Holly Not Holly

24 December Saturday

I am avoiding the Mass Path. I am worried about the killer dog. I do not like having him control my movements. I do not like this fearfulness. John told me that I am Planking It.  I think Planking It is a way of saying that one is very nervous. Or maybe it means one is terrified.



23 December Friday

The Farmers Market took place today instead of on Saturday because they thought people would not want to come out on Christmas Eve. It was too windy for the market. A sign had been put up near to the entry with the single word TODAY.  It was early when we arrived but TODAY had already been destroyed by the wind. The threatened storm named Barbara was encroaching. Very few tent stalls were in place.  Stella was selling her bread and cakes out of the back of the car.  Jim was packing up and leaving. He had only a few turnips to sell anyway and he had no patience with the wind.  He was worried and he wanted to go home. Everyone was sort of frantic. They wanted to get their food stuffs and go.  The girl from the Apple Farm was happy. She was in the back of a horse trailer with her apples and juices and vinegars and ciders.  She was out of the wind. Her feet were warm for the first time in weeks and weeks of market days. The rain was coming from several directions at once.  Everyone spoke of Barabara as if she was someone they knew.  There was the very real worry that we all might lose power. We had a quick coffee before heading home. Someone had wrapped fairy lights all around the railing on the stairs at the cafe. It was not possible to walk up or down the stairs without grabbing onto wires and lights.  Electrocution by Fairy Lights seemed a very real possibility.  It added to the manic feeling of the day.

22 December Thursday

I bought the bunches of holly from the man at the market last Saturday even though I knew the bunches of holly were not holly.  He knew that I knew so neither of us used the word holly. We just made our little transaction.  He was selling the bunches of greenery strapped together with black tape as a bit of something extra and seasonal along with the wooden bowls and egg cups which he usually has for sale. I knew the holly was not holly but I was pleased to see red berries in such abundance.  I can step into the woods and cut loads of holly but there are never any berries on any of the holly I have ever found.  Maybe it is the particular breed that grows here.  I brought the holly which was not holly home and left it on the table outside the kitchen while I decided what to do with it.  In the day or two of lying around the birds have eaten every one of the red berries. If the holly I purchased had been real holly the birds would not have touched those berries and if they had eaten them they would be dead.   So now I have some shiny green leaves which are not holly leaves waiting to be used in some kind of seasonal way.  I have no red berries. I should have just gone out and cut some real holly and tied little red ribbons on to it which is what I usually do.


21 December Wednesday. Winter Solstice.

Today is the shortest day.  Today is the day which brings with it the promise of longer days. I kept meaning to go for a walk and I kept putting it off as I found other things to do. In the back of my mind was the apprehension about the big dog.  I worried that he might be out again. I rang PJ Shine who is the neighbour up there.  He said the dog should not be out.  He was surprised and not happy to hear the dog was loose but he felt it was probably not too serious. He told me not to worry myself.  PJ only passes by in the safety of his tractor so he did not feel particularly threatened.  Then I saw the other PJ who said he had walked up by there the day before I did. He said he had been shocked to see the dog in the front yard.  It was barking and snarling but it did not come out on the road.  He felt unnerved by the dog.  I decided to go down and walk the Abbey walk. I decided to do the Abbey walk to avoid any chance of meeting the dog.   I parked at the cemetery and noticed that I had left it all a bit late. The light was really dropping.  I walked as far as the ruins of the Abbey and then I told myself I would just walk to the farm gate.  Then I said I would walk the track to the first barn.  Then I walked on to the lower gate. But the time I got there the sun had dropped behind the mountains and it was dusk.  I walked up hill with the light dropping by the minute. There were no lights anywhere.  No street lights of course. No house lights. No houses.  I walked the last part with a sense that the road was there. I could kind of see it but it was more about feeling it.  I was not afraid. There was nothing to be afraid of.  The dog was far away and on another road. There was nothing else to be afraid of.  By the time I reached my car at the top it was fully dark. If anyone had asked I could have answered There is No Fear in Me.

20 December Tuesday

Early afternoon broke through bright and sunny.  The whole day looked different. It was suddenly cheerful.  I walked up the mass path to enjoy it.  Sometimes it is gloomy walking through the wooded path. I like all of the mossy rocks and fern and the secret quality of the shaded rocky trail.  I even like the dangerous rotting rolling apples.  Little rays of sunshine through the trees are a bonus. There were views across Cooney’s fields where a fox has broken through  making his path.  I knew that arriving into full sunshine up on the road would be a fine thing. And it was. It was a fine thing.  I pretended that I actually could feel heat from the sun but really it was the heat of my up hill exertion.  It remained a cold day.

Before I got very far along the road an enormous dog came rushing out of Carbuncle’s yard and lunged at me.  It was a scary dog.  It was big and it was scary and it was barking and growling and baring its teeth at me.  It was either a Bull Mastiff or a Rottweiler.  I know very little about these dogs.  Carbuncle always has two large guard dogs inside the fenced in area behind his house.  When he built his house the land he bought was advertised as having panoramic views. It was true. The aspect across to the Knockmealdowns was spectacular.  It turns out he neither needed nor wanted a panoramic view as he quickly built high fences and filled his yard with cars.  Smashed up cars are piled high.  Some cars are not smashed but they are not visible over the fence. These get worked upon, repaired and sold. He keeps two dogs in the fenced in area all the time. They prowl around and bark when someone walks by the house.  They are protecting the good cars and the smashed cars and all of the tools and machinery which I assume must be in there. One is a big Alsatian and the other must be this monster on the road.  I do not know how he escaped.  I do not think he was supposed to be out. I tried to speak sweetly to the dog.  I used a gentle voice and I said nice things quietly.  I told him he was a good dog even though I was certain he was not a good dog.  I was terrified.  After several attempts at stepping along the road I gave up and turned around.  I walked slowly away from the snarling dog. I went back down the muddy path looking behind me every few steps.  I feared he might rush after me.  I had no doubt that he could tear me to shreds. There was no one around.  No one would hear if he tore me to shreds.  No one would know.

