Monthly Archives: June 2015

Many Swallows make a Summer


The annual arrival of the Swallow is one of the surest signs that Summer is on its way. We have had them since the beginning of April. The first weeks are spent securing their nests, building new ones and repairing old ones. You can find them anywhere but they seem to like farmyards and their byres, haysheds and barns. We have two permanent nests on our dwelling house, the oldest of which is here at least ten years now. I have managed to affix some plain corrie board from an old  poster directly underneath the nests to catch the droppings. The swallows might be cute but they have little respect for a freshly painted or whitewashed wall. One of our nests is high up under the eave on the Western Gable of the house whilst the other is squeezed in between an eave and a drainpipe. I’m reminded of the  The Wind in the Willows, where the swallows discuss with relish their impending return to “the house of the perfect eaves”. Not only are these tiny birds amazing flyers but they are great architects and precision builders too.

By now the birds are paired off, well settled in, with eggs laid and soon to hatch. The swallow practices love in a cold climate. The male and female will build the nest together. The long evenings are now spent darting and diving in the acrobatic pursuit of insects. It was the swallow after all who first invented the concept of in-flight dining. They say that the swallow is so adept that they can even swoop low along a watercourse and drink water without stopping. The skill and athleticism of these little birds are a sight to behold in the dying hours of the day. They are also very brave little birds and will swoop low like an F16 fighter pilot on any man or beast getting too close to the nest. I have vivid memories of the swallows teasing an old sheepdog we had at home, dive bombing him and turning him around in circles in the farm yard, in what for them must have been a source of endless amusement and mischief. The rest of their summer will now be spent rearing the insatiable chicks.

swallow 2

I always find it amazing to think that these little birds will next year return to this same place, the place of their birth and in some ways I feel honoured..

Billy Flynn, an ecologist for the Irish Wildlife Trust said , “Swallows travel in families, with the younger birds following their parents when they migrate for the cold months. What is incredible about them, Flynn explained, is that young swallows are still able to make the journey themselves, even if their parents have died or got lost before they had a chance to show them.

No one is exactly sure how they manage this but it is thought instinct plays a big part, as well as magnetism. Most animals have the mineral magnetite in their skulls and this gives birds a kind of internal compass. It’s an amazing journey, they pass over deserts, seas, they fly through all sorts of weather and when you see the tiny size of them, you can fit two in the palm of your hand.[i]

Migration map

Migration map

The swallow doesn’t seem to do retirement and is constantly on the move, He simply cannot sit still, a consummate workaholic. As if inventing in flight dining wasn’t enough he also promoted the classic long distance commute. As much as I look forward to them coming I hate to see them going; their departure signals the end of the summer. If they are gone before the Hurling final you can watch out for a bleak winter, if they linger on until October then it mightn’t be too bad. In the months following this I will curse again the price of oil, whilst Comrade Swallow has retired five thousand miles to the south, to his dacha in sub-Saharan Africa. Observers say the numbers of swallows are depleting and I sincerely hope that this can be reversed. It will be a very sad day if ever the swallow does not return.

The Swallow Song

Come wander quietly and listen to the wind
Come here and listen to the sky
Come walking high above the rolling of the sea
And watch the swallows as they fly

There is no sorrow like the murmur of their wings
There is no choir like their song
There is no power like the freedom of their flight
While the swallows roam alone[ii]


[ii] Richard farina – Chapell music

“The savage loves his native shore”

Packy McGarty

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Packy McGarty on a few occasions and one thing that always strikes me is how he remains, even at 82, quick in mind and light on foot. In an era of high performance coaching, increasing demands on players and the onset of the ‘elite’ County player, programmed to play numerous systems and tactical set-ups, McGarty remains a beacon of light, a reminder of what makes the GAA great and unique. Surprisingly, to some at least, its not about a dresser full of medals.

I enjoyed this piece by David Kelly in today’s ‘Independent’.

