By Paul D’Alton
The brilliant Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell wrote a lyric which is as poignant today as it was in the 1970s: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.
How true that is during these hard times for all of us. And yet, with some outdoor restrictions lifted earlier this month by the government, it almost feels as if we’re able to slightly pull back the curtains, fling open the windows and let the sunshine in.
And, boy, hasn’t that sunshine lifted us in the last week or so? A time, after so much depression, for a bit of lustre and cheering us up.
So it is that it reminded me that for all of us who have been cocooned and cooped up for weeks and weeks, we can begin once again to remind ourselves of the quiet beauty of our wonderful county of Roscommon, something so many of us, understandably, just take for granted.
The other day, on a blistering, cloudless afternoon, Mother and I took a drive through Mote Park. My God, did it lift our spirits. Other locals, strictly abiding by social distancing, waved and smiled to us and each other, cars which passed us did the same and tooted their horns. There was a sense of joy, of cautious relief which shone as bright as the sun.
It was truly a glorious sight after spending so much time locked down, with only essential dashes to the shops and pharmacy.
It also further brought back to me, as Joni Mitchell wrote, that when you live in your home place for so long, you forget the enthralling beauty which surrounds us.
Roscommon is often dismissed, wrongly, a No Go area for tourists and visitors. What total, utter tosh! And we certainly saw that on our first drive out since lockdown.
Stopping for a moment, we stood for a few quiet minutes on a lane in Mote Park, with no-one else in sight, and all we could hear was the glorious chorus of birdsong, the ripple of sunlight flickering through the endless avenue of trees.
We might all enjoy a drink or two come cocktail hour at 5 pm every day – I certainly do! – but just standing there, breathing in the beauty of this part of our stunning county, was a tonic in itself.
It lifted the heart, sharpened the senses and without in any way making a big deal of it, both of us genuinely felt refreshed and invigorated on our return to the house.
Like the majesty of Sliabh Ban, the sprawling wonderments of Lough Ree and Lough Key, the old, neat, enchanting stone walls on the road from Roscommon through Fuerty and on to Castlecoote and the River Suck…further reminders of the home-grown, stunning place we are lucky to call home.
Sadly, we couldn’t drop by my family’s old pub D’Alton’s, or Terry Leyden’s Castlecoote Lodge but, as night follows day, you bet that soon we will be.
The same with a short spin to Portrunny: social distancing adhered to by everyone, but the lap of the water, the silver-blue glint of the lake, the birdlife swooping past us like kaleidoscopic kites…magical, a further tonic, a further cheer you up, lifting of the spirits.
And without further indulging in hyperbole, when we emerge from this tunnel, not only will we cherish not just our frontline staff and our family and friends with a deeper sense of respect and love, but I think it’s fair to say that we’ll all feel the same about our county.
As I said, it’s natural to take for granted the place you’re used to, to pass little heed on the rolling, gentle, verdant fields which surround us, in much the same way previously we’ve sometimes taken for granted the people that we love, which is only natural.
But many good things will come out of this, you can be sure of that. I can’t emphasise enough that we’ll fall in love again deeply with our county and everything it brings to us naturally.
Stand on the bridge at Castlecoote, watch the calm river floating beneath you, not thundering annoying traffic, just the golden silence and calmness of which we can, and forever now, will be grateful.
So if you are able to, safely, try and get out before the lockdown finally passes, even if just for half an hour. It’s a good as the best ever poured pint of porter. Plus, having been out for a spin, you look forward to returning to your home which for weeks has felt like a perennial prison.
The poet and playwright W.B. Yeats wrote in his play Cathleen ni Houlihan of the four “beautiful green fields”, a reference to our four provinces occupied then by the British.
How apt those eloquent words were then when he and Lady Gregory wrote them, and their meaning are even more so today. This time we’ve been colonized by a virus that has tried to take those beautiful four fields from us, but it won’t.
And when we take them back, embrace them once again, they’ll truly have an even more special place in our hearts and souls. And, I’d wager, to go back to Joni Mitchell, no longer will we not know what we’ve got.