Category Archives: Firhouse Zibaldone

Hallowe’en: Oíche Shamhna

According to UNESCO, the term “cultural heritage” is not limited to monuments and collections of objects. It also includes living expressions of culture—traditions—passed down from generation to generation. Hallowe’en is a perfect example of this.

There is something magical and mysterious about Hallowe’en. The dressing up, the decorations, the bonfires, the fireworks, the peculiar traditions, the lack of formality. It is our most anarchic and pagan time of year. It is one of the few times that a person can knock on the front door of a stranger’s home and be welcomed in a ritualistic way.

All Hallows Eve, 31 October, is the time in the Christian calendar when the dead are remembered, including saints (hallows) and martyrs. Hallowe’en goes back to the time of the Druids and the ancient Celtic harvest festival Samhain (pronounced sow-in) which was the beginning of the Celtic new year on 1 November. Oíche Shamhna, Night of Samhain, is the Gaelic word for the Christian festival of Hallowe’en. It celebrates the harvest, paticularly fruits and orchards.

Most years we buy sweets and fruit for the local witches, vampires and odd monsters that knock on our door. “Trick or treat” or “Help the Hallowe’en Party” are the usual excited cries.

The Plague Doctor

This year Hallowe’en felt darker than normal. No tiny monsters would be knocking on our door. As a response to the invisible menace of Covid-19 we created a tableau in front of our house. A macabre vision from the days of the Black Death, the Plague Doctor stands with his burning herbs to ward away malignant spirits. The Druid Monk with his burning eyes evokes Hallowe’en’s religious and pagan past. Behind him the Bloody Hand of Death scuttles about.

The Art of Gardening, Gardening as a Revolutionary Act.

I’m an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. I use the garden soil like it’s a piece of cloth, and the plants and the trees, that’s my embellishment for that cloth. You’d be surprised what the soil can do if you let it be your canvas. – Ron Finley the Gangsta Gardener

Ron Finley, aka the LA gangsta gardener, didn’t have a garden of his own and was sick of living in what he describes as a food desert. He decided to plant some vegetables on the verge in front of his house. They started to grow and everything was going well until the city authorities knocked on his door and said you can’t do this and threatened him with fines and even jail time if he persisted. He persisted and he fought back and got a neighbourhood petition together and got the law changed so that people can now grow their own food on municipal verges. It has transformed the area where he lives from a concrete jungle to an urban oasis.

Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do … There are so many metaphors in that garden – we’re cultivating ourselves, we’re learning how to take care of things, we’re learning that nothing is instantaneous – Ron Finley

Photograph: Courtesy of The Ron Finley Project

We find this idea inspiring. So we’ve been getting a little hooked on gardening lately. We are looking around us at the suburban environment in which we live wondering what we can do to extend our gardening into the wider community.

Our first foray into the wider community has been through our front garden. Along with local kids we planted a number of vegetables such as courgettes, tomatoes and peas, sharing the produce with neighbours. We planted a fig tree and a pear tree. This is an investment in the future which we hope to share with neighbours. We also planted a pumpkin patch on the grass verge between the footpath and the main road. This grass verge is owned by the council along with the street lamps and so on, but why not plant things there?

Pumplin patch on grass verge
Our first act of Guerilla gardening: planting a pumpkin patch on the council owned grass verge between our house and the public road on our estate

There are thousands of these patches of council owned grass verges around Dublin and across the country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were all growing a mix of pollinator friendly flowers and vegetables and fruit trees that everyone could share.

Footsteps, of an ancient place.

None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future: nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze.

Words: Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking. Image: JesseJames.

This Moment

A neighbourhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

Words: Eavan Boland. Image: JesseJames.

Night Lights (6)

Modern society depends on light in many forms; from high-intensity natural daylight and artificial lighting, to the glow of TV screens, computers, tablets, smartphones, and games. Light is so ubiquitous – and generally travels unseen (except, for instance, in fog) – that we often take it for granted. Critically, we probably have more light than we need, while people are generally unaware of the amount of light they are exposed to, and of its economic and environmental costs.

Words: Professor Brian Espey, School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin. Image: JesseJames.