I was still shaking when I arrived home. I went over the fence and made a perimeter walk through some of Joe’s fields. I needed to calm myself and I still wanted to be outside in the sun. I tried to remember when was the last time I had met a dog that scared me.  Most of the dogs I see daily are walking free with or without a person. They are friendly gentle dogs.  They are simply going about their business.  They are as happy to see me as I am to see them and if the dog I see is a stranger I can always speak kindly and the dog will respond with a wagging tail.  I am shaken by this aggressive dog in my day.  I am nervous about my next walk up the path.  I am never happy for dogs to be locked up but I am really frightened by this dog being out on the roam.

Brown Coins

19 December Monday

Another grey and gloomy morning.  The grey sky is heavy.  I cannot animate myself.  I should not complain.  The weather continues to be unseasonably mild.  Some days are bright and crisp. Some are drizzly and wet and grey.  Day after day the temperatures are higher than normal. It is cold but it does not feel one little bit like December. Today the birds are all over the feeders.  They are lining up and waiting for their turn to eat nuts.  Most days they have been racing around without much interest in stopping to sample whatever is on offer in the feeders. There has been no desperation in the bird population yet.

18 December Sunday

Three hunters were out in the Long Field today.  They were all three dressed in camouflaged clothing and they had four dogs with them.  The Long Field is long and it is also wide. It is a result of many walls and ditches being broken down over the years.  We call it the Long Field but really it is two fields. Over time all the fields were combined to make two enormous fields with a rough track separating them. There is one place kind of in the center where the land dips before it climbs up again. There is a large outcrop of rocks and stones and growth in the dip.  More stones and rocks get dumped there as the farmer finds them in his ploughing.   The edges of the fields on both sides of the track are a long way from the middle. The three camouflaged men were walking up the dirt track.  There was not much chance that there would be any birds anywhere nearby for them to startle much less to shoot. Just as we began our walk downwards they veered off to the left around the rocky place and they headed for the edges in the hopes  of flushing some pheasants.  The area of fields is so large we were able to walk without ever getting near to them, nor them to us.

17 December Saturday

It was cold.  The morning had been white with frost. The hard cold lasted all day.  I stopped in Ballyporeen where there was some kind of Christmas party or maybe a wedding and a lot of people rushing around in fancy clothing.  People were in and out of the nearby pub. The church was close by.  I could not tell where they were going as everyone seemed to be on the move all the time.  The young women and some of the not so young women were all dressed in skimpy dresses.  Many of the dresses were sparkly. There seems to be an agreed upon behavior that women take off their coats before going indoors to an event like a night in a pub or a disco or a wedding.  I do not know if it is because a coat might ruin the look of a fancy outfit or if the women fear that things will get so exciting and out of control that they might forget their coat later. Coats get left in the car. These women and girls all had bare legs and little high-heeled strappy sandals to go with their flimsy dresses. They all had fake tans to make their legs look glamourous rather than white and goose-pimply.  As I walked out of the shop an old man in a tweed suit and a heavy jumper and wearing a wool cap pulled down low on his head stood in the doorway watching the chaos in the street and shaking his head .  He said “Just look at them. They’ve Nothing On Them, and it’s Gone Freezing Out and their legs are All Orange.”

16 December Friday

Up Yourself is an insult.  To be told that you are Up Yourself is a kind of a warning. To describe a person as being Up Himself is to imply that he is taking on airs and graces. It suggests that someone is stepping outside of their place.  Or the place that others think that person should stay in.  The man in Cahir who was not allowed to carry a small back pack when he was out walking was told by his wife that if he went about wearing a pack on his back people would think he was Up Himself.  It was okay for him to carry a back pack when on holiday because then the people who saw him would not be the people who usually saw him.  Anyone who saw him while he was on holiday would not be anyone who might know what place he was supposed to be kept in.

15 December Thursday

There is now a bus service called the AirCoach which goes back and forth between Cork to Dublin Airport. It only makes a few stops so it is efficient and fast. Each place where the AirCoach stops is well marked with an orange sign.  The sign now tells us where we have always been stopping on the regular bus but we did not know the name of the place.  It was always just The Bus Stop, which was outside a particular bar or a shop in a particular town or village.  When the Bus Eireann bus stopped today in Mitchelstown I noticed the AirCoach sign said it was Mitchelstown New Square. I never knew the big square was called New Square.  Thursday is market day in Mitchelstown.  The square which I now know to call New Square was busy and full of stalls and people. Unusually, a huge crowd was waiting to board our bus. There were at least thirty people.  Everyone who was already on the bus got very excited.  They discussed amongst themselves that this was the most people they had ever seen boarding the bus in Mitchelstown.  Everyone worried that they might not all fit onto our bus.  The driver worried out loud that it was all taking too long to get them loaded. Some did not have the right money and others had awkward bundles or baby buggies.  He feared he might be late for his arrival in Cork.



13 December Tuesday

No one wants the Brown Coins.  Stella said that her house had been burgled. The robbers had come in and made a mess. They did not take much. They ripped into the airing press in hopes of finding a hidden safe.  They threw a lot of things around. They found the jar of small coins.  The jar was full of the 1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins that no one uses anymore.  The coins are made of some sort of alloy.  Maybe it is copper and nickel. They do not look especially brown but they are spoken of as the Brown Coins.  No one wants the Brown Coins.  Children do not stoop to pick them up in the street.  Most of us save the Brown Coins in jars and eventually we cash them in somewhere. The Brown Coins may not be used much as currency but they cannot be refused. The robbers could have left the Brown Coins sitting in their jar.  They could have ignored them. Instead, they took the jar of Brown Coins and scattered them around the house in disgust.

12 December Monday

Annie told me that she was going to be an artist when she got older. She said her mother was certain that she would be a very good artist. Annie said, “She says she knows that I will be a good artist because I am easily distracted and because I like to glue pom-poms onto pencils.”

Little Cups and Saucers


11 December Sunday

Mardhea is the spelling.

I think.

It is pronounced Mah-re-Ah.

I think.

