A Flying Visit to the Fair Play Café

fairplay2aI work around the corner from the Fair Play Café, so you’d think I’d drop in more often. But I’m usually rushing after class, heading off on some mindless errand.

The café is located in a 19th century mission hall. By the 1990s, the hall was in danger of collapse and its trustees were desperate, until local man Joe Donnelly stepped forward, offered to turn it into a community hub.

To add a little spice to the tale, Joe used to vandalise the hall when he was a kid, back when he didn’t put much thought into things. Today, he puts a lot of thought into a lot of things.

Example one: Every year the proceeds of the café (and associated projects) are donated to charity – 80% to charities in developing countries, 20% to charities in Ireland. Last year, €20,000 was donated.

Example two: The back wall of the café is the Good News Wall. Joe thought his customers might enjoy a break from the bad news of austerity, so he asked newspapers to send him copies of front pages displaying good news. They sent enough to cover the entire wall.

Example three: The café’s latest initiative is a Wednesday night supper club for the elderly, lonely or unwaged. The proceeds from the nominal cover charge will be used to support a community project.

Joe left school when he was fifteen.

A few years’ ago, he had the chance to complete a Master’s degree. The subject of his thesis?

Hope.

Hummingbirds of the Sea

The terns are back! Every spring, Ireland plays host to five species of terns, including the Arctic Tern and the Roseate Tern. The birds arrive from West Africa and Antarctica, and breed in a handful of colonies on the east coast.

The Roseate Tern is the rarest. Elegant and graceful, its white body and black head are complimented by the rosy hue of its underside. Audubon, the great American naturalist, wrote: “…beautiful indeed are terns of every kind, but the Roseate excels the rest, if not in form yet in the lovely hue of its breast. I had never (until April 1832) seen a bird of this species before, and, as the unscathed hundreds arose and danced as it were in the air, I thought them the humming-birds of the sea, so light and graceful were their movement.”

80% of the endangered European population breed in Ireland, mostly on the small island of Rockabill. The island (two rocky outcrops, really), is smaller than a football pitch and located 7km from the coast. Two hardy wardens will be in residence throughout the summer to help protect the birds and their chicks.

Over 1200 pairs of Roseate Terns are expected on Rockabill this year and the wardens have been busy clearing vegetation and setting out 700 nest boxes. You can follow their progress on http://rockabillterns.blogspot.ie/.

The Artic Tern also breeds on Rockabill. This 4-ounce ‘sea swallow’ holds the record for the world’s longest bird migration, travelling up 71,000km each year, or approximately 2.4 million km over its lifetime. That’s about three trips to the moon and back.

It’s only in the last few years that miniature transmitters have made it possible to track small birds like the Arctic Tern. Researchers were surprised at the zigzag route the bird takes. Terns tracked in Holland and Dublin flew to Cape Town, turned into the Indian Ocean, flew to Madagascar and the Seychelles, then over to New Zealand and Antarctica.

And back again.

A Wing and a Prayer

A migration of other sorts at the weekend. Irish people from around the world came home to vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum. They flew in from Thailand, Kenya, and Sweden; Abu Dhabi, Canada, and Australia; the US, South Africa, and Britain.

Technology made it possible to follow their journeys too, and the hashtag hometovote lit up the twitterverse.

It was a humbling to witness. And joyous.

A lot of the returning emigrants were young, first-time voters. Fledglings really. They came back when it mattered.

Fair Play.

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Short Takes

field notes hidden cityI’ve been dragging my feet recently, feeling a bit meh. Nothing too wrong.

But nothing too right.

Maybe it’s the weather. Spring arrived with sudden sunshine, but the past few weeks have been dull and wet, a reminder (as if we needed one) that the weather in Ireland is capricious and the concept of summer remains a precarious one.

Or maybe it’s the end-of-term busyness, the paperwork and box-checking that’s as far from teaching as it’s possible to get. Or the knowledge that a bad thing happened to a good person I know, which reminded me of the bad things that happen to the good people I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been slouching about, flitting from one book to another, finding it difficult to burrow down and settle on any one thing. In moods like this, I abandon novels and switch to short forms: essays and poetry, mostly. Facebook occasionally.

I’ve been dipping into Field Notes From a Hidden City by Esther Woolfson, a lovely, lyrical account of the urban wildlife Woolfson encounters over the course of a year in Aberdeen.  Woolfson is an engaging writer, and weaves snippets of science, myth and history into her own wonderfully nuanced observations. She and fellow Scot Kathleen Jamie have whetted my appetite to visit Scotland, and I’m hoping that by admitting that here, I’ve somehow assured myself of its happening.

I first read Jamie a few years ago on Inishbofin. Maybe it was the influence of the Atlantic or maybe it was the calling of the gulls, but her essays seemed to me a kind of homecoming. I return to her work again and again, always eagerly, always gratefully. Here she is reading from her essay The Hvalsalen. Enjoy.