Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


Caught Slogging

With a room sslogging-part-2melling like a brewery and apples about go to waste, it is time to act. Somewhere around town, I think it was on the library noticeboard, I read that the Moyderwell Allotments on Dean's Lane run an apple pressing service every Wednesday morning; that library noticeboard is a great source of useful information, much more so than any online service I read. The sign says to bring apples and sterilized, watertight containers. The containers I have but I will need more apples.

Behind the garden where I first got some apples I noticed another orchard of at least five or six trees. The trees looked laden down with red, juicy apples and I head up there on a sunny morning after Fred goes to school. Daisy comes with me and I stuff a bag for life in my pocket. The orchard is behind a well cut, beech hedge which is in full autumn colours and it looks almost painted in the morning sun. It really is a magnificent time of year when the rain and mists hold off until the trees have lost their leaves. I find a gap in the hedge and head into a plot of high grass and brambles.

The trees are dotted around the top of the land and below them is a cleared spot, which looks as if it has drills for growing vegetables, so maybe this is not as abandoned as I first thought. I look at the trees and grab the low hanging fruit along with some good ones off the ground; when pressing apples the quality of the flesh is not important, as it is the juice you are after. Just as I take a bite from a lovely hard red one I notice a bit of movement among the vegetable drills below. There is a man, possibly in his seventies bent over a drill, with a fork in one hand keeping him steady as his other hand digs in the earth. How long has he been there I wonder? Should I sneak off before he notices me or should I approach him and ask his permission? I decide my days of slogging apples are behind me and I walk out from behind the tree and down the little plot towards the digging man.

“Do you mind if I pick some apples?” I ask.

He looks up, doesn’t seem surprised and I’m not sure if he knew I was there or if he has just spotted me.

“Not at all, help yourself,” he answers.

By now I’m not too far away from him so I keep walking down as far as the top of his drill.

“I’m sorry I just walked in here, I thought it was an abandoned orchard,” I continue.

“No, not abandoned at all,” he says laughing, “this is all mine.”

“Lovely morning.”

“It is, isn’t it? Are you the man who called to my wife yesterday asking for permission?”

“No, I live down the road and just spotted the apples when out walking.”

By now I’m standing beside him and I can see he’s digging potatoes.

“Where do you live?” he asks.

“Just down in Springwell Gardens. I presume you live in the house through there?” I point to the back of a house just visible through now obvious gap in his hedge.

We continue to talk like this for a few minutes. He tells me how long he’s lived here and how he kept the orchard and vegetable plot going when they bought the land to build the family home.

“I better not keep you any longer,” I say becoming conscious of the fact I’m not an invited guest.

Do you want some potatoes?” he asks

“Love some,” I say and the friendly man picks a few fine spuds and drops them in my bag.

Now it really is time for me to go; I’ve been caught stealing this man’s apples and he’s making me feel doubly bad by giving me some of his freshly dug potatoes too.

“Thank you,” I say and as I turn he says uses that phrase which couldn’t be more appropriate when handling potatoes:

“Are you from Cork?” he asks.

“I am, are you?” I say laughing and he nods, smiling too, probably recognising where we could go with the line of conversation.

“Yes, where are you from?”

“Cobh,” I answer, “and you?”


We look each other in the eye now, looking maybe for some recognition in each other’s faces.

“What’s your name?” has asks in a gentle lilt.

“John Verling,” I answer.

He stops still at this and looks directly at me: “Verling?”


“Did you by chance have a relation who worked in Aer Lingus?”

“My father did,” I say smiling, feeling that the conversation was going somewhere.

“Michael Verling?”


“My wife was his secretary.”

We both laugh at the surprise, as this would have been at least forty years ago now. He sticks the fork in the freshly dug earth.

“Come on down she’d love to meet you.”

“I’d love to meet her,” I say and follow him through the gap.

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Slogging Apples Part 1

autumnIt is autumn and everywhere I walk I see fruit. Apples are filling the trees, elderberries are being snaffled by the magpies and the last of the blackberries are going to waste on the brambles. On Saturday morning we met a couple with a homemade grab, out trying to find some sloes which are in short supply this year. The red of the hawthorn berries may still add colour along our country roads but that beautiful deep purple of the ripe sloes isn’t seen much anymore. What was once a plentiful fruit is now difficult to find, due to the disappearance of our hedgerows, which is a great pity.

