Elderflower Cordial 2024

19 June Wednesday

The tortoise-shell farm cat has had kittens and they are living under the woodpile. Or in the bushes beside the lean-to, or in some section of the lean-to, but maybe not under the firewood. The kittens flee when I approach and the mother snarls and hisses at me. It is my lean-to full of my recycling buckets, paper piles and containers, as well as the firewood, but for now, this cat seems to think it is all hers.

20 June Thursday. Summer Solstice

Today is the Longest Day. The Shortest Night. There is a full moon promised.  The radio assures us all that we will not see another full moon on the Longest Day for seventy years.  I will miss this full moon because I will be asleep well before darkness falls. I will miss the next one too.

21 June Friday

Joe’s cows now wear collars. He told me that the cows have a chip embedded and that he can read all kinds of information about the cow and her health just by looking at his smartphone. He can measure how many kilometres the cow has walked, how much she is eating and if her tummy is giving her trouble. I am uncertain about the chip in the cow and about the function of the collar. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe the collar contains the chip. Some of the older cows do not have a chip so they have been given a second yellow number tag in their ear as well as a collar. It is modern technology. A farmer needs only a smartphone and he can be fully informed about his herd without going out in bad weather.

22 June Saturday

Mam is what children call their mothers. Not Mum or Mom. Not Mummy or Mommy. Here it is always Mam, or Mammy. Or more formally: The Mother. Today, while in town, I saw a display of colourful plasticised messages on fake slates to put on a grave. Even after many years in Ireland, the word Mam surprises me.

23 June Sunday

The grass roof on the book storage and studio shed is in full bloom.  There is a tall blue wild flower growing up there among a variety of grasses.  The birds must have dropped the seeds there and every year there are more of these flowers.   I never see them anywhere else in the area, so I must assume that the eco-system on the roof is exactly right for this plant.

24 June Monday

My annual elderflower cordial has been prepared. Two batches. Immediately after I finished labeling my bottles,  I began to worry that I might not have enough cordial to last us through the winter. This obsession repeats itself every year. There are hundreds of the huge creamy white blossoms visible everywhere in the landscape.  I wake up in the morning in a panic wondering if I really do need to make a third batch.

25 June Tuesday

The building was built into a hill. There was a small café on the first floor with tiny tables scattered around outside, mostly along a narrow stone patio and on down the hill. The tables hugged the side of the building. We found a table out of the wind and right next to a window. After we ordered our food from the waitress, we looked into the window and saw that the room we were seeing was not the interior of the café, but the kitchen. It was downstairs from the café. The kitchen was further down the hill, as we were. We watched as our waitress walked down some steps into the kitchen. She put on a net hat and a long apron. She prepared our toasted sandwiches and a pot of tea. When everything was arranged on a tray, she removed her apron and her hat and walked up the stairs from the kitchen and came out the front door of the cafe and down the hill to serve us.

26 June Wednesday

If he sees something—an open padlock on a gate or a faded hat on a car seat—he has to take it. He is well known in the village for his pilfering. He has to take a thing because he can, not because he wants or needs the thing. Anyone leaving their motor car close to where he lives is always careful to lock it. Anyone who keeps a jar for the small brown coins has come home at least one time to find the jar empty.  He is known to step into a kitchen through the back door and to pour the coins into his pocket, then leave the jar to be refilled. No one, except his brother, ever enters the house where he lives. I imagine the rooms piled high with the things he brings home, but for which he has no use.


27 June Thursday

The fields and roads are full of tractors and combines and large machinery that I cannot name. Silage is being cut and bundled into plastic-wrapped bales. Usually the bales are black but today I saw some bright white ones. The bales are piled in the middle of fields or on the edges of fields near to a road waiting for collection. Some of the bales are piled beside a shed, or inside a shed. There are bales everywhere.

28 June Friday

I feel sad each year when the Cow Parsley passes. The white froth of the blossoms lines the roads and makes every journey feel thrilling. Now we are left with a dry, skeletal look to the verges. The Giant Hogweed grows taller by the minute. It is an invasive and horrible weed and if the sap from the stems gets on skin in the sunlight, it causes a painful blistering and weeping rash that takes many months to go away. The wide white flowers have none of the delicacy of Cow Parsley. People call it The Russian Weed because it is understood to have moved across Europe from Russia. It is tall. It looms on thick sturdy stems. It is threatening. Russia is blamed for this invasion.

