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Michael Harding: Contrary to popular opinion, it’s all go in Leitrim all the time

Talking to plants and small birds is entirely sensible in this part of the country

I have friends who live busy lives in cities and say to me that it must be great to live in Leitrim where nothing happens.

Although last week was busy enough. I had a breaded haddock for lunch in Carrick-on-Shannon on Monday. And on Tuesday I met an old friend in the Shed Distillery for coffee and we spent an hour comparing various heart tablets. On Wednesday I left a grey suit at the cleaners, and dropped off a lawnmower to be serviced. So that was a fierce busy week.

Yesterday I picked up the lawnmower, and then rushed home to see if there was any sign of green shoots on the wild roses I pruned a month ago. I slashed the roses to stumps with a hedge strimmer; like a psychotic killer flailing his demons. And now I’m worried that they might not grow again.

This morning there was a wren hopping beneath the bare branches, zigzagging around the dead wood until he found my door. He looked up with his tiny wren eye and said: “What did you do that for? Why would you kill the roses?”


At least that’s what I imagined him saying.

“I am truly sorry,” I said, hoping the roses might overhear us.

Talking to plants and small birds is entirely sensible in Leitrim. During the big storm two weeks ago I stood under the great spruce, a majestic 80ft high matriarch that towers far above our roof tiles. As the wind screeched in the branches above me I clasped the bark, my outstretched arms barely covering half the circumference. This allowed me to sense any vibration that might indicate roots coming loose.

“It’s okay,” the tree said. “I have stood here in bigger winds than this.”

Being stuck half in and half out of the bird box is not the most dignified position when your lady tit is watching from a nearby branch

Talking to trees was once considered the prerogative and unique eccentricity of the Prince of Wales, now king of England; he was hugging barks long before the Green Party won a single vote in Ireland. And I had a teacher in primary school who used to accuse me of not paying attention if I was looking out the window. But I was paying attention to the wildlife. Not just birds, but spiders or butterflies on the other side of the windowpane were enough for me to fall into a rapture.

Which may be the reason I have bird boxes. I got them from the General last year when he was attending a remedial workshop in a day care centre.

Unfortunately he made holes too small so no bird could manage to get inside the box. If a tit did occasionally try to squeeze in, he soon found himself dragging his arse after his head with enormous difficulty; and being stuck half in and half out is not the most dignified position when your lady tit is watching from a nearby branch.

This morning, while at my desk I heard a tapping in the air outside my studio window. A bird had begun chipping at the hole in one of the boxes with his beak. Small though he was, he worked with the enthusiasm of a man with a jack hammer tracing the foundations of a new bungalow out of cement.

I went to the yard to be certain of what I heard, and found another bird at another box doing the same. I was living on a building site.

So I phoned the General to tell him the good news but he had forgotten that it was him who made the boxes.

“Last year the holes were too small for the birds,” I said, “but they are pecking like mad to make them wider this year.”

“And what sort of gobshite would make the holes so small?” he wondered. But I said nothing.

When I returned to the studio the wren was staring up at me from beneath the leafless shrubs.

“Don’t give up on these roses yet,” the wren said. And he gazed at the stumps of slaughtered wood that looked like no man’s land in a war zone; except that to my astonishment there were tiny buds of green emerging on the old branches.

People are wrong to say that nothing happens in Leitrim. If you pay attention, you realise that it’s all go, all the time. There is a continuous transformation beneath your feet and in the air. And there’s something consoling about the resilience of birds as they build their nests, and the beauty of little green shoots that rise out of all the dead wood.