10 June 2016

‘Unwearied still, lover by lover …
Their hearts have not grown old’

Swans in the water at Bray Harbour this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The academic year may be coming to a close, but this is still a busy time of the year. Over the next few days I am with Year III students who are facing viva voce exams about their dissertations, and tomorrow is a full day with readers in training, working with them on liturgy and church history.

It was good to get home this evening, despite the heavy rain, in time to watch the opening match of the European Championship. But in between, two of us got out to Bray for a walk on the main beach followed by a (very) lunch in Carpe Diem on Albert Avenue.

It is a full month since I had been in Bray for a walk on the beach and lunch in Carpe Diem.

The small beach at Bray Harbour this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Later, we stopped at the smaller, crescent-shaped beach north of the Promenade at Bray Harbour, which is home to a thriving colony of mute swans.

These beautiful creatures have gathered in large numbers at the harbour, where they can be seen relaxing and swimming about the harbour, and being fed by many local people.

The Mute Swan is one of the largest and heaviest flying birds. It is found throughout Europe and Asia, and is resident in Ireland throughout the year in lowland areas with lakes, ponds, slow-moving rivers, canals, coastal lagoons and other wetland habitats.

It is estimated that there are about 21,000 swans in Ireland. Bray Harbour was too polluted for swans until a sewage treatment plant was built in the mid-1990s. Since then, their numbers have built up steadily, from around 24 birds in 1996 to up to 160 now.

Swans are wild animals, but often they are dependent on people and are not afraid to come close to people with food for them. But sometimes people forget that these swans are wild birds and that they can be quite fierce if are frightened or feel provoked.

A recently-formed Bray Swan Sanctuary Volunteer Group looks after the swans. Swans enjoy being fed brown or wholemeal bread or even green vegetables, and can be gentle enough to be hand-fed.

The group offers the following tips for feeding swans:

● Brown or wholemeal bread rather than highly refined white bread
● Green vegetables, such as the outer leaves of cabbages
● Wheat or barley grain
● Very stale bread should be thrown into the water so that it is softened
● Avoid giving mouldy bread that could be poisonous

The large and thriving colony of swans in Bray were a calming sight to watch in the harbour this evening.

Colum Kenny’s poem about swans on a wall at Bray Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Although summer has arrived, a poem by Colum Kenny painted on a nearby wall reminded me this afternoon of William Butler Yeats’s poem set in autumn, ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

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