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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

JUNE: A Time Of Turf-Cutting And Missions

He was but as the cuckoo in June,
Heard but not regarded.

June is named after Junno, the goddess of marriage. The Anglo-Saxon name for it was Sera Monath (the dry month.) Irish writer, Joseph O’ Connor says, “ . . . There are times in all our lives when we are glad to be getting older and it’s and the onset of summer for me”.He is referring to the blessing of no longer having to participate in Pop festivals.

I can’t say that I rejoice in the fact that I am getting nearer the bone-yard but the month of June does have a unique effect on me. What with memories, nostalgia and, I suppose, projection. A number of June events didn’t (and still don’t) concern me. Wimbledon, The Derby (although I once lost money that I didn’t own on a horse in that prestigious race), the signing of the Magna Carta was slightly before my time and I was only seven year old at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.

But I have my own memories. Shearing time. We were the only family in the area that didn’t keep sheep but the neighbours did their shearing in June. I’ve written elsewhere about the evocative power of smell. Particularly childhood smells. Lanolin (the natural oil of wool) is one that stayed with me.

Our back door was the opposite of Newgrange; in was only in June that the beam from the setting sun would illuminate the area inside it.


And then there was the Mission, which always coincided with the turf-cutting. In my minds eye I can see my father coming down Blackhill, from the bog while the sun was still high in the sky, to prepare to go to the Mission. The Mission was an annual religious retreat which took place in most parishes. A visiting priest from a Religious Order would spend a week with the Faithful in order that their immortal Souls would be spared eternal fire. John Duggan sums it up in his monologue “Memories of the Mission.”

Sure everyone would turn out
By sidecar, trap and bike.
And some of them would walk for miles
And wouldn’t mind the hike.
No matter what the weather was
We’d all get up an’ go
For to miss the Parish Mission
Was the lowest of the low.

I remember well the Missioners
Who came from Dublin town;
Impressive looking figures
With big long robes of brown.
They had no amplifiers then,
An’ although the Church was full
Them fellows didn’t need them,
They could holler like a bull.

I made my first communion on Whit Sunday, in June 1953. I sat my Primary Certificate exam in June 1959.

June 21st, the longest day in the year, is my time for reflection. On this the zenith, in a sense, when we have more daylight than at any other time I tend to see it in a negative light.; from there on it’s downhill. Now, I don’t suffer from SAD syndrome, I can manage quiet well with less diurnal illumination and unpleasant climatic conditions. So, I think that, subconsciously or otherwise I see the summer solstice as a metaphor for (my life). We weren’t in touch with the signs of the zodiac, so “Gemini Twins” didn’t crop in end of day conversations. But any person, or animal, born in June was known as “a June yelper”.

It was traditional in Ireland to light bonfires on 23rd June, Midsummer’s Eve. They were always on 29th June which was the feast of Saints Peter and Paul and a Holyday. Another link with my past has disappeared in the last few weeks; the “Bonfire-stone” at the bottom of the Lodge Lane has been removed during road-widening. Up until recent times smoke stains could be seen on this relic of our Pagan past. Bonfires may have begun as offerings to the sun ( around Mid-summer to beseech the sun to stay with them).

And wasn’t it in June that, in Ulysses, that Buck Mulligan climbed the stairs in Sandycove, Leopold Bloom traveled the streets of Dublin and his wife, Molly, said, “ Yes, I will, yes”

In more recent times Writers’ Week in Listowel came to be the highlight of my year. This year most of it was in May, finishing on June 01st. I’ll tell you about it next time.

And, speaking of which, I want to say hello to a Writers’ Week stalwart, Larry Burke from Minnesota who couldn’t make it this year. Happy Birthday Larry and get well soon.

Below: June Sunset in Ireland

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