Big thank you from

No greater joy than the return of the swallow

by Paul Cormacain

Welcome: the eagerly awaited swallow.

SAW my first swallow of the year last week. It was in the hills west of Belfast and north of Lisburn. And as soon as I wrote the first sentence I started to hear reports of other swallows. Then I remembered Harriet Geary who left sunny London to come to live in sunny Magherafelt, and who loved to see the swallows come back every year.

Harriet writes:

"We are expecting guests, they visit us every year
Flying home from Africa which might cause some to fear
The awesome journey, it can take quite a toll
But they remain still stoic, as Ireland is their goal."

In the house we lived in as children we used to enjoy the annual return of the house martins. It seemed like we spent hours watching them building their nests on our house, although we never made any preparations for them. Not so Harriet, who tells us that:

We have done some spring cleaning in honour of their stay
We've swept and cleaned and dusted and even laid new hay
So they can quickly settle in as soon as they arrive
And with our lovely bracing air we know that they will thrive."

Well, perhaps it is more important to prepare for swallows than it is to prepare for house martins. Mind you, I would give a fortune if house martins decided to come and build their nest in our home.

Looking through my records for the past 30 years, I can see that the first swallow only once arrived in March, and that was in 1995, a decade ago. Most first swallows of the year were in April, and on just the odd occasion the first sighting was in May.

Whenever it is in Magherafelt, the good folk there were always on the lookout.

We look continually upward and watch `plane tramlines in the sky
Until the fluffy wisps of smoke peter out and die.
We check the date and sure enough it is the proper time
That other folk as well as us have visitors like mine.

Most folk could identify a swallow. One book calls it a 'typical small hirundine'.

Adults and immatures have a dark glossy blue-black over most of the upperparts.

They have a dark chestnut face patch, and white spots on the tail which are conspicuous in flight. The underparts are predominantly white. The wings are slender and curved, its overall silhouette is slim, and the tail is long and deeply forked.

With a description like that in the possession of Ms Geary, the first arrival of the year would be quickly noted.

Some people are even inspired to write poetry about them. No greater joy!

Ulster Star