In early summer, the Irish countryside takes on the qualities of Eden – except without the serpents. Lush green foliage bursts forth, unrestrained, all around us. As midsummer’s warmth seeps into the soil, ferns and tall grasses sway, while wildflowers glimmer in the hedgerows. The songs of busy birds, the buzzing of bees, and the rustling of leaves in the breeze, are all that can be heard in our rural valley. Occasionally, the sun even appears, and we find ourselves sweltering sufficiently to welcome the cool shade of the towering trees, which groan heavily under the fresh, green canopy, through which the sun softly dances. At this time of year, it’s easy to understand the classification of Ireland’s woodlands as temperate rainforest.
A notable feature of the garden of Eden was that it was inhabited by the innocent. It is fitting therefore, that this Irish Eden, as it emerges in June, the most innocent amongst us are released into it, when the schools break up for summer. Over the past few years – and especially to keep the kids happy during lockdown – we’ve been busy setting up our garden with rope swings from the trees, a trampoline, a treehouse, two playhouses, swings and slides, a bike track and a climbing net. Despite these many diversions, the kids spend most of their outdoor time in the wild undergrowth just near our home, where they enter into their own domain, and soon become lost in the construction of secret dens and camps.
With school now out for summer, the prospect of nine long weeks of easy time lies ahead for the kids. Thanks to Covid, we have no overseas holidays planned this summer. Instead, we will spend time in Ireland, exploring where we can, when we can. Instead of foreign climes, we can dream of lolling in the hammock reading, wandering to our local beach or going further afield, perhaps up the west coast of Ireland. We will discover anew all that old Ireland has to offer us.
The summer is a time of contemplation too. As they rise through the ranks of primary school, the kids are coming to terms with the fact that secondary school is just around the corner now. The application forms will be going in soon. It’s wonderful to see them grow, but I also must fear for the Edenic quality of innocence which they still possess. A small rural primary school is a very different world to a large secondary school.
In asking around about the local secondary schools, some tell stories of drugs, cyber-bullying and all the other usual, terrible serpents that wait in the long grass for children as they enter into the transitions of their teenage years. Yet I know the best antidote against such dangers must be administered well in advance. That prophylactic medicine is the love we give them now – when they are smaller children. It is growing up with the support of a strong and close family. It is our deep bonds with them, and the magical memories of a beautiful childhood, full of long, happy, sun-dappled summers.