Corracloona Times

The word written emerges unscathed directly from my mind, to be expressed in ink upon this page. Sunlight warms my front, as I face the gradually filling page… less empty with each sentence. If I were to write a column for the Corracloona Times, there would be bits from the hedges. A primrose, the first of three were offered to me. In exchange I offered conversation on the identity of trees.

Reading is hard to fit into the daily routine at the moment. The radio is silent. That is a help. Writing while reading what one is writing is really the type of reading that I am referring to. Reading with purpose, to enjoy the flamboyancy of one’s own turn of phrase.

Reading novels, I have delegated to Maria. I ask her to tell me the story of the novel and she obliges with a rundown on what has happened in the book. That type of spoken retained story of one’s reading is verging on a type of editing, and that is not the topic of this piece. Reading is. Selection of the bits of the story to paraphrase is fine as censorship when one keeps stum about a particular part of recent reading that one does not wish to raise openly for fear of digression. The story of Lorna Doone is, for example, an epic about a gang of outlaws that have sort of settled in Exmoor in the Devonshire and Somerset districts of South West England.

Reading what one is writing helps the flow of writing. Sometimes it does not and that is called writer’s block. That is not the phenomenon here. I write. I read. I read what I write, and judge not, for that would inflame my censorious editorial pique, a cultural reference to Mr. Murphy, the teacher in Corracloona National School who takes republican classes and all other classes including home economics – basket making, not that that happens in many households around here now.

Reading Mr. Murphy is like telling a story live in front of a camera to everyone in Ireland all at once, which is a national republican reading for the purposes of worrying the citizenry with trifles of governance. Now, now, we must be good readers and focus on our reading. Circular breathing and before the utterances are over, one makes sure that it comes out correctly.

Mr. Murphy, or the model I have for Mr. Murphy is the psychoanalysist, newsreader and poet, Mr. Murphy imagined as a schoolteacher in Corracloona National School in say 1963 when Henry and his son Fred Imshaugh are on their Caribbean adventures, after the Cuba Missile Crisis and the labour strikes om the wharf in Castries. Mr. Murphy is anything but not thorough. Mr Murphy the school teacher on the other hand plans ahead about an hour early in the morning so that he can keep one up on those Cullen’s, Dolan’s, McGowan’s, McGriskin’s and all those pupils of his, in the primary school, who arriving in on Primrose day, 3 March, 4 March, 5 March, take your pick. Imagining how to read like a schoolteacher who has had the experience of time travel through the world of television into the living rooms of the Cullen’s, Dolan’s, McGowan’s and McGriskin’s. And then there is the younger section of a well-known Kilty family of Rock’s. Back in 1963, there were Curlew all over Thur mountain. May I say their quaint whimbrelly call grace notes boomed over the moorland at the back of the school. So to the cast of characters in Corracloona National School, we need a few for a drama in which nothing much happens, followed by nothing much happening, followed by nothing happening at all, except… that when I was trying to calm the class down, didn’t a Curlew, no a Corncrake, appear, and kept me awake all night so the poor Mr Murphy was unprepared for school in the manner to which he had become accustomed in 1963.

Oberon squeals with my laughter. Writing and reading should be fun, and when I fart it ought not to be smelly. Prolonged seated writing and reading has the risk of blowing off, like any other risk, needs to be managed in Corracloona National School. The young Brian, a younger self in 1963 is off to make his name in America, or as we know it, Amerikaye. You cannot be serious. The orange light in the window is a reflection on the thermostat on the wall by the light switch. Maybe I am writing and reading upon empty, to use a fuel analogy. My Lamy is still flowing turquoise prose, but the sky is dimming over Corracloona this evening. Brian wakes all of a sudden and the young Cullen’s, Dolan’s, McGowan’s and that McGriskin lady lets rip in a burst of hilarity. Censor, Censor, tread carefully our reader, mind the verges.

Oberon leans rump forward when I cough, and back, when he is re-assured that I get over my spluttering. Mr Murphy is teaching reading, and today has no idea what is going on, not that he minds.

Yes, your hand writing is grand. Your composition however leaves a lot to be desired and a faint whiff of malodourous gas. Ammonia pipes up Cullen. Dimethyl sulphide, the seaweed gas. In order not to be diverted into reading about chemistry, he wants to bring the subject back to reading about reading.

And this is where it gets interesting. The writer gets nervous and is unsure what to write next. Get over it. You will be fine.

Oberon sighs, his writing does not smell too bad. Who let the Pseudomonas out, quickly changing topics to microbiology. Back to Mr Murphy, who changes into pajahamas and gets ready for bed at home. The composition is chaotic with regard to a timeline of events. Mr Murphy is tired and ready for bed. Oberon exhales and snores quietly from this moment on, until his slumber was disturbed by a more methanogenous emission. The school bench, elbow into the ribs, keeps the pen flowing, the Sligo light house desk lamp is perfect, art deco with some Robin guano near the switch and Andy’s dust from the plasterwork on the house and a FSC badger brush to tidy up for page 10.

