Maigret books of Georges Simenon when I am feeling fragile. I have devoured six in the last three days. It does not matter how many times I have read or re-read them. They always engage me. I must go and lie down.

27 May Monday

Other victims of this strain of Covid told us that we must expect that it will take at least three weeks to get over the deep fatigue. I did not believe them. Or I did not believe that I would fall victim to such debilitating exhaustion. Now I believe it. I am forced to believe it. I must go and lie down.

28 May Tuesday

Jacinta brought us a bottle of Vitamin Tonic from Maher’s Pharmacy. The owners make their own tonic from a special family recipe.  I have no idea what is in it but it tastes like root beer.  Jacinta promises that it will help to Put Us Right.  I am willing to believe anything if it makes me feel better.

31 May Friday

We have slowly been crawling up and out of the endless feeling of weakness. A small wander around the garden is plenty.  I can accomplish a few short jobs and that is all. Every day is punctuated with naps. Every time I feel that I am fully back to normal, I am overwhelmed with both physical and mental fatigue. It is an uphill battle. I must go and lie down.

1 June Saturday

The gooseberries are not ripe, but they are ripening. They are hard and not ready to pick yet. I hope they do not ripen too quickly. I know that I must watch them carefully. Last year the birds had many more of them than I had. I do not have the energy yet to go out and fight for my share.

3 June Monday

The day has been in and out with every kind of weather. Believing it to be a great drying day, I hung out a laundry. Torrential rain fell in the middle of the afternoon. The rain stopped and then the wind began gusting. The washing line snapped with the combination of the extra weight of sodden garments and turbulent surges of wind.

4 June Tuesday

Mary, the black cat, never comes down from the farm looking for food any more. The big black and white cat who used to fight her for scraps arrives, as does a bad-tempered tortoise shell cat who is happy to fight with the black and white one. I do not have names for these two. I do not like them well enough to give them names. I rarely put out food for them anymore. They can go up and drink milk and catch mice at the farm which is what they are supposed to do anyway. Two magpies swoop down to check out any dish that is left outside. When one of the magpies eats, the other one sits on the table watching and then they change places. Simon is as delighted with them as I was with Mary. He wants to make a bread and butter pudding for the magpies.

5 June Wednesday

Maura is old and she is not very well.  Her two younger brothers came to visit her recently because she might not live much longer. They wanted to say their goodbyes.  One of the brothers lives somewhere in England. Near Gloucester, I think.  The other brother has lived as a missionary priest somewhere in Africa for forty-six years. One morning the priest cooked breakfast for Maura.  It was an egg fried in a square hole that had been cut out of a slice of white bread. He called it The Egg in The Window. It is the only thing he knows how to cook.  Maura said the egg was overcooked, but she ate it and pretended that it was delicious.

6 June Thursday

Applications forms are now available for anyone wishing to enter the Clonmel Show. As always, I peruse the categories eagerly. My favorite is No. 21. 6 Fruit Scones

7 June Friday

Today is election day all over Europe. We are voting for local councilors, as well as for Members of the European Parliament. I knew there were a large number of people running for these offices. We have received pieces of paper every day. Each piece of paper has been the exact same size with a photograph of the candidate as well as information about their party, or their independence from any political party. Some times the information was in both Irish and English. Sometimes the piece of paper was delivered to the door by a candidate, but most of them arrived with the postman. With two voters in the house we received two of everything. Signs with faces have been posted on trees and on telephone poles. Their presence changes our landscape. I am ready for these faces to be gone. We went down to the grade school in the village to cast our votes. There were at least 25 names on the MEP ballot paper. It was printed on a very long sheet of paper. I liked that each person’s profession was listed: Nursing Lecturer, Architect, Bricklayer, Barrister, Farmer, etc.

8 June Saturday

I am feeling better and stronger every day. I am taking fewer naps. I do not feel all the way well, but the terrible weariness is finally fading.

11 June Tuesday

Last night, Breda convinced me to join herself, Siobhán and Jean for a walk in the mountains. She promised that it would be a gentle walk, and not too long. I said yes. I fell asleep wondering what I might take with me for my lunch. I knew we had no more bread, so I could not make myself a sandwich. In the morning, I changed my mind and said no. I did not know if I could make a two and a half hour walk. I did not want to slow the others with my weakness. Then I said yes, and off we went. We started at The Vee, just to the right of the painted arrow, and we climbed steeply for a bit.  When the path evened out, we walked along the side of Sugarloaf. We passed close by the Grubb Monument, which is the tomb of Samuel Grubb, a lapsed Quaker, who died in 1921. Before he died, at the age of 65, he designed a beehive shaped stone grave for himself. He said that he wanted to be buried standing up straight so that he could keep watch over ‘his people’ and ‘his fields’. He was indeed buried vertically, but locals claim that the men doing the entombing placed him into his grave upside down, so that his head is at the bottom, not at the top. He was not as popular with the masses as he thought he was. It is said that his dog is buried with him.

