Wednesday 13 December 2017

Stunning Kerry leaves its mark

AS I went aboard the car ferry I learned of the death of a sea captain I had known. In the officers' quarters of oil tankers years back we had split a bottle on occasions when his ship was in port. His wife had also died since I had last passed this way. Significant events can be missed when leading an itinerant life, as I do.

Earlier in the week on each of four mornings I heard a cuckoo across a valley, then, further off, a cock pheasant crowing his throaty presence. Goldfinches caught the sunlight beautifully. Martins, skimmed under my nose and above my head. They showed no fear and had the run of a place where, inexplicably, a new dwelling might be found up an almost impassable lane where there was nothing but rushes and sheep a year or two ago. The sheep and lambs with their mountain horns still graze. I remembered a couple of years back when sisters came from abroad to have a family ceili reunion in their grandparents' old cottage here. It was a night of wonder with recitations, music and dancing. The youngest youth danced with the oldest woman present.

The growth underfoot was heavy and lush from those glorious April weeks. Now there was chill and rain. Don't cast a clout till May is out, is the old saying. Wise words. One man was concerned about finding dead bees beside his house. He wondered would his children be in danger of being stung?

"Was you ever stung by a dead bee?" a grizzled character asks in the Bogart-Bacall movie To Have and Have Not. William Faulkner wrote the script based on the Hemingway novel about smuggling in the Caribbean. The quote was not in the novel and Hemingway was not amused, by all accounts.

The bees may have been exhausted by their labours or, more probably, had been in contact with something called imidacloprid, the world's most commonly used insecticide, in agriculture and popular in parks and golf courses.

It is from a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids which impair the nervous systems of affected insects, disrupting neurons and leading to paralysis and death.

The chemical, best known by brand names Admire, Advantage, Gaucho, Merit, Premise and Provado, became popular because of its ability to kill off a wide range of pests. It can be sprayed or seeds can be coated with it, releasing the poison as the plants grow.

Neonicotinoids can affect bees' brain functions. They fall to the ground and are unable to return to their hives. This chemical is considered to be a probable cause of colony-collapse disorder and millions of bees have been wiped out worldwide but conclusive research is ongoing.

In Kerry, Listowel was buzzing for Writers' Week. Book enthusiasts had close-ups of favourite authors and discussed the shortlist for the Kerry Fiction Award while enjoying the vista of the racecourse as viewed from the terrace of the hotel.

My choice was not first past the post and I buried myself in a brand new New York thriller with a tabloid newspaper backdrop, while comfortably seated on a public bench. Unknown to me, this had been painted for the festivities and, on rising, I learned that a slash of bright green had criss-crossed the old tan trouser cords. Kerry had left its mark on me.

Sunday Independent

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