Ophelia bombarded us but Shelley’s leaves clung on

In the wake of Storm Ophelia, on the Tuesday morning, we opened the curtains on a world of blinding sunlight, and opened the French windows on a world a-buzz with the sound of chainsaws, writes Damien Enright

It was breathtaking; the morning and the day could not have been better. The good fortune of a friend from the Canary Islands who happened to come by to visit us was profound; he would see Ireland, our part of it, on, I believe, the loveliest day this year.

Yes, there was debris strewn across the garden. The big beeches had withstood the blast but lost a million leaves and the grounded twigs and small branches, were we to gather them, would provide a small mountain of kindling for the beech-wood barbecues of next summer (when we hope there will be mackerel, for there were all but none this year).

The sun was bright, the air was warm and two red admiral butterflies rose from a bush which had retained its blossom. Where, and how, had they rode out the wild gusts that had thrown buckets and garden seats and flowerpots all over the yard? However, there they were, without a single rip in their bright white, deep black, brilliant, red-banded wings, the legs and antennae intact and undamaged despite the fierce blasts that had raked the field across the steam and snapped off the trunk of a 20m Scots pine half way up.

The small apple tree in our front garden had lost only two of its 50 or 60 ripe and russet apples. How that came about, what fortunate eddy gently embraced it, while chaos and violence raged all around, we can’t know. In the event, on the Monday night, we certainly stayed indoors and let the elements take possession of the world while we cowered over candles and did crosswords to pass the time. Outside, they gathered force and at intervals blew through the beeches like the sounds of scheduled express trains passing.

On the beeches, some leaves let go, while some hung on. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote an anthropomorphic poem in which he had a leaf telling us the it was the last on the branch, the last leaf of summer, so to speak, when all its comrades were gone. I’d quote it but I couldn’t do it faithfully. I can’t find it on Google, not having the poem’s title or a solid excerpt in my numb skull, and the book where I could find it is at home. So, as many of us have learnt through the sobering influence of our Irish hurricane (which gathered its winds and harnessed its power with no help from our technology) even the internet won’t help if we can’t give it a hint.

‘Our Irish hurricane’ was category 2, with wind speeds of 191kph at Fastnet Rock: by the time it made landfall it had ‘abated’ a tad, if a wind that swayed trees with trunks a metre in diameter could be said to have ‘abated’. How can anybody, or building or plant, survive above ground in the category 5 hurricanes Irma (winds 298km/h) or Maria (winds 282km/h) that, already this year, have swept the Caribbean islands and devastated some of the poorest communities on earth? We think we had it fierce and fearsome. Think of what they went through. Losing electricity was the least of their worries.

It is in Clonakilty that I’m writing this report, compliments of O’Donovan’s Hotel, that was already a West Cork institution long before I roamed the dusty streets in bare feet in summer, and the ‘Taint a Bird’ Flying Fortress American bomber belly flopped into White’s Marsh, outside the town, in April 1943.

My parents entertained the crew for an evening at our home in Emmet Square and the pilot gave me a small version of a Bowie knife as a souvenir, which my mother kept in a China
cabinet until, decades later, I let my kids take it out and use it, and it got lost. Pity! It could have joined the many Taint a Bird souvenirs in the China cabinets of O’Donovan’s Hotel. At home, at our chocolate-box village at the end of the world (but on the Wild Atlantic Way certainly wild on Monday night!) we have no electricity may not have until Friday or Saturday.

Driving the back roads on the way to Clonakilty, we regularly met valiant council workers with chainsaws and JCBs clearing trees. The views, over Clonakilty Bay far below them
was spectacular. I suggested one of them posed with chainsaw while I took a photo. We had a good laugh, but he wouldn’t. He was too modest, of course.


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