Tuesday, 31 March 2015

"Riabhach" Days

A Rachel Toll watercolour -
hare and full moon. 
"Out like a lamb". Isn't that supposed to be the deal? March. In like a lion and all that. Well, I don't think I've known a less lamb-like 31st March; we've had yellow weather warnings from Met Éireann and a blasting NW gale rattling the outbuilding roofs and stinging our faces with hail stones and driving wintry showers. Then John Deere Bob told us a bit of local folklore which was, I have to admit, completely new to me. The last three days of March and the first three of April are traditionally the last, mean and miserable days of cold and wet, the "Riabhach" Days (pronounce it 'rear-buch' or there-abouts).

I love this superb Rachel Toll fox-face.
Bob was not even sure he was pronouncing it correctly; he has no Gaelic and this is an Irish name for the 6 days, but even in these cases, Wikipedia is your friend and Liz quickly nailed it on the internet. The story goes (says Wiki) that "In the Irish Calendar The Old Cows Days/The Days of the Brindled Cow are the last days of March and the first three days of April; in Irish: Laethanta na Bó Riabhaí.

Rachel Toll owl
The term comes from a folk tale, illustrating the unpredictability of the weather at this time of year in Ireland. The tale relates how the bó riabhach, "the brindled cow", complained at the beginning of April to her companions in the herd of the terrible harshness of the previous month of March. As the grumbling of the cow continued, the at first uninterested March began to take umbrage and decided to teach the speckled cow a lesson she would never forget. So March "borrowed" the first three days of April but made them so bitterly cold and miserable that before they were ended the unlucky bó riabhach had died. These "days of the brindled cow" are still with us, or so the story goes, to remind us that we complain about the harshness of the weather at our peril.

The same story can be found in different versions all over Ireland and Europe in General."

So, now you know.

Rachel Toll fox face. 
My first four pics in this post are a lovely find I was passed on Facebook. The artist is Rachel Toll and she does these superb watercolour pictures. She has, of course, a website where you can see more pictures and buy the prints if you fancy a flutter. She is on.


I particularly like the fox faces; the eyes in particular look very convincing with the well done reflected light from the eye.

Ottolenghi's Guardian recipe for Califlower Cake
Also from the internet, borrowing like crazy for this post, a superb answer to our need to use up lots of eggs but also giving us a chance to use some of the lovely mature cheddar cheese which Liz grabbed while she was recently in the UK. This a recipe, new to us but handed to us by the foodies on Liz's internet chat groups comes from famous (again, new to me) chef Yotam Ottolenghi who writes for the Guardian. It is a very cheesy Cauliflower Cake which uses ten medium eggs (that was the first thing that attracted us!)  but then more cheese (220g) than flour (180g). It was one of those foods that when you taste it you just KNOW you have a 'keeper' for the house repertoire and the recipe gets saved down to the cookery files, printed off and filed. It is on


should you fancy a dabble. Some of our non-meat-eating friends have already mopped it up as being a welcome addition to the menu.

Well, enjoy your Riabhach Days and maybe we'll get some lamb-like weather from the 4th April.

Monday, 30 March 2015


The big Five-O earns Sparks this beautiful cake created by the
Silverwood ladies
Full of 'happy hormones' as Liz says (admittedly in a very different context) after my successful lambing and completion of the Bee Keeper exam, I am ready to enjoy the rest of the month's events. First up the Brother-in-Law, Sparks, makes the big Five-O. This is much to everyone's amazement as 'my' Liz, being 'BIG' sister to our hero, feels obliged (nay, legally REQUIRED) to do her BABY brother down at every opportunity. To tease him, take the mick, prick his bubble when he gets uppity and even attempt to remove him from the picture (OK, possible exaggeration here but I've never had a big sister, so what do I know?).

Sparks at 50
Famously there is even an old faded black and white picture of Liz, at 18 months old looking for all the world as if she is going to smother this new baby brother when he first arrived, with a pillow; this has been treasured in Dad's wallet for 50 years and was pulled out on Sparks's day. Well, Sparks has managed to survive all this skullduggery and was there on Sunday to enjoy a big family meal down at the Silverwoods' base in County Laois. This was a real 'Gathering of the Clan' with spouses and children rounded up.

