Saturday 25 May 2019

Country Matters: Some colours of a richer life

The cuckoo returns to Ireland in early Spring
The cuckoo returns to Ireland in early Spring

Joe Kennedy

MINUSCULE potato shoots peep through the cold clay in defiance of what the days might bring, and the green tendrils of tiny onions settled in their nests remain undisturbed by curious birds.

These days between April and May are known as scairbhin na gcuach, or the rough month of the cuckoo, because sudden weather changes can bring violent rain and sometimes hail, and then also cloudless skies, with jade green and indigo on the sea.

The cuckoo has been heard in Munster, I have read, and swallows known to me have now returned to West Cork to follow the Dingle pioneer recorded last week. And that sean-fhocail of the rough month I have learned from an unusual and attractive book, which, coincidentally, arrived from Cork having been written in and about an enviable life lived on that spectacular peninsula.

My memories of the place are scattered at this stage, apart from the meals and a fine time in good company in Ballyferriter long ago, and then the frustration of an aborted trip to the Blaskets.

The book to hand, from The Collins Press, is called Enough is Plenty, illustrating a year on the Dingle Peninsula, by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, writer, media and music person, folklorist and Irish speaker, in collaboration with her husband, Wilf Judd, an English opera director.

Several years back they bought an old stone house in Corca Dhuibhne, restored it with care and live and work there, and sometimes in London where work can also take them.

They are enthusiastic kitchen-gardeners and cooks, watch for rain on the wind, record the seasons and seek out the past.

As Felicity writes: "The detail in birdsong, the texture and taste of food or the colours and patterns of shells and seeds are all entry points to a richer awareness of the dynamic complexity of which we're just a part."

The photographs in this book are outstanding, They are small detailed pictures of vegetables and flowers, countryside and mountain landscapes, seeds and eggs and startled hares, rescued page scraps of a couple who lived there almost a century ago, songs and poems and a census form completed in Irish. Was it rejected for an English version?

The seasons are set out in the Celtic calendar of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa in these pages about ordinary things and the "small, bright pleasures that can go unnoticed." The kindness of strangers can extend to gifts of plants and seed. One passer-by, unidentified, suggested they might try a potato called Tibet, seed of which he gave them and which proved its durability during a belt of blight which hit their usually reliable Champions,

The Tibets were triumphant that year and thereafter and many a meal of 'kitchen' - a side dish to flavour potatoes - has been enjoyed. 'Kitchen' can turn a pot of spuds into a feast and the possibilities are endless - roasted beetroot dressed with vinegar and fresh thyme; yoghurt or buttermilk flavoured with onion, salted fish.

Yes, there are several recipes here among the observations of a person who first arrived from Dublin as a teen to study Irish and fell in love with the place, its people and cultural inheritance and who has produced a book about an idyllic and enviable lifestyle.


Sunday Independent

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