Seated and writing by the fire. The last log has been burning well and the logs of the log box are tidy. There is enough for a few hours yet. My toes are free of socks and slippers, and resting on my knee, feel the radiance from the fireplace flames. Soot singeing orange pilots swarm up the chimney turning powdery black soot brown and thinning it out too. There is no drink on me now, nil aon droch agam anois, and I am beginning to reminisce – on stories of life – three pottery mackerel on the wall, a West Cork craft pattern.
The front log slides and settles lower in the fire, while the flames breathe and thunder quivering in the flames gentle roar. Fire side seating, of an evening, is one of the greatest pleasures on earth. Pine timber, split logs, sawn and stacked are my fuel tonight. This house is comfortably warm tonight and my right toe, the big toe aches for want of a hand to soothe its shallow pain. An envelope containing illustrations by the ceiling catch my eye, North East of the Mackerel triptych. My hair is freshly washed, comb in my inner jacket pocket, shampooed up well with the castile soap shampoo.
I have been thinking to reminisce about my grandfather, Fred, on my father’s side. His escape was Lough Ennell and some of the islands on the west side of the Lough. I never went there. His volcano kettle burned ash sticks as firelighters with Xanthoria on. I am sure I had seen Xanthoriicola physciae and Marchandiomyces corallina before I knew what they were, while stoking the fire with ash sticks in the bungalow in Ardrums. This would have been about 1984 while I was still at school and playing cricket with Bagenalstown during the summers. I did not play at Multyfarnham again until with Athy delivering straw to Athlone and hit on a project for the lichenicolous fungi for the Praeger Flora and Fauna Committee of the Academy in Dawson Street.
Fred was into birds, and led many a field club outing to Rogerstown Estuary. They moved to Agher near Summerhill in 1968 and this is memorialised in a walk there on the calendar of the Dublin Naturalist Field Club, when the club visited the bog at the back of Ardrums. Mrs King bryophyte discoveries are noted in the Irish Naturalist’s Journal. The field club newsletter of 1987 was in the drawing room of the bungalow at Ardrums. Kyran Kane put together an obituary of Fred during my time as editor of the DNFC newsletter and that text eulogised him to my generation of members of the Field Club.
The hall of the bungalow was where the Barbour coats, guns and birds were. Another nephew of his, and a cousin of mine, went shooting with him, but I did not have the instinct. Ethically, we were poles apart. Never the zoologist, my first years in college were with Pharmacy and I do not know if he understood.
Lighting the fire in the early afternoon in the bungalow, on a Sunday after my parents arrived in for lunch, was his forte. Irish Times crosswords were a continuous pursuit. Simplex but I am sure he might have tackled the Crossaire… I have no notes from that time, I never kept a diary, apart from the beginnings with lichens in 1987. Books, cricket bags, guns were distributed to other families, so I have few if any heirlooms, directly at least.
Standing by the fire here in Cooracloona, I think of him, every so often, as I now light the fire in the mid-afternoon, Oberon on the couch or under the table in the bedroom next door a cottage in Leitrim, more of a cottage than a bungalow, with an open fire. In the bungalow of Ardrums, reading and tall clocks ticking were the basic activities. Conversation, other than what another cousin might say a natter, was not part of it. I am thinking of Brian, the writer up in Corracloon Schoolhouse, up the hill from here, and what he would have made of Fred. It was not a writers’ house. Computers were just emerging at School. Word processing became a later phase.
Fred’s sheep ticks are in the museum, catalogued in the Bulletin of the Irish Biogeographical Society, now in Swords, in the Old Motorola Computer Factory, with its rhinoceros café. Horns disappeared. Made the national news. There are quite a few elements of Fred that survive in the transcripts of Cricket scores of 1940, batting in Leinster. He spent the emergency farming in Whitestown. Jim, my father, cycled into St. Andrews from Tallaght, reaching Booterstown Avenue where the marsh is a bird habitat in the city by the Railway. His bird fleas were worked over and combed out from mangy bird skins he supplied to the museum.
Write when you want something to say. Never a great editor, nor a person who tangles with a vast array of species at length, visual fluency is what I am after, never the Zoologist, telegraph poles protect trees at their bases. A pole-to-pole survey in Corracloona is ongoing and that is why I walked by Brian’s unannounced. Neobarya xylariicola, the species of February that Maria found, from the Black Pig’s Dyke near Chandlers, also in Corracloona.
Taking the covid isolation earnestly has been good to reflect on the natural history of here in Leitrim, and the Lough Ennnell area of Westmeath from three decades ago. The 35 years that have elapsed are a generation, truth be told. The ambitions here in Corracloona are some writing projects. Andrew Redican’s inspiring Light on the Horizon has been bed time reading supplied from Clancy’s Post Office in Glenfarne.
I have been thinking what I would write for Terry Mac, the postman’s postman, for Raymond our postman, and Brian, the writer, now that I am gradually getting back into the writing … Fred went his way in 1993 on 11 August.
Since arriving at Lough Mac Nean, it has been necessary to become fluent at birds. The Porridge eaters in the winter of 2020 and 2021 have included up to a dozen Redwing during the snow, Robins, Fieldfares, Chaffinches among our menagerie. Today at Terry Mac’s pier, an unknown pair of duck, merganser or grebe perhaps, tested not that satisfactorily in Cabot’s 2004 book, probably lived on Lough Ennell at some stage too.
Oberon snores on the setee now, comfortable on the couch, in front of the fire. He would bark at sudden cracks or when sparks flew. Asthma or shortness of breath are a side story in the Covid misadventure. Fred was on nebulizers and warfarin tablets in the end.
File and Post, Typing Pool, Lettertec self- publishing, Dinise, just the one typo in Andy’s bedside book. North Leitrim now, Lorna Doone’s Exmoor with its mountain moorland birds, during the Monmouth Rebellion, long gone. Carnecully, where the ancestors were from, ancestors of some of the farmers around here, has Ephebe lanata at the chalybate spring and a larch sheiling with Ochrolechia androgyna and Sphaerophorus globosus, with Platismatia glauca, all turned up in the last few days, when we had a chat with Paddy Burns, and the south American Hypotrachyna sinuosa, a local speciality of willow bushes with a brown lichenicolous fungus too.
Richard Blackmore, Lorna Doone’s author is bedside reading the Queens half of the cottage. Natural History observations of a high pedigree, later to Gidden’s and the Flora and Fauna of Exmoor National Park. Here in North Leitrim and South West Fermanagh, our landscape is at a ripe stage. Curlews are on the way out, Lorna Doone’s birds long gone. Redwings corralled in a hutch. Literature popular in Yale, sets an Exmoor in Connecticut, Cladonia cristatella, would not be too out of place, a continent apart (Brodo et al., page 250).
Back to Andy Redican book about Dromkeerin, a different part of the county, with its own biodiversity features. I really enjoyed the eel fishing piece with hazel rods. Terry Mac’s Pier will be a window on Upper Lough Mac Nean for another generation, but how long will the River Limpet, and the Water Louse, persist as Pike food and the Red Alga immersed on freshwater rocks, and when will the White Clawed Crayfish, which is a local speciality, succumb to a Mink’s dinner in Corracloona?
I suppose we need to add our light on the horizon and add biodiversity layer to our local history literature and heritage and conserve our landscape accordingly, in the Blackmore’s ferrous dendrous war of Monmouthshire proportions.
04 March 2021