The new dog-walk
This family all have a strong cooking gene in their DNA so we were in for a treat. The main course was boeuf en croute and the beef was sublime. The veg were gorgeous too, and I do like my veg - lovely cauli and courgette in cheese sauce with the top browned to perfection, carrots, superb roasties, boiled potatoes and gravy. The starter had been melon with parma ham. The Silverwood ladies had played a blinder and created a truly beautiful cake which shouted '50' from its top in a rainbow array of 'Skittles' (small sweets the size of Smarties, but chewy) and was fenced around with Kit-Kat fingers and bordered with more Skittles. The centre was a vanilla sponge but cleverly marbled in colour and taste by boring holes in the top and pouring in melted Skittles of various colours. The icing sticking it all together was creme-fraiche flavoured with melted orange Skittles. Low calorie it most certainly wasn't but, heh, who counts calories at a Silverwood 50th? Brilliant do everyone involved (including Liz once we got there) and thank you so much for having us. Happy Birthday and a huge congratulation on making the 50 to the Birthday Boy.

You can walk for miles across the bog here on these hard tracks
and even better, the dogs can come off the leads.
I have been exploring, looking out for possible additional survey walks for my bumble bee hunts. Less than 2 miles away, we had seen a sign promising a 'looped walk' in the nearby bog-land and forestry but had not got around to trying it, so that is where I headed on March 21st. Today, I returned with my camera. It is a lovely spot where I can let the dogs off the lead and we can walk for miles on hard tracks across the bog. The only flowers at present for the bees are on the gorse but it has the look of a place that might come alive with interesting vegetation species.

Old traditional hand-cutting turf 'works'. 
Way down off the road is a place where people have been cutting turf by hand in the old traditional way, with the fancy, L-shaped "slean" spade. Normally when you see this you know it is just for the tourists, but down here, there would be no tourists and the cuts were as fresh as the car tyre tracks and the boot prints - these guys had been out over the weekend. There was even an old, wooden-wheel turf barrow lying down there when I looked on the 21st, though that had gone by today. This "hand-won" turf could be the genuine article.

Pool of the Dappled Horses
One lovely place 'down there' is a point where the local stream widens out into a wide, size-able pond. The banks are grassed and you can imagine it would be a nice quiet, private picnic spot in the summer. The sign has been translated as best we can as "The pool of the dappled horses". Well, I can imagine the scene with a few of the local cobby ponies led down there to wade or drink, but there were no horses there today, only my three westies chasing about delighted by the freedom of off-lead action.

15 yards of new book shelf space.
Back at home we are, once more, officially "short of bookshelf space". Although Liz audited hard as we packed up the Kent house into the removal van and cleared boxes of books, we still brought a gazillion with us and we are now, three years later, back to stacks on the floor and double-depth stacks in shelves where we have run out of space. Our best solution to this in terms of reasonably priced but sturdy, solid shelves (we hate saggy book shelves!) is IKEA's 'Billy' range but IKEA in Ireland, means a trip to Dublin and, anyway, these are 8 foot tall cases, so they'd not fit in the little Fiat even as a flat pack. Luckily, we have a bro-in-law (see above) who might just be coming this way, right past IKEA's front door, with his shiny new 8-seater people-carrier Taxi. Sparks, of course!

Gorse in flower down at Kiltybranks
He is also bribe-able with food, so Liz cooked up a plan that she'd stay overnight at the party to get some longer bonding with her belovéd baby brother (not trying to kill him now, then?) and catch up on all the family gossip. I would zoom home on my own to rescue the dogs and look after the livestock and the next morning Sparks would bring Liz home accompanied by 3 big flat pack boxes of planks and we would do lunch here (chicken fajitas as it happened).

The lambs are now 4 days old
The book cases were unloaded and rattled together within an hour or two of the lunch eaten and taxi departing. Liz now has 45 feet (I think librarians measure it in yards, so 15 yards if you prefer) of clean, bare, shiny book shelf space to play with. The wall opposite the main open fire is no longer blank and decorated only with 4 prints of drawings of Dublin architecture. Liz is now puzzling over 'alphabetical order' and division of our goodly book collection by category.

