Sunday, 9 December 2018

John the Baptist and hell fire

Address given at St Mary's, Nenagh on Sunday 9th December 2018, the 2nd of Advent

As I dodge the potholes on the back road to Dromineer, I often pray that the County Council would take to heart the words of Isaiah we’ve just heard Luke quote in his Gospel:
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;”
Joking aside, today I want to focus on John the son of Zechariah, the subject of today’s gospel reading (Luke 3: 1-6). There are 3 questions I shall try to answer:
                 i.    Who was he?
               ii.    What was his teaching? and
             iii.    How is it relevant for us today?

So, firstly, what do we know about John the son of Zechariah?
Quite a bit, in fact - and not just from the Gospels. Josephus the 1stCent Jewish historian is an independent source, who says more about John than he does about Jesus. John was a real person, not just a character in the gospel story. Notice how firmly Luke places John in his historical context.

He is the person we familiarly call John the Baptist, but Orthodox Christians call John the Forerunner. This is quite as it should be, because the gospel writers and the early church saw him as the forerunner of the Messiah, foretold by Old Testament prophets including Isaiah.

Within the gospels, Luke tells us the most. He weaves the story of John’s birth in with that of Jesus. At the very beginning of his gospel, he tells us about John’s parents, a priest called Zechariah and Elizabeth his wife: both good, pious people, but getting on in years and childless. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth will bear a son to be named John, who will be a great spiritual leader. Zechariah doesn’t believe Gabriel and is struck dumb, but Elizabeth does indeed conceive.

Elizabeth is a relative of Mary the mother of Jesus. Six months later, after Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she will give birth to Jesus, Mary rushes off to visit Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, the baby John leaps for joy in her womb, and Mary responds in the words of the canticle we know as the Magnificat.
In due course, Elizabeth bears her son, whom Elizabeth and Zechariah duly name John. Zechariah’s speech returns, and he gives thanks in the beautiful canticle we know as the Benedictus, which we used as our psalm today. It echoes the OT prophesies:
And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest,
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
to give knowledge of salvation unto his people,
for the remission of their sins.

All 4 of the gospel writers tell us how John, now grown up, goes out into the barren desert country by the Jordan, calling on the crowds who followed him to repent, and baptising them as a sign of their repentance. The background to all this was a great popular religious revival: many people were convinced that the Messiah of prophesy was about to appear, and they were urgently looking for signs that this was so.

Matthew and Mark paint a memorable picture of John haranguing the crowds in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey. He wouldn’t have been the only wandering preacher in the desert at that time. Archaeology has uncovered the ruins of the Essene religious settlement at Qumran, and their library of writings we call the Dead Sea Scrolls. Josephus mentions the Essenes as a sect alongside the Pharisees and Sadducees. John must have known them, and may even have been one of them.

Jesus sought and received baptism from John, who recognised him - not surprisingly since they were cousins.

John was just as blunt and bold a preacher as the Old Testament prophets before him. He was bound to run into trouble with the authorities. And he did: he upset Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch or King of Galilee, who ordered him to be arrested, and later beheaded. Josephus says he had John killed ‘to prevent any mischief he might cause’.

Let’s now turn to examine John the Baptist’s teaching.
In today’s gospel passage, Luke says that John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. He then goes on to outline John’s teaching. Three points stand out for me:
             i.    All the gospel writers are clear that John never claims to be the Messiah, but believes that he is the forerunner. Luke puts these words in his mouth: I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming: I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  
           ii.    John is what we might call a hellfire preacher. Luke quotes him saying: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. () Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’.  John tries to shock the crowds into repentance by terrifying them with the consequences if they don’t, before sealing that repentance by dipping them in water to symbolise that they are washed clean of sin. His preaching must have been very effective, judging by the crowds he gathered.
          iii.    But John’s message is about much more than just hell fire. He calls for social justice. Quoting Luke again, he says:Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. And he calls for people, even tax collectors and soldiers, to do whatever work they do fairly and not extort more than their due. No price gouging!

