I had to travel far to appreciate home

WE arrived home to spring in all its glorious colours, and to lovely weather.

After two months in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, I was stopped in my tracks when I emerged from the Pier House bar in Courtmacsherry, following a sociable pint in the wake of the Patrick’s Day parade, and saw the boats, the bay and the fields beyond lit up as clear and sharp and vivid as Wordsworth saw London from Westminster Bridge in the late 1700s: ‘... all bright and glittering in the smokeless air’.

For two months I hadn’t seen a view with such clarity. Humidity hazes distances, water vapour in suspension softens the edges, dulls the colours.

Here, it was hard-edge and dazzling; I paused and marvelled. It is wonderful how travel gives one a new perspective on the familiar, at home.

Our trip was an adventure, not a holiday. It was wonderful travelling and, as we flew back to London from Colombo, the capital of what was Ceylon, we estimated we’d taken 80 journeys. We’d ridden planes, trains, suicidally-driven buses and minivans, tuk-tuks, long-tailed boats, ferries, motorcycles and trucks. And survived them.

When we reached Cork airport and our last journey — home to West Cork — we found that the faithful friend who would have transported us had mistaken the day. But, so accustomed were we to days and nights on buses, that our first thought was to bus it into Cork and catch the connection home.

We had hardly considered the plan when I heard my name called and I turned to find five Courtmacsherry lifeboat men behind me — rescue at hand. Returning from delivering a boat to the UK, they had been on the same flight and had a minibus arranged to take them home to the village, with two empty seats.

So, the kindness of Ireland and West Cork welcomed us home. By coincidence, my new book, entitled The Kindness of Place: Twenty Years in West Cork had just made landed in the shops on Mar 23. Hardly had our feet touched the ground when we experienced a reaffirmation of that kindness. The Celtic Tiger may have induced greed in some quarters, but here the spirit of community, the kindness of people — and, of course, climate — still obtains.

Also present to greet us, as soon as we opened the curtains on our bedroom window on the first morning home, was Ron, the foundling heron we raised from babyhood into the fine, wild bird he is today.

He had been assiduously fed by our good-hearted neighbour, Beth Hanly — with her husband, Kevin, going down to the trawler at night to collect buckets of by-catch from the O’Donovans (need I say more about the kindness of place?) — but, somehow, on the first morning we were back, that uncanny bird knew that he need no longer go and stand on the Hanly’s backyard shed and wait for Beth to lead him across the road to our house and breakfast (he would trot after her for the 100-yard passage) because his surrogate parents were back on call.

Ron looked magnificent, coming into maturity, two six-inch-long, jet-black, ‘pigtail’ feathers on his crown. He/she (we don’t know which) will not breed in this, his first year. Today, passing a local wood, I spotted three herons’ nests high in the canopy and saw a bird fly in to pass a fish to its mate on the nest, and loft away on its big, half-umbrella wings to fish for more.

A pair of egrets were just beginning nesting. In the silence of the afternoon, one could hear soft squawks and burblings from the treetops, the sounds of courtship and harmony, I think.

In the woods, the bluebells are showing, and the garlic-smelling ramsons and wood anemones open when the sun moves around. They close when clouds pass. Celandine, primroses, the first sea pinks (very purple) and the white flowers of sceacs are all in bloom. I saw a red admiral butterfly and heard bumblebees buzzing as if summer was here.

On the cliffs, the ravens have small, pink, squirmy things in the nest.

Before long, fat, sleek fledglings, perfect clones of their parents, will fill the cup, and then they will fly and be at home in the air.


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