Taddies at day ten, hatch from their individual jelly sacs
The only other thing to report for this one is that the tiny tadpoles, at day ten, have started to hatch from their individual jelly sacs. The next stage is that they gather on top of the spawn-mass, safe from predators below, while they eat off any more jelly they require before eventually dispersing into the safer bits of 'open water' and the tangle of vegetation. So far so good. They are also sufficiently far off-shore that our elderly but clever Marans hen will not be able to reach out over the pond and pick them off, as she does with water boatmen and pond skaters.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

That's all (S)he Wrote

Done with the bee exam, a restorative Guinness
Huge relief at this end today as we make another milestone on our chug through these busy months; I survived my big beekeeping exam this morning over in Longford. This was a 'proper' exam like I can remember them from A levels and University; 3 hours of tough fast writing and rapidly compiling all the material you have revised and forced into your skull in the course of our "bee school" study groups, book reading and internet training videos. 5 questions to answer (Answer question 1 and any 4 from the remaining 7 (some of which were two part either/or style). A proper exam 'hall' with the official invigilator seated at one end, the time-set clock running and dead silence.

Those lambs take shelter from the rain.
Well, we all survived and everyone seemed to be writing a good few reams - I covered 13 sides of A4 but we had all agreed that we would do no post-mortems. Our main comment was that we were all 'of a certain age' and had not written anything like that amount on paper with an actual pen for about 30 years or more, so the hand cramps were killing on occasion and I saw everybody putting down pens and flexing and unflexing fingers to try to get some mobility back into the digits.

Who's the cutest? Probably not the one in the middle, anyway!
As I was going to be in Longford for at least 3 hours, Liz had taken the opportunity to  come with me to the town and try out the shopping potential - Longford is an hour's drive, so we have not really explored it much,though I was much impressed by the Christmas lights up the main street. So we parted in the Tesco car park at 09:00 and off Liz went to suss out Birthday presents for brother and Mum and may also have accidentally bought a replacement laptop for our ancient, ex-work, over-heating problem machine.

Replacement brain-food, Hester's of Castlerea do
a most excellent bacon and cabbage. 
She was then outside at 12:30 to gather a rather shell-shocked husband up and take him off for a restorative lunch and a couple of pints of the black stuff. This being a treat for me, I got to choose the place and my current favourite 'pub lunch' is the bacon and cabbage at Hester's "Golden Eagle" in Castlerea and a pint or two of their beautiful Guinness. I will not find out whether I have passed for months if FIBKA's speed on the preliminary exam marking is anything to go by but I find I don't mind that much. I have given it my best shot and the 13 pages, well, that's all he wrote, it's done now and too late to worry about it.

A nose smeared with Mum's milk and decorated with a long strand
of her wool. Perhaps we'll use those to tell them apart?
Although this was a serious exam, nothing hangs on it, I can keep bees anyway and I am not using the qualification to try to get a job in the commercial honey industry, it was just for fun. It is also just one third of the three you must take to achieve full intermediate status. There is another more science and biology based paper (anatomy, development, physiology, pheromone chemistry and the like as compared to this paper which was on bee-keeping and hive management) and then there is a hive session where the examiners visit you at your own apiary and make you jump through hoops to prove you know what you are doing. I am not sure whether the Longford BKA will be volunteering for either of these, which they would presumably do in 2016 and 2017 respectively. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Early pollen for the bees. Willow.
For now I can put all the books, mags and printed notes away back in their proper shelves and swap over to reading something easy and light instead of the learnéd tomes by Ted Hooper, David Cramp and Claire and Adrian Waring, enjoyable though they were. My lovely relieved feeling joins the flood already established of relief at the lambing which as well as going amazingly well, managed to avoid the bee exam - I was eye-ing that Polly up a little nervously and pleading with her not to do it to me on exam morning. That might have been too much distraction.

Pulmonaria putting on a good show.
Those two things have been a real focus and we can now mentally move on to this weekend's celebrations in Silverwood of the two family birthdays, then Easter. Then we have a stint of Liz being away again (back in Silverwood) supporting one parent while the other takes a break in the sun, possibly my own birthday if it doesn't get lost in the scrum (!), the arrival soon of pigs and all other spring into summer 'ground-rush' events. Possibly even some first 2015 bee hive inspections (I might know what we're at now). It's all go.

