Primordial Fear

Primordial fear. I still remember the first time I experienced it.

I was small. Very small. I remember going into the front room.

I’m not really sure why we had a front room cos we never used it.  Anyway. I went into the front room. I probably toddled into the front room….and there it was.

A gigantic, black, hairy spider.

I was terrified. Racing heart, shaking legs, vomiting sort of terror.  I couldn’t get out of the room fast enough.

Sadly, my language skills weren’t sufficient to convey the primordial nature of the fear I was feeling. I probably just bawled my eyes out, but I never forgot it.

What is it about spiders? Fast forward 33 years. My youngest son is sitting in his buggy in the front room of the house we are renting.  He’s a happy chappy. Fed, watered and ready for bed.  He’s watching that 90’s phenomenon, the ‘Tellytubbies.’ Dipsey and Lala are singing nursery rhymes. He loves it…until a big, hairy black spider descends over Miss Muffet’s bowl of curds and whey. And then he loses it. Bawls his eyes out.

Being a bit dim, I didn’t realise it was primordial fear. I thought it might be colic, or teething pains or possibly meningitis. I was always checking for meningitis.

I didn’t realise what was wrong until the next night when we did exactly the same thing and he reacted in the same way to the hairy black spider. Then I knew.

And I truly believe we have been hard-wired since cave-man times to be scared of things which can potentially kill us. It’s nature’s way of giving us the heads up. Getting the adrenalin pumping, ready for fight or flight.  Good old mother nature. Always looking out for us.

Nowadays, I’m not scared of bugs.  I developed an ability to rationalise. We live in a world full of creepy crawlies. Few of them can do us any real harm.

It doesn’t mean that I love big, hairy spiders but they don’t terrify me anymore. I’ve learned to live alongside them. Besides, they trap flies. We’re allies of sorts.

Today, however, I had a bad experience. It wasn’t primordial fear. It was more face scrunching, yuch inducing sort of bad.

Please don’t read on if you are squeamish. 

So, I was ironing a pillowcase. I iron pillowcases because I have a bnb and I’m expected to iron pillowcases. Otherwise I wouldn’t. I’d spend all my time writing stuff.

The pillowcase was looking lovely. Then I spotted a stain. I was fed up.  Somebody’s had a nose-bleed, I thought- on my good egyptian cotton pillowcase. How inconsiderate!

(Forgive me, it’s been a long season. I’m usually more caring)

Pleased that I spotted the stain, I turned the pillow-case inside out to investigate further.

Be warned, this is not nice. 

The blood was spider blood (I didn’t know they bled?? Maybe it was just gunge)

Inside my pillowcase was the biggest, hairiest, FLATTEST spider you have ever seen.

I’d ironed the poor old boy/ girl.

Being Autumn, the time of big, black hairy spiders, he’d obviously crawled inside my washing.

He probably didn’t have time to experience primordial fear before he was annihilated by my iron. I really hope not.








An uphill struggle

healy pass

Question: Why the repetition. You posted this photo last week???

Answer: Yea (with attitude) But it’s relevant, OK??

Question: Why?

Answer: Well,  I drove along this route today in the midst of an oncoming bicycle race and it was ..horrible… there were thousands of them, all coming at me, lycra-ed from head to toe.

Question: What madness would possess you to do this?

Answer: Aversion tactics. I needed bread, milk, toilet rolls…and  I thought I’d make it home before the onslaught.

Verdict: It was a big mistake.


We have a dog called Willow. German Shepherd.  Lovely dog, good as gold. The problem is that she has spatial awareness challenges. It manifests itself when she runs at speed. In her head she wants to gallop up alongside you and be your best friend.  In reality she crashes into the back of your thighs knocking you for six and is your enemy.

And some cyclists are a bit like Willow. Having negotiated the steep climb up the mountain, they want to free wheel all the way down the other side as FAST as they can. (note how twisty and windy this route is) The problem is that they have spatial awareness problems….

And me.. a nervous driver. A very nervous driver (Picture me, crawling up this mountain pass at 10 miles an hour)

When it comes to nervousness I probably deserve a gold medal.  I spent 48 years on this planet unable to drive. This year, I took the plunge-did the lessons, passed the test and took to the road…cautiously.

Anyway back to the race. What worried me was that I had far more concern for the safety and well being of the cyclists than some of the cyclists themselves.

Why else  would they cycle two, three abreast on this road?? Why would they overtake each other in the face of an oncoming car-albeit it, one driving at snail’s pace?

Why would they take photo’s of the scenery as they negotiated the arduous climb to the top.. something which caused them to wobble precariously when they realised the approaching snail was a motorised vehicle??

