Snowdrops And Daffodils And Flowers Of The Spring

The first sight of Irish snowdrops in early spring brings hope of warmer days ahead. I love these little, dainty flowers.  They truly lift my spirits after the dark days of winter.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Ireland’s snowdrop crop of 2014 has already bloomed.  Tiny flowers, as white as pearls, sway on green-hooked stems, shaped like St. Patrick’s crozier. Daffodils dance in the winds, and crocuses bring color to dormant flower beds.

Crocuses

Crocuses

For those of us who grew up in Ireland in the 1970′s “snowdrops and daffodils” were an important part of our sing along repertoire.  Ireland’s first Eurovision Song Contest winner, Dana, was loved by Irish school children. Her winning song brought springtime to mind:

“Snowdrops and daffodils,

Early morning dew…..

….. All kinds of everything

Remind me of you.”

 

Daffodils

Daffodils

Snowdrops and primroses featured in Ireland’s folk songs. One of the most haunting songs of my childhood is “The Old Bog Road.” These sad lyrics tell the story of an Irish immigrant to New York, yearning for his homeland. This verse brings a tear to my eye:

“My mother died last springtide, when Ireland’s fields were green:

The neighbours said her waking was the finest ever seen.

There were snowdrops and primroses piled up beside her bed,

And Ferns Church was crowded when the funeral Mass was said,

But there was I on Broadway, with building bricks for load,

When they carried out her coffin from the Old Bog Road.”

 

Primroses

Primroses

Listening to my father recite these lines led me to assume the snowdrop is a native Irish plant. I included a description of snowdrops in my historical novel, set in Ireland in the 1840′s. I decided however I better do some snowdrop research to ensure historical accuracy. I soon discovered there probably weren’t many snowdrops to be found in Ireland at the time of the Famine.

What I thought is an-ever-so-Irish plant actually originated in not-so-snowy Turkey. Reluctantly, I deleted my lovely snowdrop descriptions from my novel.

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And so I asked the question, how did these precious little flowers find their way across 2000 miles to thrive in the cold, damp soils of my homeland?

Back in 1874 a Victorian botanist, Henry Elwes, collected the plant in Izmir. Before leaving Turkey he established a system for bulb collection and transportation to the British Isles. Millions of snowdrops have been exported ever since.

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Snowdrops and daffodils flourish in Ireland, probably because Irish gardeners find them poetically beautiful. Springtime bulbs are planted with care in autumn, with an eager eye kept on the dark soils of winter, watching and waiting for the first spiky green stems of spring to appear.

Daffodil Close-up

And once in full bloom we know brighter days are on the way. Here’s hoping sunny spring days will arrive very soon in North America.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Irish Cottage Windows

Nostalgic images of Irish cottage windows adorn postcards, calendars, placemats, mugs and numerous other mementos created to help tourists remember their days spent in the Emerald Isle.

Some claim this image is overused and just plain touristy, but for me it is synonymous with my homeland.

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Simple, small wooden windows often sport old black kettles. Red geraniums are striking, when highlighted by whitewashed walls.

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This summer I often paused to photograph cottage windows. My children just could not understand my interest in windows.

“Hurry up, Mom,” was a frequent instruction from my kids, who grew impatient with my constant dilly dallying, and car halting maneuvers to snapshot old windows that caught my fancy. In years to come I hope they’ll understand their mother’s fascination with Irish cottages and windows.

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Whenever I see a lace curtained window, I smile.  Simple, yet beautiful, these windows are fitting symbols of our rural heritage.

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Irish cottages usually boasted less than six small windows, and often only two or three.

The size and number of windows in a house were limited to avoid the dreaded ‘window tax’.  From 1799 until 1851 more than six windows in a house resulted in a window tax being levied on the homeowner. As a result cottages were built with as few windows as possible.

Cottage interiors were often smokey and dark. The window tax was often called the ‘typhus tax’ because of respiratory problems caused by poor ventilation.

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The general rule was that the front door of the cottage should face south.  Northerly winds are colder than southerly breezes.  Elemental considerations dictated the door free rear wall should face north.