We continued down as far as Bay Lough and ate our lunch by the lake, the hills covered by masses of rhododendrons just coming into blossom. I returned home completely exhausted, but for the first time in weeks, it was a good kind of tired not the debilitating kind.

14 June Friday

Rain. Hail. Sun. Rain. Cloud. Rain. Hail. Hail. Sun. Hail.  Another day full of rapidly changing weather. It is not the same for more than a few minutes at a time.

Elderflower Cordial 2024

19 June Wednesday

The tortoise-shell farm cat has had kittens and they are living under the woodpile. Or in the bushes beside the lean-to, or in some section of the lean-to, but maybe not under the firewood. The kittens flee when I approach and the mother snarls and hisses at me. It is my lean-to full of my recycling buckets, paper piles and containers, as well as the firewood, but for now, this cat seems to think it is all hers.

20 June Thursday. Summer Solstice

Today is the Longest Day. The Shortest Night. There is a full moon promised.  The radio assures us all that we will not see another full moon on the Longest Day for seventy years.  I will miss this full moon because I will be asleep well before darkness falls. I will miss the next one too.

21 June Friday

Joe’s cows now wear collars. He told me that the cows have a chip embedded and that he can read all kinds of information about the cow and her health just by looking at his smartphone. He can measure how many kilometres the cow has walked, how much she is eating and if her tummy is giving her trouble. I am uncertain about the chip in the cow and about the function of the collar. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe the collar contains the chip. Some of the older cows do not have a chip so they have been given a second yellow number tag in their ear as well as a collar. It is modern technology. A farmer needs only a smartphone and he can be fully informed about his herd without going out in bad weather.

22 June Saturday

Mam is what children call their mothers. Not Mum or Mom. Not Mummy or Mommy. Here it is always Mam, or Mammy. Or more formally: The Mother. Today, while in town, I saw a display of colourful plasticised messages on fake slates to put on a grave. Even after many years in Ireland, the word Mam surprises me.

23 June Sunday

The grass roof on the book storage and studio shed is in full bloom.  There is a tall blue wild flower growing up there among a variety of grasses.  The birds must have dropped the seeds there and every year there are more of these flowers.   I never see them anywhere else in the area, so I must assume that the eco-system on the roof is exactly right for this plant.

24 June Monday

My annual elderflower cordial has been prepared. Two batches. Immediately after I finished labeling my bottles,  I began to worry that I might not have enough cordial to last us through the winter. This obsession repeats itself every year. There are hundreds of the huge creamy white blossoms visible everywhere in the landscape.  I wake up in the morning in a panic wondering if I really do need to make a third batch.

25 June Tuesday

The building was built into a hill. There was a small café on the first floor with tiny tables scattered around outside, mostly along a narrow stone patio and on down the hill. The tables hugged the side of the building. We found a table out of the wind and right next to a window. After we ordered our food from the waitress, we looked into the window and saw that the room we were seeing was not the interior of the café, but the kitchen. It was downstairs from the café. The kitchen was further down the hill, as we were. We watched as our waitress walked down some steps into the kitchen. She put on a net hat and a long apron. She prepared our toasted sandwiches and a pot of tea. When everything was arranged on a tray, she removed her apron and her hat and walked up the stairs from the kitchen and came out the front door of the cafe and down the hill to serve us.

26 June Wednesday

If he sees something—an open padlock on a gate or a faded hat on a car seat—he has to take it. He is well known in the village for his pilfering. He has to take a thing because he can, not because he wants or needs the thing. Anyone leaving their motor car close to where he lives is always careful to lock it. Anyone who keeps a jar for the small brown coins has come home at least one time to find the jar empty.  He is known to step into a kitchen through the back door and to pour the coins into his pocket, then leave the jar to be refilled. No one, except his brother, ever enters the house where he lives. I imagine the rooms piled high with the things he brings home, but for which he has no use.


27 June Thursday

The fields and roads are full of tractors and combines and large machinery that I cannot name. Silage is being cut and bundled into plastic-wrapped bales. Usually the bales are black but today I saw some bright white ones. The bales are piled in the middle of fields or on the edges of fields near to a road waiting for collection. Some of the bales are piled beside a shed, or inside a shed. There are bales everywhere.

28 June Friday

I feel sad each year when the Cow Parsley passes. The white froth of the blossoms lines the roads and makes every journey feel thrilling. Now we are left with a dry, skeletal look to the verges. The Giant Hogweed grows taller by the minute. It is an invasive and horrible weed and if the sap from the stems gets on skin in the sunlight, it causes a painful blistering and weeping rash that takes many months to go away. The wide white flowers have none of the delicacy of Cow Parsley. People call it The Russian Weed because it is understood to have moved across Europe from Russia. It is tall. It looms on thick sturdy stems. It is threatening. Russia is blamed for this invasion.