Letting the tales emerge, Mr Murphy, is part of the magic of reading. In the 18th century, people who read, came out will well-formed sentences, as if my magic. Reading and writing and arithmetic are the staples of the school syllabus. Reading allows us to inform our imagination, Reading allows us to write, just as we have seen examples of. A lack of cogency we cannot, or can, fix, if we edit the text, leaving that for a better moment, like the present. Mr Murphy came from a long line of Mr Murphy’s that stretched into the future.

Imagining primary school again, for me is imagining two very different teachers. Miss Edith Taylor, and Miss Gloria Carter. Miss Taylor taught at the Cosby National School in Stradbally, before the village became of the Electric Picnic in County Laois.

She was a slight woman, who lived with her sister at the top of the town, and she would wander back up the street after school. She was always engaging, with a smile or a chuckle when she was listening to a child explain what they understood by something.

What am I doing, imagining myself a Mr Murphy, in the school in Corracloona in 1963, when the Imshaugh’s were exploring the lesser Antilles and their lichen biota. Something interesting is going on here in your imagination as a writer and as a reader of your own writing, you are becoming absorbed in composing of a piece of writing about reading writing. At this interlude Mr Murphy takes the badger brush and dusts the Sligo lighthouse desk lamp near the switch, and sees the orange lamp in the distance, just one at the thermostat.

The mechanics of writing and reading are a dance a dynamic parody of fun and nervousness, all rolled into one.

Andy has his home compositions and he is studying for a course of a Monday evening with a tutor in and of Puerto Rico. I have Harris’s Puerto Rico lichen keys here in Corracloona, a solitary bit of American and Puerto Rican culture in the house, apart from a conference abstract book on fungi which sits here too. Following the mushrooms and lichens in Puerto Rico, there are a few references cited in our Saint Lucia studies of 2014. Puerto Rico is warm, pleasantly warm, still in post Hurricane mode, whereas Corracloona is cool, not that I am not warm enough here.

Brian the writer may not be that well, and may have had a few difficult times over the winter. This outburst, to take a Portlaoise analogy, may allow me to centre as a writer to understand the mechanics of writing, reading and may I even dare to say it, reflection, not of the Thermostat lights, but rather of something rather more Puerto Rican. The streets of San Juan and shopping for groceries during the fungus conference. Meeting mycologists at street corners and falling into step to explore the downtown. So where does that leave Corracloona National School grounds, the souterrain of the ancestors, on the upper road in the farmyard where there have outhouses but few sheds. Typing pool calls. End it soon. Both the inside and the outside of the glass pane reflect the orange light of the thermostat. The two orange eyes are of the Corracloona tiger in the woods above Paddy McGowan’s. Nothing much happens in Corracloona, when one is walking from Clancy’s. The emigrant returns, step off the bus and sets forth towards Glenfarne chapel and to the gates of the wood to the shore road around the lake through Carrickreevagh, Meenagh and now the Corracloona link, where the orange eyes of the tiger dance upon the glass pane.

Oberon paws the couch, resettles on it in a rather uncomfortable looking way. This is writing. Resettling on my bench, I feel comfortable. A kiltorcan fossil sits on a green box of slides. The Kiltorcan Monkey Puzzle Pot with its peppercorns deserve an intervention. The tiger now a Malagasy tiger. Peppercorns crack and the taste fills towards my tongue and buccal cavity lining. The tiger in the forest stares back at me, Sarea resinae eyes of the larch in Paddy’s; two points of an ellipsis … Typing pool, darkness. Dusting the lamp makes it gleam, a writer’s studio. Nothing like Brian’s, a school house surrounded by a dynamic set of antiques. This calls for Fillet of Cheddar and peppercorns at three, in the morning, or a Leonard Cohen tune for an hour later. Typing pool, or continue with Tiger? He waits and no tiger fender erupts. The thermostat went off. No tiger eyes in the forest, now, eh… A click, and the tiger eyes are back …

I feel good. My artefacts are nest on the desk, maybe a peppercorn would destroy the humour. Tiny one or a few. After some, typing pool gets my votes… a confident change in activity. Corlea. Seating with back support required. Elbow’s in. Director’s Chair. Some alternative tactile activity, pencil topping, resume in three… Reverie or sleep… Ink or to pencil… Typing pool or sleep… Reading or writing … I glance up at “No tiger eyes”.