Someone might say Mardhea, I was watering the flowers.  What they mean is AS IF I was watering the flowers.  To preface an action with the word Mardhea means to say that you were doing one thing in order to find out something or to be on the watch for something happening or something which might have happened.  You were not really watering the flowers because they needed watering.  You were watering the flowers so that you could keep an eye on the activity next door or down the road. It is basically a way to admit to being nosy. I do not think I can incorporate this expression into my daily conversation, because few Irish words sit easily in my mouth, but I am quite pleased to know what it means. I am glad to be able to listen for it.  When I next hear it said I will know that it is a kind of code and I will feel included.

10 December Saturday

The barber poles were not made of plastic nor of glass. They were not rounded.  They were not lit from within.  These barber poles were simply painted red and white stripes on two inch by four inch planks. They were planks not poles.  There was one nailed flat onto the wall just beside the door so that it was visible head on and especially from across the road.  On the other side of the door there was another board mounted on its narrow side.  I guess that one was to attract passing trade.  There was a third one which was about one and a half inches by one and half inches square right over the door. It was long and it sort of stuck out at a bit of an angle.  The word barber was not visible anywhere but the red and white stripes did the full job of advertising.

9 December Friday

This is the message received on Text Alert today:

Please be mindful of Elderly Friends and Neighbours who today may be receiving double Christmas payments from the Post Office and report any Suspicious Activity.

The elderly and any other people on benefits receive extra money to help them get through the holiday period.  It helps them to purchase special things as well.  To announce it like this might be a good thing or a bad thing.  Everyone knows the extra payments are made and in rural areas there are no banks.  People can only take their money home and hide it.  Any robber would know this and any robber will know there are just so many places that cash can be hidden. I am sure the Garda mean this alert as a good thing but it seems like it might be a bad thing.



8 December Thursday

It is slippery and dangerous walking over the last of the apples falling off Johnnie’s trees and onto the path. The apples which fall on that side sort of roll into the gully which is the path.  Or the path is a gully and it is where we walk. Every day I tell myself I should use a walking stick for walking through the rolling apples and the slimy mud but every day I forget to take one along with me.  Rats or mice are eating out the flesh of the apples and leaving the tough skins spread around like delicate little cups and saucers. I am hoping the rats hurry up and eat the rest of the apple flesh or at least that everything rots down into moosh soon before I take a tumble.

7 December Wednesday

The days continue mild.  Ever since the recent spate of frosty frozen bitter days, I feel I have had my warning.  I am now saving and filling water bottles.  Water pipes are not buried very deeply here.  A week of freezing temperatures mean that the outdoor water pipes might well freeze.  Each winter I fill water bottles Just In Case.  Sometimes we never need the bottles of water but sometimes we do and then we are glad to have it.  I fill each bottle as we empty one.  We buy bottled water for drinking.  We do not buy bottled water as a fashion choice. I would prefer not to buy bottled water.  We buy it in big five litre containers.  We use our well water for cooking and making tea and for everything else but for drinking a glass of water we drink the bottled water.  We need to have the well tested again.  We probably need to have the well cleaned again. Last time we were told the e coli content of our water was a bit high. We were advised not to drink the water. So as well as filling water bottles to guard against the possibility of frozen pipes I must also buy extra bottles of drinking water to have on hand.  I am not doing too well. I have only 25 litres or three large bottles stored up so far.

6 December Tuesday

A totally gloomy day all day.  The light never changed. At any moment, it might have been dawn or it might have been dusk.  The sky was heavy and grey.  The sky stayed heavy and grey.  Sometimes it rained a little and sometimes it did not rain. In the early afternoon, I took a walk up the boreen and around.  I felt I could not wait any later to walk as it might not be any better later and there was a good chance it might be worse. It was difficult to focus on anything because of the uncertain quality of the light.  It made me feel like there was something wrong with my eyes.  It started to drizzle as I left the house and it kept drizzling all the way around.  It was never proper rain. It was soft. It did not feel like rain. When I reached home I was soaking wet.

A Post Box Named Stanley


5 December Monday

We pass the little bungalow all the time.  It was flooded inside a few years ago. The damage was extreme because no one was living there at the time. The pipes froze in the cold of winter.  They burst when they thawed and they just kept pumping out water. There was no one there to notice. The bungalow has sat empty ever since. A few months ago some men began to tear it down.   Then work stopped and the place was left standing without doors or windows or roof. After another month or so the bungalow is being worked upon again.  A new house is being built onto the walls and the foundation of what was left.  It is a peculiar looking operation. The house is not any bigger on the ground but it is a little bit taller.  I do not know if the additional height is enough to provide a second floor.

3 December Saturday

When I went down for bottled gas on Thursday I met Tommie Hally in front of the shop. He had walked from his house using a stick. He had just arrived as I was ready to leave. He does not normally walk with a stick. He does not normally walk to the shop either.  I think driving is becoming difficult for him. I admired his sturdy stick.  He said it was made of elm and that was why it was not very straight. He told me that he is not fond of the kind of walking sticks that can be purchased. He prefers this one because he made it for himself some years ago knowing that it was something he might need one day. He was prepared to settle in for a chat.  Indeed that was why he had walked to the shop. He was planning to have a few conversations along the way. We spoke for a few minutes. He reported that Margaret is not at all well. She cannot see and her hip has never stopped being a problem since her fall a few years ago.  He is having a difficult time taking care of her and she will not allow anyone from the outside to come in to help.  I was freezing and he should have been freezing too. It was too cold to be standing and talking outdoors. I told him that I had to go home with the gas bottle so that I could finish making my cake.  I told him I would bring him some of the cake later.  Tommie loves apples and he loves cake.  Today I delivered some slices of cake along with a pot of cream.  He was delighted to have the cake. He did not know that it was not the same cake that I had promised to bring.  We ate all of that first cake before I delivered any.  Simon made a second cake. It was not the same kind of cake but it did have apples in it. Tommie said they would eat it tonight when they returned from 6.30 Mass.


