Blackberry Picking

It’s that time of the year again here in Ireland – blackberries are appearing in the brambles!

As a kid I used to spend ages on blackberry picking trips, filling sand buckets or any containers with as many as possible.  On a recent trip we collected “a baby’s worth” of blackberries – over 8lb! It looks like there’ll be plenty more to come, too. A real sign that summer is coming to an end, blackberry picking always reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s poem;

Juicy Blackberries

Juicy Blackberries

Late August, given heavy rain and sun..For a full week, the blackberries would ripen…....You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered....Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s […]

( Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney, Irish Nobel Prize Winner)

So far, we’ve made a blackberry and apple crumble and.. lime green blackberry jelly.

Please feel free to share any memories you have of blackberry picking – or any recipe suggestions for the rest of our catch!

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Blackberries & Lime Jelly


The New Quiet Man

I was recently invited to one of the many celebrations that take place in country towns around Ireland on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

While we were there, surrounded by excited chatting, laughter and live music, one of the other guests became silent.

Noticing my inquisitive glance, he shared an observation with me;
“It’s funny,” he began, “how, when you’ve been away for five years, you get used to analysing how people from different countries interact with each other. When I think of coming back to Ireland, I look forward to being able to simply chat with people. But here, now that I’ve come back to rural Ireland for a visit, I find myself observing people once again. I’ve forgotten how Irish people interact.”

During the weekend, from time to time he compared his own home place (also in rural Ireland) to where we were. Although we didn’t speak more about this particular moment, his words have stayed with me. He originally moved away to do a postgrad, and has lived abroad ever since.

As more and more of my friends are moving away, this is something I have started to wonder about. How you see your country will change once you live somewhere else, of course. This, I think, can only be a good thing. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”, as one quote goes.

But this is something markedly different. It seems that with emigration comes the chance that you may find yourself alienated a little on your return.

It reminds me of those identity crises so beloved by literature theorists. The ‘blurred boundaries’ phenomenon that can apply to anything from nationality, race, sexual orientation or gender. While rich in material to explore and interrogate from an academic point of view, I doubt they are as satisfying to experience first hand.

To my friends abroad – I hope ye don’t find yourselves silent observers too often, if ever, on your visits home. We Irish are known for our eloquence. A feeling of alienation shouldn’t change this on any emigrant’s return.