Dublin’s Bird Whisperer

Pat Larkin: Dublin’s Bird Whisperer.By Tina Lawlor Mottram.

It is late afternoon in County Dublin in July 2018. The sun is blazing down, the afternoon heat resembling Barcelona more than the Emerald Isle. A heatwave has made Ireland as hot as the Mediterranean and I arrive to a glorious welcome from Pat and her husband Dessie. Murphy, Pat’s shadow, a black and white spaniel is most anxious to be involved in any action so long as Pat is included. He pants in the heat, pink tongue hanging out, while Pat shows me her latest brood of chicks. They are here as a result of a frantic phone-call from their tree surgeon who noticed that their nest had been dislodged the day before so Pat has driven to collect them. In Pat and Dessie’s kitchen, there are so many hungry beaks waiting expectantly, with Murphy breathing heavily while Pat’s gentle hands cup these new-borns in safety. A makeshift nest has been constructed and Pat is feeding them by syringe, with a paste concocted from seeds they would normally eat in the wild, which she has put through a food processor with a little water, to make them palatable for the little ones.

Afterwards the whole day felt like a visit to another country because of the temperature and the glorious late afternoon sunshine, but the welcome was most certainly Irish. After feeding time, Pat motioned me to follow her up to a roof, completely hidden from view from the suburban road, where Pat’s hidden sanctuary can be discerned by the symphony, of birdsong and chatter. I wonder if the neighbours have any conception of the extent of the walk-in aviary on this rooftop. Murphy is firmly reminded that he is unwelcome inside and sits there resentfully, observing the action. An intricate nest lies hidden amongst the branches, and two tiny, feathery, grey heads can be observed, with Pat stroking their heads as if this is the most normal, everyday occurrence. For her, this is.

She goes off to work as a carer early in the morning, showing as much love and affection to her clients as she offers these beautiful, lucky birds. With a broad smile, she checks water and food supplies, crooning and chatting to her avian friends on this rooftop Dublin paradise. Murphy is becoming increasingly frantic at being excluded from the cage but he is secure in knowing that the birds remain on the rooftop, while he can have Pat to himself later in the house. I feel blessed just being here. The aviaries are shaded by neighbour’s walls covered in flowering passion fruit flowers or ivy; butterflies and bees help themselves to nectar from these and flutter through the long rows of Pat’s other passion: Bonsai. This suntrap of high, stone, ivy-covered walls encourages Holly Blue butterflies and many Common Whites and several Red Admirals sunbathe like the entire population of Ireland right now. Because their house is physically on a lower level than their neighbours behind, this clever use of the roof means that Pat has a two storey use of the space in summer. I notice that there are also succulents, cherry tree seedlings, ferns and tomatoes. Although I know we are standing on top of a wood store cum garage in July in magnificent, scorching temperatures, it feels like some mini version of nature at its most abundant. The family and lodgers arrive home in fits and starts; thanks to Leonie and all for a fabulous welcome. My only contribution to paradise is that if Pat grew Comfrey here, not only would she give our embattled bees some extra nectar from these flowers they adore, she could always use the leaves to make tomato feed. I promise to send some. Dessie can also use it on his allotment vegetable garden, with rows of lettuce, strawberries and Winter Brassicas but that is another story!