Hyacinths to Feed the Soul ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 293

Festival of Colour, Creativity and Connection
Festival of Colour, Creativity and Connection

Yesterday, I bought hyacinth bulbs and, for me, it was the most instinctive and natural thing to be doing at this time of year.

When I got home, I looked under the kitchen sink for the ‘hyacinth bowl’ which has always been a fundamental part of my November life.  There it was, just as it lived under every kitchen sink that my mother ever had.

Hyacinth Bowl
Hyacinth Bowl

It’s a bowl that she inherited from her mother and every year we would plant three hyacinths in it and put it into the the darkest press in the house, ideally one that had no reason to be opened, except to keep the soil from drying out.

I was always desperately impatient to see the the green shoots appear and would steal glimpses in at the bowl when I had the place to myself.

The day the bowl  was taken out into the air was always momentous and and we would watch the buds grow and eventually cast their delicious colour and scent all round the kitchen.

I mentioned a few days ago that November,  for me,  is very much about ‘remembrance,’ in its broadest sense. Hyacinths evoke some of the strongest memories I have of my late mother whose love of nature, and passing on that love, was deeply ingrained in her.

Just to touch that bowl, yet again, makes me smile and think of  how Mother would be warning me not to open the press and give the poor hyacinths a chance! It also makes me think of how it’s not the BIG occasions that seem to draw Mother’s presence to me; rather little rituals that we shared and which were so often associated with planting the seeds of hope and colour.

So, if you haven’t bought your hyacinths yet, take this advice which Mother always quoted as hyacinth-time approached.

“If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul”
– Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet


Courage and Bravery ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 153

I am often baffled by people’s courage and bravery and  my mother’s fortitude in coping with very significant physical problems in the five years before her death is a typical example. Just a few months before she died, I wrote a poem about her and the last three lines were as follows:

You’ve kept some dreams and memories locked away

Inside your heart; the key to your courage

And optimism; the seed beneath the clay.

A few months after she died I came across a composition on Bravery  that she had written, at the tender age of 13, in 1934.  It was like a key that shed light on her courage that I had admired so much. This is what she wrote in her still childish writing:


Bravery is not merely a great gift, as many people imagine. One of the greatest forms of bravery is conquering fear. To set one’s teeth and say: ‘I will be brave,’ whether it is a child who is afraid of the dark, or a soldier about to risk his life.

The child or the soldier who knows no fear is not half as brave as the one who is in mortal fear and yet conquers it.

Some people are naturally courageous, while others are timid. One of the most cowardly things for a human to do is for the naturally brave to mock the naturally timid. Generally one does not recognise the nature of the other, and so this occurs thousands of times a day to the misery of the timid victim.

Bravery is seen as much, if not more, in women than men, though it is generally not recognised.

Many animals are very brave, especially intelligent ones like horses and dogs, and many stories have been written and sung about them. Horses have galloped for aeons through every sort of peril to save their master or mistress. It might be a forest fire, or perhaps through gunfire and shells.  ‘Canons to the right of them, canons to the left of them, rode the six hundred.’ The horses as well as the men must have been courageous and faithful to the core in this dreadful charge.

There is no one who has not an opportunity for bravery nearly every day of their life, and it is the insignificant and uncomplaining folk who are generally braver than the people who go about bragging of all the deeds they have done.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Mother’s death and I feel incredibly fortunate to have so many of her writings ~ both serious and highly humorous ~ to keep me thinking, laughing and loving.

Mother and Tiffin in the 1980s.
Mother and Tiffin
in the 1980s.

Wild Flowers in Ireland ~ An Appreciation

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One of my most vivid memories from childhood is gathering wild flowers with my mother to enter a competition at Castlebayney Agricultural Show back in the 1960s.  It was a happy, happy time and, even though I was very young, I knew that Mother was enjoying  the adventure just as much as I was.

Mother died almost three years ago, aged 88,  and today I unearthed an article which she wrote around the time that we were collecting the wild flowers.  Reading it,  I became acutely aware of just how deeply she appreciated nature and how it is no coincidence that the re-emergence of wild flowers, especially in spring,  is so fundamentally important to me.  Here is what she wrote:

 Flowers, especially wild flowers, played a large part in my childhood in Co. Meath. In the woods at home grew masses of snowdrops, under the trees, making the winter woodlands beautiful with their dainty white flowers among dark green ivy leaves. Oh, the thrill of the first snowdrop. To know that spring was on its way, and soon my beloved woods would be awakening from their winter slumbers. My birthday is in late January, and perhaps that is why I loved the snowdrops so much. They were my special flower. I would search the woods diligently, and always succeeded in finding enough to decorate the table for my birthday tea. After I left home, my mother never failed to include a tiny bunch of snowdrops in my birthday parcel. Snowdrops have always been synonomous with home to me, and although I have moved home umpteen times, I always plant a few snowdrop bulbs in each new garden.

Then there were the lesser celandines. There was a wood at home which was completely carpeted with them. Surprisingly early in the year, not long after the snowdrops were in bloom, that particular wood was filled with birdsong, sunshine, the tender green leaves of the celandines, and the little golden flowers.

And then came the primroses; primroses and baby chicks are always associated in my mind. They both arrive around Easter time and are the same delicious pale yellow. There was a stream at home which ran between very steep, sloping banks on which great clumps of primroses grew. Primroses abounded in the woods as well, but I loved to pick them on the banks of the stream. There was always a distinct danger of falling in, and of course this added to the fun. There were periwinkles in the woods too. They made a lovely posy, their tender blue toning beautifully with the pale yellow primroses.

In a dark corner of a laurel grove grew a few shy wood anenomes. Never enough to pick, but I had to visit them each year and admire the few precious blossoms.

Bluebells and beech trees go together, and the bluebells are in blossom just as those beautiful fresh young beech leaves unfold. To me, there are few lovelier sights than a carpet of bluebells dappled by the sunshine in a beech wood.

Cowslips were not very plentiful in our part of the country, but there was one field where they flourished. I used to make a pilgrimage to see the cowslips every year. I remember a grown-up explaining to me how to make a cowslip ball. I was horrified.  How anyone could do that to my lovely cowslips!

I always prefer to see flowers growing, and when I do pick them  I like to pick them here and there so that they will not be missed. Lilac grew in the woods, too. There was one big lilac bush in the wood by the river.  Oh, the scent of that lilac with the dew on it, on a warm May morning.

We always went to stay with my grandmother in the early summer. She lived in Co. Kildare, and when I think of going there I think of dog-roses. The road from the station was always bathed in sunshine, with blue mountains in the distance, and the hedges simply covered with dog-roses and honeysuckle. And in the tillage fields on either side of the road, there were wild red poppies. I know farmers don’t like wild poppies much, but I loved them. Oh, let me have dog-roses and honeysuckle and poppies for my holidays. Nothing in all the travel brochures can give me such a thrill.