It was the type of field trip Dúlra had been dreaming of.
The patrons of the Roddy’s on Glen Road had been hearing some strange sounds of late – no, not the karaoke – but from amid the huge, dark trees that surround the club. As the smokers were enjoying the fresh mountain air, night after night they would hear a creaking sound like that of a rusty gate. There were no gates about of course, and the sound would come from different areas in the dark expanse. This was a bird or animal – or a banshee. If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good, who you gonna call? No, not ghostbusters, but Dúlra.
And so Dúlra had to put all other pressing business to one side and take a trip to the bar to get to the bottom of this mystery.
The Roddy McCorley club was a grand mansion belonging to a bookie when it was bought by the club more than 30 years ago. And under their great care, it’s not only become a quality social hub and museum, but a brilliant three and a half acre mini-nature reserve run by groundsman Caoimhín Carson.
There are not many places in this area where trees have been allowed to grow so tall – and the value of the grounds are multiplied by the fact that it sits on the side of Black Mountain, which remains a treasure trove of nature because there is so little human disturbance amid the maze of farmers’ fields and scrubland.
Dúlra had an idea what the sound might be. We have several birds that sing or make strange sounds at night – like the corncrake and grasshopper warbler. And thanks to YouTube, you can easily hear every birds’ call. So Dúlra did a little research before his trip, and he was hoping he would hear the same call he heard on YouTube. And so it began. One pint. Then a five-minute stint with the smokers, who must have wondered why this guy was there seeing he didn’t smoke, said little and seemed to be tilting his head towards the trees all the time.
Two pints, then a smoke break. The problem now was that this is still mid-summer, and Dúlra needed darkness rather than a drawn-out twilight. Three pints. By this stage he was talking heartily to the smokers and forgetting why he was there.
Four pints – and then, bingo! He had just stepped out into the night when he heard the creaking echoing over the grounds. It stopped for a minute and then restarted. He took out his phone and found the YouTube song. It was exactly the same.
The Roddy McCorley club is the proud guardian of a pair of long-eared owls, ceann cait in Irish. These owls are rare – as are all owls, with no more than 3,000 pairs in Ireland. But it appears that, incredibly, they are not only to be found in the heart of West Belfast, but nesting there. If a long-earned owl is being heard at this time of year, it stands to reason that its nest is nearby. If that’s not an excuse for another pint, Dúlra doesn’t know what is. Anyone for karaoke?