Bog Cotton is another name always used in place of a proper name. While Russian Weed is mentioned with distaste, Bog Cotton is said with delight. It looks like a small tuft of sheep’s wool caught on a stem. I am told people used to collect the Bog Cotton to stuff their pillows. I can see that it would take a lot of Bog Cotton to fill up a pillow, even a small pillow. Cotton Sedge or Cotton Grass is the actual name and the name is not so different, but because Bog Cotton grows in the dampness of a peaty bog, it is always called Bog Cotton.

29 June Saturday

There was a busload of German tourists at the Farmers Market today. At first I thought they were Dutch but when I heard them talking I knew they were German. Their bus was a small bus. A mini-bus. But it was a full bus and the Germans had already been to the castle and for thirty or forty minutes before they all got back on their bus, they walked around the market admiring, discussing and photographing things. They called to one another and pointed out things not to be missed.  They all spent a long time looking at Ned Lonergan’s carved wooden bowls and egg cups.  Then one woman shouted and they all ran over to where she was. They were photographing the two nettles growing out of each side of the back of my car.  One is small but the other one has grown long and leggy. Every single person was checked before they got back on the bus.  If they did not yet have a photograph of my nettles they were sent back to get one. It had become a requirement that they each have this same souvenir photo.

30 June Sunday

I heard Simon shouting.  He was shouting at the cattle in the yard.  There were seven of them.  We thought that they had broken in from the adjoining field, but we were wrong. They had jumped over a fence from Joe’s upper field and through a space that had been opened up by yesterday’s enormous messy clearing of the ditches. They hopped down a steep banking onto the track. From there, they went with gravity, running downhill and into our garden.  The drop from their field was more than a meter.  I do not know why they did not break legs on the jump down, but they were young, frisky and nimble. We chased them up the boreen and I left Simon with a stick to guard the break-out place with orders not to let any more of the cattle jump.  They were mooing and moaning and shrieking at one another from the herd  in the field of one Joe across to the herd in the field of the other Joe. I reached the farm with the seven rushing ahead of me. They took off toward the road.  I was dialing numbers and trying to reach someone anyone on several phones, leaving messages and quickly dialing another number.  I ran in and knocked the door and went shouting into the open doors of the barns. There was no one anywhere.  I rushed back to try to distract the cattle from running to the road where they might be hit by a car.  They had already come back, perhaps to find me. As a group, they jumped up on a shelf of mowed grass about a metre off the ground and huddled there waiting to see what we might do next. I opened one gate into a field and closed off two other gates to try to contain and direct them. Cows do not come when called.  It is better to be behind them than in front of them. I knew this much. I hid off to the side in some bushes to encourage them to go through the open gate.  After about thirty minutes of this game, Joe appeared and he directed me and together we drove them through the open gate.  I walked him down and showed him where they had broken out and left him to sort out his fencing problem.

1 July Monday

Twice a day, the local radio station, Tipp FM, reads out the Public Service Announcements. These announcements are the reporting of deaths in the county. Each name and place of residence is read out, followed by the time and location of the wake and then the location of the funeral and burial on the following day. Married women are always listed first by their married name, and then by the name they were born with. This is done using the French word Née: Lily Crosse Née Tully, but the word Née is never pronounced like the French Née. It is pronounced strongly like KNEE, as if the word is capitalised and must be said loud: Lily Crosse KNEE Tully.

2 July Tuesday

Bernadette and Noel love toast. They do not eat bread unless it is toasted. Even bread that has been baked fresh in the morning and that is still warm and fragrant from the oven is toasted. So great is their dislike of eating untoasted bread that they own two toasters. The two toasters sit side by side on the counter top. They are terrified that if their toaster breaks they will have no toast. By owning two toasters, they can rest assured that they will not be caught short.

3 July Wednesday

The mother cat and her three, four or five kittens may have decamped. Up until now, each time I went under the lean-to to put things into bins or to deposit newspapers, cardboard, bottles, or plastics for recycling, the mother has bared her teeth and snarled at me. This is the same mother who comes whining and screeching at the kitchen door looking for food two or three times a day. This is the mother who have I resisted giving a name because I just do not like her enough to name her. I call her Mother, but I do not use the name in a friendly nor encouraging way.