2 December Friday

Another post box has been retired. The plastic has perished with the weather and with the weight of the stone that I kept inside the box to keep it from blowing away and from the second stone on the top.   Lifting the lid without removing the stone means that the sides of the lid are always getting strained, so then the lid cracks and then I tape up the cracks and then it cracks some more and then finally it is time to give up on that box because one day we go out to get the post and the box has three inches of water in the bottom of it and the post might be floating in the water. If we are lucky the envelopes are resting on the stone and the stone is not yet fully submerged.  Simon got annoyed with the broken box full of water and he went off looking for a new post box. The boxes that we have been using are large storage boxes which people fill and then store under their bed or in the attic or the shed. We receive a lot of awkward parcels so a small postbox is not an option. Simon came home with a fancy toolbox which cost far too much.  He put a weight in the bottom which now takes up half of the not very copious space inside the box.  John the Post is not impressed with the new box.  Neither am I.  I have no doubt this box will be stolen someday soon.  It might even be put into a workman’s van by mistake. The old postbox just looked like plastic box with a rock on top sitting outside near a bush. This one looks like it could be full of expensive tools.  Simon is the only one who likes it.  He is delighted with himself.  He thinks of it as A Post Box Named Stanley.

1 December Thursday

I made a cake.  It is not often that I bake. We had friends coming for tea. We have a lot of apples stored but they are starting to go soft, so I made a Dutch Apple Cake.  We have three kinds of ovens but they are all complicated. None are any good for baking.  My cake took hours to make as I had many many interruptions. As well as several phone calls, Ned came to deliver heating oil.  He cannot deliver oil unless we are at home because he needs to plug the generator on the back of his truck  into our electricity mains. We have to pull an extension lead in through a window to plug it in. Normal oil trucks are too big to drive down the boreen. This system with the electric generator allows us to get oil.  Since someone has to be here whenever Ned comes, he always has a cup of tea and we have a discussion of the world at large.  Today he kept repeating: We have to stop voting for what we are voting for.  After Ned left but before my cake could be finished and lunch could be eaten, the gas bottle ran out.  That meant unhooking it and loading it into the car and taking it to the village to get a replacement bottle.  I had to wait for awhile outside Teddie O’Keefe’s because there was a big lorry blocking the road.  I tried to fill the car with petrol while I was in the village but Seamus had run out of petrol in his pump.  He has one pump for petrol, one for diesel and one for agricultural diesel.  He was waiting for the man to arrive to refill the petrol one. The road on the way home was busy with tractors.  One tractor hit my side mirror because it was so big and it was going so fast and the road was just not wide enough. There were other interruptions both before Ned arrived and after I got the new gas bottle but the cake was finally baked.  It was delicious, but I do not feel I shall be baking again soon.

30 November Wednesday

Everyone exclaims—-The cows are still out!  It has been so unseasonably mild and now it is cold.  For a while it was frosty and freezing, but it continues dry so it is fine for the cows to be out in the fields and not shut up in their winter barns. There is not much grass for them to eat. The fields are all bright green to look at but still there is not much grass for the cows to eat. They mostly get fed on nuts or on hay delivered to their fields by the farmers. The thing being remarked upon again and again is that it is December and the cows are still out.


29 November Tuesday

I brought in the remaining little chilies off the plant.  I am amazed at how many were left and that they did not seem to suffer in that hard crunchy cold last week.  They are hot and delicious.

Always Home

28 November Monday

The bright light across the fields has been disturbing.  It is an odd kind of light. It is a different kind of bright.  There are house lights in the far distance but they are nothing like this raw harsh light.  At first I thought this light was a light in someone’s farmyard.  I could not tell from this distance whose farmyard it might be.  I thought the light itself might even always be there but that I was only noticing it now maybe because leaves had fallen off the trees between here and wherever it is. Maybe I am only seeing it because it has been freshly exposed.   In a straight line – as the crow flies – the light is probably two kilometres away.  It is some kind of terrible bright halogen bulb. It is bright white.  From here we cannot see any of the area it illuminates.  We only see the small stabbing glow.  After only a few nights of seeing this light I was already depressed. I felt sad that I might be seeing this ugly light every single night from now on.

Last night we suddenly figured out that the light was down on the Dungarvon road. It was standing on a dangerous corner where a road crew are now working.  We had noted the work the other day. When finished, the road in that spot will be straight or at least it will be straighter.  Darkness falls early so this light might help the workmen at the end of their work day.  It warns the drivers who all travel too fast on that stretch.  The workers go home at the end of the day, but the light stays on all night. It is now a comfort to know that when the road work is eventually finished, and the corner is straightened, the light will be removed.  Our thick dark night will return.

27 November Sunday

Each time I step out the back door I see a mouse.  It has been three or five times now.  I am not sure if it is the same mouse each time or a different mouse.  I am not sure where exactly the mouse I see is going but I am fairly certain it is hoping to come inside for the winter.

26 November Saturday

This is the third day in a row of deep impenetrable white fog. On Thursday the heavy fog was burned away by sun in the middle of the afternoon.  On Friday and today there has been no sun.  There has been no burning off.  Just a deep cold silence all wrapped in whiteness. We cannot see any distance at all.  We drive with headlights which do not make what is up ahead any more visible. The headlights are mostly so we might be seen by another car.  It feels best to just stay home but even while here we cannot even see across to the barn.

24 November Thursday

I was wide awake in the night.  I finally got out of bed and went out into the big room. I was too tired to do anything.  I did not want to read nor to watch television. I did not want to turn on the computer.  I made a cup of tea and found a deck of cards. I played solitaire.  I was really cold even with pyjamas, a bathrobe, a shawl and a pair of heavy socks inside my slippers.  I did not want to turn on the heat.   I thought about Jack London’s story To Build A Fire.  People dying of the cold usually fall asleep before they freeze to death. I wanted to fall asleep.  I thought about other Jack London stories. I continued playing solitaire. I kept score with myself on a piece of paper, buying the deck for each game with an imaginary 52 euro.  I lost hundreds of euro. I did not care about the winning or the losing. I enjoyed shuffling the cards.  I am good at shuffling cards. The deck was old and soft and did not really shuffle as sharply and snappily as I would have liked.  I made another cup of tea. It was chamomile tea but it failed to make me sleepy.  I started to get tired of playing solitaire. I wondered what I might do next. I needed to engage myself but slightly bore myself at the same time. After two or three hours, I heard a cow bellowing up the hill.  It was the only sound I had heard except for my cards on the table.  The cow sounded like it was up the steep hill on one of Johnnie’s fields. It was too dark to look out a window. The cow moaned and gasped.  It is hard to describe the noise. Maybe it was more like a sort of honking.  After about twenty minutes, the cow stopped.  I listened for her to start up again.  When she did not, I went back to my cards.  Eventually boredom and the cold sent me back to bed.