Fred used to take Maalox to counter stomach ulcers. Since found to be caused by a spiral bacterial vibrio infection, a spiral microbial plaque that in the mouth Bonjella would soothe. Each choice is a reference point back to my beginnings. Ink pens, Lamy, Waterman and Parker, Christmas presents in the 1980s. For ever getting nibs out of floorboards. Working out all the little cures, from snooker in Carlow, various autobiographical features. A gra to a residence in Annaghmakerrig. Packed and ready in a whisker, of a cat. The tiger is asleep. Fine fire grates, Irish Writers Centre subscription, reminds me of a reading, octagonal table legs. Just need a shoulder massage, another hair combing, armpit pressing into the matins of a Sunday. Zeit fur slapfen.

Typing pool, too long his worry said in a Pranomesque Chantaranothai kind of hiss. Cut to 1989, Mainstreet, Kinlough, cattle wander down the middle of the road heading North, Sunday too, and an excursion to show Pranom about. Not very different from Thailand, Chang Mei, Ireland, J.F.G. Kerr, Irish botanist in Thailand. Another taxonomist story not widely known here in Leitrim, which brings me, to hereby offer to compose a new piece on the Kinlough botanist to the Leitrim Guardian for 2022. Zeit fur tasse gron tee bitte.

Heinrich, How, did he weather the Covid storm. Typing pool. Dead Poet’s Society. American thriller actor Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry, Cassablanca. Too many film references. The engineer was correct.

Rubbing shoulders with Jeremy … You are a tall chap, he called, as we fell into step heading down the stairs together, he actually rubbed shoulders with me … a pleasure one of those quintessential moments a star understands. Share. Shave. You will feel better. Flustered ambassador of West Cork crafts. Brideshead revisited. Charisma. The Mission. Stories of the Jesuits. Zoilomastix of Philip O’Sullivan Beare. The stories of Mike Pollard. Spectacles of Samuel Jackson. Typing pool.

Howard Fox

2236 words

05 to 16 March 2021


EMBERIZA SCHOENICLUS, reed buntings eat porridge.

Maria took excellent photographs with the camera of an unfamiliar bird to us today 11 March 2021, the Reed Bunting. She made photographs of a male, and then of a female, walking and feeding on oatmeal on the patio, photographed from our menagerie of porridge eaters here in Corracloona.

On a day with squally winter showers, the male Reed Bunting dipped into a wall crevice to dodge the hailstones in the late afternoon, and then moved on into the shelter of a grass tussock under a hawthorn bush. After the hail shower was over, his porridge eating resumed.

Maria has been providing porridge every day for several months as gruel for overwintering birds in Corracloona. Oatmeal is an excellent bird food, through the winter, very clean, free from impurities, and is easily spread on the patio. This attracts a wide range of birds. Robin, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Wren, Blackbird, Great Tit, Magpie, Pied Wagtail, Redwing, Fieldfare, and now Reed Bunting have made an appearance over the last few months. All have been witnessed eating porridge oatmeal.

Thanks are due to the McGriskin’s in Kiltyclougher for keeping our Corracloona menagerie stocked up in Flahavan’s finest oatmeal.

Howard Fox

11 March 2021

209 words.

A Walk from Clancy’s

As I walked back from Clancy’s, not that I had been there, I had walked to beyond the engineer’s house steps. On my way, I looked up at the Aspen imagining a hacky sack and line to raise a rope to climb into the canopy of this tree above the ivy front that reaches 10m up the trunk. The side branches were slim, not really suitable for a heavy climber like this twenty stone lump, that I had become.

Walking back from Clancy’s on another day, the most unclimbable tree is the Monkey Puzzle of Glenfarne, off the edge of the clearfell, the clearfell, a Coillte pension holocaust, left the Monkey Puzzle at the edge of a coup, uncut, still. The plans for this iconic tree or which forester puts his, it is inevitably a him, puts his beady eye upon, straight planks for the sawmills, if they sanction its life. The valley in Chile is devastated. The seed grown in Glenfarne is of an early variety grown in Ireland, a heritage tree in a protected zone perhaps.

This monkey puzzle reminds me of two at Myshall in the county Carlow, south of the chapel in the field beyond the remains of the big house. The Myshall tree trail Monkey Puzzle has a bark flora of Lecanora expallens, the golden Chrysothrix candelaris and some Ramalina canariensis, a flappy lichen within the split platey lobes.

The Monkey Puzzle in Glenfarne has not had the luxury of an epiphyte survey yet, but Lecanora expallens in among the anticipated cast. A Christmas tree in Corracloona has swards of Lecanora expallens on it. Picea abies or Picea excelsa, Norway Spruce, the Christmas tree, one of a pair, the one nearer Kilty, has a candidate for Frullania jackii on it. Every time I take a microscope slide of it, it turns out to be Frullania dilitata.

