The NOVEMBER Hedge
Winter PoemTá an Fómhar ár dtréigean, cúl feasta le féile,
Gan againn ina éiric ach fearthainn agus fuacht;
Is an Geimhreadh maol faofa ag teacht chugainn ina dhéidh sin:
Is é a lomann na géaga agus a-ní an raithneach rua.
Evidence of the following can be found in the hedge, or at least evidence of their presence: droppings, footprints or mammal tracks and food remains.
Wood mice are great climbers and love especially rose hips; they gnaw the stalk across below the base of the fruit. They love the kernel of hawthorn berries. Bank voles and wood mice love hazelnuts. Woodmice come out at night, they have prominent black eyes and large ears as adaptations to the darkness. They also eat buds, seedlings, insects and snails, which they pull out of their shell. Long ago it was said that a sore on your mouth in the morning was caused by mún luchóige or mouse urine! But if you ate mouse soup you could see hidden treasure!
The Bank Vole It is more a woodland edge animal than the wood mouse as it grows around in daylight and needs ground cover. Its rounded muzzle, small ears and short tail distinguish it from mice. It is more vegetarian than the wood mouse and likes the flesh of haws rather than the kernel. Both mice and voles are an important part of the food chain, feeding predatory birds like the owl and also the Irish stoat (often mistaken for a weasel of which there are none in Ireland).
Owls only eat shrews. They are active day and night, consuming about three-quarters of their own body weight each day. They eat insects, worms and woodlice, which they locate with their snouts in leaf litter beneath the hedge. They have a high-pitched squeaking sound.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal. Lots of grunts and rustling give away their presence at night. They can swim and climb. During a mild weather they wake up from hibernation. Foxes and badgers prey them on.
Spindle or Eunonymus means tree of good repute. It has a hard white wood used long ago to make spindles, skewers and pegs. The burnt twigs make good charcoal for artwork and the berries- poisonous to animals used be used to kill lice in the hair in a powdered form.
Holly Medieval monks called it the Holy Tree and through its Christmas associations it became a symbol of eternal life. It is unlucky to bring holy into the house before Christmas Eve and to take it down before Little Christmas- 6 January.
Ivy It may still be in full flower. The small, five-petalled, yellow-green flowers are in tight bunches and are loved by early winter flies and wasps. The leaves are only ivy-shaped on the younger parts of the plant. The unlobed leaves on older shoots produce the flowers. It has magical associations and used be as common as holly for Christmas decorations. It is a protective plant, providing nesting cover without damaging the tree or wall up which it grows. It is not a parasite as it roots in the ground and does not need to penetrate the surface to which it clings. A drink made form the berries is said to be a remedy for rheumatism. Ivy-berry vinegar was a remedy during the Plague of the 14th century.
FOOD OF HEDGES
Strip the flesh off 6 gin-soaked sloes. Chop this and add to 225 g plain chocolate, you can also add some chopped hazelnuts. Let set on greaseproof paper and then cut into squares. Store in airtight jar.
Pick the sloes after the first frost, and wash them. Remove all stems and leaves, prick berries with a fork. Drop them into a bottle until they come about one third of the way up. Pour in sugar through a funnel, add the lightly crushed almonds and pour in the gin. Give bottle a good shake, shake daily until sugar is dissolved. Leave 3 months, then strain off into another bottle, store for one year before drinking.