22 November Tuesday

I was tired coming off the plane.  I was tired and I was not yet awake.  It was 5.30 in the morning.  One line of passengers waiting to go through passport control was long. That line was long and disheveled and there were a lot of cranky children in it. I was glad that my passport allowed me to pass quickly through the other line.  The EU line was short.  The man at the high desk looked down and asked me how I was.  I told him I was tired.  I said I am tired or maybe I am just sleepy because I have not really woken up yet.  His voice dropped and it became very soft.  He said ‘It’s Okay. Everything is Fine. You are Home now.’

Home is a big thing here. Home is a place and Home is an idea. At Cork Airport there is a little fireplace with a gas fire burning and a little one-person sized bench just after you come through passport control.  It would be easy to smack your shins against the stone bench because it is so suddenly there in front of you.  The fire in the fireplace serves as the symbol of a being welcomed home.  There is Home and there is Home Place.  There is a lot about both Home and Home Place which makes me feel a little confused. As someone from somewhere else, I think I shall never fully understand it. But no matter what else it is, a fire is essential to the idea of Home.  Shannon Airport does not have a fireplace nor a little bench, but the soft dropping of the man’s voice and the kindness in his welcome made me pleased to be home.

Taking the Bloods



2 November Wednesday

Yesterday I saw two vehicles with small dog trailers parked down by Cooney’s wood.  Later I heard gunshots.  November 1st marks the start of shooting season for pheasants and woodcock and wood pigeons. If I had heard the gunshots earlier I might have been startled but the little trailers that the dogs get transported around in gave me the warning.  There are never more than one or two hunters who wander around these woods but it is a good idea to start wearing reflective vests when we walk out just so we do not get shot. At about nine o’clock last night I heard a thumping at the kitchen door.  I looked out and there was Oscar pushing and turning to make himself comfortable as close up to the door as possible.  He had knocked down the walking sticks in the corner so he was having an awkward time getting settled with sticks all over the place. It is unprecedented for Oscar to come down here at night and especially to come down without a person.  I tried to send him home but he ignored me. I rang June and she was puzzled too.  She was puzzled but she was fearful to drive down our boreen at night so I offered to take him home.  Oscar is a big black Labrador.  With age, he has gotten fat.  He could not jump up and into the jeep so I had to ask Simon to help me to hoist him up and in.  I drove the mile up to Oscar’s house with his head jutting out between the seats and resting on my shoulder.  He was happy to be home and jumped out easily.  He did not return again last night but I still do not know why he arrived in the first place. I wonder if the days shooting disturbed him.

1 November Tuesday

Condon’s, the undertakers in Cahir, have repainted their premises.  The front of the building is now glossy black with enamel paint.  The windows have been edged with bright red. On a sunny day like today the shine off the black paint is blinding.

31 October Monday

Taking Care of Your Own is the term used for the duty towards anyone who is elderly or sick.  It is one thing to give care if someone is your own blood relation but if the ailing person is only related by marriage it is something altogether different.  Responsibility apppears to have limits.


30 October Sunday

There are lots of brown crunchy leaves underfoot and there is no mud.  Every walk up the track is noisy with the leaves underfoot.  As soon as I write this, I am reminded that there are stretches with lots of yellow not yet crunchy leaves too so the contrast between walking noise and walking silence is great.  I was walking the Long Field today and saw some garish orange pellet stuff spilled onto the soil.  At first I thought it must be some kind of poison. Then I decided it might be seed.  Some farmers have planted winter wheat so the fresh new green shoots give a sense of springtime in this peculiar autumn. We have had day after day of mild, bright days with no rain.  Birds are singing like crazy.  The birds are behaving like it is spring. None of them seem to be flying south. The cows are out in their fields all day. Nothing feels right or normal. Nothing feels like it is almost November. Last night we changed the clocks so as of today darkness will fall earlier. The weather may or may not change.


29 October Saturday

Dilly is insisting that the little shrubs on her banking get cut back almost to the wood.  Some of them she wants pulled or dug right out of the ground.  She is adamant that these things get done before the winter comes on.  She cannot do these jobs herself as she keeps telling anyone who will listen but even if she is not Able For It herself she wants it done her own way. She cannot bear for two plants to be touching one another.  Dilly likes to see a lot of nice cleared and clean weed free soil in between each plant. She cannot cut these plants back and she cannot dig them up and out of the ground and she certainly cannot bend down to pull the weeds and rake the soil clean, but she is determined that all of these things be done. She is instructing John to do all of these jobs and she insists he do the jobs her way.  He is grumbling about her demands but he is allowed no say in the matter. She says The Bare Look is the only way to give a plant the attention it deserves.

28 October Friday

Simon had a morning appointment with the nurse to Take His Bloods. It is usually not possible to Take Bloods on a Friday because of the weekend.  He offered to deliver his own blood to the hospital so they said okay and had him come in at 9 am.  While the nurse was labeling his tube and putting it into a bag, she asked if he would mind also taking the bloods of the Lithuanian woman who had been in just before him.  The woman had to rush off to her job and anyway she did not have a car so she was not able to take her own blood up to the hospital. Simon was hungry.  He had been fasting since the night before.  He asked the nurse if he had time to have some breakfast before going to the hospital.  She said No Problem. She told him to just be sure to deliver the bloods to the lab before midday.  At the hospital he was directed to walk down several long corridors to drop his own blood and the blood of the Lithuanian woman into a hatch cut into some hard plastic.

A Real Dote.