A good use for cold roast lamb and the left over suet - mini pies
Meanwhile the baby lambs are thriving on their mother's ample milk and have had a few visiting admirers - even Bob. They are starting to explore their field now as they follow Polly at her grazing and you see them bouncing around on all four tip-toes (it's called "pronking" in deer, but I'm not sure if that applies to lambs). They seem to retreat to the field shelter at night or to get out of the rain. I have had to start feeding the families a distance apart, or the babies mill around the troughs and the grown-ups feel the need to head-butt them away from the food, even though they are not trying to get any. Onwards and upwards.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Twins for Polly.

I am happy to announce the birth of twin ewe lambs to our enormous Jacob cross ewe, Polly. Well, that is 'twins so far' but I think we're all done, the fat lady has sung. Polly has got up, licked them clean, encouraged them to a bit of powerful suckling and is now looking a whole lot more relieved and comfortable than of late. She looks like a lady who has completed her tasks for the day and is now sitting back to enjoy the products. I may be wrong.

These 2 ladies were slid out very efficiently and fast in the half hour for which I was missing, between 11:30 and just after midday - I had nipped out to walk the dogs down to the bridge. When I left she had just started leaking the 'gloop' and a short rag of membrane but was not showing any feet or noses at the exit. By the time I got back she was standing up at the very top of our East Field enthusiastically licking both babies clean as they bleated and staggered around her in a wobbly manner, nosing for likely teats.

A 12-legged sheep?
If you have read the last few posts you will know that Polly has been big for a while now and had lately started to look a bit uncomfortable. In my inexperienced eyes, I was sure she would 'pop' last night, just my luck with Liz being in the UK again on another, unrelated mission of mercy. She declined supper and was standing well away from the gate and the other ewe and lamb, down by the hedge at the bottom of the field - just standing contemplating without grazing, occasionally shifting her weight from foot to foot.

A bit icky round this end, Mum.
Yesterday evening I started checking on her every hour on the hour but she just returned blank looks and a face enquiring "what are you out here again for?". I even set an alarm at 0200 and went to check but again, still teasing me. I was sure, however, that we were on and fully expected to see progress by 0700 today. She declined breakfast (which is unheard of!) and was standing in the field shelter, now occasionally scratching at the ground with a front hoof. I kept checking in between the morning's jobs (a taxi-run to Balla, dog 'patrols', egg collecting, shopping for feed and coal in Castlerea) and finally at 1130 saw that first sign of fluid and membrane.

I nipped out with the dogs, thinking that these things can take hours and nothing would happen in such a short time. Delighted then, to come home, park the dogs and go to look, and could see the dark shapes of 2 lambs on their feet and happily pushing their noses in under Mum (neck, front legs, belly, you name it) and bleating the while. I could see that she had quite a lot of afterbirth still hanging down but all seemed to be well. Well done Mum!

I have since gathered the babies up (followed, of course by Polly) to the straw of the shelter and checked and found them to both be girls. I have then rushed round and let all the anxious 'supporters' know the news, including Liz and her 'charge' over in the UK, on Facebook etc (and now here). There is one more set of ears to let know - the bees! You traditionally have to keep your bees up to date with all the births and deaths, the family gossip and any events so that they feel included in the family and continue to work industriously for you. So that's all for now. I must off to the apiary and also keep an eye on that afterbirth. At 4 o'clock I have to collect Charlotte in another taxi run and she, who has had a lot more to do with sheep than I have, has agreed to come round and admire and inspect the new babies. She should be able to confirm that there is no 3rd baby "up the pipe" and whether I need to do anything more.

Congratulations, Polly and the twin girls.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Five Freedoms....one too many?

Nugget likes a good dig - is she "expressing normal behaviour"?
The "Five Freedoms"; these are what high-welfare livestock management are supposed to be all about. My first small-holding 'bible', the Haynes "Smallholding Manual" by Liz Shankland phrases it quite well. "Being a responsible owner means granting your animals the Five Freedoms (she says) - a list of basic rights originally drawn up by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK but now internationally accepted"

A Sussex Ponte goes broody hidden away behind the trailer
tail board. Normal behaviour?
The Five Freedoms are as follows:-

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress
Nobody would argue with any of them (well nobody I'd respect), they are all good, laudable aims and we should all work them as a bare minimum.