Which bring me back to yesterday’s walk in the woods, in the other direction … from Clancy’s towards Kilty, put me past Plagiomnium undulatum, Rat’s Tails, a moss at the base of a birch, the birch with a black gel or a dark section on the trunk. The Frullania leaves were blanched, on the side towards Paddy’s yard. The blanching of Frullania is a signal perhaps of Ammonia damage to the photosynthetic balance of that one cell thick leaf. The leaf has oil droplets along with five or six, or perhaps seven chloroplasts as one looks through Frullania dilitata on a microscope slide. The bleached leaves are marginal leaves, perhaps antheridial leaves, easily collected and pocketed in the wood before the pylon line cutting over the road between the Corracloona gate and the next one to the McGovern’s cottage, which we went for a walk to, with Oberon the other day.

The microscope table and the novel, the microscope table and the short story, the microscope table and the nature poem. I am beginning to write in front of the fire while Oberon guards the couch.

Terry Mac took in Oberon from his window vantage cistin, the day Oberon went to Terry Mac’s Pier. The River Limpet is in from an oak timber raised from the delta at Corracloona where the Black river joins the lake, near Sophia’s stream and the Bulrushes, a host for Stemonitopsis typhina perhaps. The queue at the microscope is longer than we realize. Bruce Ing’s book is locked down in the wrong townland, in Kildare not Leitrim. The sample is here in the shed here in Corracloona are the proceeds from my office move of Late December 2020. Swept the desk with a brush we did. Cleared the office as they insisted.

Humidity levels in the big smoke are lowest in February, down to 30%, in a building usually at about 50% relative humidity with excedences to 60%, none in twenty years. A store for desiccated plants. I have some distance now to consider the herbarium, not that I will. The BARU herbarium here suffers from Higher Humidities. I must tend to the fire while Oberon snoozes, sleeps in not the right word, because if I do something different, then he will awaken.

Life here is idyllic. Snowy lanes, foot prints of the dogs in the snow. The whiff of Ammonia was only by the drain in Paddy’s field. Volatiles rising as the snow melted somewhat. This is a beginning of an essay, the evidential basis for a reassessment of the baronial agriculture of Cattle here in North Leitrim. Paddy does not not like trees. If the last few years are to go by, he likes drains. Indeed, he is the most progressive tree owner in Corracloona, apart from the planter, Sophia, who is Dutch Greek Irish, a different sort of planter, with in-laws in County Meath, who wheeled a barrow with a seat to some birch by a charcoal pit, just off the Black Pig’s Dyke field in Corracloona, one of those efficient continental type of women. The birch trees have Microlejeunea ulicina, the tiny one. One can never convince oneself one is looking at Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia or something more interestingly oceanic like Harpalejeunea ovata, the latter two are a struggle in the field. Degelia plumbea is on a willow, near an aspen on the way to the lake. Getting to know Corracloona has been a voyage of discovery. It started in Ballygriffin, Kenmare. Willem’s painting of an ash twig and Bog Myrtle Fuscidea lightfootii are in a box on my right hand above the empty tube of tomato puree from Stella McGriskin’s in Kilty. We will need to go for provisions on Monday afternoon. Maybe I should go to the bank in Manor, to sort out my accounts, to ensure all the standing orders flow correctly given my change in status from herbarium employee to self-employed herbarium owner. I am grateful for the society we live in Ireland, a progressive Republic and my support has been scientifically wonderful.

I am enjoying writing in ink, here on the round desk, that is stable, in Corracloona. Number the pages, file them in the display book, for typing pool time. Get them typed up before writing too much more. Oberon is still snoozing if that is the correct word. Maria is listening to the radio, next door. Bran is on the bed, watching out the window Redwings feeding on porridge and pine nuts today. We had a discussion about the pine nuts. I snuck some hazel nuts to Oberon, which he duly consumed, the nuts by the way, on his bed beside his kibble bowl.

After a thousand words of typing pool, and my inked notes peter out, I am left dreaming of chapter titles. The Peppercorns from Malagasy. The Internet in Senegal. The Monkey Puzzle from Kiltorcan. One of the more interesting artefacts on my desk is a Monkey Puzzle pot with lid from Kiltorcan, found and acquired from a wood turner from the midlands at the Kiltorcan Farmers market, made from a Monkey puzzle branch, that now contains peppercorns from Malagasy. The Republic of Malagasy provides peppercorns, which I eat in palmfuls of about a dozen peppercorns at a time, to change my typing pool buccal flavour from the late post prandial lunch to that little to be too early afternoon tea. I must set the dishes straight, pop into Kilty, and post this online, so perhaps someone in Senegal can see it on the internet, if they ever want to design turned pots from Monkey Puzzle branches. Our Corracloona maestro rigged up Senegal internet services, and there are Bicycles headed for the Gambia, from Loughan House, around the Upper Lough Mac Nean, on the Cavan side east of the Glenfarne Monkey Puzzle should Flan O’Brien be interested.

Howard Fox

05 March 2021


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.

