sparrow hawk 1


BILL in Connemara HEANEY in WESTPORTWhen this lockdown began, I genuinely looked forward to a slower pace of life.

Instead of editing story after story and writing columns, I would be able to sit back and relax a bit more. I would be semi-retired. Actually and officially.  But all has not been as I had hoped for back then in early March.

Since then, there have been at least three murders on my patch, not to mention wanton vandalism and wicked assaults on quite a number of occasions.

The culprits have been a sparrow hawk and two magpies.

We have a large garden here with a privet hedge running all the way down to the back wall on one side.

And a stone wall with clematis and ivy clinging to it, not to mention trees and a variety of plants on the other, which borders the street.

My favourite tree, because it was gifted to us by a dear friend, came all the way from her garden in Dalkey, outside Dublin.

It’s a sumac whose leaves turn red in autumn. The main tree was frozen to death a few winters ago, but it is making a comeback and the head gardener is giving it her full attention in the ICU, the intensive care unit. She worked for the NHS you know.

We are hoping the tree, like ourselves, will never have any idea what it is like to be stricken by coronavirus.

The birds in our garden have no conception of social distancing. Nor have they ever heard of breach of the peace laws.

They sing from morning to night. Very early morning to late at night.

They are mating of course, which is nice. I’ll be able one day to tell their chicks that I knew their feather.

The calls of these birds, which include blackbirds, thrushes and maybe even a bittern, often escalate to a cacophony of chirping and whistling.

The noise is so loud at times that a guy who came to install a new burglar alarm said the sound coming from our verdant hedgerow was quite remarkable. And wonderful with it.

We have been in this house for 40 years or more and I will testify that the decibel count has never been so high as during this pandemic.

You would think that the birds themselves would appreciate the fact that there are no aircraft noises or even the sound of cars passing by on a busy road.

But they don’t. Our feathered friends have a cruel streak in them – from the biggest seagulls to the tiniest sparrows.

The viciousness I saw when a sparrow hawk swooped down from a nearby roof and plucked a screaming sparrow from its nest was frightening.

But that didn’t hold a candle to what a magpie did when it pushed its way into a large bush, wrecked a nest and smashed its contents, eggs and all, on the ground.

Now, I’m no twitcher, so I don’t know the names of all the birds that have decided to holiday chez Heaney for this summer, which looks like being glorious.

There is a super abundance of our feathered friends though, from cuckoos to woodpeckers, which have been spotted – and heard too, of course – around Garshake and the two cemeteries there, both of which have been sadly far too busy over the past five weeks.

So far, however, there have been no reports that the birdsong has been so loud that it’s been enough to waken the dead in God’s Acre.


Our neighbours have been kind enough to ask us isolating over-70s citizens if there is anything they can get us from the shops.

Home delivery slots are hard to come by and sometimes the supermarkets have run out of the sustenance we would wish to have but has unfortunately disappeared from the shelves.

One kind woman, a doctor’s wife, has been allowing me to sample the cappuccinos from their new coffee machine.

She has, of course, been observing the social distancing rules while doing so. The coffee is superb.

A neighbour on the other side of us kindly agreed to purchase some wine and chocolates for us while he was doing his own shopping – the “messages” as some of us still call them here in Dumbarton.

Far was I reared from wine and chocolates, but the old vin rouge and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is a great comfort while watching the unrelenting stream of television coverage during this pandemic.

The politicians and “experts” have much to say about it apart from the one message we all want to hear – “We have found a vaccine. The panic’s over.”

There was one thing the man next door could not get for me from shop or supermarket though. That was a haircut.

This could lead to a “locks down” moment in the back garden. But only if the gardener swaps her shears for hair clippers. I dread that moment.

It reminds me of a story I was told about a College Street barber who asked a customer if he would like some off “round the back”.

The man replied: “Is there something wrong with doing it in here in the shop? It’s kind of cauld roon the back.”


It’s five weeks and counting since the lockdown came into force. Yes, it’s the law. You must obey it. I noticed in the papers yesterday that four men who had driven up from London to Glasgow in the one car had been charged by the police. My message to them is the same for everyone: Dae as yer telt and stey in the hoose.


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