The Pyracanthus Bush

The Pyracanthus Bush

It’s years since the man in the garden centre said that pyracanthus would be ideal for the back wall – four bushes, two with red berries, two with orange berries, they would grow tall and prickly and colourful. So we did what the man suggested and, of course, he was right. The four bushes are a mass of white flowers in May and by October they are brilliant with red and orange colour. When the weather hardens, the blackbirds feast and when the winter is really bad, field fares and redwings come down from the Dublin Mountains – how do they find out about our red and orange berries ? One year we had a glorious flock of bramblings and this year we had a pair of goldfinches and a menacing sparrow hawk.

Just when the pyracanthus bushes had grown and spread their branches wide enough to cover the concrete of the backwall, our children discovered the joys of hurling in the local Kilmacud Crokes club. I should never have told them the story of how Christy Ring brought his hurley with him and practised everywhere he went because soon they were all practising their aim and sharpening their eye against the back wall. “Wham” went the sliotar, “Yah, good shot.” “Thud” went the sliotar. “Ah, keep it low …… No, whoever puts the ball over the wall, goes around to get it.” “Wham.”

And soon the constant practice, the puck of the ball against the wall, the honing of skills, improving that all important first touch, settling the nerves before gathering the gear bag and heading off to the match, trying to look nonchalant – it all took its toll on the two bushes in the centre. With unerring aim the sliotar picked off the lower branches one by one and soon a big arc of the concrete wall was revealed – every bit as ugly and bare as it was the day we first planted the pyracantha bushes.

But then as the ‘children’ left one after the other, the branches reached out and covered the concrete wall once more …. I remember the poem of Séamus Ó Néill who curbed the urge that rose in him to wipe the marks of jam from the door. He reminded himself that the day would soon come when the door would be clean and the small hands that had left their sticky imprint would be gone …

Bhí subh milis
Ar bhaschrann an dorais,
Ach mhúch mé an corraí
Ionam a d’éirigh,
Mar smaoinigh mé ar an lá
A bhéas an baschrann glan,
Agus an lámh bheag
Ar iarraidh.

And so it is now with us … But I’d give anything to be starting out afresh and to have the wall bare and ugly again ….

Today dust covered hurleys stand idle in the side passage and I know that if I looked I’d find a sliotar in that old drawer in the corner. I have seen their faces glowing as they recall childhood memories of good games and thrilling runs down the wing …. And come All-Ireland day or maybe next summer, if I can gather them all together – even for a short while – we might wipe the dust off the hurleys and give the pyracanthus bushes one last fright. And then let them grow as they were meant to.

Seán Ó Riain
This piece was broadcast on Raidio Teilifis Eireann's “Sunday Miscellany”, in September 1999.