DER CUK – By John B. Keane – (Article written for An Riocht 2000)

Recently I went for a stroll with a German who frequents my pub. His English is poor but he almost always manages to get his meaning across so that I had no difficulty in under-standing him when he turned to me and pointed towards a distant copse. His face was lit by the incomparable brightness of Mid-May 1998. His mouth was filled with chuckles and was transformed from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

“Der Cuk” he said with a broad smile.

“Herr Cuk” I responded, intimating that the cuckoo in question was the male of the species. The German threw both arms upwards and outwards in a gesture of joyous abandon.

“Herr Cuk, Der Cuk” he cried aloud intimating that a cuckoo was a cuckoo and that was that.

From the frequency and exuberance of the calls it was clear that this was a freshly arrived cuckoo. It was also my first cuckoo of the season and I managed to convey to the German that the occasion was a cause for celebration. An incomprehensible shrug was his only response.

I must say here that our customs tend to baffle him and there is many a parish priest and bishop and many a mother and father who would also hold that the cuckoo’s arrival is no excuse for drinking.

Be that as it may I always celebrate the cuckoo’s arrival by indulging in a drink or two upon arriving home. Then with some companions who are not averse to strong drink I journey to Ballybunion where I inform my friends of the cuckoo’s arrival.

For the past few weeks in the correspondence columns of the daily papers there have been numerous letters

A difficult question arises here. Are those who write to the papers concern-ing the arrival of cuckoos being deluded by their own imaginations? For God’s sake not at all! It is simply that there is a basic need for the cuckoo in all of us. Summer without the cuckoo is like Hamlet without the Prince. If there is no cuckoo the mind can be affected, the produce of the national herd can fall off, the love lives of Romeos can be curtailed and there is that frustrating feeling of non-fulfilment.

As Milton once said, the mind is in its own place. As my late maternal grand-mother used to say, it is a daft mind indeed that cannot conjure up a cuckoo to meet its wants.

Even as I write this on the back of an ESB envelope two miles from the town the cuckoo calls from a sally grove in some inner fields. I listen and he calls again and again.

Around me the bushes are clothed with bright new leaves, untainted yet by age or blight. The entire countryside is lighted by a recently-emerged sun. It is an ideal setting for the cuckoo. It is precisely his place and time. If, as they say, there is a precise time for everything, then this, surely, is the cuckoo’s time.

Maybe the cuckoo I listen to is a product of my own imagination which begs a question. Should there be a corroborator to confirm a genuine cuckoo call? Of

concerning cuckoo sightings and one might well ask if we perhaps take our cuckoos too seriously. I do not doubt the veracity of the sighters for one minute but I would suggest that many of the cuckoos in question are merely cuckoos of the mind, proceeding as Will Shakespeare put it “from the heat-oppressed brain”. We have a neighbour who hears the cuckoo all the year round but then he also hears voices from outer space. A friend of mine sees cuckoos all through spring, summer and autumn.

I’ll put it another way. Let us say that one of these sighters is rambling through newly-clothed territory early in the month of May. Around is an abundance of ever-deepening greenery. There is laughter on the face of the countryside and birds of all denominations sing away the cares of spring and winter. There is the rich, luxurious whisper of growing grass. There is the singing of softly flowing streams. There is wind in the freshly garbed willows and rustles of life in the greening undergrowth. It could be said that the stage is set for the cuckoo’s arrival. These sounds and others of the late spring and early summer are cuckoo sounds. They are seasonal sounds just as the cuckoo is a seasonal bird. We are, therefore, transported from our normal habitats by the seductive powers of nature.

We are in cuckooland. Every prop is in its proper place. The warning bell has been rung. The curtain is drawn across but there is no cuckoo. Here is where the imagination takes over. There may be no bird but the cuckoo lover hears the unmistakeable notes all the same. It’s like hearing the sounds clip-clop when your eyes are closed. There simply has to be a horse. I’ll put it like this. When perfume is wafted to us on the wind we must presume that there are ladies in the vicinity.

course not and for the reason I put forward earlier. The cuckoo is merely a symbol of summer and symbols are products of the mind. Therefore, whether

I would be remiss in my obligations to my editor and my readers were I not to acknowledge the arrival of the only truly accredited ambassador of summer:

Oh blithe newcomer I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
Oh cuckoo, shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice?

I had a friend once called Cuckoo Cranton. He was a frail man and he didn’t have a cuckoo’s features. Many men who have such features are frequently called Cuckoos. He was a hard-working chap who liked a few drinks now and then as I do myself. He spoke only when spoken to civilly and never, ever reacted when shouted at. He simply blinked his eyes and walked away to where silence embraced and soothed him.

The Cuckoo Cranton was a gifted man. He could imitate the cuckoo but never did so unless the regular cuckoo failed to show up which is happening more and more in our emission-infested environment. Now more than ever is there a crying need for men like the Cuckoo Cranton, to remind us of the way things were before we contaminated ourselves.