27 October Thursday

There is a new book.  The cover of the book is taped up in the window of the shop along with a telephone number to ring if we want to buy a copy. The title of the book is The Rabbit Industry in Ireland.  I did not have my glasses with me so I could not read the short descriptive text about it but I shall be sure to take my glasses with me the next time I go to the shop. There are plenty of rabbits here but I never knew they were abundant enough to constitute an industry.

26 October Wednesday

Last October we were presented with The Rounding Off.  The government decided that the costs involved in producing 1 and 2 cent coins exceeded their value. It was decided that prices and change would henceforth be rounded to the nearest 5 cent. There would still be some 1 and 2 cent coins floating around and people could still use them.  They could still request their proper change not rounded off to the nearest 5 cent.  Most people were happy to see the end of the small coins. This summer the cost of a postage stamp for an inland letter went up to 72 cent.  This price presents an ongoing dilemma at the post office counter.  The post mistress cannot charge 75 cent for a 72 cent stamp.  Giving change which no one wants or simply giving away the 72 cent stamp for 70 cent makes the raising of the price completely redundant.  I am most bothered by the use of the word cent in the singular. I would be happier for it to be plural, when it is anything other than 1 cent.

25 October Tuesday

It is now common knowledge. Everyone repeats it. Everyone repeats it as if it has always been a fact but I do not know if it was always such an irrefutable fact.  Everyone says that it is imperative to eat honey which has been produced as near to your own home as is possible. It is important if one is ill with cancer or with a cold, or recovering from surgery.  It is important to eat local honey as one is aging.  It might have indeed always been true but I do not think every single person knew it and repeated it and believed it. Mrs. Hally is one person who does not subscribe to this theory. For as many years as anyone can remember she has been eating Manuka Honey from New Zealand at 40 euro for a small jar.  She eats it daily.  I do not know how much Maunuka Honey she eats.  It might be a tablespoon full or it might be more than that. Mrs. Hally is 98 years old.  She is known to be A Fresh Woman. Especially for her age.  She looks well.  Each week, the pharmacist asks her for the secret of her glowing skin. The pharmacist wants to know whether it is the Manuka Honey or the Lancôme Face Cream which keeps Mrs. Hally looking so fresh.

24 October Monday

It is one of those mornings where it might remain grey and white and shadowless all day but it might burst out and become a bright sunny afternoon which means it will be nearly impossible to stay indoors even while almost of the things to be done are all needing doing indoors. How the days weather evolves affects everything.  It is an issue for today and for every recent day. With the shorter hours of light and the colder mornings, it is difficult not to be seduced by these unseasonably mild afternoons. Suddenly emptying the compost or picking apples or even loading up for a trip to the dump are all pleasant chores.  Moving old branches or cutting back the willow herb, whatever the job, everything is pleasant.  Chores are still chores but it is 24 October and if the morning clears it may again be good to be outside doing one thing while looking around at everything and anything else that might need doing.  Tommie told me that people in the town go out for drives on a good day as they do not want to be inside and they have no outside to be out in unless they are out for a drive, but then they are not really outside because they are inside a motorcar.  He said they are not outside anyway. They are only out of the house.

21 October Friday

In my vocabulary, dote has always been a verb. Someone who is doting upon another person lavishes them with love and uncritical attention.  The person doing the doting usually choses not to see any fault whatsoever in the object of their affection. The one doting can dote with infinite adoration upon their treasured person.  Around here, the word Dote is more commonly used as a noun.  A cute person is A Dote.  Someone sweet and adorable is called A Dote.  Or they might be called A Real Dote.  A Dote can be a grown person or a child, or it can just as easily be a dog.

All Milk to Cheese

20 October Thursday

Pat was delighted to eat the marrow out of the bone and to eat the beef around the bone and when she was finished, she asked if she could take her bone home.  She said she had made a similar bone into a necklace when she was at school. The other girls made fun of her. They said her necklace looked like a soggy cardboard loo roll on a string. Now she is not bothered what people think. In all she took six bones away in a plastic bag.  They were each one and a half or two inches long. Fitted together they had been the entire shin bone of a small cow. Pat took them home and put them in a basin of water.  After a few days she will put them into salty water. I do not know how long it will take for her bones to be ready to be made into a necklace.  She loves the sound the bones make when they collide.  She calls it a kind of klick-klack. When the necklace is finished, we will hear her coming.

18 October Tuesday

Fruit continues to grow.  The raspberries look good but most of them are soggy from the wetness of the night and the morning.  To gather a few freshly ripened ones at the end of a warm afternoon is okay.  The blackberries are the same. The bushes along every field and every bit of road are heavy with berries but the berries are wet and many are inedible. They squish between my fingers when I try to pick them. It is a deceptive time.  Some apples are still on the trees.  It is time to drag a ladder down into the meadow to collect the last of them.  There are figs too, which keep growing but they will never be ready to eat or to bake. The rose hips were unused this year. They just sit on the bushes looking lovely and bright. They too are soggy. The birds are happy to have them. Roses and sedums and daisies and poppies keep flowering.  Everything looks good and in today’s bright sunlight, it looks like full summer plenty.

17 October Monday

The woman was from Dingle and she was just visiting the area. She stopped at the craft shop and bought a walking stick made of ash.  The word ASH was carved in capital letters into the wood up near the top. The woman walked down the street with her new stick and turned to enter the Lazy Bean for a cup of coffee. A man sitting outside yelled across to her.  He shouted: “Where did you get that stick?”  She said she bought it.  He said, “Well I made it!  I am the man who makes those sticks.”  She was pleased to meet him and he was pleased that she had bought one of his sticks. She was so pleased with the whole thing that after she drank her coffee she went back to the craft shop to tell the lady there that she had met the very man who made her stick.


16 October Sunday

Maud sent me the photo of a sign from the Dairygold Plant in Mitchelstown.  Big shiny stainless steel Dairygold tanker trucks drive around the countryside filling up with milk.  The trucks are big.  They are too big and they go too fast on these narrow roads. They terrorize everyone.  If you are walking or if you are driving, you know that the Dairygold trucks will not make space for anyone.  The Glanbia trucks are just as big and just as scary. Lucky for us they only come around a few times a week.  At least they do not come every day. The milk at each farm gets stored in coolers awaiting pick up.  When a tank is full, the truck heads to the Mitchelstown co-operative plant.  The ALL MILK TO CHEESE sign must be directing drivers to deliver milk to that part of the plant which turns it into processed cheese.