“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”

 William Butler Years was born on this day in 1865. Although born into the Anglo-Irish ascendancy Yeats could arguably be said to have done more to reshape the modern Irish identity than any if his contemporaries. Yeats drew his inspiration from ancient Irish myths and folklore and as an ardent cultural nationalist, valued the classical past as an inspiration for a modern pluralist society. He has so many great poems and this is one of my favourites that simply has to be read aloud.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

A Loop in the River

The Weir at Jamestown

The Weir

This Blog’s title owes itself to the River Shannon. The river meanders its way through the countryside and provides us with some beautiful backdrops. Today the sun was shining brightly which can be rarity hereabouts, at least of late. I was smiling to myself after a friend told me a little anecdote about Rick Santorum the US Republican Senator. Apparently Santorum had said that Pope Francis ought to leave climate change to the scientists! Poor Rick however was apparently unaware that the Pope, prior to taking orders was a trained chemical lab technician. Little matters like Ricks oversight can make you feel happy sometimes. As I was passing through Jamestown the river came into view.  I just had to stop the car to admire the beautiful Weir and the sound of the cascading waters. I was reminded of those beautifully crafted lines of Kavanagh:-

“Where by a lock Niagariously roars

The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence

Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose

Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.”

A few minutes later I stopped at one of the bridges that traverse the Albert Lock and Canal. This stretch of water is likely to be very familiar to the boating fraternity on the Upper Shannon.  It is also an area rich in history ancient and modern. The canal is also known as the ‘Jamestown Cut’ and it bypasses an un-navigable part of the river in the loop between the neat villages of Jamestown and Drumsna.

The Albert Canal

The Albert Canal

Jamestown itself was founded in 1622 as a walled plantation town and remarkably, as a recognised borough, it returned two MP’s up until the Act of Union in 1801 . The town itself never really flourished in the manner envisaged by its founders. Its prominence peaked in the mid seventeenth century when it was fought over during the 1641 Rebellion. In 1650 a famous Synod of the Bishops was held here but from then on the town declined although it retained a modest river trade and was still a significant fording point over the Shannon. The importance of the crossing point has long been recognised. The area marked the traditional fording area and point of demarcation between the ancient provinces of Connacht and Ulster. The ‘Doon’ of Drumsna stretched for over 1.6 km between the villages of Drumsna and Jamestown.The Doon consisted of a large earthenwork rampart up to six metres high on its northern side. The ramparts also had a fortified gate or entrance and was effectively an ancient ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. It is believed that the Doon was in use in the period 500BC to 400AD.

Drumsna is also a picturesque riverside village. Up until the mid Nineteenth Century it was of huge significance as the main postal town of the southern part of the County of Leitrim. The Novelist Anthony Trollope lived for a time in the Village and penned one of his earliest novels ‘The Macdermotts of Ballycloran’ here.



Another famous person associated with the area is the famous Surgeon and Explorer Thomas Heazle Parke who was born in nearby Clogher House. Parke made a name for himself in the relief of Gordon at Khartoum in 1885. He also worked with Henry Morton Stanley in the Emin Pash Relief Expedition. Whilst in Central Africa Parke is said to have purchased a pygmy girl, a strange act in modern terms but one which saved his life. When he contracted malaria the girl nursed him back from death. Unfortunately he could not bring her with him as her eyes could not adjust to the sunlight after coming out of the dark of the forest.

Thomas Heazle Parke

Thomas Parke

The Canal was first mooted in the 1600’s as part of an overall scheme to make the Shannon navigable. A canal was not constructed however until 1769. The original canal was much smaller and narrower than what we see today and its depth averaged only 1.2 metres. The Shannon Commissioners approved new works in 1844 and much of the construction work was carried out by Poor Relief Committees during the famine. On average 300 men worked on the Canal daily at this time. The new Lock was named after the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Victoria. The canal served the area well commercially until the late 1950’s by which time increased use of road haulage made the river barges obsolete. From a highway of commerce the river has now become a leisure route . I hope today’s  canal users take just a moment to think of the local labourers whose backbreaking toil, with hand tools, built this fine canal, all for the measly sum of six pence a day.

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied

Ecclesiastes 6:7

Archaeology of Leitrim

I see a new Facebook page dedicated to the extensive Archaeology of County Leitrim. This is the link:-

This is my favourite picture; some fancy footwear from medieval Carrigallen, found near the Ringfort in Kilahurk apparently.

Of course one of the most beautiful pieces ever found in the County has to be the Keshcarrigan Bowl. 

