The glory of nature


The Dad Diary
Edwin McGreal

Growing up in Breaffy and attending the local school, it was hard not to have a keen appreciation for nature and the outdoors. We were surrounded with a bountiful of places to explore and have fun all within a mile of home.
Our grandfather’s farm across the road had – and has – a huge network of farm buildings to investigate and play all manner of games in.
On his land too was a magical forest complete with a fairy fort. Many’s the game of ‘tip the can’ was played on that ancient ground.
Breaffy House then was like a paradise on our doorsteps, with forests and a warren of old buildings to explore, particularly on an area that is now the sports arena. Hours were whiled away there in the blink of an eye.
We had the ruins of an old racecourse just up the road – imagine! The railway line was a great place for myself and my cousins to go in the evening, putting coins on the tracks, while the GAA pitch and the school were all within a short cycle for a game of football or rounders.
And add in any amount of trees and rivers to climb and explore and you realise now how blessed we were. Plus the very important shop for sweets and ice-cream!
We knew the difference between all the trees and flowers too. Anyone of my generation who went to Breaffy NS will remember Tom Higgins’s legendary nature walks. The school’s former principal had a wonderful interest in both local history and nature and these walks were a treasure trove of information and fun.
But as you get older, while the memories remain, you get less and less time to take in your surroundings. How could you not? As a child you had every waking minute of your summer holidays to explore your surroundings.
But with Frankie and Éamon I’m seeing the start of a wonder for nature emerging in them, and it brings you right back to your own childhood. There are a good few cuckoos residing in Dooega these days, and Frankie’s supersonic hearing means she picks up their calls before any of the rest of us.
“Oh the cuckoo!” she will exclaim excitedly.
Both of them love to see birds drop by into the garden and have spent the past few weeks marvelling at all the new lambs in fields nearby.
We were surrounded by cattle in Breaffy growing up, but they are a much rarer sight in Achill – there’s only five in Dooega. They used to be in a field a nice climb on the bikes away, and anytime we were on the bikes, that would be Frankie’s first request – ‘We go see the cows?’.
Imagine, though, her and Éamon’s excitement when the farmer moved them into the field right across the road from us! They were beside themselves, especially when a calf was born last week.
Every walk and cycle is a big adventure for them, marvelling at the animals, birds, flowers, rivers and sea. The great thing is we have years of this ahead of us. They don’t know how lucky they are.
When lockdown is over, I’m really looking forward to bringing the kids to Breaffy to visit family. And while we’re there we might just go for a walk through the woods and explore the ancient fairy fort.

> In his fortnightly column, Edwin McGreal charts the ups and downs of the biggest wake-up call of his life: parenthood.