A Sussex and a 'Mini-buff' queue up to lay
an egg between the 'Royal Potti' chemical loo,
 the tools and an old galv bucket in the tool shed.
My header comment comes from the fact that in this 'mad house' it is the fourth which sometimes has me smiling. You know that old pub-bar sign "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps". My lot would have you cracking up with their "normal behaviour". Pigs, I am OK with. Like most animals they are actually social so you can only buy them now in pairs (at least) not singly and you let them romp around together, play together, bed down in a heap in the straw next to one another and so on. Rabbits too, are sociable in the wild, so you should not really have a hutch with just the one and we have tried to keep pairs, Ginny and Padfoot were in one corner, and the giants, Goldie and her daughter Nugget were kept as companions.

At last the purple sprouting broccoli is ready to start cropping.
Ask anyone what 'normal behaviour' is for rabbits and they would likely either go down the 'bawdy' route or mention digging burrows. Padfoot (now sadly no longer with us) started a lovely burrow within the run where the beehive is and we could see that it was not going to be an escape route under the wire (it was angled inwards) so we have let them carry on and they had a nice little bolt hole down there where they could escape the weather (and maybe the fox) and into which you often see Ginny dragging mouthfuls of the new hay which I bed down their hutch with. Every now and then she seems to dig a bit more soil out and produces a scree of fine soil crumbs at the entrance.

Eggs of all colours. Even the 8-9 year old Marans is back in lay
(bottom right) and her chum Min the Hin (Guinea Fowl) is adding
her contribution (bottom left).
Our younger giant rabbit, Nugget, is another digger but these ladies are in the move-able runs on the grass, so there is a risk of escapes. The urge to dig seems to take her whenever we move the run to near a tree or a fence post, as if it might be an urge to dig a burrow into between tree roots as in all the best Beatrix Potter stories. This actually suits us at the moment because she digs till her nose hits the post and then stops having failed to escape, and the bit of 'lawn' she is excavating is due to be turned soon into a garden bed, so we don't even mind the holes. 

Polly is due any day now. 
However, these two ladies are getting a new run this year, slotted in between our yard wall and the sheep fence. This piece of ground is very lumpy-bumpy having had some of the rubbish soil and grass from the yard hoyed over the wall into it by the mini digger when the yard was being cleared. It should provide an interesting environment for the bunnies and plenty of places for Nugget to harmlessly burrow. Plenty of grass to eat too. I will need to build them a 'bedroom' where they can go hide or get out of the weather. More on that when it is happening. As to the 'bawdy' side of bunny behaviour, we have stopped breeding rabbits now, at least for the moment but Charlotte down the road may have designs on borrowing the giants for such nefarious purposes. Ginny is way too old now to be bred with, she must be 7-8 years old now. 

One of our original "Lovely Girls", a Sussex Ponte.
Meanwhile the chooks have decided that normal behaviour for them is to completely ignore my neat, clean, straw-bedded, purpose built nest boxes in the bespoke coop in the nice safe concrete out-building. Oh No. They are all going to wander around and find all manner of other places to lay eggs and, in one case now, to go broody. We have eggs appearing in the tool shed (Tígín) slotted down between our old chemical toilet and some pick axes, or balanced on a paint pot nearby. One is laying in the 'baby Buffs' house, two are dropping them in a nice shaped dent in the straw inside the pig ark (that will have to stop when the pigs arrive, or the eggs and probably chickens too will find themselves eaten by the porkers). Then a few days back Liz went hunting for a tool in my wheelie-box which is wedged into the goose end of the barn behind the old trailer tail-board and spotted a pile of rather old dirty eggs and, a few inches away, one of the Sussex Ponte hens gone broody sitting on just 2 eggs. We slid 4 more under her and booked her dates on the calendar. She is a first timer despite her age, so no real harm done if she fails. If she hatches any it will be a strange combination of Sussex Ponte x Buff Orp in that clutch.

