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Monday 22 January 2018

Taking a walk on the wildlife side in search of Camelot

A friend of mine says everyone from Dublin has one foot in the country, in the form of a parent who doesn't hail from the city.

His theory is half true in my case. My father grew up in the midlands, returning to Dublin when he was 18 with his widowed mother. She was disowned by her Catholic 'Big House' family after losing her heart to my wild gambling grandfather.

Things are more urban on my mother's side. My grandmother skipped off a tram in her 'Mary Jane' shoes, on her way to work as a receptionist in the Gresham Hotel. Her father was Lord Mayor for a while; he is mentioned in James Joyce's Ulysses.

His wife came from Tunbridge Wells, but seems to have outgrown more than Dublin; taking to her bed to leaf through scrapbooks of her beloved King George.

Country and city were not divorced when I was a child. Cows grazed across the road, while hedgehogs wandered into our garden. I spotted badgers in the nearby fields, where we dive-bombed muddy trenches after the rain.

Now I realise that they were the foundations for houses. The cows vanished after the 'Little Sisters' sold off their land, like so many other religious orders. Only the entrance remains.

The city centre still had signs of rural life in the Nineties. Sheep were herded down a back lane off Camden Street, and sometimes I peered through a metal gate at an abattoir off Synge Street.

Both are long gone. Now animals arrive in Dublin, unrecognisable under cellophane.

I too felt wrapped in plastic. Much as I appreciated city charms, I was tired of the constant whine of car alarms. Everything seemed buried under concrete.

But if the mountain has to come to Mohammed, then surely I could make it to the country. I longed for a walk on the wildlife side, one that didn't involve pedestrian crossings. I wanted 'Camelot' over convenience.

So I upped sticks to the sticks. The country's been coming to the city so it's high time we returned the compliment. And I don't mean urban sprawl. I'm a blow-in and a greenhorn.

Or maybe that's greyhorn. As such, I'm aware of the double entendre of this column's title. It wasn't put there by the kind of smart alec sub-editor in the Irish Press who once headed Monica Sheridan's cooking column: 'How to stuff your bird for Christmas'.

Not that you'll find this bird stuffing festive birds. Once I discovered the process behind the platter, that goose was cooked.

And while my neighbours' roots stretch back, I have one advantage: new eyes. I'm not inured to the beauty, too familiar to see when too long under your nose.

There's my city-slicker silver lining.

Sunday Independent

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