Well, hello again, and I hope you had the opportunity to recharge the batteries over the summer and they are not already back on ‘low’. Did I get done what I hoped over the summer? Not at all, but I did do some of the things on my list, and many others that weren’t there, so I can’t complain. But it’s back to porridge, metaphorically and in my case sometimes literally.
I certainly don’t like the return of autumn schedules but every season has its advantages. I love the final, great flowering of summer plants before the descent into winter, and I love the sense of cool when you come out of the house, ready to get good and warm walking or cycling.
In praise of the courgette I divide summers into three kinds. This is speaking as a gardener. The first is where there is an inadequate supply of courgettes because the weather has been poor, and any short warmer spells didn’t make up for otherwise poor to average weather. The second type is where there are enough courgettes for home consumption but no extra to give away, in other words an average to reasonably good Irish summer. And the third type is where there is a surplus during courgette production and a stockpile in the fridge when the courgette plants shrivel up with colder temperatures of autumn. This summer was undoubtedly the third type of courgette supply summer. It was brilliant in terms of heat earlier on even if it feels autumn has begun early, with the young courgettes just bounding forward with growth during the hot weather. Flowers like petunias and asters loved it too.
The abundant courgette supply also required checking out a load of different courgette recipes. We have often made courgette pancakes before but a great, vegan, one is courgettes in a gram flour recipe, both nutritious and delicious, and it is also gluten free. For two to three people to have two pancakes each, take about 200g gram (grams of gram! That is chick pea) flour and sieve into a bowl – don’t omit sieving it since that avoids the issue of trying to get rid of lumps in your batter, almost impossible with gram flour if you don’t sieve it. Take a couple of teaspoons full of finely chopped or dried rosemary, and whatever other flavourings you like (I have used a little salt, a subliminal amount of curry powder – about half a teaspoon, and a teaspoon of ground cumin). Mix well with about 450ml of water. Then grate in one large or two smaller courgettes and mix well. Spoon into a hot, well oiled frying pan making about 15cm/6 inch pancakes and turn when nicely browned on the underside and the top is not too wet to run when turning; I find larger gram flour pancakes hard to handle and keep together. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest. Serve with a curry or stew of your choice and maybe a salad. Tasty.
But there was a definite and overwhelming downside to the summer hot weather, modest as it was in Ireland by international standards. This of course is global warming which has seen many countries literally frying. Meanwhile you had an eejit like Dinald Trumped blaming the extent of California wildfires on water policies in the state and not on the obvious cause, the earth getting hotter.
The way that he went Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865-1953) is Ireland’s most renowned naturalist. As our paths had crossed a bit recently, literally and metaphorically – admittedly ten to twelve decades apart – I decided to read his classic 1937 book “The way that I went” I am glad that I did; it is a remarkable tour de force and definitely an evergreen (sic) classic. It is available in a reasonably priced 2014 edition from Collins Press in Cork with an apt and useful introduction by Michael Viney.
An introductory chapter sets the scene for his traipses around Ireland at the very end of the nineteenth century. He let nothing get in his way. Ditches and patches of water? Plough on through, swim if necessary to get to the other side. They don’t make them like that any more.
His politics sometimes shows with his intolerance of intolerance but this is a book about the natural world and the world, in Ireland, which the past has bequeathed to us. He had a ‘plague on all your houses’ approach to politics (true but also simplistic in a way) as in “If St Patrick had banished from Ireland politics, instead of snakes, he would have conferred a far greater boon, and this lovely land would have had peace and charity, as well as faith and hope.” (p.385). He was from Holywood, Co Down with a Dutch father, hence the surname, and a very strong naturalist bent or background on his mother’s side; he spent most of his adult life in Dublin. No one has contributed more to our understanding of the landscape of Ireland.
