Teeming it was, when I opened the lid.  A sight to behold.  But I’m jumping ahead too quickly, I must tell you what came before.

Months ago, E. dug the plot over.  He laid a fleece down and weighted each corner with a large heavy stone; said it would suppress the tenacious – now invasive – ground elder, starve it of light. Yesterday was my day for peeling back the blanket, giving the sun-starved earth a good dig through ready for planting. As they say in these parts, ‘me back’s broke today as a result.’  It’s a thoroughly satisfying soreness, though, an agreeable ache of having roused untended muscles that get an infrequent run out when I pull on wellies and use a graip and a spade and a rake and a hoe, bending down constantly to pull at the spaghetti junction root system of weeds. At one corner of the plot the fleece was raised, as though a small animal (a baby bear, I hoped) had crawled in, fallen asleep and forgotten to come out of hibernation.  Being Ireland (I’m back here visiting) it was no baby bear. Rather, it was the sproutings of last year’s potatoes, a few accidentals left behind, pushing through in strong stalks to hold the fleece aloft like a tent.  Out you come.  I dug them up, shook the soil loose and tossed them aside.  Dig, turn, dig, turn, dig, turn.  I found a pair of my dad’s reading glasses, whole, undamaged.  I imagined him rising from a cup of tea and the Irish Times crosswords to go back to dig, slipping the specs into the breast pocket of his shirt and – doing as I was – bending to lift weeds as the glasses slipped out unnoticed, becoming buried.  Maybe I got the blame for them disappearing – ‘you’re never done tidying up after me.’  I dug on, heaving and turning the soil, indulging in excessive, undisguised, but satisfying groans.  Ah, what pleasure there is to be had in dropping any façade of femininity and grunting one’s way to weed-free turned earth.

As I dug, something was annoying me: where were the worms?  I eyed the compost bin behind me and stepped forward to lift the lid.  Teeming it was; warm, steamy compost colonised by worms, worms and more worms. Thing is, whist the bin was alive with wrigglers, the compost was thick and tight – compacted from not having been turned and therefore tricky to tackle alone.  Knowing full well that this was a task bound to elicit previously untapped groans of a Neolithic quality, I set to.  You know how frying bacon in a sleep-filled house rouses hungry bodies as if from nowhere?  Well, it seems that an abundance of worms does the same thing for birds.  Slowly, strenuously, I began to fork mulchy compost into a wheelbarrow.  Down they came.  First mum’s blackbird.  He (I decided) was allowed – a garden fixture, meriting a pass.  But the others?  The robin, three more blackbirds, a thrush, a rake of starlings; as soon as my back was turned there they all were.  ‘Come on,’ I reasoned with them, as I spread my arms, then the mulch, returning for another load before digging it through.  ‘They’re my worms, go and find your own.’  They cheeping-well ignored me.  ‘Are you talking to the birds?’  A call came from the kitchen.  I was back heaving and shovelling, so answered only with a few more heavy grunts. Out they came in clotted clumps, all tangled into one another, not clear where one worm started and another ended. I picked through eggshells that hadn’t degraded, a few avocado stones and skins, and the odd intact peach kernel. I found a small, round, stainless steel grille, one of those that you put over the drain hole of the sink to prevent food from blocking the u-bend.  Might have been me threw it there, hastily scooping up the potato peels and hoiking them into a bag along with the waste stop.  There were even a few wine corks that had lost their way.  But the worms, thousands of gorgeous pink wrigglers, had found their way and multiplied.

Ireland is famously free from snakes (because of Saint Patrick, obviously) and neither do we have moles (I’m not sure who drove the moles out), but we have worms aplenty.  And yesterday, despite how one might have interpreted my inelegant work noises, those worms surprised and delighted me more than I could ever have imagined.

Icon, by Seamus Heaney

Here is Patrick

Banishing the serpents,

The gold nostrils flared

On his crozier.


He has staked a cluster

One of which slithers

Its head up the staff.

Still from low swamps


And secret drains,

The drenched grasslands,

Luxuriant growths

Beside dunghills and wells


Their sphincters quietly

Rippling, snakes point

And pass to the sea.

Crusty with sand


They dirty and fatten

The lip of the wave.

The whole island

Writhes at the edges.


Here is Patrick

Ridding the country,

A celtic worm-clot

Paralysed round his staff.

One thought on “Worms

  1. The worm came from Ballyshannon.Dad transplanted a colony of about 20 in 2011 after the flatworms wiped everything out


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