Blackbird in Love
One sunny spring evening earlier this year, while strolling at an easy pace along the riverbank in Ballymore Eustace, my thoughts in solitude were of a melancholy nature, seeking resolution to a perplexing series of circumstances which appeared to be insurmountable. Stopping to watch the river weave its silent course between the two banks, I became conscious of the silence around me, for no wind blew, no bird sang nor did any fish disturb the surface of the water. On reaching Chris Kelly’s back garden, still in pensive mood, still in silence, singular sounds filled the air from somewhere to my left, and for perhaps ten seconds without pause, the sound stretched smoothly from trembling contralto, through alto and effortlessly on to thrilling soprano. Without realizing, I had stopped to listen and to look for the source and identity of this apparent avian choir whose sweetness was so fulfilling. The music stopped momentarily, then filled the air once again, but with a slightly different melody, an arrangement seemingly more emphatic, sweeter than before, and while still looking, I spied the musician behind a leaf of similar shape to itself, but could not fully identify its nationhood, for it was in silhouette. Then the tail rose in the air, much as a peacock might display its fan, and with a slight change of light, I saw a Blackbird!
It was I suppose, a meeting of contrasts; the one singing the joys of Spring and courtship, the other sullen and dejected. After about ten minutes of this enervating concert, I continued on to the bend in the river, around which I appeared to meet before me, an atmosphere as dour as the mood which had been upon me, but by then, had fallen from importance in my mind.
Within a few steps of my returning from where I had been standing, the intermission over, the music commenced once more. The stage had not moved but the light had changed and I could see the Blackbird elevated to a higher branch, the better to impress the unseen female audience of this theatre in their balconies amongst the other trees. The lower orders of the melody had been dispensed with, and my new ‘friend’ now sang exclusively in sacred soprano, of Spring’s Awakening in Vivaldi’s Primavera, adding nourishment to his fire of love, snatching the pleasurable image of some female to his heart, and she feeding herself of this influence, filling her own heart with appetites and lively spirits in sounds incomparable, not least in human standards; and I, the sole beneficiary of this magnificent display listened, enthralled to think that the exhibition was presented before me, yet I wished the whole world had been there to experience those moments of joy. But all was not quite over.
After some time, it seemed clear the Blackbird was singing its own encore; and so I strolled back towards where I had started from, but to my great surprise, in advance of me, the Blackbird was singing from a tree behind Marie O’Neill’s house, and from there he flew ahead to a tree behind Mary Murphy’s house, his ‘voice’ warbling an au revoir from on high. I left then, wishing him every good fortune in his search for a nesting companion. Because of his trilling overtures to courtship, of his dedication to the pursuits of love, he most decidedly deserved the best lookin’ female Blackbird around Ballymore. He was a true troubadour of the first order in a Blackbird’s paradise.
A few days later, while writing another magazine article, writer’s block descended, and all that day, try as I might for two days, no ideas or words flowed. The mind was vacant, empty, but on the third day, and within the space of time of having closed my eyes in frustration and reopened them, a Blackbird had appeared before me outside the back window, standing silhouetted against a clear azure blue sky on our high back wall. I mused, wondering and curious at his appearance. Was this my friend of recent acquaintance? He was perfectly formed with an absolutely exquisite shape, a sublime posture, and was wearing a suit of feathers so black and so wonderfully well tailored, that teflon was but a rag to it. He raised his head slightly, giving dignity to his appearance - of Blackbird royalty perhaps - but when he raised his tail boastfully, I felt sure he was telling me that he was a very proud Blackbird indeed; that he had a whirlwind courtship, was engaged to be married and had already started building his home close by.
During this Summer, while my wife was in our back garden tending to flowers and herbs, a family of Blackbirds began to familiarize with her, ever more frequently. His lordship of the yellow bill, his brown-gowned mistress, along with their two children, arrived every morning to the window-sill for breakfast-crumbs. During the daytime, they dined at will on a ‘table’ of grass, feeling intently for the movement of worms below their feet, and on warm days, having feasted and fasted, they bathe themselves in the little pond at the end of a running cataract, after which they splay themselves on the ground, their wings outstretched to the warmth of the Sun, birds at rest in paradise.
