In praise of the plucky and ever cheerful robin
Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30
The last few weeks have been unprecedentedly turbulent in Irish agricultural politics. But I feel what we need to do now is to take a breath, to give people's heads a chance to catch up with their hearts, and see what comes from Con Lucey's report and the various no-confidence motions from IFA branches.
Christmas is nearly upon us, and given that today is December 8, the traditional start of the seasonal festivities, I have been reading about a creature which has strong cultural associations with this time of year - one of our most familiar small birds, the robin.
An Spideog is one of 25 species featured in Ireland's Birds - Myths, Legends and Folklore, the latest in a series of books in which Niall Mac Coitir enthusiastically chronicles the island's historical relationships with various aspects of nature. The book is also illustrated with lovely watercolours by renowned wildlife artist Gordon D'Arcy.
There are various stories about how the robin got his red breast, many of them with religious origins.
One story is that, when the robin pulled a thorn from the crown of thorns, a drop of Christ's blood fell on the robin, and it remained red ever since in acknowledgement of the deed.
The robin also played a helpful role, often to the underdog, in many Irish folktales.
In one, a man fighting a giant is advised by a robin to stand between the giant and the sun and "to remember where men draw blood from sheep".
The giant gets half-blinded and, as he stretches his neck for a better view, the hero lands a killer blow to the neck.