The Woods

Some things become lost and can never be recovered.

I drive past a stretch of woodland when I venture as far as our nearest neighbouring town. It starts now at the walls of old Kenure cemetery where five generations of our family are buried and it ends less than a half a mile further on. It is a tiny lost fragment of what was once an extensive tract of managed wood. What remains is overgrown, fouled with dog shit and casually disgarded refuse from washing machines to childrens prams.  The river that used to run through it and feed falls and pools is now a toxic mess.  I still remember it before the changes that laid it low. I remember Kenure House that stood at the heart of the Demesne. No finer country house was ever built and no greater crime against our history ever committed than when it was demolished. But their was a lot of mischief done at that time, the house, the ornamental gardens, the carraige house with tack and hames still on the wall and gig & carraige still waiting for a lord & lady long gone, the statues, ornaments, glass houses, orchards, all swept away to build sad grim ordinary modern housing.

The woodland of Kenure Demense covered hundreds of acres of land managed by gardners, gamekeepers and gillies, a great grand uncle of our family shot the last white pheasent in the woods there at the beginning of the twentieth century. (Not our finest hour perhaps)  The managed woodland contained a well stocked stream, the old stone church of St Maurs and its cemetery which I have already mentioned. It boasted a large decorative pool that became green with moss and algea but still looked immpessive, St Catherines well, a sacred shrine guarded the northern entrance to the wood. The well of a christian saint, that like many things in Ireland had deeper older roots in pagan times, evidence of this, the coins tossed into the wells clear cold water by those seeking favour from the spirits that dwelt there. The well and the green pond were considered hazardous when the new houses were being built and so were swept away also by progress. Landmarks known to generations, gone in the blink of an eye, other things that can not be recovered.

The proper wood, entered from the north or south gates or via one of the cultivated nut walks was a paradise of wild and cultivated trees and shrubs and a haven for both indiginous and alien game birds and various other creatures.  By the time I was born in the early 1960s the last of the Palmer family had left. The house and gardens deserted but intact and the woods no longer managed. The estate fell into a sort of benign decay, the house was a play ground for local kids, a haunted house with which to thrill and terrify ourselves (indeed the house was used to make a few movies including a horror I believe) the yards and out houses, the farm and garden all abandoned but still entire and never vandalised by the local kids who still held it in awe as our parents and grand parents had done.  All of that aside, for me the real magic was in the wood which was now reverting to its glorious wild self, no longer managed or tended it developed its own character. It was at its very best in spring and early summer, bursting with life and leaf and colour, the Blackland river flowing through the heart of it over dams and weirs built by the estate, the water then cold and clear and wonderful.

As a bold wayward brat I spent a lot of time in the woods, time perhaps when i should have been in school or otherwise occupied. The promise of an early morning, spotting a fox or badger was always enough to drag an eager boy from his bed and entering Kenure wood in predawn light was like entering a magical realm. Its all gone now. Cut and hacked away bit by bit. The portion that remains is so dismal that it would be better too felled as I am sure it will be in time. The heart and soul of it is gone, lost and beyond return all that remains now are the memories of those who knew it at its best and a few black and white photographs that capture the grace and beauty of an earlier time.

 The Woods

Soft morning light blurs sharp edges,

On well worn track I entered dark green wood, 

Oak and younger ash merge thickly overhead, 

Raining polished gems that soak my hair.

 

Blackland river fed from ditch and stream,

Wider here, rushing to the sea

Drooping willow branches float and dance,

Drowning in deep rivers light cascade

 

Mighty chestnut shelters crested ferns

Filtered from above bright dappled light,

That flits and swoops on scented summer breeze.

And paints dancing path across that verdant glade.

 

Breeze blows on bringing wood alive,

Grass and reed vibrate, staccato beat

And maidenhair leaves flutter busily,

While garlic heads bow to thorn and rose.

 

Nettles sway, leaves flashing dark to light,

Their seed heads bob and swing in rushing flow.

Elderflowers rains pollen on low moss,

As hollow canes clash in percussive taps.

 

And count down the years from glory to demise.

 

The wind of change has wrought its own deep scars

And once green forest of abundant fair,

Has fallen to the march of heedless time,

It clings to life but fails each passing year.

ghostly shadow of once joyous self

Buried under mans invasive needs

And the wind blows on and leaves the forest changed,

And I who watch and yearn remain the same.

 

Dave Kavanagh February 2015

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