Damien Enright: Absence makes the heart grow fonder my dreoilín

Damien Enright: Absence makes the heart grow fonder my dreoilín

Herons are like living statues. Here, the ‘new’ heron, brought as a starveling by a neighbour a year ago, is competing with a figure by Ian Wright.

Every morning, the wild montbretia around our garden is flaring brighter than the morning before. In morning sunlight, the clump in front of the exotic giant rhubarb, aka Gunnera, flares like a small bonfire.

The heron stands by the pond, and the little wren that nests amongst the dense green leaves, white buds and four-petalled flowers of the climbing hydrangea swoops to and fro, to and fro, bringing breakfast to family. By the time I see it at around eight o’clock, it has probably already been working for hours.

The garden is alive with birds. Our absence and negligence will have helped. When we arrived back on July 4, it was a jungle. Possibly to the disappointment of the wildlife and the detriment of my suffering back, it is now 25% cleared. My wife, who has been attending weekly yoga sessions for years, is 80% responsible. Like the wren, she is indefatigable.

Dreoilín is the soft and rolling Irish name for the little brown wren, a bird which, as we know has been embraced in the affections and legends of the Irish since ancient times.

The suffix of ‘-ín’ implies affection, end-notes to the names of people and things small and treasured -coilín, gairdín, baidín, teachín. Strangely, when the Anglicised -‘-een’ is used, disaffection rather than affection is implied, as in gombeen, shoneen, and jackeen.

Troglodytes troglodytes is the bird’s scientific name. A troglodyte is a person who lives in a cave and/or is behind the times. The wren isn’t normally a cave dweller: the name probably refers to its habit of foraging in crevices such as gaps in stone walls.

Our garden wren nests amongst the dense green leaves, white buds, and four-petalled flowers of a pretty climbing hydrangea using a post supporting our balcony to reach the roof.

It is a very welcome bird in the garden, and this will be its second clutch this year. I don’t dare start poking amongst the foliage to find the nest, for fear of scaring it away. In the days when boys and girls were encouraged to collect birds’ eggs as a worthy part of nature study, my pals and I regularly found wren’s nests, balls of moss and down on walls or trees and inserted our thieving fingers to carefully steal one of the five or six eggs, tiny, shiny white orbs with rust-coloured spots, thin-shelled and delicate. What vandals we were!

In those troglodytical days, local ‘big fellas’ would annually catch a wren so as to ‘enthrone’ it, dead or alive, on top of a bush while they, all dressed up in straw cloaks, would make the rounds of the town soliciting donations to finance a ‘Wren Ball’ celebration. Enthusiastically, if unharmoniously, they sang, “The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,/ On Stephen’s Day got caught in the furze” ending with, “ If you haven’t a penny, a halfpenny will do/ If you haven’t a halfpenny/ God bless you!”

I remember seeing wran-boys in The Square in Clonakilty and being annoyed that the wren was so small I couldn’t see it, but I was small myself at the time.

An English friend tells me that a lammergeier, a bird at the larger end of the avian size scale, turned up in the Peak District in the UK last week. Lammergeiers, with wingspans of almost three metres, are second only to condors in flighted bird size, and are unique in being the only bird whose diet is almost exclusively bones. In the Pyrenees, they rip these from carrion and drop them from heights of 80m on to flat rocks to break them, thus gaining access to the marrow.

When I told him about the 23 buzzards found poisoned near Timoleague late last year, he was appalled. The perpetrator of this atrocity clearly feels that he is being attacked by buzzards. The buzzards’ diet is carrion, road-kill, rodents, rabbits, and fledgling birds, and they are regularly seen picking over ploughland for worms and invertebrates. If there were caves on the Timoleague-Bandon road, I’d suggest the poisoner is an insecure and delusional troglodyte, seriously behind the times.

A recent global survey of the effects of spreading rock dust — especially basalt — on farmland indicates that billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide could be sucked from the air every year by doing this. As the dust degrades, it quickly transforms CO2 greenhouse gases into permanently stored, mineral carbonates.

While reduced burning of fossil fuel is the only permanent solution to global warming, this process may be the best short-term way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The fact that many farmers already add limestone and other rock dust to reduce acidification and improve fertility in soils, means that dust application is already routine.

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