And then, when they get to the top of the mountain, the euphoria made them oblivious to my tension filled hill starts as they lay, prostrate on the road,

I can’t tell you how happy I was when I arrived home.. successfully having avoided all the cyclists who hurtled themselves at my car, had a cup of tea and prepared for the second challenge of the day… donkey castration. Ah, the life of a country gal….






Narry of the Bog

Driving along a country road yesterday, we spotted a grey heron. We see them occasionally. Big, flappy, ungainly birds- very prehistoric vibe about them. In Ireland they are commonly known as Narry’s of the bog.


It was apparent that Narry was not happy. Ger stopped the car and we watched him for a couple of minutes. He made an attempt to fly off and failed. Just then a dog came bounding down to the road, barking like crazy.  So what to do next? Having stopped the car, we felt involved.

At this point, I should say that I have tried to stop getting involved in situations like this. Ever since I was small, I’ve rescued birds. Recently I connected with a former student flatmate on facebook. We hadn’t met in over thirty years. Apparently, her stand out memory of me is rescuing  a beat up, half dead pigeon that I brought home and attempted to keep alive. I think I made everyone take turns to feed him during the night!  The sad thing is, that despite my best efforts, 90% of the things I rescued died. I console myself with the thought that at least they had a happy death, knowing that someone cared. But, still and all, they ended up dead.

Given my past experience, I  was not disposed to taking Mister Nary dinosaur bird home. Did I mention his beak? It was sword like in it’s proportions. A lethal weapon for spearing fish. Pigeon rescue is easy. Rescuing this Jurassic relic took guts. And that’s where my beloved shone. He picked him up- tucked him under his arm and sat in the passenger seat. As we pulled off, the bird started squawking- raucous, dinosaur like sounds. Very Jurassic.

The grey heron  is approx 1 metre in height. His wing span is 1.6 to 2 metres. Suffice to say, he’s no pigeon. Sitting in the front seat of our car, with his mad, black, haunted eyes, he looked like a crumpled chicken. There was nothing to him under all the feathers.

Funnily enough, the grey heron has been revered in Irish mythology since time immemorial.  There’s a story about two girls, Aoife, daughter of Daelbeth, and Luchra, daughter of Abhartach. Both of them fancied  this guy Illbreac, who was a son of the great Sea God, Manannán mac Lir. Anyway, Manannan preferred Aoife and Luchra wasn’t happy. So what did she do? In a fit of pique, she turned Aoife into a heron. Aoife the heron, flew off and lived to be 200 years old. Manannan was so upset when she finally passed away that he decided to commemorate her in a very special way.

Remember Silence of the Lambs? Manannan would have loved that film.

To honour his lovely Aoife bird, he skinned her and kept all his treasures in a little bag made out of her. Ah, love’s true dream, eh?

When the Christian church hit our shores, somewhere back in the 5th century, it too had some thoughts about the grey heron. The nice thing about the early Christians was that they were very fluid in their interpretation of the way things were. Completely unphased by the strong hold of the indigenous Celtic pantheon, they simply altered some pertinent facts; inserted saints where there were previously gods and goddesses and proceeded to assume absolute control of the hearts and minds of the population.

So, the heron, once sacred to the Triple Goddess, worshipped as the keeper of secrets and shamanic travel, maintained a place in the popular imagination as a fallen sinner. Word was that if you failed to make it to heaven on account of your bad deeds on earth, you might well have to come back to earth as a heron, and this was by way of penance.

But, I digress. Back to the present day and the plight of  Mr Nary.

We came to the conclusion that we should bring him some place where he could recuperate, safe from dogs and cars. Not too far away was a  lake. Ger found a sheltered spot and we left him there. By way of remembrance,  our friend gave Ger a parting gift: a two inch scratch down the side of his face.

Who could blame him? He was freaked out, big time. The wound looks worse than it is. It will heal.  I sincerely hope that Mr Nary will recover and live to fly another day. The younger me would have brought him home and fed him worms and put him a bucket of hay.  Maybe that would have been the right thing to do. I don’t know. It’s tricky with wild things.  The shock of being out of their environment can be too much for them. Many of them don’t survive the trauma.

Anyway we drove off, went home and thought about what had happened.  Being up close to such an ancient, scrawny specimen of life was pretty special, humbling even. I love that about life in the countryside. Those rare, insider moments when you get to experience the natural world in all its diversity. Truly, we live on an amazing planet.





W is for Wrong….so wrong#atozchallenge


W   When my son Joe was seven, he wrote in a school copy book that he wanted to be a filmmaker. He spent the next twelve years making  film after film, using his little brother as his lead man, his sister on cameras and dog handling,  and the dogs as various baddies.  We heard a few weeks ago that one of his shorts was selected to be screened as part of a Youth Film Festival.  Great news, we were all delighted for him. He works hard.