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Cottage windows were small compared to the vast glass panes of today. The main reason for this, was to retain heat in the winter and to keep cool in the summer.  Cottages truly were an Irishman’s cave.

Glass was also expensive. Economy dictated use of the smallest possible amount of glass.

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Cottage walls were much thicker than today’s home structures. This design feature helped support the roof and beams.  Thick walls meant deep window recesses, just perfect for flower displays.

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Deep window ledges were also perfect for displaying statues, the Infant of Prague, being a favored window fixture.

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And of course, flowers adorned cottage windows in abundance, and still do, to this very day.

Every Irish cottage is slightly different, each seeming to boast a unique personality.  And behind these windows family stories of love and loss evolved…. if only windows could talk.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

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Dublin’s Maytime Flowers

Flowers make my soul smile – wild or manicured my eyes appreciate the glories of their blossoms.  Baskets, boxes, bouquets, pots, planters, you name it, I love them all once they are full of flowers.

Flower Display By Trinity College Dublin

Flower Display By Trinity College, Dublin

I just returned from a quick visit to Ireland.  Dublin’s flowers are spectacular at the moment, so I couldn’t help myself.  I just had to take my camera to record the ordinary, simple beauty of these streets I know so well.  Dublin is blooming in style, albeit a little later than usual after a long, cold winter.

Maytime Daffodils In Raheny

Maytime Daffodils In Raheny

Believe it or not, daffodils are still nodding in the gentle breezes.  Usually blooming in March, a Maytime host of golden daffodils is very unusual in the Emerald Isle.

Dublin's Tulips And Pansies

Dublin’s Tulips And Pansies

Tulips of every color stand tall in the planters and flower beds of St. Stephen’s Green.

Flowers Of St. Stephen's Green

Flowers Of St. Stephen’s Green

Blooming each year in a showy sea of blossoms, there must be thousands of bulbs planted in these flower beds.

Tulips On The Green

Tulips On The Green

They return each year, making Dublin look like Amsterdam.  In the midst of all the doom and gloom of Ireland’s recent recession, it is lovely to know a stroll around St. Stephen’s Green is still free for all to enjoy.

Dublin's Flower Beds

Dublin’s Flower Beds

Simple white tulips are spectacular amidst a sea of yellow.  Sitting on a bench surrounded by such beauty is the perfect way to watch the world go by.

Yellow Tulips In St. Stephen's Green

Yellow Tulips In St. Stephen’s Green

Yellow tulips symbolize happiness in life, and looking at this lovely spread of yellow tulip cups, who could not feel happy.

Dublin's Cherry Blossoms

Dublin’s Cherry Blossoms

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, raining pastel pink petals on the pathways of Dublin’s parks.

Strolling Through The Green

Strolling Through The Green

What could be more perfect than strolling through the park, under an umbrella of cherry blossoms, holding Grandad’s hand.

Flower Stall On Grafton Street

Flower Stall On Grafton Street

Grafton Street is a mass of vibrant color, flower sellers arranging their wares with care and a keen eye.

Window Box Flowers in Dublin

Window Box Flowers in Dublin

Even Dublin’s window boxes are bedecked in blues, yellows and every shade of green.

My heart sang as I walked around my hometown last Saturday. No matter how far I wander from her, I always feel at home, strolling along Grafton Street, crossing the Liffey and just knowing I belong here.

Thank you Dublin for a lovely day.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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What I Miss About Ireland: Robins

Robins remind me of Ireland.  I remember gardening with my mother as a child, and being amazed by how tame robins appeared.  They often followed us around the garden, pecking for worms and insects in the grass as we worked.

Irish robins are much smaller than the American variety.  I remember seeing an American robin for the first time and being amazed at how big it was.  I suppose everything is bigger over here.

Today’s post focuses on little Irish robins.  Thanks to a good friend Anthony in Donegal, for sending me these amazing photos of my favorite little songbird.

As children we learned the robin is God’s own bird, sacred and revered in  legend and folklore.  We were enthralled by the story of how a little robin tried to remove one of the bloody thorns piercing Christ’s head at the time of the Crucifixion. A drop of the Lord’s blood fell on the little brown bird, staining its chest red.

Then there are the lines from William Blake:

“A Robin Redbreast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage.”