So what relevance does John the Baptist and his teaching have for us today?
Luke saw John the Baptist as the hinge on which salvation history turns, the forerunner promised by the prophets, making straight the way for Jesus the Messiah. It is difficult for us to see the world as Luke and his contemporaries did, through the prism of scriptural prophecy. And we deeply distrust fundamentalists who see it that way today. But that world view empowered the early church to respond to Jesus’s message, no matter what the cost. Without it, the church would never have survived, and we would not be Christians today. The mysterious working of the Holy Spirit through prophecy is something we should celebrate.

Few Christian preachers nowadays stir up hellfire in their sermons, as they once did - and not so very long ago. We have become uncomfortable with the idea of the wrath of God. Instead it is ecologists and scientists who have been leading denunciations of our foolish and wicked trashing of the beautiful planet God has given us, from secular pulpits, as David Attenborough did only a few days ago at the COP24 Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland – you probably saw him on the TV.

But now more and more Christians are hearing the call to protect God’s planet, and acting upon it. The WCC has appealed for Christians to intensify their advocacy and action for climate justice, and transition to a sustainable economy. Pope Francis has given us a clarion call in his encyclical Laudato ‘Si. The Anglican Communion Environmental Network is echoing the call through their Eco Bishops network. And here in Ireland, Eco Congregation Ireland is spearheading the movement.

I hazard a prophecy that we will hear more and more John-like hellfire from our Christian pulpits, as the ecological catastrophe of climate change intensifies. Because we should be terrified of the wrath to come predicted by the scientists. That should bring us to repentance. And we should seal that repentance by mending our ways!

And as we mend our ways, we must also try to live out John’s social gospel, to share the good things we have received with our neighbours of every faith and race, at home and abroad. Mé féin is a road to perdition in our shrinking, globalised world. We must do so because this is not only the gospel of John, but the Gospel of Jesus, who empowers us by baptism not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire!

Let me finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word
God of our salvation,
you straighten the winding ways of our hearts
and smooth the paths made rough by sin:
keep our hearts watchful in holiness,
and bring to perfection the good you have begun in us.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose Day draws near, your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Monday, 26 November 2018

A sad day

This is a sad day for me and millions more committed Europeans, as the European Council and the Government of the United Kingdom agree the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

This decision drives a knife through my heart and my family. I am a proud European and Irish citizen, who is also by birth a British citizen. My children and all but one of my seven grandsons were born in Britain and are British citizens. If the withdrawal agreement is finally ratified by the parliaments of the United Kingdom and the European Union, on the 29th March 2019 their European citizenship will be taken away from them. They will lose the right they currently enjoy to move freely to study, to work and to live throughout the EU 27, unless they choose to take up the Irish and European citizenship to which they are entitled through me.

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May is a bad deal for the UK. It takes away many of the rights enjoyed by the UK and will be economically damaging, because the free trade agreement between the EU and the UK, which has yet to be negotiated, will inevitably be worse for the UK economy than remaining in the EU. But at least it would keep the UK within the European Union ecosystem of shared regulation and trade on a level playing field, even if the UK will be unable to participate in making the regulations, as it has for the past 40 years. It also holds out the hope of future membership of the Customs Union and Single Market, and perhaps in future rejoining the European Union. But for now it looks unlikely that there is a majority in the Houise of Commons to confirm it.

The Withdrawal Agreement is infinitely better for both the UK and the EU, in particular Ireland, than the alternative of the UK leaving without an agreement - a hard Brexit. The UK would then have to trade with the world under WTA rules and tariffs. The just-in-time supply chains for food and goods would be shattered - a recipe for economic chaos, not just in the short term, but for years to come. The main casualty would be the UK economy, but it would also cause real problems us in Ireland, particularly for agri-business in rural Ireland, and to a lesser extent in other EU countries. It would effect me seriously - already my UK pension is worth nearly 15% less than it was before the Brexit vote, and Sterling can be expected to fall further in the event of hard Brexit. I find it very hard to believe that there is a majority in the House of Commons to follow this route.

What then are the alternatives? Many remainers are campaigning for a 'Peoples' Vote'. They justify it by saying that now people know more about what Brexit means they are entitled to vote again. If May's agreement falls in Parliament, they would like to call a 2nd referendum, and ask the EU to stop the clock on Brexit until this has been held. But it is not clear what question would be put to the people. This would be a high risk strategy. It appears that there has been very little change in popular opinion, which remains split close to 50:50, and I see a real possibility of another vote to leave, precipitating the hard Brexit no sane person wants to see.