Howard Fox

1415 words

04 March 2021

Starry starry night revisited

“He is gone”.
“I’m sorry. What do you mean, He is gone?” My mouth opened. I just about remembered to shut it.
“He managed to leave, while we were serving Tea. Please talk to Security, on the right hand side, just inside the entrance” Then, she was gone.
I was standing at the entrance of the not so secure facility in the Psychiatric Ward of the Hospital. I held a shopping bag containing his new pyjamas, slippers, robe, some juice and toiletries.
Somehow, my heart restarted. Whooshing and thumping resounded in my ears. My knees jangled.
It was 8pm on a January night. The day had been spent bringing my distressed, schizophrenic friend to the Doctor, and then onward by car – not the wisest, safest move – to the nearest Regional hospital, 25 km away.
There, we sat all afternoon in A&E, my friend becoming increasingly agitated. He eyed every man who came near, wary, alert, tetchy, assessing. He prepared to lash out at anyone who would breach his need for safety. My friend, well over six feet tall, and now heavy, as a side effect of the medication he had been obliged to take, had always been a lamb. He reminded me of a quiet dog who snarled and snapped when badly injured, full of fear and pain.
We had a farcical, Monty Pythonesque interview with a Doctor. Between the fog my friend was lost in, the lack of English the Doctor possessed, and the obvious time pressure, a coach and four horses clobbered over my friend’s rights and wishes. In the end, my friend was not packed off to his local Hospital, 100 km further away. Evidently, Geography overrides sense and safety in our Mental Health Service. As I refused to take both our lives in my hands again in an attempt to drive to this other Hospital, the staff accepted my friend as a patient. There was no mention of an ambulance service.

