The corncrake (Latin “krex krex” after the sound of the male of the species call, and also known as a “landrail”) is a beautiful bird found from China, Africa, and both Eastern and Western Europe.
As this particular species defends itself by hiding in vegetation, the advent of mechanized agriculture has become somewhat of a threat to it’s existence in recent times; luckily for the corncrake and the rest of us, this species has seen a resurgence of late, most notably in Eastern Europe, but also in Ireland, particularly in Co. Donegal.
And no, I won’t tell you exact locations.
Anyway, this bit isn’t really about the bird itself, although if you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend “Donegal For All Seasons” by Liz Sheppard, which is where I believe I first found the little poem at the beginning of this this piece. It reminded me of my father, who died a couple of weeks from today many years ago.
He was quite a character, and quite a corncrake.
The poem itself is of course, is in reference to the Catholic custom of abstaining from eating meat on Friday, depending on whom was presently papal. My grandmother converted to Catholicism in order to marry my grandfather, and she became a bit of a zealot.
All of the men (and most of the women) in my family are very tall. My grandmother was extremely diminutive in stature, but the combination of her intellect, temper, and religious views made her a formidable force to be reckoned with. Boys being boys, and Irish boys being Irish boys, she was forced to compensate for her size by any means she saw fit to keep order as she saw necessary. Normally, this involved only spoken orders or admonishments, but in some instances, such as rough-housing amongst cousins or any other events that could damage her dinner-ware or book-shelves, she resorted to…
A frying pan.
It was her weapon of choice. Whenever my father and his cousins would have a friendly little battle in the parlour, and she was unable to stop it, out came the pan. If forced to do so, she would literally try to bloody the hell out of those involved, including her son.
But you can’t beat the hell out of the Irish.
And so it was, that one night, my father, still a teenager, came home rather late and rather drunk. He went into the ice box, grabbed himself a steak, and began cooking it with my granny’s frying pan.
As fate would have it, (and it always does), she awoke and came downstairs to confront him.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m making myself a steak.”
“It’s Friday morning. You can’t eat meat!”
“I’m hungry. I want a steak. I’m going to eat it.”
Well, her frying pan having been occupied, she resorted to her only means available. She slapped him across the face.
“You can slap me all you want,” my father said, “but I’m still going to eat this fucking steak.”
Naturally, she did indeed slap him again.
And then my father ate his steak.
He was out late. He ate meat on Friday morning.
Like a corncrake.
It was a bit of a “situation” at the time, but as the years went by the whole incident became a humorous family anecdote.
If you are lucky enough to live in a region of Ireland where you can hear the call of the corncrake, it will most likely be loudest and most annoying between the hours of midnight to three in the morning, roughly the time my dad decided to have his meat.
Sometimes the things that annoy and/or offend us are gifts in disguise.
And if we fail to recognise them in the present, we will surely miss them in the future.