Swallow Holes

My uncle had a well fenced field surrounded on two sides by a road, the other sides lined with elegant Ash and Beech trees. It was known as the “Four Acres” but was actually 7 Statute Acres – the ‘four acres’ being the ancient Irish measure. The field sloped West to East and had a wet spot in one comer where the roads kissed. This was a secure field into which we put cows and their calves, where you were guaranteed they couldn’t wander and easy to find. One day as the sun pitched on noon, I went to herd. As I rose the cows, the Cuckoo cased the Beech trees up over Mary-Anne McGann’s derelict cottage. A problem. Thirteen cows grazed or lay about and twelve calves stretched out in clusters. One cow began to follow me as my circle of search grew wider for the absent friend, as I walked the edges checking in shade and hidden, then in more and more unlikely places – all to no avail. I stood and observed the cow awhile to see if she would lead me to the calf surely hidden in plain sight, but that ended in stalemate. Bereft of ideas, I stepped onto the road and marched up and down seeking the little red bundle in daft places. Finally, in exasperation I decided that he must have been stolen in the night as he was easy to catch and the field was close to the road. As I climbed on my bike to bring home the terrible news, I was startled as I thought I heard a muffled bleat somewhere in my vicinity. The cow stood towards the comer offering no hints, so I started again to mooch about, searching the already searched. I went some way off and to my rear heard again the stifled bleat. Retreating my steps and utterly perplexed I stood still, waiting and waiting for a repeat of the bleat. And it came, and I looked closely at the ground like a bewildered witch, looking with my ears but utterly unconvinced as to what I was looking for. Right by the ditch at the root of a Whitethorn bush there was a hole just big enough to fit a football. I dropped to my knees and peered in but was not seeing much in the black. I lay on the ground and reached my arm down only to feel the warm hairy back of my missing calf, who clearly must have gone headfirst into the hole like a wedge. I’ve seen a sink hole described as a ‘depression in the ground communicating with a subterranean passage, especially in limestone, and formed by solution or by the collapse of a cavern roof. And indeed, this comer was prone to flooding with often a lake appearing overnight after a deluge but disappearing again by night-time. The mystery as to where my calf and the water went to was solved, but it ignited an interest in my landscape. The land is undulating with hills and hollows. Streams meander from the bog and
disappear into holes that often are submerged after rain but quickly drain away in a
short period of time. In the woods, on still days it is possible to hear the sound of water running
underground through limestone fissures where there is no obvious water source.
These Swallow holes are both intriguing and mesmerising, enhancing the landscape and exciting curiosity into what treasure lies hidden in plain sight, beneath our feet, just like my calf.