Three intimidating security Men in Black enveloped us and like a dark cloud, we made our way slowly to the Psychiatric Unit. It was all a bit dramatic. My friend was cowed, surrounded by these silent, strong men. People stared. I was glad we were never the kind to worry about what others might think.
Our leaden Security detail dispersed when my friend was allocated a room alone. He was given a hospital gown by a nurse. I helped him to change, then he got into bed. Finally, I was able to breathe normally again. Morning was a long time ago. We had eaten nothing all day. At least he was promised some Tea at 7 o’clock.
I decided to go buy my friend some pyjamas and explained this to him. He was pleased at the prospect of chocolate. At least something of him was still intact. Off I went, and was so happy to locate everything he needed within the tight budget. Thrilled, I raced back through the dark, thanking the myriad tiny stars above that he would at least be physically comfortable while dealing with severe mental distress. I thought of Van Gogh and those gentle people who see beauty and who try to share it with the rest of us in the gutter.
But now, my friend was gone. He had “escaped” from the Psychiatric Unit. He had walked through the Hospital in very few clothes and no shoes. He was filmed by CCTV as he left the Hospital grounds. I was shown this footage by Hospital Security staff. This was not to demonstrate their efforts in relocating my friend. A female Security Guard explained that, as my friend had left their Campus, they had no obligation to search for him.
Shock pervaded my body. My mind reeled with their legalese, their lack of any sense of responsibility or compassion. I explained that my friend was dressed only in a hospital gown and that it was a frosty night. I tried to impart that he was in the midst of a psychosis, almost completely unaware of who he was and where he was. By now it was getting late. The Security woman explained that they had called the Guards to let them know. Of course, I was entitled to go look for my friend myself, as the Guards did not have much capacity for that sort of thing. Involuntarily, one word came to me, Abbeylara, the poor young man who lay dead there and his family who had asked for help for him.
Meanwhile my friend was lost in a city he did not know well. There was a very big river flowing by a long quay. I realised I’d better get going myself or he could die of exposure, be hit by a car or truck, be attacked by someone or worst of all he could drown… that is, if something terrible had not already happened. Time to move…
I ran from the Hospital entrance dumbfounded. We had arrived in the reasonable expectation of finding some solace there. I paid the parking fee and drove out the gate, but where to go? Fatigue, after such rushes of adrenaline during the long day, had started to cloud my mind. Gravity tugged at my tired muscles. These sensations clashed with a strengthening sense of alarm. How do you find one person in this vast strange, dark and unfamiliar place. He could easily have an hour head start.
Frantic, I scoured streets as I drove. Nothing. He knew no one here. “Think”, I ordered myself. “Feel”. “Think like him”, assuming he could make any sense of his surroundings. He has an excellent sense of direction. Has. Not had. “Come on now. Keep going.”
I had done some training, had some experience and heard stories of hypothermia. How long could a psychotic man in a hospital gown last in minus 2 degrees Centigrade? Traffic was light this night, this quiet week after the New Year. Silver linings.
“You know him so long, you should be able to figure out where he would go”. I chided myself for leaving him at all, but that was nonsense. Surely, it is OK to trust that someone would be safe and secure in a secure facility? Was that really a lapse in logic?
I could not work up a sense of guilt, just disbelief and distrust in this Hospital. It was as if these people did not really want to admit my friend and were then quite happy for him to amble slowly, psychotically off their Campus. A pang of anger. My fingers gripped the steering wheel of the car. Where were those Men in Black when we needed them?
We’d been through enough for several years now, dealing with this alien world of schizophrenia. It was an entirely new experience. There was little help, beyond pamphlets, pills, internet searches.
There had been short stays in hospital, returns to work amidst strange looks, loss of pay and increasing discrimination, isolation and degradation and shunning by family. The phone did not ring much anymore.
We did not think a psychosis was that big a deal. Other people pay good money to get high, to get mad drunk, every weekend. But when someone gets a bit disorientated quite naturally, everyone gets so weird about it. Delusion is an everyday experience. The real insanity was that my friend was missing.
Everything in this city slopes down towards the river. I worked my way slowly along the quay. The river was a big, black, absence of light. There was only dark movement and lapping. I got out of the car to work along the metal rail. It stopped in places where seaweedy stone stairs slithered down into black water.
My hair blew around my face. Water filled my eyes with cold. “Please don’t let him fall into the river” I begged. My friend did not like to swim as much as I did. Still, a voice in his head could tell him to do something. The cold alone would take him. The tide was strong here. Small white caps of waves were picked out by the street lights as the wind whistled over the water. “He must be so cold already” I reasoned. Surely this would keep him from wanting to get wet.
I got back in the car and thought hard. The train station was a possibility. He might just try to go home. It is a natural, basic thing to do if you are fearful or upset. He would not think about being in a hospital gown. He would not be worried that he has no money. Whoever he meets might have a hostile reaction though. I drove, scanning all the way, and parked by the station.
Just as I went to open the car door, I spotted a figure in the dim light from a lamp post. I knew him by the beating of my heart and let’s face it, not too many walk around in hospital gowns. Relief fell on me like a soft blanket, silent, warm. I breathed out so loudly that I startled myself. “Wow, he is alive. He is here. What should I do now?” Bring him back to that stupid Hospital that lost him? Would he be willing to go? I nearly could not believe that he was there, about to go into the station.
Quietly, gently I approached him. He was pale and shaking, his gown flaring slightly in the breeze. He had not seen me. “Hey”, I said quietly, “I was looking for you. Will you come and get in the car?” “Yes”, he said simply. I helped him in. I was shaking too. It was partly from the chill but mostly it was due to such sudden decompression. Is it possible to get the bends on land?
“Will you come back with me to the Hospital?” I asked. “It is warmer there. I’ll stay with you as long as you need”. “Yes” he said, then nothing. He sat, staring forward. I drove us back in minutes. It was all so simple when the alternatives could have been so messy, so tragic, permanent. Images flashed through my mind and I shuddered. So easy. Others have not been so lucky. I praised all the powers of the universe for the gift of another day with him. He nodded off beside me as the car heater churned out warm air.
We were dazzled in the lights of the hospital foyer. We walked down long quiet corridors to the right door. I knocked. We washed him. His feet were filthy and cut, as he had been barefoot. He had an unexplained graze on his knee. That was all.
The psychiatric staff said they were sorry but did not explain how they could lose a person who was so unwell.
My friend slept a lot for several days, heavily medicated.
During the years of caring for him, I had grown to realise how people can lose so much – employment, home, family, friends, security – due to mental illness and other people’s reactions to it here. Even though we had both received fantastic educations and had such promising futures, a lot of that lay in ribbons. “At least he is alive”, I thought. He could have disappeared in the river and then nothing, not even answers. “We have to rely on ourselves” I decided.
Ten days later, my friend left the Hospital, like a timid fledgling, he was so vulnerable. No tests had been carried out to address his general health. No investigations had been made into potential causes of his symptoms. The Psychiatric staff helped my friend to come back to himself and for that we are eternally grateful. We drove away together to begin to re-join the world. We faced the additional wreckage of the past couple of weeks to the general pile. He was alive and improving in himself. That was the important thing.

Doing what one can

Drained and upset I arrive needing respite

seeking solace and security

from mental conflict and close tort

day off confusions requiring

electronic communications and bipartisan readings

to prevent comprehension lucidity lapses

issues from afar, too close and too afar.

WiFi exclusion a threat to our digital lively-hoods

dealing with argument, set out in every e-mail and text

days for linguistic accuracy and emotional perfection

fatigue. drained, doing what one can

to maintain sustainability in communication

A saucer stack and spoon clatters

as canteen voices murmur,

stirred cups sugar elutes

as the heater fan switches off

Seeking solace and tranquility

recharge from going on empty

doing what you can

curating sustainability

Sunlight on the computer screen

typeface hard won

maintaining sustainable relationships

can be work enough

Sunlight, sunlit, recharged

solace, seeking the even keel.