5 July Friday

The weather continues to be unsettled. It is grey and overcast. It is not cold but it is certainly not hot. It does not feel like July. I took a bowl outside this morning and filled it with raspberries. I was wearing my pyjamas, determined to pretend to myself that this was a lovely early summer morning. Reaching deep into the leafy canes to get the ripest berries, I touched the back of both hands with nettles. All day I have been miserable with the tingling of nettle stings. The raspberries were gone by the end of breakfast, but the stinging lasted all day.




The Egg in The Window

17 May Friday

I was feeling deeply exhausted with a terrible headache and all kinds of muscle aches.  I finally decided that I was suffering from more than ordinary jet lag. I took a test and discovered that I had Covid. It seems unfair that I strolled all the way through the many months and years of the entire pandemic in Full Health and now I get this nasty variant that is making the rounds. I cannot write more. I must go and lie down.

20 May Monday

Simon has it too. No wonder we all worked so hard to avoid Covid during all of those many weeks. We are both feeling horrible and not really knowing how to identify one kind of discomfort from another. I must go and lie down.

22 May Wednesday

It is a month ago today that we heard the cuckoo. I had taken Barbara up into the Knockmealdowns to walk across to the Mass Rock and I promised her that if we were lucky we might hear the Cuckoo. We were lucky. Over the next few days, we told every single person we saw about hearing the cuckoo, and everyone we told was pleased and a little bit envious. There is an extremely short period of time in which to hear the cuckoo. Increasingly one needs to be far away from people and civilization, preferably in the mountains at the exact right time. Tommie told us that he had not heard one for fifteen years, or more.

24 May Friday

Each morning, I am woken up by birdsong. This is a good thing. They are busy and noisy all day long.

25 May Saturday

I am finally able to read again. It was impossible to read much of anything with the throbbing Covid headache. As always, I turn to the Maigret books of Georges Simenon when I am feeling fragile. I have devoured six in the last three days. It does not matter how many times I have read or re-read them. They always engage me. I must go and lie down.

27 May Monday

Other victims of this strain of Covid told us that we must expect that it will take at least three weeks to get over the deep fatigue. I did not believe them. Or I did not believe that I would fall victim to such debilitating exhaustion. Now I believe it. I am forced to believe it. I must go and lie down.

28 May Tuesday

Jacinta brought us a bottle of Vitamin Tonic from Maher’s Pharmacy. The owners make their own tonic from a special family recipe.  I have no idea what is in it but it tastes like root beer.  Jacinta promises that it will help to put us right.  I am willing to believe anything if it makes me feel better.

31 May Friday

We have slowly been crawling up and out of the endless feeling of weakness. A small wander around the garden is plenty.  I can accomplish a few short jobs and that is all. Every day is punctuated with naps. Every time I feel that I am fully back to normal, I am overwhelmed with both physical and mental fatigue. It is an uphill battle. I must go and lie down.

1 June Saturday

The gooseberries are not ripe, but they are ripening. They are hard and not ready to pick yet. I hope they do not ripen too quickly. I know that I must watch them carefully. Last year the birds had many more of them than I had. I do not have the energy yet to go out and fight for my share.

3 June Monday

The day has been in and out with every kind of weather. Believing it to be a great drying day, I hung out a laundry. Torrential rain fell in the middle of the afternoon. The rain stopped and then the wind began gusting. The washing line snapped with the combination of the extra weight of sodden garments and turbulent surges of wind.

4 June Tuesday

Mary, the black cat, never comes down from the farm looking for food any more. The big black and white cat who used to fight her for scraps arrives, as does a bad-tempered tortoise shell cat who is happy to fight with the black and white one. I do not have names for these two. I do not like them well enough to give them names. I rarely put out food for them anymore. They can go up and drink milk and catch mice at the farm which is what they are supposed to do anyway. Two magpies swoop down to check out any dish that is left outside. When one of the magpies eats, the other one sits on the table watching and then they change places. Simon is as delighted with them as I was with Mary. He wants to make a bread and butter pudding for the magpies.