One morning last week I went out collecting apples. There is an old house just up Ballyard Hill on the right which appears empty and I’ve never seen a sign of life at any time of the year. In the back garden is a solitary apple tree, surrounded by high grass and ground elder. The tree always has a good stock of apples; old fashioned red and green ones with a lovely tart bite. It is difficult to get to the tree and as you walk through the long grass you trod on firm apples that move slightly as you step on them.

This year someone else beat a path through, which made my way in that much easier. I had with me a pink umbrella which my daughter picked up somewhere when on a rainy night out during the festival. It made grabbing the branches easier and my bag was full in a few minutes. Back in the car I decided to go for some of the red ones I had spotted a few days ago, farther up the road. This tree is in an orchard beside a small white house, which is well kept but again I never see a sign of anyone when walking by.

I park a bit down as I don’t want to drive in, just in case I give an older person a fright. I knock at the door. No answer. I knock again, no answer. I walk over to the hedge surrounding the orchard and contemplate helping myself. There are a few trees, a mixture of the big, rosy, red eaters and strong looking cookers. I hear a few steps from behind the house that make me stop and I look around to see a man approaching who looks as if he is about the hit me. He is walking fast and not asking questions.

“Just looking at your lovely apples and wonder if I could pick some for the kids.” I say without hesitating, letting him know I’m not a threat, dropping in the reference to the kids as a bona fide.

“Oh, no problem,” he says stopping and smiling a bit, “don’t know if there are many good ones left though.”

He turns towards the top of the hedge and I follow.

“Ah just a few will do,” I say.

He opens the wooden gate and leads me into a muddy patch of ground. I pick up the first apple I see.

“Don’t take them off the ground,” he orders, “they’re only bruised, leave them for the pigs. Take them off the trees.”

“Thank you,” I say and start picking the red ones my kids might like. I hear him talking to someone on the other side of the hedge but I never see who it may be.

After a few minutes he comes back in, still looking at me oddly but now only from thinking I’m a bit strange and not a threat.

“Did you get enough? There are some other eaters here,” he points to a tree inside the gate, “at least I think they’re eaters, might be cookers.”

I take one off the branch and bite into nothing you could buy in a shop.

“That’s an eater and it’s gorgeous,” I say.

“You’re right,” he says, taking one for himself.

I head off, thanking him for the apples and he closes the gate saying that I’m welcome, though without an invitation to come again. Thinking about it afterwards I suppose it is a bit odd to pull up outside someone’s house and ask to take fruit from their garden. In my defence I had assumed they were going to waste. They obviously aren’t and those pigs won’t be needing much apple sauce come their harvesting time I reckon.

“I’ll see what the kids think,” I say.

“Sure isn’t that what it’s all about,” he says philosophically.

He’s right too but back home the kids have little interest and I’m the only one eating them. Now the tray of apples is in the spare room. Lisa says it smells like a brewery in there but I don’t want to throw them away yet.

I have another idea which might be worth exploring.

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Swooping Herons

heronAt a few minutes before seven o’clock I leave home; the sun is gone, or at least the light from it has disappeared over the horizon and the twilight is making way for the gathering night. The street lights are glowing their familiar warm amber and passing cars are driving on low beam. My two dogs are on their leads but Daisy, the upstart, new arrival is barking and claiming her walking rights over the older Muttley. In her mind only she is allowed walk with me and so it shall ever be. As we cross the road before the Basin I can see the canal walk ahead though the lights there are not yet on.

When we arrive where the road finishes, at a small car park for the apartments on my right, the LEDs of the lighting flicker into action. Their glow is directed downwards, not wasting any of the light but also not obscuring the pathway or the waterway, in any unnecessary show of brightness. There are many people out walking, couples as well as the single dog walkers like myself, but yet it seems so very quiet, as if I am here on my own.

The word serene comes into my head and I look it up when I get back: calm, peaceful or untroubled reads the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary and it almost captures the beauty of the canal.  A large group of runners, on their way home by the look of their determined faces, jog past, some chatting to a partner, others keeping the eyes focused on a finish line probably up by the Aquadome. The long line of multi-coloured kits snakes back along the path but it soon passes and it’s back to walkers only by the time I’m past the second bench. Cars pass on the Tralee to Blennerville road but their sound is strangely comforting, a reminder that life is going on and people are on their way home to dinner after a day at work; their day too is ending. Every person out tonight has a dog of some description and even Daisy tires eventually at barking at each one.