Within the bounds of the ancient monastic site of Glendalough, there is a graveyard to the right of the Tower. There stands a very beautiful memorial stone to Siobhan Stuart, who died tragically in 1953, aged 35. It displays the carved image of a Blackbird, symbol of a soul arriving to its eternal rest, and is a work-of-love by her mother, Imogen Stuart, R.H.A., who also designed it; and as Seamus Heaney appends in St. Kevin and the Blackbird, ‘One up-turned palm is out the window, stiff/As a cross beam, when a Blackbird lands/And lays in it and settles down to rest.’ Siobhan’s grandmother was Iseult Stuart, daughter of Maud Gonne.
In the October 2000 edition of the Ballymore Bugle, I had the pleasure of interviewing Imogen Stuart, for a monograph as Artist and Sculptor of international renown who graced this village with her design for the water feature in The Square in Ballymore Eustace. The work-form represents the influence through millennia of Anna Livia, from its source in the Wicklow Mountains, its descent through An Baile Mor, and on to the ‘black pool’ at Dubhlinn. It also displays carved poetic extracts from early Irish history, including the words, ‘A hedge of trees surrounds me, a Blackbird sings to me above my little lined book’, along with the carved image of a Blackbird.
It was commissioned by the Ballymore Eustace Development Group under Tommy Deegan, Michael Holland etc. (Its origin and initiation has nothing to do with the Millennium celebrations of 2000).
On Yer Bike!
Bill Delaney of Briencan is undertaking the Dublin-Paris Cycle Challenge in September in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF). Departing from Dublin on Monday, 13th September, the group will cycle to Rosslare over two days and catch the overnight ferry to Cherbourg. From there they will cycle for three days, overnighting in Bayeux and Evreux, and arriving in Paris on Thurs. 17th. They will cover some 500km (320 miles) over the five days, all the while raising vital funds for the Irish Hospice Foundation, to ensure that everyone in need can have access to Hospice care. Each participant has to raise €2,500 each and Bill would greatly appreciate any donations from you, which can be made to him in person or by direct debit to the bank. You may contact Bill at (087) 1228605 to make arrangements for payment.
Your contribution will be used to further the work of the Irish Hospice Foundation. Hospice care involves the total care of patients and their families at the stage of a serious illness where the focus has switched from treatment aimed at cure to ensuring the best quality of life. Any funds raised will contribute towards IHF vital programmes, some of which are outlined below:
· Most people prefer to die at home but two thirds of us die in a hospital of one kind or another. The flagship Hospice Friendly Hospitals Programme aims to put Hospice principles into hospital practice. More than 40 hospitals are involved in the Programme but it is hoped to extend it to every hospital in the country by the end of 2012
· Almost 1,400 Irish children are living with life-limiting illnesses. The Children’s Palliative Care programme is designed to meet the needs of these children and their families in the community. This €2.25m programme is focusing on the deployment of outreach nurses in the community; education and training initiatives; creating a database of children with life-limiting illnesses and employing Ireland’s first paediatric palliative care consultant.
· Education, and Bereavement Resource Centre plays a leading role in the development of palliative care education. By funding a Visiting Professor of Hospice Studies and an education forum, we are contributing to ensuring a highly qualified workforce for palliative care services now and into the future. IHF is also at an advanced stage of helping to set up an All-Ireland Institute for Hospice & Palliative Care.
· The vast majority or 95%of people who have access to Hospice services have cancer. It is important also to ensure that Hospice care is available to people with illnesses other than cancer. IHF has committed over €1m to fund a five-year Extending Access Programme. This, for example, funds a night nursing service for patients with conditions other than cancer that are dying at home.