The preferred alternative for the Labour leadership is to force a general election, which they believe would return Labour to power, perhaps in coalition, after which they would negotiate to stay in the Customs Union, if not the Single Market. This is also a high risk strategy. It is not at all clear that Labour would win such an election, nor that the EU would be prepared to reopen negotiations.

It seems to me that the UK political system is in a state of disfunctional collapse. There is no majority in Parliament for any course. The 'Fixed Term Parliaments Act' - a foolish innovation - makes it almost impossible to elect a new Parliament. The 50:50 split in the popular view of Brexit has held almost steady since 2016. The peoples of Scotland and Northern Ireland are increasingly at odds with a Westminster Parliament dominated by England.

I fear that continuing deadlock may bring the question to be answered on the streets, by violence. The Remain camp have already showed that they can mobilise up to 700,000 on the streets of London. No doubt the hard Brexit camp could do much the same in their heartlands, and bring with them a hard core of neo-fascist thugs. Fighting on the streets would undermine British democracy.

Much as my heart would love to see a reverse of Brexit, I wonder if the best way forward would be to pass May's Withdrawal Agreement, and to work to bring the final outcome as close as possible to EU membership in the long run.

I pray for the politicians in London, and Brussels and the EU27, that the decisions they make may be for the common good.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Spiritual Importance of the River Shannon

Lough Derg on the River Shannon from the 'Lookout', near Portroe 1 July2018
- a landscape of spiritual importance
Notes made in preparation for an interview with Anna Kavanagh on 10th November 2018 for the Athlone Community Radio series ' Taste the Pure Drop', to be broadcast in February 2019. Others interviewed with me were Donal Whelan (River Shannon Protection Alliance), Liam Minehan (Fight the Pipe Campaign) and Catriona Hilliard (Heritage Boat Association).

1.      I want to focus on the spiritual importance of the River Shannon, as a member of the Community of St Brendan the Navigator.
·         The river has had a spiritual importance from pagan times – it is named for the Celtic goddess Sionna.
·         For the early Celtic church, the Shannon was a great highway opening up the interior to the outside world. The saints travelled up and down it and founded monasteries along and close to it.
·         Among them are: St Brendan the Navigator’s first monastery of Ardfert, St Senan’s of Inis Cathaig (Scattery island), St Munchin’s of Limerick, St Molua’s (later St Flannan’s) of Killaloe, St Caimin’s of Inis Cealtra in Lough Derg, St Columba’s of Terryglass, St Ruadhan’s of Lorrha, St Brendan’s of Birr, St Brendan the Navigator’s last foundation at Clonfert, St Ciaran’s of Clonmacnoise, St Diarmuid’s of Inishcleraun in Lough Ree, etc.
·         Bord Failte are marketing the Shannon as ‘Ireland’s hidden heartlands’, but it should really be marketed as ‘The Saints' Way’, I think.

2.      For those like me who have been brought up close by, or live along it, and love it, the River Shannon is of great personal spiritual importance.
·         The part I know best is the stretch from Limerick City to Portumna including Lough Derg. I live in Dromineer on the Tipperary side of Lough Derg. I have known it all my life.
·         As a small boy I stayed for holidays in Meelick Cottage in Luska bay, reached only by boat. Later I brought my own children on holiday there, and they in their turn brought their children.
·         My mother’s family have an association with Lough Derg and sailing going back to my great-great-grandfather in the 1870s.
·         I have spent a lifetime looking out over the river and its lakes in all its moods, rowing and sailing on its waters, rambling along its banks, and being delighted by the plants and animals to be found there. For me and so many others it is a God-given gift. I feel as close to God as anywhere on earth when I am beside it. My heart echoes WBYates ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’:

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

3.      A key part of the Shannon’s spiritual importance is its unique and special natural heritage, which displays the amazing beauty and diversity of God’s creation.
·         The limestone shores of Lough Derg are unique ecosystem, like a rock garden supporting a wonderful flora, including Fly, Bee, Fragrant and Marsh helleborine orchids, Grass of Parnassus, Blue-eyed Grass and the Bloody Cranesbill, among a host of other more common species. One plant which grows on the banks of Lough Derg but nowhere else in the British Isles is the Willow-leaved Inula (Inula salicina) – I grow it in my garden, from a slip given me by the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, which collected it by the lake. Another unique ecosystem is the Shannon Callows which flood every winter, maintained by traditional agricultural practices.
·         Among the insects are Mayflies, which dance on the water and are imitated by anglers to catch trout by dapping on the wet fly. There are many species of dragon and demoiselle flies, as well as butterflies, including the rare Brown Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper and Marsh Fritillary.
·        Among the fish are trout, eels and salmon, all sadly reduced in numbers in recent years. The Pollan, an endangered endemic species, still holds on in the larger Shannon lakes, Allen, Ree and Derg.
·         Among birds, the Corncrake can still be heard in the Shannon Callows, but is in severe decline. The lakes are very important winter grounds for many migrating water birds, including Whooper swans. And it is wonderful to have White tailed eagles breeding again around Lough Derg, reintroduced after being extinct for 100 years.

4.      Of equal spiritual importance is the Shannon’s cultural heritage - the places, the buildings, the history, the stories and the people.
·         These include the surviving medieval churches and castles, the Georgian and Victorian buildings in river side towns, the 18th and 19th century navigations, and the early 20th century Shannon scheme.
·         We must honour the people for whom the Shannon has been a passion, and those who have created the communities along it, among them Syd Shine, a founder member of the IWAI who lived on a barge called the Fox, and Rick Boelens of the Lough Derg Science Group.
·         People like me who identify with the river have a real sense of belonging to it, memories of a home even when we are far from home. Such stable roots are vital to spiritual stability in our ever-changing world.

5.      For me it is a spiritual duty to preserve the heritage of the Shannon. So how should we do it?
·         Thank God, much of the Shannon is now protected as Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. But the river remains under threat in so many ways. We need to take very seriously the spiritual duty of protecting it and all its creatures, including ourselves.
·         We cannot try to wrap the Shannon up in a cocoon and keep it unchanged, because the river is always changing, and will always change. I know a sandy bay where I used to paddle and wade as a boy, but which has now turned into a marsh – this is a natural process.
·         The communities along the river too will always change. It is the people who live around the Shannon who carry with them the spiritual importance of the Shannon. They must continue to live and thrive in the environment, with good jobs which allow them to live prosperous lives, while enjoying, protecting and enhancing their natural and cultural environment.
·         Proposals have been put forward to pump water from the middle or lower Shannon to Dublin. Earlier proposals to pump from Lough Ree or the upper reaches of Lough Derg could have been disastrous for ecosystems, but happily the worst of them have been averted, in part because of the efforts of the River Shannon Protection Alliance. The latest plans are much more benign, though I do not think they are the best way to meet Dublin’s real needs.
·         I believe the best way forward will be to manage the entire Shannon corridor as an IUCN Category 5 protected landscape, with state-owned land (ESB, Coillte & Bord na Mona) designated as a National Park at its heart. This was proposed for the lower Shannon by the Waterways Corridor Study 2006, but so far as I am aware this never been progressed following the great crash.
·         It should be a key objective to resurrect this proposal. The focus should be to combine protection of sensitive ecosystems with support for development of sustainable spiritual tourism and eco-tourism, alongside sustainable added value farming through schemes akin to Burrenbeo, and sustainable development of industries in Shannon-side towns and villages.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Pilgrim walk at Ardfert with the Community of Brendan the Navigator

On Saturday 6th October thirteen of us gathered in the nave of the ruined Cathedral of St Brendan the Navigator, Ardfert for a pilgrim walk organised by the Community of Brendan the Navigator, led by Archdeacon Simon Lumby with the assistance of Sylvia Thompson of the Tralee International Resource Centre. The cathedral dates from the 12th century, but it is on the site of the monastery established by Brendan the Navigator in the 6th century. From there we walked to Tobar na Molt (Wethers’ Well), the reputed site of Brendan’s baptism by St Erc, about 10km there and back.
Pilgrims in the nave of the Cathedral of St Brendan, Ardfert

Simon and Sylvia led us in prayer in the cathedral before we set out. We also sang the hymn ‘This day God gives me’ unaccompanied - we did pretty well, I think! Then we set out on the road through the charming village and out into the country, walking two by two and chatting, getting to know each other.