Bog Cotton is another name always used in place of a proper name. While Russian Weed is mentioned with distaste, Bog Cotton is said with delight. It looks like a small tuft of sheep’s wool caught on a stem. I am told people used to collect the Bog Cotton to stuff their pillows. I can see that it would take a lot of Bog Cotton to fill up a pillow, even a small pillow. Cotton Sedge or Cotton Grass is the actual name and the name is not so different, but because Bog Cotton grows in the dampness of a peaty bog, it is always called Bog Cotton.

29 June Saturday

There was a busload of German tourists at the Farmers Market today. At first I thought they were Dutch but when I heard them talking I knew they were German. Their bus was a small bus. A mini-bus. But it was a full bus and the Germans had already been to the castle and for thirty or forty minutes before they all got back on their bus, they walked around the market admiring, discussing and photographing things. They called to one another and pointed out things not to be missed.  They all spent a long time looking at Ned Lonergan’s carved wooden bowls and egg cups.  Then one woman shouted and they all ran over to where she was. They were photographing the two nettles growing out of each side of the back of my car.  One is small but the other one has grown long and leggy. Every single person was checked before they got back on the bus.  If they did not yet have a photograph of my nettles they were sent back to get one. It had become a requirement that they each have this same souvenir photo.

30 June Sunday

I heard Simon shouting.  He was shouting at the cattle in the yard.  There were seven of them.  We thought that they had broken in from the adjoining field, but we were wrong. They had jumped over a fence from Joe’s upper field and through a space that had been opened up by yesterday’s enormous messy clearing of the ditches. They hopped down a steep banking onto the track. From there, they went with gravity, running downhill and into our garden.  The drop from their field was more than a meter.  I do not know why they did not break legs on the jump down, but they were young, frisky and nimble. We chased them up the boreen and I left Simon with a stick to guard the break-out place with orders not to let any more of the cattle jump.  They were mooing and moaning and shrieking at one another from the herd  in the field of one Joe across to the herd in the field of the other Joe. I reached the farm with the seven rushing ahead of me. They took off toward the road.  I was dialing numbers and trying to reach someone anyone on several phones, leaving messages and quickly dialing another number.  I ran in and knocked the door and went shouting into the open doors of the barns. There was no one anywhere.  I rushed back to try to distract the cattle from running to the road where they might be hit by a car.  They had already come back, perhaps to find me. As a group, they jumped up on a shelf of mowed grass about a metre off the ground and huddled there waiting to see what we might do next. I opened one gate into a field and closed off two other gates to try to contain and direct them. Cows do not come when called.  It is better to be behind them than in front of them. I knew this much. I hid off to the side in some bushes to encourage them to go through the open gate.  After about thirty minutes of this game, Joe appeared and he directed me and together we drove them through the open gate.  I walked him down and showed him where they had broken out and left him to sort out his fencing problem.

1 July Monday

Twice a day, the local radio station, Tipp FM, reads out the Public Service Announcements. These announcements are the reporting of deaths in the county. Each name and place of residence is read out, followed by the time and location of the wake and then the location of the funeral and burial on the following day. Married women are always listed first by their married name, and then by the name they were born with. This is done using the French word Née: Lily Crosse Née Tully, but the word Née is never pronounced like the French Née. It is pronounced strongly like KNEE, as if the word is capitalised and must be said loud: Lily Crosse KNEE Tully.

2 July Tuesday

Bernadette and Noel love toast. They do not eat bread unless it is toasted. Even bread that has been baked fresh in the morning and that is still warm and fragrant from the oven is toasted. So great is their dislike of eating untoasted bread that they own two toasters. The two toasters sit side by side on the counter top. They are terrified that if their toaster breaks they will have no toast. By owning two toasters, they can rest assured that they will not be caught short.

3 July Wednesday

The mother cat and her three, four or five kittens may have decamped. Up until now, each time I went under the lean-to to put things into bins or to deposit newspapers, cardboard, bottles, or plastics for recycling, the mother has bared her teeth and snarled at me. This is the same mother who comes whining and screeching at the kitchen door looking for food two or three times a day. This is the mother who have I resisted giving a name because I just do not like her enough to name her. I call her Mother, but I do not use the name in a friendly nor encouraging way.

5 July Friday

The weather continues to be unsettled. It is grey and overcast. It is not cold but it is certainly not hot. It does not feel like July. I took a bowl outside this morning and filled it with raspberries. I was wearing my pyjamas, determined to pretend to myself that this was a lovely early summer morning. Reaching deep into the leafy canes to get the ripest berries, I touched the back of both hands with nettles. All day I have been miserable with the tingling of nettle stings. The raspberries were gone by the end of breakfast, but the stinging lasted all day.