Frog spawn at 5 days old.
In the pond, the three masses of frog spawn look, to us, to be doing very well. The tiny black 'commas' are bigger each day and can now clearly be seen to have taken on the head-body-tail shape. They wriggle gently in their jelly sacs. That seems to be it for frogs this year and the adults have dispersed again as far as I can tell. We never see them except at night when I occasionally catch one out with the head torch but they are always legging it for the cracks between the stones of the 'beach' and are quickly out of sight. 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Of Eclipses, Equinoxes and Frog Spawn

Partial solar eclipse, Friday 20th March 2015, Co Roscommon.
Friday saw us up early and trying to see the Solar Eclipse. We gather that most of the British Isles missed this entirely due to heavy cloud cover and it was looking dodgy here too from the forecasts. We were ready with our chunk of smoked glass (borrowed from the frame of a family photo and smoked by holding it in a candle flame). You also know, these days, exactly what to expect and where, as the astronomers have long since done the number crunching.

This one, for example was going to track through as a full eclipse out in the North Atlantic, sliding through SW to NE between Scotland and Iceland. You'd need to be out at sea to get the fully dark effect. Out on the margins, we'd get 95% cover and, my brother in Swindon, for example, a bit further out, was due 88%. We'd see the moon slip in from top right of the sun making a 'smiley face' canted to the right, then slowly slide past (right to left) leaving only the 'bottom 5%' of the sun visible, and finally moving off to the left giving us back the crescent sun and finally all of it. Even 5% of the sun is enough to give you gloomy daylight and would still be too bright to look at with the naked eye. We knew too that the eclipse would start at about 08:24, be darkest at 09:24, and then be all over by 10:36.

We were disappointed to wake up to the cloud cover but quickly realised that the cloud was moving fast west to east and actually had plenty of breaks where bright sky (even pocket handkerchiefs of blue sky!) could be briefly glimpsed. If we could persuade one of these thin bits to pass in front of the sun we'd see our eclipse. Even better, we realised, the hazy cloud would do the job of our smoked glass and we'd be able to see and photograph the event without that complication. We did OK and snatched some passable pics. The morning went very gloomy as we got towards the 95%, but no worse than a black rain cloud gathering. All the chickens went quiet and birds stopped singing. We just about saw the peak before the clouds ran out of gaps and thin bits, so we retreated indoors and watched the sky brighten back up from indoors over breakfast. The astronomers tell us that the next one for Ireland is not till 2026.

Frog Spawn at last - overnight 19th/20th March.
Not satisfied with one solar phenomenon, of course, we are also 'doing' the Spring Equinox this weekend, the official first day of Spring (well, if you've not already done that with your Imbolc and St Bridgit's crosses (1st Feb)). This one has the added tweak in that the Jacobin (French Revolutionary) calendar changed from the "Windy" month (Ventôse) to the Germination or 'seed' month (Germinal) so I don't feel too upset about missing the standard Irish 'Paddy's Day' date for the planting of early spuds. Mine went in yesterday.

Paddy's Night feast.
The local frogs may know all about this 'seeding' thing, mind. Our females finally gave in to the instinct to dive in with the boys (who had been in the pond for ten days already, patiently waiting and dodging the frost and ice) and get physical. We have frog spawn at last, laid in sizeable clumps near the lower edge of the stone beach. We also have our newts back. Newts tend to only live in ponds in the mating season and summer. They leave the water to find a cool, safe, damp place in which to live for the non-breeding season and to hibernate, compost heaps, the bottom of a hedge, patches of long damp grass (not difficult in Roscommon!). The adults are one of the main predators of young baby tadpoles, so we hope we have enough spawn to sate all their appetites and still have enough babies coming through as froglets in the autumn. This is our pond's first true generation.

First primrose of 2015 also opens on Eclipse Day.
We also finally have, what feels like a fortnight or two behind most of our friends, some first 'wild' primroses in our Primrose Path. We have had a few cultivar primulas and the like doing their thing in flower beds, but these are the fully naturalised population which I am sure is just wild and spontaneous; I can't see TK Min out there planting them or gathering them in from the laneway, though I may have the lad wrong.