We carry on at a good pace, nodding and saying hello to everyone, most answering, others choosing to stay silent. At the slight bend in the canal a heron flies out from behind the Poplar trees by the small lake. It skirts along the field on the right before turning and flying no more than a few feet above my head. He or she is followed by another similar sized heron, who chases it over the canal and the road beyond, before disappearing into the darkness of the inlet on the other side. I can hear them squawking at each other, either fighting or courting, but I’ve never heard such noise from this usually fairly quiet bird.

Someone once said that the heron is made up from the parts leftover when the rest of the bird species was being made; the unwanted parts that is. It has a chest like a bulldog, very long, wide wings, gangly beanpole legs, a dagger like beak at the end of a too long looking neck that has to bend into an s shape for flight. Yet it is the most elegant of birds, whether in flight or sitting patiently when fishing, so seeing two fighting and making noise is most unseemly of them. Though they have disappeared into the marsh I can still hear them giving out. Their screaming disappears as I continue but just as I make it to Blennerville Bridge they appear again, chasing and harrying each other, while just missing a mid-air collision on more than one occasion. They fly alongside me for a minute or two before heading off to the windmill, disappearing once more into the darkness.

Any natural light has faded completely now but I keep going, heading for the lock gates at the end of the path after the bridge. The council has yet to allocate the money to finish this part of the walk, so the lighting is gone, as is the freshly tarmacked path, replaced by rough aggregate. The plan is to do the job under next year’s budget. The dogs are keen to keep going and the red harbour lights of Fenit act as a guide in the distance. You lose all sense of perspective in the complete dark but at least as once as your eyes adjust, you can see where you are going. It is getting cold but I’m not the only one doing this part, with walkers looming out of the darkness from time to time.

Just as we get to the lock gates the two herons appear again, flicking in an out of my vision but staying along the course of the water as they fly. I wonder what has got them so excited? We turn at the gates and make our way back along the still, silent water’s edge. The canal is tidal and it must be just about full or about to turn, as the water is not moving, there isn’t even a ripple on the surface.

“Beautiful night,” a man says as he passes.

“Yes,” I answer, “we’re lucky.”

“That we are,” comes the reply from the darkness.

Back on the lit side of the walk we pass a few more people and I step up the pace a bit to get home for the football. The dogs bound along and there are fewer out walking by now. It is still as beautiful as when I set out and I don’t mind missing the start of the match. As I make it back past the bend by the lake, a heron comes gliding along, barely above the surface of the still water. A single one this time, either the lovers broke up or territory has been claimed. The bird comes in to land with a gracefulness that belies its shape and touches down on the stone bank across from me. It almost disappears into the background but I can just see its intelligent head staring into the water.

The bird’s night is just beginning while mine is nearly over.

I wish him luck and head for home.





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Do Nothing


The rain keeps falling this morning and the splashing of cars going by competes with the wind blowing drops against the window. That it is raining in October isn’t surprising, when showers are as expected as the sun rising in the morning. What is surprising is people not expecting the same rain in August when it is all we know, though we wish otherwise. The great thing about a rainy October Sunday, over one in June, is that it goes nicely with doing nothing and being in from the cold on a wet day is a readymade excuse to just pass some hours taking it easy.

We spend so much of our time trying to do something with that time, that we so often miss the beauty of just letting a day develop. Of course it is great to get the kids off to football or whatever activity they do at weekends, but taking stock of ourselves is an important skill to learn, one that it is never too early to absorb. In reality there is no such thing as doing nothing but sitting still for a while can help you to take stock of your life, maybe even put a few things into perspective. So much of modern life, from an early age, is concerned with doing, being always on the move, that we have almost demonized simple relaxation such as sitting and looking out the window at the rain falling.

