Wednesday, June 24, 2015

There Are "No Snakes" in Ireland. But I'm Still Holding My Breath.

Not a Snake
Cycling along a lovely mossy lane in northern Donegal a week or so ago, suddenly I saw in front of me a thing that made me do a double take and slam the brakes. Having come to a screeching halt with my tyre nearly upon it,  I regarded the stringy serpentine form - first with a sense of disbelief and triumph, then with relief and finally disappointment. Upon closer inspection, it was only a long, twisted tree root. But for a glorious, terror-filled moment there, I almost thought it was...

But before I could complete that thought, a loud voice out of nowhere boomed in my head.

"How many times need I tell you? There are no snakes in Ireland!"

"Sorry, what?" had been my reaction the first time I heard this assurance, given in response to my concern over walking in tall grass.

"There are no snakes in Ireland."

"How can there be no snakes?"

"Have you not heard? St. Patrick drove them out."

"But that's..." (struggling to find a diplomatic synonym for "crazy") "...unlikely, don't you think?"

"Makes no odds what I think. But if you're hoping to find a snake in that grass, you'll be waiting a long time. There are no snakes in Ireland you see. Sure look it up yourself if you don't believe me."

So look it up I did. And while that fascinating Englishman St. Patrick played no role in its banishment, the snake's progress toward the Emerald Isle had apparently been thwarted to begin with by a combination of geographical and evolutionary forces tens of thousands of years ago. In other words, there were never snakes in Ireland (or Iceland, or New Zealand) in the first place, it would seem.

You will forgive me, however, if I remain just a tiny bit skeptical. Because you see, I have already been through this song and dance before. The last time, it had to do with mosquitoes.

On my first visit here, I remarked on the complete and utter absence of insect screens on the windows, doors and porches of Irish houses.

"We could never just open the windows like that in New England," I said, with some envy. "The mosquitoes would eat us alive."

"Oh how terrible. What a wild place that America must be, after all. But you needn't worry about that here. We don't have mosquitoes."

"You don't?"

"Not at all."

Well, if the no snakes thing turned out to be true, I thought, why not. And I opened the windows wide to let in the lovely summer air, scented with freshly cut grass.

Later that evening I walked into my bedroom and turned on the light to behold a terrifying sight. On the wall, right above my bed, sprawled a monstrous creature which I can only describe as a sneering, gigantic - and I am talking fist-sized here - mosquito. Suppressing a scream, I backed out of the room and entered the living room, where my hosts (I was staying with friends at the time) were blithely watching a motorbike race on tv, oblivious to the horror show unfolding under their very roof.

"Pardon me," I said, not wishing to sound alarmist.  "But could you just come and have a look at something in my room for a moment?"

Made curious by my pallid and wide-eyed face, they arose and joined me eagerly. The grotesque thing had not moved from the wall, and was in fact now joined by an even larger, more menacing-looking companion. Silently, I pointed at their horrific frolic.

"Oh." they said, as if I'd shown them an ordinary ant or housefly.  "What's wrong?"

"You said there were no mosquitos!"

"But there aren't."

"Then... What. Are. Those?!"

From the unconcerned look on their faces, I nearly thought I had hallucinated the giant insects hovering above my bed. But finally, they seemed to realise what troubled me.

"Ach! You mean those Daddy Long Legs there?"

"Is that what you call those oversized mosquitos on the wall?"

"Why, sure they're not mosquitoes. They're harmless."

"Harmless! You mean to say those... things don't bite?"

"Not at all! Not humans they don't. Sure you can swat at them with a cloth if they frighten you. Or just leave them be; they'll do you no harm the poor buggers."

Just in case, I destroyed them - then tightly closed the curtains over my window and lay in the dark trying to forget the experience. But forgetting was not in the cards: In the morning, I opened my eyes to see another one of them on the ceiling and a couple more in the corner. However, my skin - which is normally ravaged by any hint of mosquitular presence - was free of bites. And so at length I came to trust in the creatures' harmlessness.

I had nearly put the issue of mosquitos behind me, until, some time later, I ventured out on a day-long cycle ride over the Sperrin Mountains. It was my first time out there and the scenery was beautiful; I made frequent stops along the magical forest roads and took lots of photos. The day was a warm and sticky one, windless, the air thick with humidity. Having cycled a good few miles over the mountains and back, I retuned late in the evening and collapsed straight to sleep with tiredness. The following morning I got up early, wakened by the unpleasant sensation of my entire body covered with tiny, itchy, pus-oozing bumps. I pulled back the covers to discover myself covered with what not only felt like, but also clearly looked like, hundreds of mosquito bites. Haphazard in places, in other spots the bites formed impressive patterns. The flesh which had been peeking out between my 3/4 tights and socks, for instance, was covered with the bites so densely that it appeared I wore ankle bracelets. Stunned by this state of affairs, I was't sure what to think just yet. And the strange thing was,  I had not even noticed any mosquitos during my cycling excursion.

"Ach look at that!" My friends exclaimed when I made my public appearance. "The midges got a hold of you, so they did!"

A wave of emotion washed over me, like a rage tampered with exhaustion.

"Sorry, the what?"

"The midges, you poor thing! Place is full of them this time of year."

Later I looked it up. While technically not the same species as a mosquito, a midge pretty much does the same thing a mosquito does - including thriving in similar conditions and leaving a similar type of bite. Funny how no one saw fit to mention them to me, in the midst of all the "no mosquitos here!" assurances.