I particularly looked forward to reading what he had to say about my favourite parts of the country, and those I know best (obviously the two overlap considerably). “If you ask what is the best county in Ireland to walk in, I reply, Donegal (or Tirconnell (Tír Conaill, Connell’s country) to give it its ancient name); the best region to cycle in, Connemara and its natural adjunct West Mayo, or alternatively Kerry.” (page 22) After expressing some reservations about motoring he says that if a wise motorist “uses his car in order to see the country instead of to leave it behind, the walking choice holds good, and Donegal comes first.” You may or may not agree with his choices but as he traipsed 5,000 miles across Ireland you cannot say that he was making an ill-informed judgement.
However you do not have to agree with him on anything or everything including when he says of a particular place or county that it need not detain us for long - this was because he personally found nothing of particular botanical or other interest, He could be quite dismissive and pass-remarkable. But also, even covering 5,000 miles criss-crossing Ireland you are not going to get everywhere, and I can think of some places of significant interest not covered (including the history and flora of my home town!). Whatever about the botany, there are some fascinating aspects of history and the human environment which he misses (that were known at the time); to cover them he would have needed to keep criss-crossing for a lifetime, and the book would have required to be much more than its around four hundred pages. This is a caveat rather than a criticism.
He is also very readable and while it might be stretching it to say humorous, he often has a light touch, as in “As a matter of fact, the most venomous by far of the few blood-thirsty monsters which Ireland produces are midges and horse-flies...” (page 182)
His likes will not be seen again. But then again, despite the massive changes in the country since he wandered and wrote, ‘his likes’ (in a different sense) can still mainly be seen from along the highways and byways of Ireland, across the hedges and ditches, and sometimes even in the towns and cities. Of course the changes in eighty years since he wrote - and even more since he did most of his wandering - have been enormous and some of what he pinpoints may no longer exist but as a part of understanding the Irish landscape, his “The Way that I Went” is a very illuminating read and will remain so for a long time to come.
Pon tiff Well, Pope Francis has been and gone. As they say, we await developments (regarding how the Catholic Church as a body deals with abuse issues and those who cover them up). I won’t add much to the masses of coverage and analysis except to say it felt like old times when I saw a Paisley letter objecting to Protestant church leaders’ desire to “run to meet him”. Of course Rev Ian Paisley died in 2014 so this was his Free Presbyterian minister son, Kyle, writing in the “News Letter” The letter was more restrained than his father might have been in his heyday, while making some of the same kind of points.
What I found particularly interesting in the letter was his affirmation that “real peace cannot be forged at the expense of the honour of the God of peace.” Well, it depends what you mean by peace and how it can be brought about. It may be an ‘ecumenical matter’ (cf Father Ted) but personally I would have thought good relations between the different churches in the North is actually part of establishing peace, and, if you are a Christian believer, wholly in accord with “the honour of the God of peace”.
The Catholic Church is not the only one in Ireland to have testing times currently however; although it is of a different order of magnitude, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has adopted a tougher line on LGBT membership and marriage and has even broken off relations with its mother church in Scotland on the issue - and the official church line on gays has caused a very significant amount of angst and some departures.
After the crash The RTÉ website has improved a bit from its previous very bland existence, and on occasions it has some rather more interesting material than heretofore. One good example (from 7/8/18) is a piece by Séamus Power on “What lessons did Ireland really learn from the recession?” and in particular looking at the water charge protests, civil society and social movements, and how they interact with the party political realm. See here. And for another worthwhile offering see Donal O’Kelly on Jimmy’s Hall at the Abbey.
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I hope those of you in De Nort saw the mention in the news section of the Good Relations Week (formerly Community Relations Week) coming up. Personally I prefer the term ‘Community Relations’ to ‘Good Relations’, as I find the former slightly more meaningful even if it is all open to many interpretations. For me, ‘good relations’ are, and will remain, the ones who, when I was young, would slip me a banknote (with or without a card) at Christmas and my birthday.
That’s it for the first Colm of the autumn. I wish you well with all those autumn schedules and it is only a hop, skip and a jump to Christmas, ho, ho, ho. I’ll see you again, same place, next month, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).