October 30, 2012
Gearóid Mac Niocaill’s book Ireland before the Vikings (Gill and Macmillan, 1972) has an interesting passage on the names adopted on the island during the 4th, 5th and early 6th centuries. He refers to “a mosaic of peoples” who are “dimly perceptible” amid the settlements and political changes he has been discussing, and whose names appear in various forms:
ending in –raige (‘the people of’), or as Dál (‘the share of’) or Corco (perhaps ‘seed’) plus a second element, or as a collective noun ending in –ne. Some contain animal names, such as Artraige ‘bear-people’, Osraige ‘deer-people’, Grecraige ‘horse-people’, Dartraige ‘calf-people’, Sordraige ‘boar-people’; others, such as the Ciarraige, the Dubraige and Odraige, have a colour (ciar ‘black’, dub also ‘black’, odor ‘dun’) as the first element; others, such as the Cerdraige, seem to have an occupational term as the first element.
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May 20, 2010
Sturnus vulgaris: an ill-fitting name
for so genial a bird (though you’re not quite tame)
From treetop to rooftop on sorties incessant
With firework-like feathers of dark iridescence.
The second verse was worse, so I’ll spare you.
The last place I lived was populated more by smaller Irish birds such as finches, pipits, tits, stonechats and wagtails; I’d forgotten just how noisy blackbirds and starlings can be.
Not that I mind. The starlings nesting in the roof are the first thing I hear when I wake up, and they hardly stop chattering all day. Or maybe one of them is making all the noise. The only time it’s not whistling, clicking or chirruping is when it has a juicy meal in its bill.
Because I eat in the garden whenever possible, I have to beware of aerial bombardment. To date I have been splatted only once, which makes me feel very lucky, though in the immediate aftermath of these events it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the bird did it deliberately, out of mischief.
March 15, 2010
As a child I spent endless hours exploring the shallows and periphery of a nearby lake, peering into one mysterious microhabitat after another. Between the house and the lake lies a pond whose gentler motions foster a different kind of local ecology. For example, every spring the pond plays host to masses of frogspawn that grow gradually and perilously into tadpoles, tailed froglets, and finally (if they’re very lucky) adult frogs.
The Common frog (Rana temporaria) is one of Ireland’s three amphibious animals, along with the Natterjack toad and Common newt; all are protected species. Ireland’s frogs appear to have a unique lineage, and despite their vulnerability they may even have survived the last Ice Age. If so, they were probably helped by their ability to breathe through their skin: this allows them to hibernate at the bottom of a pond or in a deep layer of mud.
On a visit to the countryside last weekend, I was delighted to see the local frogs tending to a prodigious clump of spawn that floated serenely at the side of the pond in the early morning sun:
Click here for clammy close-ups