Come the day of the event, we were all in a bit of a flurry. The event was taking place at a venue approximately three hours drive from us. We needed to be on the road for Joe had stayed at his friends the night before, so we had to collect him en route.  We left the house at 8.20. We never manage to leave on time.

When he was little I knew who all his friends were. I knew his friend’s mums, dads, step-dads. I knew his friends grannies, even their guinea pigs.  Not any more. Nowadays his friends don’t even have names…funny that. They are just ‘friends’ and I wouldn’t know them, so why do I even want to know?? Anyway, when I tell you that we didn’t know where this nameless friend lived, you won’t be surprised.

You may not be surprised either that Joe’s directions were pretty awful.

‘Drive on past the bend at Star Sailing, and keep going until you see the shamrock sign’

We did that. No sign. We drove back and did it again. Still no sign. We rang Joe, who didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Eventually we tracked him down, and sped off. I dissuaded my, ‘time challenged’ husband that we did not have time to stop and buy tofu at the wholesalers, as we were now running seriously behind schedule.

Further complication. Whilst we knew, broadly, where we heading, we didn’t know the specific location of the Arts Centre where the event was being held. Stopping pedestrians in the street and asking for directions all took time we didn’t have.

We did a couple of circuits of Youghal, before arriving at the Arts Centre. We had five minutes to spare before Joe’s film was due to be screened. Joe was getting serious jitters, as it is quite a big deal to see your work out there in the public domain. I managed to maintain a facade of calm.

Four of us leapt out the car, leaving Ger to negotiate parking. I bolted off to find the front door- which was locked.

Aaaah!! Why is it locked? Where is everybody? What sort of film festival is this, anyway? Minutes tick by.

We spot another passer by and demand to know what is happening. The passer by was as mystified as us.

Joe’s film is called ‘The Wrong Turn

Check it out. It’s very short. Short and kind of sweet. The bad ass drug dealing kid is my son Iarla. You will see the dog still has an important role.

Anyway, given it’s title this seemed like an appropriate post for W day. We certainly made a few wrong turns on our way up to Youghal.

But the thing that we got really  WRONG was the day. The festival was due to take place the following weekend.





V is for Victim#atozchallenge

V.jpg  I planned to call this post ‘Virus’ and then talk about an illness my father had as a young boy. Having googled it, I’ve just discovered his illness was not caused by a virus but an infection. So, quick reshuffle. Let’s say he was Victim of a nasty disease, which was not a Virus!   Satisfied that my obligations to the letter V are taken care of (phew!)  I can move on with the story.

In 1933 my Dad had rheumatic fever. He was 13 at the time. He was very ill for the best part of a year, and his mother feared that he wouldn’t pull through. She had ten children. If you saw our house, you’d wonder where ten children, two parents, and a granny actually fitted!

Dad was so sick, his bed was moved downstairs to the parlour. One day an elderly neighbour called to the house. Dad overheard her talking to his mother. They were talking about him. Essentially, what the old lady was recommending was that dad should be taken outdoors and beaten with a stick. His mother should then call upon the fairies to take this sick child and bring the real Joe back.

Thankfully his mother had far too much sense to heed such nonsense. I don’t know anything about the old lady. Maybe she was a bit mad. The scary thing is that her advice derived from a superstitious belief about ‘changelings.’ I mentioned in my post yesterday that the Irish fairies were a pretty dark bunch.  A commonly held belief in earlier times was that the fairies sometimes took children and replaced them with one of their own. The replacement would be odd or sickly or just not right. The implications for any child suffering from a developmental disorder were terrifying. Apparently the last known case of the murder of a suspected changeling occurred in 1884. changeling.

Interestingly, the late 19th century and early twentieth century saw a burgeoning of academic and literary interest in the cultures and traditions of Ireland. The literary revival was an important time and it directly fed into the growing nationalist movement. The following is an excerpt from a poem written during this time by one of our great national poets, W.B Yeats.
The Stolen Child
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Whilst this is a beautiful and haunting evocation of our culture, it is one sided. The other side of the coin is the cruelty and ignorance that went hand in hand with some of the fairy beliefs.  The fact that, as late, as 1933, it was conceivable that a parent be advised to beat a sick child, as a piece of folk wisdom is deeply shocking.
My dad made a full recovery from the fever. One small addendum, though. He had a relapse in his early twenties. It occurred just after he had enlisted in the British army during the second world war. As a result of the relapse, he was deemed unfit for service. He was disgusted. It wasn’t that he wanted to fight- he just wanted the opportunity to travel and the army was his ticket to France.
Who knows what would have happened if he went. He might have been fine. He might not.
So, back to the letter V. V is also for vagaries of fortune.
The rheumatic fever that nearly killed him, might well have saved him.  I’m just happy  Joe wasn’t stolen away from us before his time, in a war he would have hated.