15 October Saturday

I recognized the man.  He was discussing lead flashing with someone who worked in the store. He wanted to fold the flashing into a join between two roof sections to ensure that there was no way for rain water to leak in. The man who worked in the store was telling him again and again that this was not the best solution.  I recognized the man but I could not place why I recognized him.  I could not locate him.  I thought if I listened to his voice I might remember.  That is why I learned so much about the roofing job he needed to do. I walked up and down the aisle where he was talking.  I thought if I could get a good look at his face I might be reminded of who he was or why he seemed so familiar.  At a certain moment something clicked.  I remembered Toss and Walt.  I did not know if this man was Toss or if this man was Walt. Whoever he was, he was an older version of himself.

It was 1997 when I last saw him.  We had a desperate need for windows to be installed in the house.  The old wooden frames were rotten.  Sometimes a pane of glass just fell into the house.  Sometimes a pane of glass fell out and onto the ground outside.  The frames were rotten and rotting and the soft old wood was just giving up.  We spoke with several people about installing new windows.  When we finally decided on a solution, the man who did the measuring and the estimating told us that the windows would be made rapidly.  He said that Toss and Walt would arrive in two weeks to do the installation. We were pleased with the speed.  Living without glass was draughty and living with pieces of wood in place of missing glass was gloomy.  Anyway, winter was coming. The house needed to be secured from the weather.

Toss is one of those names that evolved out of Thomas. There are a lot of men named Thomas.  Some become Tom or Tommy or Tommie. Some remain Thomas. Some use the Irish Tomás. I think Toss as a short version comes from Thos. as written on gravestones, in bibles and in the phone directory. It is just another shortening.  And Toss said is more literal than Thos. I had never met a man called Toss.

Toss and Walt arrived with half of the windows and began installing.  They worked over a few days. They returned with the rest of the windows and finished the job.  They were quiet and efficient and they were funny when I made them cups of tea.  Everything in the house was in chaos with all of the building work.  I kept moving piles of stuff and pieces of furniture out of the way of the windows when Toss and Walt were heading for those windows.  They needed space to work from both inside and outside. As workmen go they were easy to have around.

A few months later I developed several rolls of film. I had an old Minolta camera.  I used it to try to keep a rough record of how some parts of the house looked before we did work. Eventually I wanted to be able to compare how it all ended up. I kept the camera around all the time to remind myself to keep documenting our progress. Instead I got so used to seeing the camera lying around that I rarely picked it up.

When I brought the batch of photographs home, I found a picture of Toss or Walt.  One day while doing the window installation, Toss had picked up the camera and taken a photograph of Walt or Walt had taken a photograph of Toss.  I was more than a little surprised to find a photograph of one of these two men in among my snapshots. The man in the photograph was not smiling but he was looking straight into the camera.

The man I recognized in the store was Toss or maybe he was Walt.  I did not need to stick around any longer because now I knew who he was. I did not need to wait to find out how he resolved his roof problem. I did not need to say hello.  I very much doubted that he would remember me and anyway it did not matter one bit if he did.  I remember him whether I want to or not because I have a photograph of him.

14 October Friday

Mick often prefaces what he says by saying “Now, I am not going to lie to you.” I can never decide if this is a way to ensure the veracity of what he is saying or if maybe when he does not say this he might actually be lying.  I think I have come to believe that it means he is very serious about the thing he is telling and therefore it is important that one believes him.

13 October Thursday

More and more women are using the large clicking stove lighters for lighting a cigarette.  It is startling to see a woman whip this long thing out of her purse and light her cigarette with a flourish of huge flame before shoving it back in the bag.  These lighters are at least ten times bigger than a normal lighter.  I have not seen any men using these things to light their cigarettes but that may just be because they are too big to carry easily in a pocket.  And no one anywhere seems to use matches anymore.

Not a Bother.

12 October Wednesday

Mornings are wet with dew and heavy mist.  Leaving the washing out on the line over night guarantees that it will be wetter in the morning than it was at the end of the previous afternoon.  I am not averse to leaving the washing hanging for a few days.  Margaret says that if it gets wet again it is just a second rinse. Or a third rinse.  The problem arises when one Joe or the other Joe is spreading slurry.  Then the washing takes on the smell of the decomposing excrement sprayed over the fields.  The slurry does not have to touch the clothes or even come anywhere close to them. The strong smell permeates everything.  If I bring wet clothes into the house they carry the stench with them.  Once a nearby field has been sprayed with slurry it is best to leave everything out on the washing line for a few more days.

11 October Tuesday

I heard voices.  I went outside and saw three men and a long narrow truck.  It was an odd looking vehicle. They were from the council and repairing holes in the road.  I was pleased to see them. They commented on how narrow the boreen was and how their truck had been scraped on both sides by brambles and branches.  They had been nervous as they drove down that they might be unable to find a place to turn around. They were worried about having to back the truck all the way up to the farm. I was happy to see them and happy to know the new holes were getting filled. They were happy to see space to turn the truck.  I said I was surprised that they were here at all as I had been told again and again by the council that the trucks that did the sort of repairs we needed doing were all too big to drive down the boreen.  This excuse has been given to me for several years now.  The men said that this truck is a new truck. It is only a few weeks old.  They said their job now is to go around to all of the impossible small roads with this new long narrow vehicle to repair places which have not been repaired for years and years. They are proud of the new truck and they were pleased to have me appreciating it.  They kept pointing out features so that I could continue admiring the truck for longer.

10 October Monday

Dilly has taken to announcing each job that comes along as one that she can do or one that she cannot do.  She prefaces each observation with either the sentence:  This is something I Can do. or This is something I Cannot do.  She is not complaining.  She is simply maintaining a running commentary on herself as she gets older. If she is asked how she is getting on, she always answers: Not a Bother. Not a Bother.