On a recent walk with Finbarr a topic came up, or at least we stumbled onto it while discussing something else quite profound and that is the quality of life issue. I don’t know much about any of this, not having read the books or gone to any meetings, but surely a good walk in the park or leaving the car at home when you go for a coffee must be a good start. What you can learn from a book might just as easily be assimilated by being ‘amuigh faoin speir’. You can pay big money for life coaching or invest in the self-books and programs, all of which aim to fix your work life balance but to what avail?  Yes, we both agreed, there was the possibility of making more money if we worked all the hours or got different jobs when younger but what would we gain by it? Would rushing here there and everywhere suit us? No it probably wouldn’t but having the hour to talk nonsense to each other three or four nights a week did us both good. Getting out and seeing others, seeing the change in the seasons, talking about sport, politics and whatever else, was worth more than having that money to spend, not that either of us couldn’t do with it.

of course it is good for the mind to work and to take part in activities, but what is also vitally important is to get away from it all. Whether this is time spent reading, baking, watching TV or walking the dog is up to the individual but exercising the mind is not to be forgotten. It should be a daily activity if possible, which of course it isn’t for most people and this is where the quality of life question comes in again. Whatever way we look at it, an hour a day of not thinking about work, money problems and all the other weights we carry around with us, can only help with keeping perspective. I for one know how difficult this is to do.

Now the clouds are clearing and the sun is breaking through, it is time for Daisy and me to clear our heads. It may not be the best day ever, though the family may have lunch out later and just let the afternoon fade into twilight, but any day you can get out under an early winter sky has to be a good one.



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Along The Canal

lockgatesOn a beautiful morning the only gig in town is to walk the canal. It may be October but a fine autumn morning is as good as you’ll get and that slight chill in the air only adds to the magic of the moment. The still water of the canal, recently cleaned I guess as the gatherings of flotsam in the Basin are gone, reflects the low morning sun and the clear sky above. The crews of Tralee Rowing Club are gliding through the sun sparkled surface; trainees getting stiff advice from cycling coaches and the young coxes, snuggled up in their warm gear, are following the orders on the water.

It really is a lovely scene and at nine in the morning just the odd passing car is breaking nature’s silence. Lisa and I are taking Daisy for a walk and we are not the only ones. There are cyclists making their way to Blennerville, weaving in and out of the walkers. Couples are walking their dogs and at one stage a runner pushing a buggy with a baby inside is followed by his partner plugged into her phone. Everyone looks happy, though some do look as if the breakfast can’t come quickly enough. Young men are running at a good pace and we pass one older man who may be bad on his legs but is still doing the walk. There aren’t any chatters, those groups of two or three, who stop to catch up on their lives. Sometimes one will stop to greet another to soon be joined by a couple out for a stroll. This, I’ve noticed, tends to be an afternoon or evening event; the people out at this time of a morning have more of a purpose. I love walking past these groups and overhearing odd snippets of conversation such as ‘he’s doing fine now’ or ‘that won’t be happening again’.  Who or what I’ll never know. Last week, as I came along, an elderly group were going their separate ways and the wife in the couple coming towards me said: ‘Oh she was always the prettiest of the sisters’, to her husband. A belief, without seeing the other sisters, I could attest to as I passed their friends ahead.

There are also the troubled looking souls you see on any nice walk at that time o20161012_093430f the day. Usually it is a man, walking a Jack Russell or some other Heinzer type dog, who for one reason or other look as if they’ve had a bit of a bad turn in life. Some may just be lonely and are only too happy to say hello as you pass. Some will stop and admire Daisy or laugh at how two mutts will bark at each other for nothing just to argue who is the cutest. There are others who have the look of the drinker, the rheumy eyes giving away how they may spend the rest of their day. One man I pass from time to time has the bearings of an ex-drinker; the broken blood vessels in his face and the yellow stained fingers are testament to many hours spent chatting at the bar counter. He now looks healthy though and as I often meet him in the evening too, sober without the scent of drink in the air, I guess walking is his way to stay off the sauce. Others won’t catch your eye, though some may return a greeting while walking on, as privacy is their only protection from the world. These people look at peace on the canal and show how much of a benefit the place is to us all.

The council has spent a lot of money recently on improving the walkway. It is now wider than be20161012_093606fore, surfaced in fresh tarmac and the lighting comes on about seven in the evening. This is a resource that is free to use and will repay the investment by keeping its users healthy, mentally as well as physically. Walking into the sunset along the canal is like being part of a scene from a Hollywood movie, while on a bright morning it is the picture perfect beginning to a day. On rainy days it may not be as attractive but you will be off the road, walking on a good track and will only feel the better for it. Those who use it know the benefits, while those yet to try it should do and discover more of what is on their doorstep.

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