5 June Wednesday

Maura is old and she is not very well.  Her two younger brothers came to visit her recently because she might not live much longer. They wanted to say their goodbyes.  One of the brothers lives somewhere in England. Near Gloucester, I think.  The other brother has lived as a missionary priest somewhere in Africa for forty-six years. One morning the priest cooked breakfast for Maura.  It was an egg fried in a square hole that had been cut out of a slice of white bread. He called it The Egg in The Window. It is the only thing he knows how to cook.  Maura said the egg was overcooked, but she ate it and pretended that it was delicious.

6 June Thursday

Applications forms are now available for anyone wishing to enter the Clonmel Show. As always, I peruse the categories eagerly. My favorite is No. 21. 6 Fruit Scones

7 June Friday

Today is election day all over Europe. We are voting for local councilors, as well as for Members of the European Parliament. I knew there were a large number of people running for these offices. We have received pieces of paper every day. Each piece of paper has been the exact same size with a photograph of the candidate as well as information about their party, or their independence from any political party. Some times the information was in both Irish and English. Sometimes the piece of paper was delivered to the door by a candidate, but most of them arrived with the postman. With two voters in the house we received two of everything. Signs with faces have been posted on trees and on telephone poles. Their presence changes our landscape. I am ready for these faces to be gone. We went down to the grade school in the village to cast our votes. There were at least 25 names on the MEP ballot paper. It was printed on a very long sheet of paper. I liked that each person’s profession was listed: Nursing Lecturer, Architect, Bricklayer, Barrister, Farmer, etc.

8 June Saturday

I am feeling better and stronger every day. I am taking fewer naps. I do not feel all the way well, but the terrible weariness is finally fading.

11 June Tuesday

Last night, Breda convinced me to join herself, Siobhán and Jean for a walk in the mountains. She promised that it would be a gentle walk, and not too long. I said yes. I fell asleep wondering what I might take with me for my lunch. I knew we had no more bread, so I could not make myself a sandwich. In the morning, I changed my mind and said no. I did not know if I could make a two and a half hour walk. I did not want to slow the others with my weakness. Then I said yes, and off we went. We started at The Vee, just to the right of the painted arrow, and we climbed steeply for a bit.  When the path evened out, we walked along the side of Sugarloaf. We passed close by the Grubb Monument, which is the tomb of Samuel Grubb, a lapsed Quaker, who died in 1921. Before he died, at the age of 65, he designed a beehive shaped stone grave for himself. He said that he wanted to be buried standing up straight so that he could keep watch over ‘his people’ and ‘his fields’. He was indeed buried vertically, but locals claim that the men doing the entombing placed him into his grave upside down, so that his head is at the bottom, not at the top. He was not as popular with the masses as he thought he was. It is said that his dog is buried with him.

We continued down as far as Bay Lough and ate our lunch by the lake, the hills covered by masses of rhododendrons just coming into blossom. I returned home completely exhausted, but for the first time in weeks, it was a good kind of tired not the debilitating kind.

14 June Friday

Rain. Hail. Sun. Rain. Cloud. Rain. Hail. Hail. Sun. Hail.  Another day full of rapidly changing weather. It is not the same for more than a few minutes at a time.

After The Grand National

4 April Thursday

A second bright day. There is rain forecast for later but right now the day is bright and the sky is blue. The cows have been turned out and it appears that every field is full.

5 April Friday

I have received a summons to appear for jury duty. I sat on a jury some years ago and after that I was given a piece of paper saying that I need never do it again. The day that I was selected for that jury, I met an older woman in the car park who recognised me from the morning of jury selection. She had been among the initial group but she had not been chosen. She was deeply disappointed. The woman was nicely dressed. She wanted to appear tidy and respectable and reliable. I felt she was lonely and perhaps hoped for the activity of sitting on a jury with a group of people as a way to fill her days. She said that she was envious that I had been chosen. We talked for a few minutes and then she wished me luck.  As she turned away, the woman said, “And you, you are not even Irish.” I was not sure if I was meant to hear this. Nor was I certain if her comment was simply an observation or if she felt that someone born in the country should have priority in these situations.  I decided not to ask what she meant.

6 April Saturday

Storm Kathleen is bludgeoning us. We have been warned. The sound is endless and interrupted only by lashings of hard beating torrential rain. I watch the bird feeders being blown left and right and waving in the air fully horizontal. The birds hold on and they keep eating, no matter which way the feeders are blown.

