Ancient people names in Ireland

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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Darling starling

May 20, 2010

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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.

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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.


Frogspawn in an Irish pond

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:

View downward at part of a still pond, with clumps of low reeds and grasses in the foreground and masses of frogspawn amidst and just beyond them. At the top can be seen the reflections of trees on the pond surface.

Click here for clammy close-ups


Wildlife interlude

October 3, 2008
Stan Carey - dramatic heron

Local heron with dramatic poise

Stan Carey - mink exploring

This mink scampered about on the causeway for a while, occasionally checking my position.

Stan Carey - horse at Aughanure Castle

Horse at Aughnanure Castle

Stan Carey - robin singing

After a couple of minutes’ singing, this robin was visited by a hovering suitor who mated with her. (It's all on video.)

Stan Carey - Connemara sheep

Connemara: tough grass, tough sheep.