From “Auguries of Innocence by William Blake

There are many Irish superstitions surrounding robins.  Above all is the warning never to take the life of this red-breasted songster.  It is believed that anyone who kills a robin will have a life full of misery, clearly expressed in these old words of caution:

“Whoever kills a robin redbreast will never have good luck,

Even if they lived to be a thousand years old. “

 

Another old Irish lesson about kindness to robins tells that if anyone kills a robin a large growth will grow on the assailant’s hand, preventing the killer from working or playing hurling (an ancient Irish team sport played with sticks and a ball).

The robin is supposedly blessed with amazing powers for predicting the weather.  The little bird may even be more accurate than Ireland’s rain weary meteorologists with their never ending warnings of scattered showers.

Long and loud singing of the robin in the morning, is a sure sign of rain.

A robin sheltering in the dense branches of a tree is another indicator of rain.

If one is seen chirping on an open tree branch, then fine weather is practically guaranteed.

Robins are associated with Christmas time, first appearing  in the 19th century on traditional Victorian cards.  Ever since their red foliage has been linked with the holiday.

This favorable and popular view of the robin in Ireland is not supported by its disposition.  They are fiercely territorial and love a good old brawl.  Maybe that’s why we Irish like them so much. This affinity for a good fight is not uncommon in birds.  What makes robins different is that they fight fiercely, often to the bitter end.  They’re not quitters and therefore worthy of our admiration.

Robins are also said to be able to predict death.  A robin flying into a home through an open window is an ominous sign.

My granny always told us how a robin flew into her kitchen on the day she lost her three year-old son, my uncle Danny.  From the time of his birth in the early 1930′s he suffered from hydrocephalus and “a lump on his neck”.  Today we know his diagnosis was probably spina bifida.

Yet Granny never feared robins nor blamed the little bird for being a messenger of doom.  She believed the robin was sent from God to help prepare and console her at the time of her great loss.  She taught us to love robins too.

Time for one last piece of advice.  If you see the first robin of spring, make a wish.  But do so quickly.  This old wives’ tale warns that if the bird flies away before you have made your wish, you have an unlucky year ahead of you.

And so I hope these photos of Ireland’s most common and best loved songbird brings you a little smile today.  Here’s to all the wishes waiting to be granted by those first robins of spring.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

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“Anyone For The Last Of The Wrappin’ Paper?”

Whenever I unfold a big roll of American Christmas wrapping paper my thoughts wander back to the wrappin’ paper of my childhood, sold by the ladies of Moore Street.

 

“Anyone For The Last Of The Wrappin’ Paper?”

 

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Image Credit

I fondly remember the chorus of street vendors throughout Henry Street on Christmas Eve.  The sense of urgency in their voices was directly related to their excess inventory of wrapping paper at the start of the day.  If sales were not to their liking their high pitched pleading rose to a crescendo as three o’clock approached.

 

“Anyone for the last of the wrappin’ paper?

Get it before it’s all gone!”

 

The Moore street ladies sold wrapping paper in sheets, a single leaf seldom big enough to cover any gift box.  Five sheets for 20 pence!  No sheet matched, so any large present was decked out in multicolored, festive layers.

 

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Moore Street Markets – Dublin © Marek Ślusarczyk

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And nobody bothered wasting money on gift boxes.  If the item didn’t fit in a shoe box, the best solution was to roll it up in wrapping paper any which way.  Gifts of every shape, size and dimension surrounded our Christmas tree each year.

I don’t know if the Moore Street traders still sell “wrappin’ paper” all along Henry Street coming up to Christmas.  If they do, I’m sure it’s a lot more expensive than 20 pence these days.

 

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Henry Street, Dublin at Christmas

Image Credit

Every Christmas, when I buy a huge roll of thick, high quality gift wrapping in America, I reminisce about the “last of the wrappin’ paper.”  When I see my perfectly symmetrical packages, part of me misses the misshapen, mismatched wrapping of my childhood.  And no matter how long I live in America, I will always miss the ladies of the Moore Street markets.

 

Nollaig Shona Daoibh

(Merry Christmas)

 

Irish American Mom

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