Friday, 29 June 2012

Midsummer Bonfires and Beaches

Last Saturday, the 23rd June, was Bonfire Night.

It still seems strange to have a bonfire on practically the longest day of the year, but after living in Ireland for so long, I've grown to love it - although I have to say, I miss the fireworks!
It is St John's Eve, the 23rd June, but before the Catholic Church hijacked it, of course Bonfire Night was really about celebrating the summer solstice.

Perhaps some people still say prayers over their crops, or take ashes from the fire to spread on their land as a blessing. People may still eat 'Goody' - a dish made with bread and milk, sugar and spice; but these days,  Midsummer is mostly about family get-togethers, having a bit of a knees-up and lots of food and drink.

Of course, bonfires are illegal in Ireland, but as a country, we don't let a little thing like that stand in our way.
On Bonfire Night, the plumes of smoke arise like signals in every direction. And just as in England in November, you would have seen the bonfire sites being stacked with old timber and pallets and goodness knows what, for days in advance.
We don't need old pallets for our bonfire. It's the one chance - well, there is always Hallowe'en of course - to burn a mountain of garden waste that has accumulated like the Tower of Babel for six months or more.

Other bonfires, other years

What about composting, I hear you cry!

Well - composting is all well and good, but for one thing, the heaps don't get hot enough for long enough to do the trick.. Woody prunings (of which we have bushel loads) never breal down imto compost, and, well - this is the north west of Ireland for goodness sake! - in this climate it takes about a squillion years, and more manpower than we can muster, to turn all our waste vegetation into fine, dark tilth.

There was one year when I thought we really had cracked it at long last.
Joyfully I spread my crumbly, black gold over the vegetable beds, and stood back in proud admiration.
Three weeks later I had a fine, healthy, infant lawn.

However, this year we didn't have a bonfire.
It rained - really rained, as you may have read on my last post - right through to Sunday morning.
It did it again last night, and the night before.
We measure rain very scientifically in this household.
It's how full the dog bowls are. Model Dog has an old frying pan for her bowl (handle removed), and this morning it was full to the brim. Again.
Mind you - I think we are lucky - my great friend, DodoWoman (like CatWoman, but less extinct) had to

rush to Belfast today to rescue her tenant from her flooded property. I don't think she had to go in with a rowing boat, but it was all pretty dire nonetheless. And Cork - scene of ghastly floods in 2009 - has been washed out again, poor city.
So having no bonfire is a small price to pay really.
It just means the Tower of Babel still stands!

Our favourite beach

But all is not woe.
Despite the teeming night and soft morming, this afternoon has been a real summer's afternoon.
Sunshine and clouds and the warm breath of the south kissing midsummer softly goodbye.
It was a pleasure to be outside.

We went to our favourite beach and rambled along it for two hours. There was no one else there.
I gathered shells as we drifted along, and the In-Charge found a tangled lump of washed-up rope which he happily sat and unravelled.
The dogs swan and rolled in the sand and were too lazy to chase the seagulls.

The beach yields trophies

Eventually we got to the rocks at the far end.
'Have you, by any chance,' I asked the In-Charge, 'got a picnic hamper in your jacket pocket?'

I was quite ready to sit there for another hour, drinking tea and eating cake before moving seamlessly onto a bottle of white wine, chilled nicely in one of the rock pools.
Sadly the answer was no, but it didn't really matter.
Just being there was enough.
We both felt as unravelled and liberated as the In-Charge's skein of rope.

What a sky!


  1. Another fabulous read. Are bonfires truly illegal? I have never heard that one. We compost and it is dark and full of worms. As our grass is not good we should probably be pleased if we had a repetition of your experience.
    I dimly remember midsummer bonfires from childhood. I suspect that they were the woody cuttings that were now dry enough to burn.
    Your beach looks wonderful. I hope you got your wine.

  2. Yes, they made them illegal a few years ago. Don't exactly know what one is now supposed to do with garden waste, if - like us - you have rather a large garden! I know lots of people were burning deeply unsuitable things - like tyres and plastic (!?) but we were just burning dried up weeds and clippings. I do compost but it takes SO long and it all gets too much. Plus I am not happy to put weed roots/seeds in compost bins that aren't doing their job properly.
    Our beach is wonderful and yes, thank you, we did eventually have a glass of wine! The dogs passed out when we got home - happy, but oh so tired!

  3. We can burn our yard debris during the late fall to early spring months and in between we build large piles, just awaiting the arrival of the burn season again. One day I'm sure we will be unable to do so, in which case the piles will grow huge and there will be many of them since pine needles and pine cones (the primary content of those piles) simply do not break down. They just accumulate.

  4. I recall walking in the woods with my mother years ago. She looked at all the kindling lying on the ground. When she was a child it would have all been gathered up by the children and women and taken home for the fire.

  5. Your writing is absolutely wonderful. I have just discovered your amazing blog via a mutual fb friend(the alicious one from near salisbury). I am from beyond your wild west coast horizon somewhat, sending full cheers and very best wishes from the turquoise waters of mangrove bay at the western end of bermuda ,hartley watlington. P. S.(1). I'm a bit low tech re profile selection so I will go for anonymous.(2)my writer friends on fb (from south carolina)have immediately pressed the Like button since I posted your piece on friendship. That is a good sign that your talents are worth a fair bit of pressure relieving remuneration when the rest of america discovers your talents.


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!