Cormac MacConnell: First swallow of year lifts everyone’s spirits

There is one simple sentence which I have most relished writing for as long as I have been in this strange business. I am overjoyed to be able to write it again for you all today — today I saw my first swallow of the year.
Cormac MacConnell: First swallow of year lifts everyone’s spirits

I saw her above Saint Ann’s Community College in Killaloe, Co Clare, across the garden wall from my home. It was just before noon last Monday and the blue skies of the current good spell were empty for her arrival.

She was the first of her generation to arrive and she will never know how much primal pleasure the sight of her gave to me.

There is something very surreal and special for all of us each spring when the swallows come back into our horizons and signal that winter is gone at last, bar the inevitable dying kick, and that spring is here and all will be brighter from this day forth.

Thank whatever God that we believe in for that.

Now delving into my 70s I am well aware that some April will arrive inside the next couple of decades when I will not be here to write the sentence of joy and celebration above. Long may that be delayed.

Meantime, as I watched her flitting over the school roof last Monday, the young swallow of this year brought me more elemental pleasure even than she will bring to the mate that will join her soon in this lovely Shannonside region by Lough Derg. The pure truth yet again.

I think that maybe our swallows are not mere birds at all. They are not of the same ilk as the robins and tits and finches and blackbirds that colonise our worlds all the year around.

They are indices to the cycles of our mortal realities. They are more beautiful and lissom and mysterious than any of the other avians that flight above our heads for a few months from April onwards until the autumn.

The young lady I saw last Monday had alighted from darkest Africa, with all its social and economic problems, across the Mediterranean with its lethal migrant boats, past Gibraltar that is becoming a Brexit cockpit, all the way to the shores of Lough Derg and the silvery breast of the Shannon a few hundred yards away between Clare and Tipperary.

The sight of her almost brought tears to my eyes. And that is again the pure truth.

The Irish robin is a cheeky little randy bastard that has a harem in two or three gardens and will boldly raid your kitchen, given half a chance. The dunnocks and sparrows and tits and finches are common citizens of the garden, that cats often prey upon.

The rooks and crows and pigeons and magpies normally operate in a world outside our ken. Your blackbird, by his girth and build and the colour of his bill, is the best indicator of all to the quality and fertility of the local geography.

But the swallow, living above us on the wing until September and the first frosts, represents a different dimension of living altogether.

Out of nowhere comes a lovely swallow yarn I heard one time in Roscommon.

The hand-milking small farmer was coming out of his byre with a new bucket of warm milk when he slipped and staggered and came into the path of the mother swallow flying into the shed to feed her brood in the rafters above.

She broke her neck in the collision and fell into his bucket of milk. Despite this he ran the milk through his strainer above the churn. Waste not, want not.

Afterwards did he not notice that there was what looked like glittering speckles of something in the strainer pad.

Later in the year, when the swallows had all gone back to Africa, he took down all the nests from the byre rafters, ran them with hot water through his cotton strainers, and dammit if there was not enough gold dust in them, from generations of African swallows, for him to buy the big farm next door and ensure a prosperous future.

His theory was that migrating swallows, from some gold-rich region of Africa, had freighted over enough gold dust in their plumage for him to hugely benefit.

I don’t know if that is the pure truth or not but I surely loved the story and thought of it as I watched this year’s young lady stooping and sweeping over Clarisford Park and the school next door.

All through the coming summer your skies and mine will be brightened and lightened from morning to evening by the presence of the most beautiful lifestyles of our swallows.

Their flights will scissor the darkest of clouds on the murky days and garnish the golden mornings and afternoons of our hopefully frequent spells of good weather.

They will be our barometers, as they always have been, by flying high in the sky after their insect swarms in good weather and only reluctantly feeding at lower levels when the weather turns heavier and more humid and murky as, sadly, we know well it sometimes will.

But their sheer beauty and speed and aerial agility will always illuminate and glorify our skylines and sight lines and that, for sure, is the pure truth.

Allegedly wiser men than you and I have warned for generations that one swallow does not make a summer. They are wrong there.

One swallow, like the young lady I saw on this Monday over Killaloe does truthfully make a summer and does not have to give any kind of guarantee at all as to the kind of summer it will be by our exacting standards.

Personally , hope that the arriving clan will always have to fly high between now and September but it really does not matter all that much in real terms.

They are back again and winter has fled. That is what really counts.

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