Bank Holiday Sunday Morning

Image result for holstein cows

Sitting here in the kitchen on a sunny Sunday morning of a Bank Holiday and I am wandering the wide spaces of the world with deft strokes of my fingertips.

And here I found Billy Collins, the Irish-American poet with a poem about Irish-Dutch cows, if they are Holsteins, or Dutch-Irish cows if Friesians, or they could be a US bred strain of Holstein-Friesians imported back into Ireland.  He didn’t say.

Cows it seems are not like people.  We bring in a Friesian, or a Limousin, a Belgian Blue or a Scottish Angus.  We set it on the land and it eats the green grass of Ireland and magically becomes an Irish steer, an Irish Bull, or an Irish Cow.

We don’t point at it in the field and shout “Go back to Hungary”, or “We don’t want your type of cattle round here”.

Ireland is sometimes personified as a cow.  In his lament for Thomas McDonagh, Francis Ledwidge uses this analogy very powerfully.  And of course the greatest ancient epic in Ireland, central to the tales of Cúchulainn and the Cycle of Tales of the Knights of the Red Branch is the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Afternoon with Irish Cows

 

Farewell to June

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland

May 2011 visit by Queen Elizabeth acknowledged at last Irelands WW1 legacy

As June 2017 draws to a close in broken showers and typical Irish summer weather I give you a poem about closing and June from the Poet of the Blackbirds.  By rights Ledwidge is a war poet, but it became unfashionable in post revolutionary Ireland to admit to a career in the British Military.  It took 100 years before the Irish nation could honour those Irish who responded to the call of John Redmond and spilled their blood on Flanders fields.

In a neat stroke of marketing Francis Ledwidge was cast as a poet of field and stream, of nature and songbirds.  His Lament for the Irish patriot Thomas MacDonagh was given pride of place while his poems from the French and Turkish trenches in which he fought were swept under the carpet.  Sadly even Poetry is not immune from politics.

June: by Francis Ledwidge

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
and plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
and let the window down. The butterfly
floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
above her widespread wares, the while she tells
the farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
the water from the spider-peopled wells.
The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
and bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
while siren-like the pollen-stained bees
drone in the clover depths.  And up the height
the cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade.
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
that snares your little ear, for June is short
and we must joy in it and dance and sing,
and from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
the wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
will soon blow down the road all roses go.

An ancient youth.

Boyne-Valley.jpg

In archaeological terms Ireland is a child.  There were no humans on the island in the paleolithic.  We have no history of neanderthals, homo habilis, homo erectus or earlier australopithecenes.  In the grand history of man we arrived on the island as fully formed modern day humans.  The earliest people arrived between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.  They probably walked here over land-bridges left by the retreating ice sheets of the last great ice age.

At  the same time the history of Ireland is ancient.  We have great monuments and burial mounds that pre-date Stonehenge and the Pyramids.  We occupy a landscape that is steeped in history and sense of place.  We are well rooted in our environment and secure in our place in the world.

Tourists come to Ireland and take a quick spin around what is a small island.  They tick off the boxes on their holiday to-do list;  The Wild Atlantic Way, the Cliffs of Moher, Giants Causeway, Dublin Castle, Irelands Ancient East, Killarney, Queen Maeves Grave, Yeats Tombstone, the Guinness Brewery, Rock of Cashel etc.  In the new world that is how you have vacations, you go from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.

The odd time you meed a real world traveler who understands how to see Ireland properly.  Ireland is to be found in the fields and ditches, down back alleys and up mountain sides.  It is a country of many small attractions, each one having its own story.  The trick is to find the local historian who can walk a site with you and bring it to life.

Then you go to the pub and discuss the important things; sport, politics, religion, the shape of a girls ankle and the fall of a sparrow.  On your way home, if you are very sensitive to your surroundings, you may even be lucky enough to turn out a shadow that could be a fox, or a fairy, a banshee or the shade of a long dead king.

At Currabwee; by Francis Ledwidge

Every night at Currabwee
Little men with leather hats
Mend the boots of Faery
From the tough wings of the bats.
So my mother told to me,
And she is wise you will agree. .

Louder than a cricket’s wing
All night long their hammer’s glee
Times the merry songs they sing
Of Ireland glorious and free.
So I heard Joseph Plunkett say,
You know he heard them but last May.

And when the night is very cold
They warm their hands against the light
Of stars that make the waters gold
Where they are labouring all the night.
So Pearse said, and he knew the truth,
Among the stars he spent his youth.

And I, myself, have often heard
Their singing as the stars went by,
For am I not of those who reared
The banner of old Ireland high,
From Dublin town to Turkey’s shores,
And where the Vardar loudly roars?

Gangrene

1915 Ypres

By early 1915 the Great War had become the static, trench bound misery that has become the enduring image of life on the Western Front.  In this world of mud, barbed wire, gas, shell and sniper bullets the soldiers banded together and organised means of surviving the tedium at the rear and the terror at the front.  The art of scrounging was born, to supplement rations and to secure some creature comforts in the soggy, rat and lice infested trenches.

Illness and injury were more feared than death.  Death still carried tones of glory, bravery, heroism.  Better to die with dignity than to return home absent a limb, a burden on society.

Behind the scenes the scientists were doing their bit to save lives, as evidenced by the article below from the Manchester Guardian, 100 years ago today.

A serum, for which remarkable efficacy is claimed, both as a preventive and curative of gaseous gangrene, has been discovered by M.Weinberg, a member of the staff of the Pasteur Institute. Dr. Roux, president of that institution, in announcing the discovery to the Academy of Sciences, said that M.Weinberg had just succeeded in indentifying the bacilli which caused gaseous gangrene – an organism closely akin to the bacillus perfringens. As the development of the disease is very rapid he decided that vaccine was useless. Therefore, after a number of experiments, he evolved a serum. He first tried it on guinea-pigs, and found that, applied within five hours after the first appearance of the symptoms, it brought about a rapid cure, but, seemed to lose its effect after ten hours. He next tried it on a wounded man – a bad case – whose condition rapidly became definitely better.

M.Weinberg continues his experiments with a view to perfecting the serum, but considers that everything justifies the hope that science will soon dispose of a genuine cure for the terrible malady. Arrangements will be made to supply the Army Medical Service with all the serum it requires.

Soliloquy : Francis Ledwidge

When I was young I had a care
Lest I should cheat me of my share
Of that which makes it sweet to strive
For life, and dying still survive,
A name in sunshine written higher
Than lark or poet dare aspire.

But I grew weary doing well.
Besides, ’twas sweeter in that hell,
Down with the loud banditti people
Who robbed the orchards, climbed the steeple
For jackdaws’ eyes and made the cock
Crow ere ’twas daylight on the clock.
I was so very bad the neighbours
Spoke of me at their daily labours.

And now I’m drinking wine in France,
The helpless child of circumstance.
To-morrow will be loud with war,
How will I be accounted for?

It is too late now to retrieve
A fallen dream, too late to grieve
A name unmade, but not too late
To thank the gods for what is great;
A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart,
Is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name.