Topping rushes

The ringlets dander by
in the field of rushes
fluttering between effusus florets
crashing into stems
and off again

The taarup came the other day
topping rushes to make hay
where can the ringlets go
between the tussocks flew

Meristems geometrically laid flat
in a rushy field in the townland
where can the ringlets go
now that their field is turned to hay

August follows July
and we will see how
the ringlets fare
now lost among rushes lost

In a tree view far

Birch trees catch the light,

Between telegraph poles,

The wire might be there,

But the wire I cannot see,

White trunk specks halfway up.

Alder hard to pick out,

Hazel rush at the edge of wood,

In front a shoot of padded leaves,

Willow left behind leafing late,

A small leaved bush,

More twig than else.

Beech crown sprays drooping

High on a tree top line

I can see the Alder now

Open brown trunks darker leaves

Not easy in the mix

A died back ash, tied black

Leaf hit by Tuesday week’s frost

A calamity for walnuts too.

Mid May, all this,

Among the canoring birds

Of the near meadows.

A sonogram one can assign

Segments to passerines,

Interspersed by crow.

This morning I am

Long lane watching

From my muses seat

No one walking in

Well on in a summer’s dawn.

Tranquil, cool, there goes a Fly

Inside the porch window

A portent of unexpected motion

Yet the long lane draws my eye

Between frames of this spectacle

Sudden, there goes a Bird

Sunlight strength in rushes

Over shadow of the house

There goes a Bird,

In a tree view far. 


We looked ahead and saw two people.

She said “We met them before”

“What did I say to them last time?”

She reminded me that I had said nothing.

As they drew closer, I felt ready and rushed through my thoughts for an opening gambit. We had been walking and talking all afternoon since before we got to Clancy’s and now we were almost back.

My eyesight been poor in reading glasses, they gradually became discernible 30 yards of as the people whose son we had met turning up the steps on the Corracloona link, as an exerciser, who has apologetically run behind, and then darted past between us as we had blocked his path, like two bullocks on their way to the mart at Arney who had bizarrely slipped up a side lane back into some field or other between Swanlinbar and Arney in the Fermanagh North Leitrim glens fog.

You have to be quick, like a Leitrim hurler, whom you read about in the paper.

They were 20 yards out and I boomed in the friendliest tone I could muster:

“Good Afternoon”, ralentandoing it to be in synchrony with the gaps between their footsteps.

“It is a wonderful day.”

They had a dog they were struggling to bring under control. I focussed on the dog breed…

“Do you know that the dog that John Steinbeck from California in Travels with Charlie was a poodle? Your dog, what is his name?…

I chanced the genderized pronoun. With poodleish dogs, they are so curly, it is hard to tell.

Two chances and the conversation design fails. They slowed like us to a standstill.

She struggled to recall the name of her dog that he had on its lead.

We learned it was in fact her daughters dog Chloe, a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle.

She was a dote. She became a handful biting at the lead. I picked up on his epithet, not shedding, a euphemism suggesting that the dog does not moult and leave dog hair everywhere. He must have a perfectly clean house. You have to be quick like in Hurling, as in conversational design. I started again.

“Mickey Rooney in an Arabian film in 1978 had a carpet he went flying on, like the carpet on the tiled floor at home in Corracloona with a weft of dog hair on it, which floated off into the air, as if it was from an Afghan hound.

“You like your films… there being a film club in Kilty.

We gradually learned that the daughters were at college and one was doing exams from home. They had internet.

I write and have a webpage lichenfoxie on the word press.

I am fluffing the story telling, not living by Hemingway’s maxim, write what you know, and write it as true as you can possibly make it. Listening, writing, telling a story, remembering is such a busy thing to do all at once while trying to do a themed essay on conversation design, which brings us swiftly back to the people on the walk.

Two film references, and he said… You like your films… He has also said something else but I forget it now, not that I did forget it, but I did not recall it, if you can indulge me.

Writers are a tolerated bunch, reaching out for friendship. He has said lichen pronounced in the formal way, whereas I has said lichen in the uncouth way. Being a lichen themed conversationalist, if all else fails I flailed around looking for the nearest tree for a specimen to demonstrate if the opportunity developed. Here is a Graphis scripta if necessary, visually saved. Lichen, like as living with mosses on a tree.

“You must be an engineer…

She would have opened up with a reply but I fluffed it again… not leaving enough room for silence… You must be an engineer …

I wish I had said in my best diplomatic French, I was so rude. I did not answer, I talked over your entrance to your riposte to my reply. It all got very confusing…

Good writing is like good listening, picking up with an opening question on the word that was left dangling … lichen… dog hair… engineer… Blacklion… Holey Soles, the walking group… the glens… an encyclopaedia of the area… so full of knowledge, but slow to release it, one grain of sand at a time. Slow is an understatement, like the Black River delta, dropping one grain of sand at a time on the delta… while there is swift water flowing over the Ballyshannon dam weir at Belleek.