About half way to the well we stopped to gather our thoughts. Simon reflected on a cottage overgrown with briers, and Sylvia read to us from Mary Shanahan’s book ‘In honour of nature’.

The hermit and his blackbird

I need to watch the sun, 
to calculate the hours that I should pray to God. 
But the blackbird who nests in the roof of my hut 
makes no such calculations: 
he sings God’s praises all day long.

I need books to read, 
to learn the hidden truths of God. 
But the blackbird who shares my simple meals 
needs no written texts: 
he can read the love of God in every leaf and flower.

I need to beg forgiveness, 
to make myself pure and fit for God. 
But the blackbird who drinks with me from the stream 
sheds no tears of contrition: 
he is as God made him, with no stain of sin.
A break to gather our thoughts on the way to Wethers' Well

Leaving the road, the green path to the Well is beautifully mown, as is the sacred enclosure around the well – it is clear that the place is much loved and regularly visited by pilgrims.

The Well itself was dry – no doubt a result of the summer drought, but as winter rains fall and the water table rises we know that it will be filled again. There are stone steps down into it, and the stone walls are covered with moss up to the level it fills to, with projecting stones upon which a pilgrim immersed in the water can rest.
Wethers' Well was dry on the day of our visit
Simon led is to reflect on the symbolism behind springs and wells reaching back to pre-Christian times – the water springing from the earth is a portal to another domain.

The legends of the site are that St Ita is buried in a grave here; the well sprang up in answer to her prayers; St Erc baptised St Brendan here, his fee was three wethers which sprang miraculously out of the well; mass was said on the altar in penal times – a priest saying mass there was surprised by soldiers with bloodhounds, but three wethers sprang out of the well and led the chase away, leaving the priest to finish the mass.
Medieval carved figures on the penal era altar at Wethers' Well,
said to be (l-r) St Erc, St Brendan, St Ita
I spoke briefly about my own back-to-front pilgrimage. Exactly a week before, I had been at St Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert – once the site of another monastery founded by Brendan, the place where he died, or as the early Irish monks would have called it, the place of his resurrection. A large stone outside the great hiberno-romanesque entrance is reputed to mark his grave. After his Christian birth in baptism at Wethers’ Well, Brendan’s travels were guided by God to his place of resurrection at Clonfert. I had travelled his path in reverse over a single week.

We returned from Wethers’ Well to the cathedral the same way that we had come. After a brief time of prayer in the cathedral, we finished the day with tea or coffee and packed lunches in the Community Centre opposite, where all agreed that it had been a most worthwhile and spiritual day out.

Friday, 14 September 2018

On the Island of Birds

The Navigatio or Voyage of St Brendan is filled with fabulous tales which cannot be taken as history. This extract from chapter 11 beautifully illustrates the spirituality of the people Brendan inspired. Notice their attention to creation, which they relate to scripture, in this case the familiar psalms which they would chant every day - the words the birds chant are verses from different psalms.

On the approach of the hour of vespers, all the birds, in unison, clapping their wings, began to sing ‘A hymn, O Lord, becometh Thee in Sion, and a vow shall be paid to Thee in Jerusalem’ (Ps 65:1); and they alternately chanted the same psalm for an hour; and the melody of their warbling and the accompanying clapping of their wings, sounded like unto a delightful harmony of great sweetness. When supper was ended, and the divine office discharged, Brendan and his companions retired to rest until the third watch of the night, when he aroused them all from sleep, chanting the verse: ‘Thou, O Lord, wilt open my lips’ (Ps 51:16), whereupon all the birds, with voice and wing, warbled in response: ‘Praise the Lord, all His angels, praise Him all His virtues’ (Ps 103:21). Thus they sang for an hour every night; and when morning dawned, they chanted: ‘May the splendour of the Lord God be upon us’ (Ps 90:17) in the same melody and rhythm as their matins praises of God. Again, at tierce, they sang the verse: ‘Sing to our God, sing; sing to our King, sing wisely’ (Ps 47:6); at sext: ‘The Lord hath caused the light of His countenance to shine upon us, and may He have mercy on us’ (Ps 67:1); and at nones they sang ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity’ (Ps 133:1). Thus day and night those birds gave praise to God. St Brendan, seeing all this, made thanksgiving to the Lord for all His wonderful works; and the brethren were thus regaled with such spiritual viands until the octave of the Easter festival.