Well, as the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy. So multiply that by a hundred, and perhaps you understand now why I'm just a little suspicious of "There are no snakes in Ireland." One of these days, I fully expect to be cycling home only to be snatched off my bike by a 6-foot ophidian darting out from behind some foliage. And should I manage to wrestle it off me and avoid its sprays of poison, then limp back to my bike and, trembling, broken-boned, and half-mad with shock, pedal to safety to the nearest town - I will then tell my tale in between blood-gurgling spasms only to be met with a nonchalant wave of the hand and a hearty laugh.

"Ach that! Why that's not a snake, silly girl. That's a slithereen. Or perhaps it was a bendy-snatcher you've been unfortunate enough to come across. Place is teeming with them this time of year. Not to worry but. Because one thing you can be sure about: There are no snakes in Ireland."

26 comments:

  1. Haha, I enjoy the occasional bit of whimsical story-telling here. You paint a picture.



    Wolf.

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  2. haha! I can't imagine living some place where something is not out to get you. I wouldn't necessarily want to live in Australia where it seems Everything is out to get you, but knowing there is a mountain lion (cougar, puma, etc), or a poisonous snake potentially around any given bend when out in the wild, seems par for the course.

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    1. Yes - very dangerous here in Australia - snakes, crocodiles, red-back spiders, scorpions and aggressive (sometimes) kangaroos - you have to be brave to cycle here :)

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  3. Did you mean "puffy" bumps?

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    1. Haha. No : ) But I've reworded to avoid confusion.

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  4. The only real "snakes" in Ireland can be fount in "the Dail".
    Thats in Leinster House Dublin Ireland.
    Like most other countries where we elect our politicians , "snakes" of all shapes and sizes gravitate to this central area (Parliament) and laze about . Hiding from direct sunlight and venturing forth occasionally to feed on the public, and feather their own nests. Other than that there are no snakes in Ireland.

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  5. You might think there are no snakes in Ireland... but you'll get a snakebite eventually ;)

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  6. Well Lass, there may be no snakes in Ireland but there are worms. Great, big bloody worms. Some have fangs and scales and can scare the living daylights out of ya. And please don't you forget the great writer, Frederick Forsyth, who wrote a short story of the same name, captured forever in the novel "No Comebacks." Worth reading? Well, if you do you'll never trust your eyes as for identifying an Irish worm as long as you live.

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    1. I have seen snake-sized worms here (they like to burrow in the sand by the shore). But they are obviously worms despite the size - pinkish-brown, look just like earth worms except 10 times larger, no scales or fangs to speak of :( Looks like I have something new to search for. And a short story to read.

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  7. Saw a diamondback on Sunday - and she was MAD!

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  8. St Patrick was English? Most Welsh people I meet delight in telling me that he was Welsh...

    A Daddy Long Legs is a Crane Fly, I think. Midges can be brutal if you are anywhere near a lough at certain times although I think they are even worse in the Scottish highlands.

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    1. I thought the current consensus is that he was a Cumbrian.

      "Daddy Long Legs" can actually refer to a number of different creatures, depending on regional culture. In the US the term is usually used to describe a long-legged spider, hence my initial confusion. Just looked up a crane fly, and it is related to mosquitos & midges it seems - so yes, that's the thing they call Daddy Long Legs here.

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  9. LOL very funny post. I'll be sure to watch out for the Slithereens on my next visit to Ireland!

    I would also like to know more about those fat tires, don't think I have seen them before?

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    1. Heh. Those are Clement Strada LGGs, 700x23mm (read about them here).

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  10. The Dublin zoo not only offers an exciting experience for the whole family, they also got snakes. Some of them poisonous. With big fangs. Poisonous snakes with big fangs are prone to escape sooner or later. They also like to hide in dark places. Happy Dreams!

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  11. No moles in Ireland either.


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  12. I dunno, could be fun:
    "And the daddy longlegs jumpet sprite
    As he danced to the reel in the flickering light

    On his thin and wispy spindles
    He was deft and he was nimble
    His eyes were scientific
    And his dancing was terrific
    (OTOH)
    I could see he had no scruples
    As I looked into his pupils
    They were purple or magenta
    Like a statue during Lent"
    from one off my favorite tunes; Christy Moore's "The Reel in the Flickering Light"

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  13. Snakes are a problem on some of the trails around here. More for them than for bike riders, however. On a warm day it's pretty common to come across a beautiful snake sunning itself on a bike trail. Have to veer around them at the last minute, wouldn't want to hurt the poor thing.
    They say the same thing about no snakes in Hawaii, too. But I had a biologist tell me it's not true. "Look under the rocks in your garden." Turns out there is some sort of a very small snake that can be found there. I think it must have been transported mixed in with tree roots. But excepting that, another thing Ireland and Hawaii have in common.

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  14. Speaking from experience, nothing makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up quicker than encountering a rattlesnake on or near the trail. It doesn't matter whether you're cycling or hiking. That sound is simply terrifying.

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  15. A snake is definitely one of the more horrible things I can imagine running over with my bike. Maybe it's because I know they won't see me coming fast enough to run, or just because I have a pet snake that's been with me for going on 18 years. The idea of running over any animal isn't pleasant, but the thought of running over a snake is even more upsetting than most.

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  16. Riding mountain bikes with my beautiful wife....she ran over a rattlesnake. Everyone's fine - and now we have a story to tell.

    She hasn't been riding since then though.......

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  17. You can relax about the snakes and any potential Irish pseudo-snakes. We do have little lizards that you may be lucky enough to spot on a warm day, but they're lovely.

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