The poet got it right.
April is the coolest month.
Those of us born into it secretly know that April never gets the write-ups, but who cares. Its’ Easter weekend and you know you can feel it. The world is opening up again.
There’s a fair chance that the sky is sparkling where you are and nature, that whole scene, has begun to bloom and the birds are singing at rare hours and if you live in the northwest then you know that the April evenings do more than stretch: they perform kaleidoscopes of crimson sky and water that make you stop and stare no matter how many April’s you’ve had.
April is the only month where you can start out in snowfall and finish with sunburn. April is the month when all the great gardeners, from Capability Brown to Kim Wilde, unveil their magic. April is when the first of the lunatics return to swim in the sea. April is when you hear the sound of children playing games at dusk. And when you remember that there is no better sound. In April you can chance sitting outside for a coffee or a pint - at least when the country allowed us coffee and pints.
And in its moody, unflashy way April has always been a golden month for sport. Fact, April is a sports season all by itself. Big beloved sports events have always been about ritual as much as the contest. So in this part of the world, the sound of Wimbledon is an essential part of July and there will always be something of Bill McLaren's voice, that single-malt rugby voice, calling out to us through the bleak weekends of February. And until the GAA took a mad, mad notion and moved their All-Ireland finals, September was gloriously and entirely theirs.
Most months have their signature sports moments but April is crowded with sports ceremony. If April is the month when the Ancient Romans worship Venus, then it’s also when the Golfers worship Augusta.
For most of us, the US Masters will always be a television show. During some April years, you can turn on the Masters and it will be like the end of days on the other side of the window, the Irish rain hammering down and the sky filthy and Augusta will seem like a different world.
But there are other years when small parcels of perfect April weather fall over Ireland and you may be watching the Masters late into the evening, those evenings when the last few stragglers are still on the course - someone's gone into the water at Redbud- and Peter Alliss (now another immortal sports voice) has begun to fret about the failing light over there in Georgia.
And the sky in Ireland is almost as bright as it is in Augusta. And the evening is very still. And maybe you’re having a cup of tea or a wee dram. And outside you hear birdsong. Well: that’s April.
The Grand National is April. And just like the Masters, the Aintree race has worked its way into the imagination of thousands of people who have no real interest in either horse racing or golf. Because the National isn't just a horse race: it's a time of year. And it's a breathtaking spectacle, in normal time, when the stands are full and it seems as if the entire north of England are all dressed up and doing the town and the number of horses at that start line, keyed up and nervous: it's a kind of folly, of course and it's thrilling. And for thousands of people, the race, the day, becomes a kind of marker- of the passing year, of a great Saturday that started early and finished late.
It's the same with the World Snooker Championship, another stepping stone through April. The old game has struggled to stay seen in the digital age and it won't ever fully recapture the electrifying hold it had on this part of the world in the 1980s.
Jimmy White explained it best. "We were famous 'cos there were only four channels."
It’s partly true: when there was less to do, less to watch, those epic sessions, which often seemed to coincide with the religious festivities of Easter, acquired a magnified importance. But it was no coincidence that last April, when most of sport was shut down, the World Snooker Championship enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during a fortnight infused with the uncanny wizardry of Ronnie O’Sullivan, the last of the anti-heroes.
April’s a mood. In New York, it’s the month of the spring snows, when the cherry blossoms fall and turn the concrete canyons gorgeous and the baseball season is just beginning. In England, the Premier League - at least before it was hijacked by money - reaches its crucial few weeks when the title is up for grabs. After months of watching teams slog through the rain and perishing cold of winter, April football games can turn sun drenched and glamorous.
Here in Ireland, April means the summer GAA championship is just weeks away and even in this strained year, county teams will return to hard ground and warming evenings to start (or continue with) pre-season training. April is the only truly equitable month in the GAA calendar, with the All-Ireland looming on the horizon and everyone willing to buy into the dream or delusion that this could be the year when their crowd does something historic.
It’s the promise of what is to come that makes April stand alone. It’s a corridor through to balmy days. You’ve made it through the bashings and darkness of winter and for the first time, you can feel the April hope rising: this might just be a good summer after all.