Our God-given world is full of real life wonders too - watch this amazing video of a murmuration of starlings on Lough Derg, just a few miles up the lake from my home.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Weather & Climate

This editorial appeared in the September 2018 issue of Newslink, the diocesan magazine for the United Dioceses of Limerick & Killaloe.

What extraordinary summer weather we’ve been having. Many will have enjoyed the hot, dry, almost Mediterranean conditions, even though it brought hose-pipe bans. But farmers are in despair: grass has stopped growing, and crops have withered in the fields.

Those with animals have been feeding fodder intended for next winter, since the pastures are bare and the late, wet spring depleted reserves. They fear that without a good autumn grass crop they will not have enough fodder for the winter. High prices for scarce bought-in fodder threaten losses that could bankrupt them, and I hear tales of farmers selling stock at low prices.

Will there be enough fodder for the winter?
Some tillage farmers have been selling poor standing crops for silage. Yields are down, though a neighbour says he is compensated by a high price for his barley straw to use as feed.

Is this all down to climate change? Climate is about statistics - a single hot, dry summer doesn’t prove anything. But it is consistent with what the climate modelers are telling us is the likely future here in Ireland – more frequent hotter, dryer summers and wetter winters.

One canny retired farmer tells me he thinks this year will cause farmers to change their behaviour to reduce the business risks posed by climate change. He suggests the higher stocking levels promoted by Government policy such as Food Harvest 2020 are unsustainable – the probabilities of long, wet winters and hot, dry summers in a warming world causing fodder shortages are just too high. We can expect to see many farmers go to the wall, he says, as lower stocking levels will not provide the income they need to service the loans they took out to intensify their businesses.

Farmers need our prayers at this time of crisis. Let us pray that they may receive a fair return for their labour, and that in the providence of God the sun will shine, the rain will fall, the grass will grow, and all God’s creatures will be fed.

God bless, Joc Sanders

Friday, 31 August 2018

Animals in the 2018 Summer Garden

The 1st of September is the first day of autumn for me, so this is the last day of summer. It is a good day to look back and reflect on what summer 2018 has been like in the garden I share with Marty.

The trees and shrubs and herbs which we tend are the ever-changing backdrop of the garden, but the forground is animated by the animals we share it with, and that includes the people who have visited it - everyone made in the divine image.

My garden highlight this year is the visit of two daughters and three grandsons. What joy it was in early August to see my daughter Ellie's three boys, Jonah, Cormac & Soren racing around Marty's Labyrinth garden, and to play 'Grandpa's Footsteps' with them and their Aunt Amy - their energy made me tired just to watch them!

Cormac, Ellie, Jonah, Soren & Amy at the entrance to the Labyrinth

Soren, Amy, Cormac, Jonah and Grandpa played 'Grandpa's Footsteps' - Ellie took the photo
We did so much else in God's wider garden too of course - swimming and paddling in Lough Derg at the swings below Coolbawn, meeting cousins at the Nenagh Show, rowing to Meelick in Luska Bay, cruising with my brother Tom from Portumna Bridge to Dromineer...

And then there was a lovely Waller family barbecue in July on the patio, all descendents of William Thomas Waller of Prior Park (my Great-great-grandfather) and their spouses.

Descendents of William Thomas Waller of Prior Park and spouses
I saw few other mammals in the garden this year, except for the feral cats, but I saw traces of the the badger, and I suspect woodmice took a lot of Marty's pea and bean seeds.

Of the birds, I was delighted to have a calling yellowhammer in the hedge (a little bit of bread and nooo cheese), as we missed him last year, and I saw my first swift, no doubt one of those that nest in St Mary's of the Rosary in Nenagh, passing through.

It was a mixed year for butterflies in the garden - no holly-blues this year, but plenty of speckled-woods, ringlets and meadow-browns. I was pleased to see a single small-copper, and also a couple of fritilleries, probably silver washed. I was very worried by the absence of vanessids until the last fortnight, but now we have small-tortoiseshells, red-admirals, peacocks and even a painted-lady.

That is enough for this post I think, but I shall post again about the plants of Summer 2018.