Sunday 19 January 2020

Spring forward into a burgeoning, bucolic land that is simply to die for

Was there ever a winter longer, and more testing, than the fateful season just passed? (Stock picture)
Was there ever a winter longer, and more testing, than the fateful season just passed? (Stock picture)

John Daly

Light, that long-lost stranger, crept in almost un-noticed last Sunday morning. With the hearts and minds of the nation caught up in the 1916 commemorations, the arrival of Summer Time slipped back into our lives like an unexpected legacy from the proverbial great aunt in Boston.

Even its alternative name, Spring Forward, evokes the promise of better times as evenings lengthen and dresses shorten.

"When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest," wrote Ernest Hemingway in 'A Moveable Feast' - a sentiment nobody could dare disagree with.

Was there ever a winter longer, and more testing, than the fateful season just passed? Having endured interminable and relentless storms from October to March, it's highly unlikely that any babies born for the next few years will be christened Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva or Frank.

The dictum of 17th century poet Anne Bradstreet surely carries more than a little substance for the battered inhabitants of the Auld Sod in this momentous year: "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."

Vowing to welcome the 'grand stretch in the evenings', we took to the hills before dawn last Sunday for a hike up Carauntoohill's misty peaks. Skies twinkling with a million stars and the gathering glow of sunrise inching its reign across the world - and only the pair of us awake in the magic of a silence so rare to city folk. It was, as Dickens so aptly put it: "One of those days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."

With the world at our feet and 40 shades of green on every limitless horizon, Ireland on Easter Sunday 2016 looked like a country that had indeed been worth dying for 100 years before.

"Early spring is one of the most evocative and rewarding times to walk in Ireland," says John Ahern of South West Walks.

"The tourists haven't arrived yet, the trails are fresh and untouched, a time for us locals to see for ourselves why the whole world loves our little island."

As director of Ireland's oldest walking company, he is unashamedly passionate about this unique resource: "What we have here is head and shoulders above places like Spain and New Zealand. There's much of the famous Camino Trail wouldn't hold a candle to any part of the Kerry Way." His mantra to visitors pretty much says it all: "Every time you put your foot down in Ireland, you stand on 5,000 years of history."

But let's not be getting all Santa Monica mellow and hosing down the barbecue just yet. After last summer's cold snap that saw parts of the West experience their lowest summer temperatures in 50 years, this year will be better - maybe.

Climate guru Ken Ring expects "the first decent spell of sunshine" during the last week of April, followed by patterns of cool, wet and unsettled weather overall, with some good dry intervals. There are no prolonged heatwaves on the horizon - but sure you never know. Tis Ireland, after all.

On the lowlands down from the summit, we passed another vivid reminder of spring - pools of frog spawn bubbling in the warming water. Pondering on how minuscule a number will survive this primordial sludge to reach their froglet stage after water beetles, spiders and a host of other predators have had their way surely reduces one's own problems to a more manageable form.

In the distant meadows stood that other iconic signpost of better days - gambolling spring lambs. We paused on an old gate to gaze on the gadding antics of these gorgeous creatures, and agreed there and then this is one sustenance we can no longer contemplate at the dinner table.

Heading toward home and the promise of a decent hot whiskey for our mountain labours, the words of Mark Twain seemed best in tune with the day: "It's spring fever, that's what the name of it is," he said, attempting to define the indefinable. "And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you want - but it fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"

True for you.

Irish Independent

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