The daffs out front, planted last year, are starting to put on a good show
Also doing well are the trench full of daffs we planted as bulbs last year; a 25 kg net of bulbs and several follow-on 5 kg bags. They make a nice landmark now as you approach the house - we will be able to tell guests "it's the one with all the daffodils". We also planted a few up the drive and these are doing well also. Of couse, we are looking at them and thinking we might extend the rows along 'that bit of frontage' or fill in the gaps 'there'. We will have to see.

The bees are out and about.
The bees are now wide awake in the spring-like warmth. Certainly on Weds (18th) and Thurs (19th) when the early bright sunshine quickly burned off the light frost and mist, the workers were out in their dozens and there was quite a 'roar' from the hive when you were up close. Temperatures got up to 13ºC on those afternoons and the bees gave every impression of being happy to finally be allowed to break up the winter cluster.

Raking out the spent winter coat. Pirate loves it.
Also shaking off his winter blues is the rather plump cat, Pirate,  formerly known as skinny, emaciated, half blind, death's door stray cat. When the sun shines we hook open the door to his private domain, the cosy, quiet utility room. He knows when he is onto a good thing, and spent most of the last few months in there, asleep, putting on weight, recovering from his traumatic first year of life.

You WILL be a slim cat, Pirate. I remove another cat's worth of
dead coat.
We may have over-done the starving feeds. One of the Westie breeders I love and respect saw a picture of him and described him, subtly as "a bit well covered" (sorry JF!). We have since cut down his food a bit (only one tin a day now) but thought that part of his bulk was the visible effect of very thick fur, some of which had to be winter coat. This proved to be the case and when I put the 'rake' style brush to him it was coming away in great mats and tufts on the tines of the brush. Pirate loves all this fuss and attention and purrs loudly in his own snuffly way, bending his body and lifting legs the better to let you get at his waist, belly and armpits. I took enough off him almost to create another cat. He will be a lot cooler now, I should think.

Carrick Millennium Choir - a picture from last year.
Finally in our list of spring celebrations, our annual indulgence in a bit of culture, the Carrick on Shannon Millennium Choir's Gala Spring Concert. This is the particular 'baby' of our good friend Vendor Anna who, she tells us, practices and rehearses the singing all year long ready for these events. They are an impressive choir and put on an excellent show. Anna will surely not mind me saying that they look and sound superb. They look the part, the ladies in irridescent purple/blue outfits and the gents in the tux and bow-tie. They are staged beautifully and lit well, the conductor/coach definitely knows her stuff and the small orchestra (piano, drums, fiddle, Irish bagpipes, accordion and woodwind) do them great service. They lay on a rich mixture of  religious music (we had Ave Maria, Exsultate Justi and Cantique de Jean Racine), Irish (e.g. 'There is an Isle', 'The Isle of Inishfree', Danny Boy and 'Mary from Dungloe'), film and 'musicals' songs (Razzle Dazzle and a medley from My Fair Lady), the odd 'Negro' spiritual style song (in this case actually written by white American Stephen Foster, "Hard Times Come Again No More") and the choir's own romping, purpose-written anthem "And Sleep is Sweet in Carrick Town" (Ailie Blunnie). The show lasts about 2 hours with an interval. It is a cracking good evening and we love it. Well done Anna and thank you so much for the pure pleasure.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

For the Day That's in it....

A relaxing Mother's Day for Liz? We finally got sorted on proper
raised beds in the poly tunnel and here she is forking some well rotted
cow muck into them.
You'll know from my windy winter posts that we are well inland from the full blast of the Westerly Atlantic gales - we are 2 hours drive from the coast heading west. Head north from here, though, and you can be at the seaside in Sligo in just over the hour. This is the tourist-trap of Strandhill and we suppose that knowledgeable people steer well clear on a Bank Holiday, even on St Patrick's Day in March. We wondered whether it might be OK and everyone would be at the parades in all the various towns and, anyway, we'd promised ourselves this jaunt since Mother's Day and knew that the dogs would love a walk on the beach, free from their leads.

