elderflowers past and present



Photo: The Moneen Cave Burial. Credit: Quentin Cowper. Published in The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland by Marion Dowd.

Elderflower’s now in bloom: frothy disks of creamy blossoms glowing in the gloom. Passing by, I catch their scent, sweet and fizzy, like the first whiff of 7-UP when you open the can, tickling your nose. Once in the Burren, I made fritters using elderflowers growing in my back garden. That summer, I surprised hares into loping runs; listened as pheasants cry like beat-up cars trying to start; lost my Claddagh ring in the grass without a care, in the dying days of my first marriage.

To make elderflower fritters, clean, dredge in batter, and dip in a pan full of hot, sizzling oil. Dust with icing sugar and drizzle honey. I ate them in the garden. From here, you could see Moneen, a small limestone mountain (a hill, really) and the area’s genius loci.

A few years after that summer, cavers found the remains of a teenage boy in Moneen’s cave. He was so malnourished, researchers initially thought he was a young child. For an unknown reason, “he dropped through the narrow opening in the cave roof, crawled into the niche in the cave wall, and died there unbeknownst to his family or community.” The teenager had perished during the Commonwealth period, as England’s army ravaged the Irish countryside.

While this nameless teenager’s bones lay undisturbed in their lonely stone bed, I had lived among the descendants of his neighbours, teasing their children and frying their gifts of mackerel and smelling the flowers that had bloomed in those times of famine, disease, and warfare.

Time curves: it doesn’t lead you into the future, but bends toward the past, where stories await shape, flesh, and memorial.


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