The Castlehaven wildflower show was displaying in glorious Technicolor last Sunday, only better than any camera lens or Photoshop could contrive, writes Damien Enright.
It was an impromptu and unpublicised performance, in a modest field, down a modest byroad. I heard about it from a reader, to whom I must, again, express my gratitude. I learn much from readers: I am an echo-chamber of their observations and insights. Some contact me at intervals of years to alert me to another gem or perception. I would be much at a loss but for readers.
A learning curve is a wonderful sleigh ride, once one passes the golden age of 50, and, in this wildflowers meadow, I found a wealth of education amongst the vegetation. Some of it I still have to sort out. I took pictures and am consulting books. And the internet, too, of course, although one has to be cautious with it. I once read that the Bandon River flows into Courtmacsherry Bay.
I’m still puzzling over which cranesbill flower was prevalent in this meadow. I have two candidates. I’m wondering how the colour-dappled — and, in places, daubed — meadow came to be there. It isn’t so mysterious, I suppose: somebody planted it.
But who, these days, is so altruistic as to plant a wayside field, as opposed to their front lawn, with wildflowers?
I must say that it’s a brilliant (in all senses of the word) idea. It sure brightens up the countryside, especially when it comprises prairie fields forever green, which thereabouts actually wasn’t the case.
This was a countryside of the south-west, smallish acres, rocks salient here and there, “lifting their heads to the blows of the rain” in winter (to cite Dylan Thomas), millennia-old, but not yet worn down. It’s a skipping sort of country, up and down and roundabout, the sea ahead, the hills behind.
Great beauty, everywhere:
Castletownshend, the village, Knockdrum Forth and views over miles of spectacular coast, Castlehaven, the beach, and the barely-detectable stump of an O’Driscoll castle ceded
to a Spanish force a few weeks before the fatal battle at Kinsale, in 1702. It’s history, romance and beauty. And now, someone’s laid down a half-acre of mixed and multi-coloured wild flowers, a sort of living gem.
There are corn marigolds in golden profusion, wild chicory so dark a blue that, like DH Laurence’s Bavarian Gentians, they come “with their blaze of darkness”, lilac-coloured cranesbill, white ox-eye daisies, red poppies, purple clover, all in flower. When
the breeze licks lightly across the flowerheads, it would almost make your head swim to look.
Meanwhile, they bask in the sun, and bees buzz and grope them, and butterflies flutter over them, and swallows sweep inches above and catch the insects, which are so busy pollinating them — thankless swallows!— and the meadow is supporting a million creatures in legion forms, each with sustenance to find, while, in the meantime, doing the land a service.
And, while it is wrong to blame the farmers growing grass to feed cattle to feed us, at the same time you’d like to ask them, each and every one, wouldn’t they just run the plough over a few yards more and toss out a few wild flower seeds to bedeck the earth gods with jewels and to feed the insects, in gratitude for their pollination services and for visiting their farm?
That evening, later, I walked along the sea front near my home, and dodged bats whizzing under trees, although, of course, I didn’t need to, but one bat did suddenly shoot up in front of my eyes, a split second of bat-shape against the dying light, in an almost vertical climb from my chin to my forehead, perhaps gulping down the insect he was pursuing as he went.
The rooks in their nightly thousands flew across the sunset and split it into ten thousand shards, as they scattered black across the sky. The tide was flat out, and the shore, shiny with mud and weed, held pools and handfuls of gold left behind by the ebbing sun. A flock of waders flew from the shore to a sandbank, black, cut-out shapes against the water.
Later, along the beach, I heard the birdsong of waders gathered in the darkness of the water’s edge below me, cheeps and chucks, throaty burbles, rising trills and solitary whistles. The night was pouring down on us.
Somewhere, that bearded seal from the Arctic Circle was hauled up on the living shore of this huge bay.
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