The Facebook page goes on to say: 

“The Keshcarrigan Bowl …..discovered in Loch Marrave near Keshcarrigan village in 1854 during the original excavations of the Shannon/Erne Waterway . The vessel which may have been a ceremonial drinking bowl,is of fine golden bronze about 1mm thick and was formed by spinning. The handle which is cast ,is in the form of a bird . The eye sockets, now empty, probably held enamel settings . It is on display is in the National Museum”

The Bowl also appears on the wonderful Book and App entitled ‘History of Ireland in 100 Objects’ ,well worth a look

Leitrim is brimful of some great Archeaology both ancient and relatively modern from the 19th Century Lime Kiln at Farnaught to the portal tombs of Fenagh. Looking forward to future updates on this page.

A Sport in denial craving redemption – FIFA 2015

FIFA 2015

Joseph S. “Sepp” Blatter probably surprised a few people today by resigning from his position as President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The surprise comes from how bullish the man has been over the years. His resignation speech outlined the reason for going as being the fact that despite having the mandate of FIFA he feels he doesn’t have the support of everyone in Football. But if FIFA is the representative of World Football then surely this means that FIFA has little or no mandate at all. Yet in the rush to condemn FIFA we must be careful not to allow a vacuum be created that will be quickly filled by the rich and powerful in the game of which UEFA is in the vanguard.

Blatter has spent the last thirty-four years working at FIFA, initially as general secretary but since 1998 as president. He has been re-elected by the delegates from all over the world in 2002, 2007, 2011 and last week. What is unusual about his resignation is that it does not have immediate effect, but rather will only take effect when an extraordinary FIFA Congress is convened. This may take some time to convene. I sincerely hope there is no shredder in the office.

Sepp Blatter

For a man who specialised in Public Relations for companies such as Longines, at times he has been a PR disaster. Blatter hasn’t been popular in Ireland, particularly since he made fun of Thierry Henry’s handball which enabled France score the crucial goal, ensuring that they, and not us, would be travelling to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The incident generated quite a bit of debate, mostly in European football, about fair play, introducing goal line technology and video refereeing but it all came to nought. It was well-known that Blatter was not a huge fan of such technology and in any event the World Cup might do without Ireland but it could not do without a potential 60 million TV viewers in France.

Thierry Henry

Henry admitted after the game that he had cheated. The incident was referred to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee for a ruling, but they held they had no power to sanction a player even though he had just admitted cheating in such an important game. FIFA reputation in Ireland fell even further when Blatter’s ‘off the cuff’ remarks about Ireland asking to be included as 33rd team for the tournament. Blatter laughed and joked about Ireland’s request which apparently had been alluded to in private discussions with the FAI and details of which should never have been aired in such a public manner. The FAI were scathing, their fans furious, at what was quite rightfully perceived as adding injury to insult.

But these are minor matters compared to what Blatter has presided over in FIFA with allegations of corruption ranging from whispers to outspoken claims of bribery involved in tournament selection. The award of the World Cup tournament to a country with no footballing tradition and  in the middle of an Arabian Summer was absurd and ludicrous. There will be a lot of eggs fried, for those lucky enough to have an egg, in Quatar in the summer of  2022.

Yet no one expected the end was so nigh for Herr Blatter. As Wodehouse wrote in Jeeves, “Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove” It took the Americans to grab the bull by the horns and act once again as Global Policeman.  The arrest of seven FIFA officials was part hollywood, part judicial ambush but for all the showmanship there appears to be considerable substance behind the investigation conducted thusfar. 

In so many ways the Yanks have shown up Europe again as having no teeth or at the very least an unwillingness to force change no matter how compelling the allegations of wrongdoing. This is definitely one American led Regime Change which I will be wholeheartedly supporting.


*It’s hard to believe it is 29 years ago this month that Diego Maradona broke English hearts with his famous ‘Hand of God’ goal at the Aztec Stadium. For whatever reason, I remember feeling okay about that particular goal. Yes it was cheating but it was Maradona and more importantly it was England. 

The little genius beat almost the entire English team a few minutes later to score one of the greatest World Cup goals ever and Argentina went on to win the Cup. The game had to be seen in the historical context of the Falklands War just four years previous and the Troubles on our own Island. Yet this was sport and this was cheating.

 I often wonder how I would have felt if it was Robbie Keane who had handled the ball at the other end in Paris in 2009, knocking it across to Doyler or Duffer to scramble it over the line. I’m quite sure if it had happened, I would  have come to terms with it, eventually, and by the time I was buying my vuvuzela outside the Soccer City Stadium the pangs of guilt would be well-forgotten.