The inquisitive nature of mine has been satisfied by meeting Kevin’s plant friend earlier before getting to Clancy’s to get internet. The Leitrim glens writers write about themselves and their neighbours… There are so many glens, and so many Glen writers, that an essay on conversation design is precisely what is needed, and like any good guru… start with a few tips.

Conjecture on the side of absurdity… Really listen… Speak slowly… Really leave gaps… lots of them… so many in fact that other people help you fill them in, unlike the potholes. There is not even one at the end of the path up to his house, this putative engineers house. Filled in. I am loosing my touch as a reporter. There were so many conversations today, the bullocks, the rams, the sheep that were loose, the internet, the dog peed ending, and other potential conversation gambits… he must have read lichenfoxie… all the while you could have picked up on anyone of the hurling moves to play long rally tennis conversations with.

You have really arrived in Corracloona a year and a half… She is, a reader is, a long conversationalist… practised on the telephone while walking, you can tell by the breathing pattern in time with the steps sonogram, of a flute player, writers cannot keep up… unlike hurlers… that walk the lanes of Corracloona perchance whom you might meet… labelled on a post box, and strike up a conversation… if the y are in the humour… vary your pace… weather… the trees… a question… arrest them with a question… may I see your licence please… the dogs… no I am not the guard… all over the place… writing, reading, talking, reporting, over-talking not over-taking, drawing people out, winkling like a newsagent from Athy, Winkles, fishing… Fishing skills for beginners.

People are vying to talk. We have a writer, not great, not bad, but a story about a midge, eating you… So now we need a guide to the conversations we are having… confessions make us busy. I could imagine a priest saying that. They do not have anything to do but reach out for a sage metaphor, and they train for seven years, not to utter a put down… about conversation design.

Not that there has been a train to the ballroom since 1950 something. Which brings me to the next conversation… Blacklion… Nevins’s Cistin.  And Ben’s Madrid waiting… and onward to find himself… Handy with livestock he is… That’s the thing Priests train for seven years… and there is the Turin Shroud in the letterbox…

Community is built with people… and conversations… free conversations… not inhibited, controlling ones… conversation design can get in the way, and that only gets you so far… out with it… tonally apposite, before you go running, tonally appropriate conversation gambits.

Conversation is a skill for the quiet ones, that all at once we do at once, and do not practice enough, in our isolation in the glens of North Leitrim. Conversational design, a subsection of a subsection of an article on offences against the person act… My… Trump is good… as a guru… His downfall perhaps… the Hippocratic oath… never do harm… with your utterance… Then you are on the correct path… shining… These ellipses, the three dots are great… my favourite punctuation, after commas, and full stops.

Ellipses an opening to allow you to sing along with an Ed Sheeran song, where if you listen and try to sing along, he leaves no room for conversation… Which is precisely the reason he is so popular, perhaps… And everyone walking with headphones must be listening to, whom are difficult to approach with a booming 20 yard opening, conversationally designed, gambit. Not that I have a tape, download, podcast, or cd of Ed Sheeran songs, apart having heard on the radio a story about a something or other lineman, mid east coast America a bit over out west. Not far from Nashville, Tennessee.

No internet is a luxury, for a writer. We go to Clancy’s or the other way into Kilty to send our e-mails. We share a computer. In the house, I have just a pencil, a quiver of them, ready to write. Corracloona style, Gan Gam. Nom nom, nom. Our organic vegetables survived the frost, as I watched over them, as the vegetables read the small print on the Irish Times, repurposed to protect them from Frost, until the morning came. Reading the Irish Times in their minds eye, plants, each plumule and radicle, frost sensitively reading the headlines, Covid 19 reports, and our reporter here in Corracloona, some cadences from lichenfoxie, like a water flea detective…

Yours sincerely

Is mise.

Lichenfoxie, the uncouth pronunciation.


I forgot to type in page 7 from my double-sided 14 page pencil script. Now here we are.

Two mistakes, co-segmentation is a disaster… One slip in my amnesiacal memory is one thing, but over talking and inhibiting conversation is another. The dog who was a handful had stopped being one. Dogs are a great judge of character, like in wanderly wagon.

All this is too frenetic, four people, one dog being playful. You have to be stable and focus on the point of view. Jumping point of view is a disaster. The conversational design was maturing and the itchiness to get home was returning, I could see it.


In reaction to other conversations, and other local readers, I need to write more, to catch up with our public written lichenfoxie persona. Had I told him about the story about the midges of Corracloona? The story with the overblown militarist reference points, not that I would not be militaristic if I was thinking like a midge and be sorrowful and resentful about all the offences against the midge by bats and their below attic house habitants, with their carbon dioxide machines, sweet as the dioxide of a deer’s breath, that lure them to bog myrtle paths on the slopes of Thur Mountain, where swallows drink the summer raindrops and where along streams we go on the hunt for sweathouses. Which is so bats, it is the normal state for a North Leitrim glen Buddhist writer, Hippocratic oath, catharsis for the reader2, and all that.