9 October Sunday

The walk up the path is clearing.  Much of the vegetation is dying back so there is less of a thorny grab on clothes and skin as I walk.  One tree which fell across the path has dropped lower.  Now I need to bend from the waist to get under it where as a month ago I could just duck my head a bit.  Crab apples are falling off the trees and that part of the track is deadly.  The small hard apples fall on this same length of path every year but I never get any better at walking over them. It is like walking uphill on ball bearings.

8 October Saturday

The morning fog is white and thick.  I could not see beyond the fence when I woke up.  I could not see the fence.  As the morning went on and the sun slowly burned off the fog, things appeared. Fence. Field. Cows.  I was surprised to see Joe’s cows in the near field.  They had been so quiet and invisible that I had no idea they were out there. I still cannot see the hills yet but I suppose they will appear in the next hour or so.

7 October Friday

The girl in the supermarket had no place on the till to ring up the onions from France.  She suggested that perhaps I would prefer local onions?  I told her that I always have the local onions and that these French onions would be nice for a change.  I said that if I waited until the next time I was in the shop the French onions might be gone so today I wanted to buy French onions because they were there and available for the buying. The girl was flustered.  Then she asked if it was okay if she charged them as bread.  She said that it would appear on my receipt as if I had bought bread when really I would have bought onions. She worried that I might mind. She worried that I might be confused when I got home. We finally agreed that I understood fully that there would be no onions listed on the till receipt but that did not mean I had not bought onions. The girl was reassured that it would not worry me at all.

Loose Lichen Letting Go

8 September Thursday

Nellie was speaking of a man.  She said he was Old and Short and Timid. She said that was enough.  She said that was enough to say it all.

7 September Wednesday

Breda and I walked in the mountains. The sky was white with moisture and with fog. We were sure it would rain so we wore full waterproofs but it never rained.  It just looked wet and it felt wet. We could not see any distance at all.  The mountains and the hills and the horizon completely disappeared. All we saw were lots of ghost-like sheep appearing and then disappearing in the whiteness.  Many had red paint on their backs but there were some with both red and blue markings. For the few minutes before the sheep disappeared in the mist, the colours looked really bright in the otherwise whited-out world. All was quiet and white and damp.

6 September Tuesday

The girl was trying to be helpful.  When I asked if the eye drops were okay for people wearing contact lenses she said “Oh I am sure they are.”  She said “I am after using them myself and they are wonderful for dry eyes.”  I asked her if she wore contact lenses.  She said “No, but I wear glasses.”

Two week ago I was in a shop and I tried on a pair of shoes which were a kind of reddish brown leather.  The shoes did not fit.  The woman serving me went to the back room to see if there was another pair in the correct size.  She came back with an armful of boxes.  She could not find my size in that shoe style so instead she pulled out every pair of red shoes that she could find. She too was trying to be helpful.


5 September Monday

The bread man delivers bread from his small truck. He does not carry cakes or biscuits or anything else. He only delivers bread. Some of the loaves are sliced and wrapped in waxed paper.  Some of the loaves are just sitting on the floor or on a metal shelf.  The bread delivery man has a large wooden tray which he loads up with whatever bread the shop has requested.  He carries it across the street and into the shop. If it is raining there is no protection for the unwrapped bread.  Lucky for the bread, it is a short walk across the street.

4 September Sunday

The first Sunday in September is the traditional day for the All-Ireland Hurling Final.  This year the two teams playing were Kilkenny and Tipperary. They have been meeting each other in the finals for many years. The competition between the two counties is fierce. Everything everywhere is decorated with the respective team colours.  Bunting and flags, hats and shirts, cars and buildings. I think maybe the two teams have met for the finals six times in the last nine years.  Kilkenny has won six times. Some other counties have won in that time too but Tipperary has not won for nine years.  There was a deep silence everywhere in the county as people were either up in Dublin or in their homes watching the match.  Tipperary won.  There is wild joy among the fans. The Liam McCarthy Cup is the prize and now the cup will be traveling around the county for a year. It will go to schools and to shops and to small villages and to every sort of event.  It will be touched and rubbed and kissed.  Many many people will have their photograph taken with The Liam McCarthy. But first there will be a huge parade and welcoming party for the team on Monday night up in Thurles.  Everyone who went to the match will be there and everyone who did not get to go to the match will be there. It will be the middle of the week before things get back to normal in Tipperary.

3 September Saturday

I continue to collect and dry and glue up my pieces of lichen.  Some days it is difficult to find any pieces at all. Some days I find a lot. I was certain that after last night’s wind and wild rain that the ground would be strewn with copious clumps of lichen in the undergrowth. I took a little bag ready to fill it with huge pickings. I  imagined the birds scrabbling away on the branches, trying to hold on tight to stop themselves from being blown away.  I imagined their feet loosening lots of lichen.  I imagined Masses of Loose Lichen Letting Go. As I walked up the path I got very excited about all I would find.  If the winds and the birds did loosen lichen last night, the winds blew it far from the branches where it had been living.  I failed to find a single bit in the entire length of wooded area where I was expecting such bounty.  I put the little bag into my pocket and just went on with my walk.


2 September Friday

The word Fáilte is omnipresent.  It is in every single bit of advertising for the country and its tourism. The official expression is Céad Míle Fáilte which translates as A Hundred Thousand Welcomes.  Fáilte by itself is widely used too.  It is on doormats and flowerpots and little signs. Recently I saw a postbox with NO FÁILTE in small white vinyl letters.  I had to stop in order to look at it more closely because I thought that maybe some other letters had peeled off and the NO was not really NO but part of a bigger word.  But in this case No means No.  The man who lives inside the closed gate and up the steep drive is not very sociable. There is a long drive, many mature trees and heavy undergrowth which ensures that his house is not visible from the road. On a good day this man might be called morose. On other days he would be called miserable. I have not set eyes on him for years.  I am not sure I would even recognize him.  He was never very friendly then and it seems he is even less interested in people now. The always closed gate would be enough to let people know that he welcomes no one but announcing NO FÁILTE like this means he really really does not want visitors. A KEEP OUT sign would do the job. It might be a little less harsh.