S is for Harbinger of Spring#atozchallenge


Today, we had a visitor.  Year after year without fail, this visitor makes it’s way from Sub Saharan Africa to grace our shores for a few short months.

And she’s  obviously happy to be here after flying 4,500 kilometres.  If I’d clocked up those kilometres, I’d go around shouting my name out too. CUCKOO, CUCKOO- I’M BACK!!

Excitement about the cuckoo is something that is passed down in the O’Shea family gene pool. Apparently,  the great sadness of my grandpa’s declining years was the fact that he could no longer hear the cuckoo call, due to increasing deafness.

Grandpa passed this cuckoo love on to my father. Back in the 1970’s, we lived in Cornwall. Every Sunday in April, dad would insist that we went out into the wilds in an attempt to hear the cuckoo. It was probably a bit of ‘Wild Goose’ chase, if you pardon the pun.  The significant thing I took from all this was that hearing the cuckoo was an important and serious civic duty.

It is such an important event that I log the date in my diary every year. I also tell all my April glamping guests about the cuckoo and encourage them to listen out for him.

I have to say, that given the way she behaves when she gets here, she probably doesn’t deserve such a warm welcome. In fact, if I was a  Meadow Pipit, Dunnock,  Robin or Pied Wagtail, I’d be rightly fed up to hear she’s back in town.

She is what is known as a known as a, ‘brood parasite,’ which may sound a bit  harsh.

What it means, is that she lays  her eggs in other birds nests, fooling them into doing all the work of raising her babies. In the meantime, she sneakily removes the eggs of her host and eats them!

Here in Ireland, the cuckoo abuses the poor Meadow Pipit so badly, that in the Irish language it’s called, ‘Banaltra na Cuaice’, which translates as the Cuckoo’s nurse.

So what else do we know about this exotic visitor?  Well according to the traditional nursery rhyme:

The Cuckoo comes in April
She sings her song in May
She changes her tune
In the month of June
And July she flies away

We also know that number are declining, so that’s a bit of a worry. In Britain, their numbers have halved since 1995. A marked decline is also occurring in Ireland and other parts of Europe. I’m always relieved when she arrives back to us. I’m also happy that she flew back in time for me to hail her as HARBINGER OF SPRING on S Day!

Q is for Quagmire#atozchallenge

Q  Quagmire is a noun. The dictionary says it is ‘a soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot’ Other words which mean the same sort of thing are swamp, bog, mire, quicksand, even bayou.
However, as it’s Q day, I’ll use the word quagmire to describe the terrain on which we live.
The dominant geological feature is rock. Lots of big, hard rock. Mountainous amounts of rock, even. This rock is held together by -yes, you guessed, squelchy quagmire.
So, we have rock and bog. Ecologically it’s a wonderland.  However, farming in this fairly extreme environment is a bit of a challenge.
It is a challenge that we faced when we moved down from the city ten years ago.
You may ask why we felt the need to farm anything at all? Well, we inherited a small farm from my dear parents, and so the pressure was on to do something with it.
Mountain sheep thrive in this environment and are widely produced in the locality. However, sheep farming is a tricky business and demands a level of commitment and skill that we felt was beyond us. So, we had a bit of a dilemma on our hands.
 If life hands you lemons, you’re encouraged to make lemonade.
That’s all well and good. What if life hands you a quagmire to farm on??
It was quite a conundrum, a quagmire even:  (Dictionary also says a quagmire is an awkward, complex or tricky situation!)
Then we heard of a breed of animals that sounded perfect for our requirements.
There really is such a thing! To make matters worse, this thing is an endangered species, which means it’s at risk of dying out completely unless people breed them. In 1994, there were only 20 bog ponies left in the whole of Ireland.
Big highfive here! Ger and I discovered our very own way to make lemonade, so to speak.  And… it came with a certain feel good factor.
Five years into the breeding program and I have to say that we are coping! We are still not, and probably never will be real farmers. On the plus side, these ponies are ideally suited to the fairly harsh terrain. They are small and barrel shaped, and manage to maintain their condition in the harsh winter months. Apart from regular visits from the farrier to cut their hooves, they require very little maintenance. They are also very sweet, and aim to please, except when they’re being naughty.
Meet Cora !
And Cora’s Foal
I’ll end this post with a snippet of happy news. Five years ago, we bought two bog ponies. These ponies produced two more beautiful boggers. This Summer, if Mother Nature smiles on us, we hope that four boggy babies will grace our mountainside.
And who is the proud Daddy? Daddy is a stallion from a farm nearby. He is short, handsome and snowy white. He goes by the name of ‘Quagmire Jasper.’