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Summer celebration of blackberries and vocations

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Lesley Patterson from Ballybay Co Monaghan competing in the Superfarm 3.5t class at Dualla show in Tipperary at the weekend

Lesley Patterson from Ballybay Co Monaghan competing in the Superfarm 3.5t class at Dualla show in Tipperary at the weekend

Lesley Patterson from Ballybay Co Monaghan competing in the Superfarm 3.5t class at Dualla show in Tipperary at the weekend

I know some reprise is anticipated but the summer of 2014 seems to have ended with a bang. One day the girls were frolicking around in the straw in the field and tramping barefoot through the dunes of barley in the shed; the next we were cutting kindling for the fire and BBC's Countryfile was telling us that Northern Ireland had recorded its lowest ever temperature for August.

Then, last week marked the return to school (when this happens in August, it really seems to truncate the holidays).

But, before the day of dread dawned, at least we got to indulge in what, for me, has always been a highlight of the summer - picking blackberries.

As children, passing by the hedges in the weeks before, we would see them growing and ripening and lick our lips in anticipation. Every briar seemed to be loaded.

But when we got down to the job of picking, it never turned out quite that way. Even when the first few briars seemed a bit meagre and the best berries were just out of reach, we kept thinking that the next one...or the next …would be the one.

Somehow, though, there were always more green or red or shrivelled ones than the plump black ones that had seemed to abound from a distance. However, we must have found enough good ones to ensure we returned to the task with the same enthusiasm and optimism twelve months later.

As Sarah and Ruth set out, armed with small bowls and a sense of adventure, they looked pretty much as we did as children. Enjoying a last chance for a while to go about looking vaguely scruffy and clad in t-shirts and shorts - sure there's not much point in picking berries unless you pick up a few scratches along the way; they're badges of honour. Only the footwear has changed, with flip-flops having being replaced by only slightly less impractical crocs.

My dear husband had been telling me for a week about the burgeoning crop of berries along a particular stretch of farm roadway. I had taken this with a pinch of salt. But when I saw them for myself my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

I don't know what elements of sunshine, rainfall, soil, hedge-cutting, topography, aspect and perhaps some other localised factors were at play, but this was the best crop of blackberries I have ever seen.

Briar after briar was laden with big shiny succulent undamaged fruits. We had finally struck the mother lode of berries .

On the other hand, Sarah and Ruth, though happy with the find, seemed somewhat underwhelmed. Perhaps this is some reflection of their upbringing and because their electronic devices can readily conjure up virtual images of perfect fruit that nature could never best?

Or perhaps they just haven't participated in enough blackberry harvests yet to recognise just how special this one was?

In any event, I made a blackberry and apple crumble when we got home and its naturally sweetened, oozing juiciness went down a treat with everyone.

Turning to a rather different though equally enjoyable event, I attended over the summer - a religious service in Drogheda to mark 50 years of profession by a group of Medical Missionary of Mary nuns, which included my aunt Sr. Maura Magner.

I'm not sure what I expected. Perhaps, given the context and the age of the participants, maybe something on the stuffy side? I couldn't have been more wrong. Of any religious or secular event I have ever attended, none could surpass this celebration in terms of its simple beauty and its alcohol-free, uninhibited joy.

The jubilarians are obviously doing something right. For, though their hair might be grey, their faces to a one look fresh and calm; and that's not because they lead easy lives.

Taking vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, they work in some of the remotest and undeveloped places on earth. They encounter many physical and emotional challenges in pursuit of demonstrating God's love through the work of healing, with particular emphasis on caring for the mother and child.

The order was founded by Mother Mary Martin. Born in Glenageary, Co Dublin in 1892 to a wealthy family, she could easily have led a comfortable life. Instead she embarked on a very different 'adventure'. a word which features in the MMM constitution. After a 20-year struggle, she founded the order in 1937, when the Vatican had lifted its prohibition on religious sisters working as doctors and midwives.

The MMM's motto is 'Rooted and Founded in Love' and today 400 women of 20 nationalities serve in 14 counties including their latest mission in South Sudan.

The atmosphere at the golden jubilee was typified by the recessional hymn, Lord of the Dance. The sight of the Sisters leading the way out through their families and friends singing and swaying and clapping, accompanied by a trombone as well as an organ and some African chanting, conjured up a sense of what I imagine an early New Orleans jazz parade might have been like. They exuded a sense of liberation that was uplifting and it will remain long in my memory.

Aunty Maura has always been a steadfast if variable presence in our lives and she is a gentle but resilient woman, with a strong worldly faith, a smile always at the ready and a voice which is still as soft as a child's.

I wish heartfelt congratulations to her and the other Sisters celebrating 50 years of religious profession: Maureen Brennan, Mairéad Carroll, Pauline Connolly, Sheila Cotter, Agnes Manifold, Gemma Massey, Doreen McEvoy, Áine McKee, Trinitas McMullen, Edna O'Gorman, Carla Simmons, Isabelle Smyth, Edel Tanner and Genevieve van Waesberghe.

A further five sisters have been called to eternal life Maura Forkan, Moninna Heaney, M. Louisa Ritchie, M. Ines McGrath and Eileen O'Flaherty. May they rest in peace.

Indo Farming