On the south side of the Strandhill headland, the beach has this
impressive backdrop
This morning, then, saw us on an early-ish breakfast and fitting the (sand proof) blanket to the rear seat of the car. As we toddled out past the windfarm north of Balla-D we texted some friends (Hello Dawn!) as we drove past their place just to say we were waving at them, headed for the coast. In seconds we (well, 'me', Liz was driving) were in a long phone-chat which saw us getting directions to a good beach-side café/restaurant ("Shells") and to the beach, insisting that we try the calamari salad and other delights.

A huge empty beach for a dog walk.
At Ballysadare we turned left and headed out along the south side of the Strandhill headland, looking to pick up a broad, deserted beach for our dog walk. They love this and they run and run, disappearing into the far distance before looping back. They seem to be very good now at coming when called. At one point a horse and rider popped out of the marram grass in the dunes and was suddenly much closer to the dogs that we were but I whistled and clapped, and we could just make out them turning away from the tempting equestrian target and heading back to us. We grabbed hold of the three collars and waited while the rider trotted towards us and past - he seemed delighted by our three "excellently behaved" (ha!) dogs.

With everybody well blown out by all the running and chasing through sand clumps, bladder-wrack, lugworm casts and the sea itself we rounded ourselves up and headed back to the car, human mouths now watering well at the thought of that calamari, and drove into Strandhill itself. Well, Dawn, we found the "purply pink" pub OK and the big metal cannon on the pavement, and we found 'Shells' which did indeed look promising, but it also looked packed. The car park was full of surfers and families (studiously avoiding their St Patrick's Day parades?), the outdoor bit was chock-a and there was quite a queue standing. Hence my comment earlier about people who go to tourist traps at lunchtime on a Bank Holiday. We will go back on a sunny day soon, but not a weekend or B/Hol; we will try the calamari, but today we turned the car round and headed home, picking a route which we thought would avoid any towns with parades - the N17 and Knock Airport.

The substrate in this grassy bank seemed to be mainly shells.
It nearly worked. We had made just one miscalculation. We were short of wine for own Paddy's Day meal tonight and thought we might be able to sneak into Tubbercurry or Charlestown to a shop open for wine, without getting snarled up in a parade and the closed roads. We 'remembered' that Charlestown is off the beaten track and thought we had to divert into town off our trunk road, but no, it is the E/W road (N5) you leave - you head into town ON the N17. We came over the brow of a hill and found the road blocked by multiple Garda cars, ambulances and people sporting hi-viz jackets.

More of a shell-dump than a beach?
We had to make a U-turn and then knit ourselves a neat little diversion up some tiny roads with grass up the middle all round the 'back' (west side) of Knock Airport, emerging at Kilkelly which, by happy coincidence, had an open off-licence and no parade. Liz also grabbed up some surprisingly good bacon for a bagel-lunch, compensation for the calamari shortage. From there, we were home and dry. It had been a fun adventure. All the dogs are wiped out fast asleep on various chairs and rugs.

The local expression meaning that you are doing something special (a meal, a traditional activity or an event) to mark the a particular day is "..for the day that's in it". Radio DJs will say "I'll play this record for the day that's in it". Well, today we are eating my absolute favourite Irish meal, bacon and cabbage with mashed potatoes and a white (roux) sauce (can be parsley sauce) for the day that's in it. Yum Yum Pig's Bum, Cabbage and Potatoes as we used to say in Sussex.

Goose and chicken eggs for the day that's in it.
What else is new? We finally got sorted on our proper raised beds for the poly tunnel, with some more scaffold boards from our man down near Ballyhaunis so we have cleared up the bodge of stones and chicken-spread dusty soil and turf fragments. We pulled out everything except a rather fine bronze fennel, knocked the boards together and barrowed in a mountain of well rotted, 2013/4 vintage bullock muck (Thank You John Deere Bob) which we chopped into the soil. We then watered the whole lot and mulched with a good layer of well rotted chicken/goose/rabbit muck.

There might be a Bloody Mary in this for someone.
With all that and last year's spent mushroom compost, that must by now be a fairly nutritious substrate. It certainly looks a nice rich 'fruit cake' mixture.

So, I will just leave you with Happy St Patrick's Day greetings. We have had a very pleasant one and we hope you have enjoyed yourselves too.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!