8 April Monday

Forget-me-nots. Robin Run the Hedge. Honesty. Bluebells. Ferns. Harebells. Grape Hyacinths. Apple blossom. Wild Garlic flowers. Every day there are more spring flowers and plants to see. There are ones that I know and others that I do not have names for. I am happy to see them all.

9 April Tuesday

The bright red board with yellow squares around the edges is in position to alert and to prevent anyone from backing into the structure behind it. I do not know what it is protecting but it is at the petrol station, so it is something to do with fuel.

10 April Wednesday

A shallykabukie is moving slowly across the window. I would not have noticed this snail in its striped shell except that I have been running to look out the window at the men above in Joe’s field. The men are replacing the utility pole. A few hours ago we lost our power. Looking on the ESB app, we found out that 452 houses had lost their electricity. The engineers were looking to locate the problem. Within the hour, 451 houses had their power restored. We remain without electricity. The pole beside us has fallen down. Its bottom is completely rotten and the weeks and weeks of unending rain meant that there was no way for it to remain standing. The afternoon is windy but dry. Eight men and two big JCBs arrived to do the job. Every so often, I run outside to watch and report on their progress.  Sometimes I just look out the window. The shallykabukie keeps making its way slowly across the window. By the time the electric is restored, it still has a long way to go.

11 April Thursday

The display for Signed Prayer Cards is large, and it is new. Twelve cards are on display for seven euros each. I asked Stacey why anyone would want to buy a card already signed by someone else. She explained that the cards were signed by the priest and also by the sender. The card was a guarantee to the recipient that the priest would mention the death or the illness of whoever the card is sent to during his next Mass. The priest would get everyone to pray together for that person. All for seven euro.

13 April Saturday

Breda told me that she saw the first swallow on the 9th. I have yet to see one myself, but I am on the look-out.

15 April Monday

Everyone is discussing The Grand National. Irish horses did very well on the day. Everyone is proud. The whole country is proud, even those who do not regularly follow the horses. A woman in the shop was thrilled that a horse named I am Maximus won Big. She announced to everyone in the shop that she should have bet on that horse. She was as excited as she might have been if she had actually bet on the horse. She said she should have bet on that horse because her dog is named Maximus. She said she would have bet on that horse if she had known his name and if she had someone to place a bet for her. She said that she had never before bet on a horse, not even once in her life and she did not even know how to place a bet but if she had known about this horse with the same name as her dog she would have surely bet on it and then she too would have won Big.

16 April Tuesday

Anthony told me that Mena was away in France for The Bones of Two Weeks. She might have only been away for eight or nine or ten days but by saying The Bones of Two Weeks, he meant most of that time. The implication is that there is not much left of two weeks by the time she returns. He could have said that Mena was away for a little more than a week but he did not. Mena is short for Philomena.

17 April Wednesday

I set off up the Mass Path.  I was pleased at how much drier things were, but then I stepped on a mossy rock and it was too slippery to hold me. I fell flat into the mud. I landed hard with my whole body. It was a thump that took my breath away but I felt proud that I had been able to keep my face from landing in the mud. I turned around and went back home. I was too wet and cold and heavy with clumpy mud all over my clothes and my hands to continue.

18 April Thursday

Five, maybe six, days now without rain. We are all reeling with pleasure. It is cold. The wind is sharp. But it is dry. Ploughing is being done in all directions. The tractors race along the roads from field to field. Everyone is in a hurry. Every field without cows or sheep in it is being prepared for planting. The whole district feels busy.

19 April Friday

Today I received notice back from the Courts Department. The letter excused me from Jury Duty with the expression: “on foot of the summons served on you…” I have been thinking about this terminology all day.

20 April Saturday

In my life, there continues to be a mix-up between the words call and ring. I always make the mistake of saying that I will call someone and they respond by saying: “Oh, no need to call! Just give me a ring.”  To call is to drop by and visit. Calling in on someone means they will be obligated to offer tea and maybe some biscuits. A call demands etiquette. A quick chat by phone is something else. When someone says that they tried to ring and the phone Rang Out, it means that no one picked up the incoming call. It rang and rang and there was no answer. When a number Rings Foreign, the person ringing can tell that the telephone is out of the country. I seem to be the only one who does not understand how the dial tone sounds different when the person at the other end of a phone line is abroad.