Monday 24 June 2019

Billy Keane: 'Winter's return puts spring in my step after bewildering new year of butterflies and daffodils'

Keane's Kingdom

'Wild mushrooms usually grow in the autumn but this is January' (stock photo)
'Wild mushrooms usually grow in the autumn but this is January' (stock photo)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Seventy-nine-year-old Chris Sexton from Miltown Malbay told Andrew Hamilton of 'The Clare People' he filled buckets of wild field mushrooms over the last few weeks.

Wild mushrooms usually grow in the autumn but this is January. Said Chris: "I picked two big buckets of mushrooms last week and there are more coming up now. They are edible, I've eaten a load of them. I've eaten so many I'm sick of them."

If there was ever a mushroom theory that proves conclusively there is such a weather phenomenon as global warming, well then this is it.

Then there was a report on the front page of 'The Southern Star' about thousands of daffodils coming into bloom, prematurely, at a farm in Bandon in west Cork. Someone forgot to tell the mushrooms and the daffodils they should have stayed underground.

The shrubs are growing like mad and I came across dozens of pink camellia in our town park. Spring is bursting out all over and it's only January.

One man of my acquaintance was given an ultimatum. He was told by his partner there would be no intimacies until he cut the lawn.

There's no growth in December and January and the poor man thought he had time off from cutting the cursed grass.

He had to bring the lawnmower to the mechanic for a service, buy petrol in the garage, put on dungarees (he's a city boy), and cut away until the lawn was as trim as the hair of an army cadet.

There are confirmed reports of a man by the name of Craig Bell who cut silage and oats this January as far north as Castlebellingham in the county of Louth, where the cold is usually colder than our southern cold.

The locals never say Castlebellingham. They call their home village Bellingum, which is probably where the country Belgium came out of.

Stories have reached us of the cutting of a field of Italian rye grass in late December over in Ardee, which like most places in Louth is no journey from Bellingum.

The grass is still bright green and wavy here in deepest January. Usually around this time of the year the fields are as grey, pale and anaemic as a lifer's face.

The young girls rifled the presses for summer skirts, and hot water-bottle sales were dismal. One of the reasons for the big sales splurge at Christmas was the savings in heating oil.

You would have to feel, though, for our finest songwriter, Mickey MacConnell. Mickey wrote 'Only Our Rivers Run Free' when he was but 18 after he witnessed an unprovoked baton charge by the B-Specials, the territorial army and the RUC.

The classic opens with these lines:

When apples still grow in November,

When blossoms still grow from each tree,

When leaves are still green in December,

It's then that our land will be free.

Apples never grew in November back when Mickey wrote 'Only Our Rivers Run Free' in the late '60s, and whatever few leaves that were left on the trees were shrivelled brown and crispy like overdone toast.

The MacConnells planted a small apple tree in the garden at the back of their always hospitable home here in Listowel.

Poor Mickey had to witness his apple tree genuflecting to the very earth it had sprung from due to the weight of the finest crop ever seen in November.

I propose we change the line of the national anthem of the dispossessed to "when apples still grow in December".

And the partridge was as fat as a turkey from gorging on the produce of the pear tree.

I was at a poignant funeral service on New Year's Day in the parish church of Canavee, near enough to Macroom in the farming heartland of Cork.

Kathleen Murphy's life was celebrated by family and friends.

Kathleen was one of that mighty transition generation of mothers who oversaw the change in the role of women in Ireland.

Kathleen loved her family and worked hard all of her life for the community she lived in.

There was no room in the body of the church and we were brought up on high, where the choir sang for Kathleen. My sister Joanna said it was like being at a sing-song in heaven.

Down below us in the packed church on that first day of 2019 a butterfly flittered around. I had to look again.

Butterflies are all done by January. The butterfly was brought from the chrysalis of December to the beginning of the new year. The new arrival was a fitting tribute to Kathleen Murphy.

The following day I played my part as a woman in the panto, which was performed in my old school.

I looked over at the sixth class room where I was very happy. It was then I thought of Michael Keane, our teacher who was very nice to me and everyone else too.

Master Keane loved Shakespeare. The poem he coaxed into us without our even knowing this was homework came back after decades of absence:

When all aloud the wind doth blow,

And coughing drowns the parson's saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian's nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,

Then nightly sings the staring owl,


To-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Yes, winter is back but there is a joy too in the changing of the seasons. Winter is for homing, and the daffodils fade away to live to fight another day. The second spring is not too far away.

Irish Independent

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