Driving back to Waterford from Dungarvan on Wednesday evening last, the Comeragh Mountains, draped in a blue hue as the sun switched hemispheres, made for a typically magnificent sight.
Two orange-tipped fires were visible beneath Coumshingaun, with (presumably) older heather being lit on a calm April evening to make way for fresh growth that sheep and birds will feast upon.
Of course, the value of older heather is particularly cherished by the grouse, a bird whose population has worryingly declined in recent decades, a topic which a future column shall devote itself fully to.
But as I made my way home last midweek, my mind wasn’t focused on the fate of the grouse, or particularly irked by concern about what sheep on the Comeraghs might have to do for food.
One word was chasing through my grey matter like the spring flames dancing across the mountain heather: rubbish.
The annual Comeragh Clean-Up, highlighted in these pages last week, was its usual success: a great demonstration of the community spirit which Lemybrien and Kilrossanty is well known for.
But it is shameful that the good people of both villages (and indeed those from the city and Dungarvan who also assisted) should be called upon to de-litter over 50 miles of roads, rivers and woodlands.
A chat with a city-based primary school principal a few weeks back sprung to mind as I stared, disbelievingly, at a photo revealing the rubbish that volunteers had retrieved at the end of their latest clean-up.
Sofas, chairs, bed bases, buckets, carpets, the base of a basketball net – you name it, it was in this mouldy mound.
“I do a good bit of running around the east of the county, and I’m flabbergasted by the amount of rubbish I see in the ditches, pretty much down every road I run on,” he said.
“I know I’m not the only person who thinks this, but I think the problem is getting worse. Cutting ditches and hedges, which, don’t get me wrong has to be done, especially on narrower roads, really shows off the extent of the disgusting habit that many Irish people clearly have.”
Now, being similarly mobile to the principal in question, a recent run out of the city in the direction of Dunmore East proved a real eye-opener.
Trotting past a farmer’s gate equipped with an orange County Council sign titled ‘No Dumping’, a discarded chip bag and two burger cartons lay directly beneath it.
Down the narrow road in question, the ditch was populated by much more than what nature intended: bottles, crisp packets, chocolate wrappers, plastic bags and so on.
The road between Portlaw and Clonea has become synonymous with strewn chip bags, particularly at weekends, while the sight of bursting bin liners is not uncommon.
Be they simply propped up against the Curraghmore Estate wall or dumped into a stream just yards from the parish boundary between Portlaw and Clonea, such incidences are all too frequent.
And before anyone plays the race card and blames the ‘new Irish’ for our litter problem (although some are undoubtedly contributing to it), consider this.
In my childhood, when Ireland was largely ‘natives-only’, discarded fridges and cookers were regularly fly-tipped over a gate in the forestry at Baylough, Portlaw, a short stroll from where two wind turbines stand today.
Therefore our rubbish problem isn’t 21st century in origin and cannot be simply dismissed as a by-product of recessionary times or altered demographics.
We as a race have a long history of dirty habits, of flicking cigarettes from car windows, of spitting on streets, of letting dogs ‘do their business’ in public and not cleaning up after them.
As City Councillor Mary Roche put it last week: “The clean-up of dumping and littering has cost this country dearly – and yet, some of the same people who are giving out about the billions going down the Anglo toilet are the cause of this particular cost to the nation.”
Education is the key here, and our schools, particularly through the Green Flag initiative, have done much to point children in the right direction when it comes to binning waste.
But parents are the most important role models of all and represent the best hope we as a nation have of stamping out a disgusting habit so prevalent on our roadsides at this time of year.
So come on Mams and Dads: reduce, reuse, recycle day in, day out and your kids will surely follow suit. It’s the least that our beautiful county deserves.