Welcome back to The Shaking ‘Blog’ – where art and nature meet.
It has been a very long winter. Or, at least, it has felt that way here in the Glencree Valley. But over the last couple of weeks, one can sense a welcome change. The temperature is gently rising and the frequent rain showers seem less harsh somehow. Suddenly, it seems, the trees are in leaf, there are lambs in the fields and the pungent smell of wild garlic is in the air. But it is the all-too-fleeting appearance of carpets of bluebells everywhere that finally announces the arrival of the spring. It is a most beautiful sight. There is something profoundly reassuring about the changing seasons, the cycles of life and the many small wonders that come with them.
During our hibernation we have been tending the embers of The Shaking Bog and reassessing our core intentions - exploring questions such as: How can we be part of the change that we need to see in the world? How can we, in some small way, contribute to shifting perspectives and behaviours for the good of us all? It’s not easy to find the answers when the challenges facing us all are so overwhelming. But we believe that if we attend to nature, with its changing seasons, we will find - and hopefully better reflect - the values of integrity, community and reciprocity. And so, going forwards, The Shaking Bog will endeavour to align itself even more closely with the fluid, responsive and ever-evolving aspects of the natural world whilst continuing to engage with the power of artistic expression and imagination. Perhaps we might then chart our way more effectively towards hope, renewal and a deeper connection with ourselves, each other and the natural world around us.
Throughout the winter months, there was a constant stream of new arrivals to the valley. Refugees from the war in Ukraine arrived, sometimes daily, to the Knockree Hostel deep in the valley. It would be easy to romanticise this journey from war-torn landscapes to the peace and quiet of Glencree, but the image of a group of new arrivals, carrying all of their possessions in a plastic bag, is a stark reminder of the tragedy of war and the real price to these people fleeing their homeland and their homes. The surrounding community generally responded to their arrival with enormous generosity and goodwill – providing lifts to school, procuring furniture, donating clothes, painting walls etc. But what has become apparent, as we have heard more of their stories or perhaps, at times failed, to respond to their needs, is that as a country, we must urgently find a way of ensuring a warm welcome to the ever increasing number of migrants arriving on these shores, offering them all equal opportunities and a sense of shared humanity.
Related to this, I was delighted to be involved in the Concert for Ukraine which took place in Vicar Street at the end of April. Some of the best loved artists from both Ireland and Ukraine came together to perform in a potent act of cultural solidarity. The Shaking Bog’s partner, Fighting Words, joined forces with the Irish Red Cross and Ukrainian Action Ireland to present a most memorable and moving evening of music and readings. The concert felt like a small beacon of light in the darkness, offering hope to all who attended, and Glen Hansard’s performance of Take Heart, with three Ukrainian singers, felt like something of a balm for deep wounds.
Alongside supporting the concert, we have also been busy recording a new podcast which is now available on our website and the usual streaming platforms. For this episode, we moved down the valley to the village of Enniskerry and its neighbouring Knocksink Wood. This remarkable natural woodland is a Special Area of Conservation and as such it is protected under European law. However, it is under immediate threat from approved planning for a housing development on adjacent land, and a local community group, Friends of Knocksink, is vigorously campaigning for its protection.
We are all very aware of the housing crisis, of the desperate and pressing need for new houses for all our citizens. We’re aware too that any objection to housing developments – especially in privileged areas such as Enniskerry - can be perceived as NIMBY-ism. But in this instance, that could not be further from the truth. After detailed analysis, involving the expertise of hydrologists, engineers and ecologists (all commissioned by Friends of Knocksink), the findings are that the approved housing will have a devastating impact on the life of this precious woodland. Why, oh why can we not find a way to develop housing whilst also preserving the environment?
With this in mind, The Shaking Bog felt it might be timely to explore this rare woodland in a podcast. We were delighted that Colin Stafford-Johnson, a highly regarded wildlife cameraman and much-loved television presenter, agreed to join us. Colin has that rare gift of communication and an ability to make complex ideas seem comprehensible. In a long conversation, as we wandered through Knocksink, he reflected on childhood visits to this woodland and what makes it so very special. But he also engaged, in a very tangible way, with the challenges it faces and the measures that need to be taken in order to both protect and enhance, not only Knocksink, but all such areas of conservation.
For this podcast we were also joined by Donegal born poet Moya Cannon who read for us amongst the trees and the young folk “sensation”, John Francis Flynn. John brought his whistle along and responded to the birdsong around us as the dusk set in.
I recently attended the launch of Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s new book, Cacophony of Bone (Canongate), at Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin. From it's cover inwards, this book is a thing of beauty. An honest and lyrical meditation - part journal, part prose-poem – that potently describes an intensely personal journey through Covid times. Those of you who remember Kerri’s extraordinary reading from her much celebrated book, Thin Places, at the Shaking Bog Festival in 2021, will surely treasure this beautiful new work.
I shall end with a quote from Cacophony of Bone:
Suppose a spring quite unlike any you have ever known.
Suppose a silken, solitary season, full of light & time & longing,
hung like fathers, in a planet sky.
Suppose a day where you might give yourself to being.
Suppose a day you might remember how to live.
Thank you for reading. It’s good to be back!
(If you are interested in supporting Friends of Knocksink in their bid to protect Knocksink Wood please see their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/222804242558084)
11th May 2023