Author Archive

Describing a lake video   4 comments

This is a link to a new video created on YouTube. It describes 20 lakes with the words from ‘Writing with Stardust’. The link is below and I hope you enjoy it. I will be putting up a lot more blog posts and videos over the summer so thanks for your patience. It’s meant as a learning aid for teachers but others, hopefully, will enjoy the imagery of 20 beautiful lakes in a slideshow.



Blue-Sky Thinking 1- Free Book   5 comments

Hello all. School is back and my break is over. I’ve been working on a new book that’s not as advanced as ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’. It’s the prequel, so to speak. Tonight, I’m uploading the solutions to the book for teachers to use.

Over the next week, I will upload the ‘fill-in-the blanks’ workbook. This is a book I would use in class myself and might be useful for Ist years in secondary school (i.e. 11-12-year-olds).

I hope it may give some ideas on descriptive writing as a ‘platform’ book for students.

Hopefully, you may find some of the ideas in it interesting. Apologies in advance if pages or words are thrown out in any way. I find the new Windows will put in errors where they shouldn’t be.

Thanks to all those who follow my blog and I will also put up an extract from a fantasy novel I am working on in the next few days. I hope to have it finished by Christmas.

Just click on the link below to access the book.

Cheers for now. Liam.


Blue-Sky Thinking 1














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Posted August 26, 2016 by liamo in Uncategorized

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Ireland in 8,000 B.C.   2 comments

Describing Ireland in 8,000 B.C. has proven a difficult task. The information is scattered and it takes many websites to compile an accurate picture. There is a short descriptive essay at the end of this assignment. Questions can then be posed on whatever topic you decide. This is a post for teachers, mainly, so bear that in mind please. It should suit students aged 11-15. I hope you enjoy the post and any of my books can be viewed by just clicking on the images at the end of this blog post.


Ice Age mammals Introduced since Now extinct
bat bank vole wild boar
red deer sika deer giant deer/elk
Irish hare brown hare brown bear-1,000 B.C.
red fox fallow deer reindeer
pine marten sika deer roe deer
otter rabbit wolf-1786
Irish stoat American mink wild cat
red squirrel grey squirrel wild pig (greyhound pig)
field mouse black rat muskrat
house mouse brown rat woolly mammoth
pygmy shrew muntjac deer spotted hyena
hedgehog wild boar? (rewilding) lemmings
badger black panther? (escapes) lynx
white-toothed shrew Siberian chipmunks lake monsters


bat-                       squeaking bank vole-                 rustling wild boar-               snorting


There are 26 land mammals in Ireland. A land mammal is taken to be any animal that has existed in the country since 1500 A.D. The animals on the left MAY have been in Ireland during or before the Ice Age. Write in true or false on the right if you think they were.

polar bears (bred with Irish brown bears)
wild horses
Arctic foxes
Aurochs (huge wild bulls)
Saiga antelopes
woolly rhinoceroses
cave lions
great auks


Timeline for the First People to inhabit Britain and Ireland

2 million years ago: The first humans appeared in Africa.

800,000 years ago: Humans entered Europe, probably from Africa. England is connected to Europe by a land bridge and a footprint dating to this time is found in Norfolk.

700,000 years ago: 32 flints are found in Suffolk. Early man is successfully living in Britain.

480,000 years ago: The earliest bone found in Britain, a shinbone, is found in Suffolk.

250,000 years ago: The Neanderthals leave evidence of their migration into Jersey island. They are the most successful species in Europe at this time. They go extinct circa 30,000 B.C.

40,000 years ago: The first modern man, Cro-Magnon, arrive in Europe. They are one of the reasons the Neanderthals go extinct. There was probably inter-breeding between the two races at some stage. Cro-Magnon man came from the region of Lebanon/Palestine/Israel originally, spread to Siberia and made their way to France. They followed mammoth and reindeer herds in order to survive. They played music (with bone flutes), drew cave art and made tools and weapons from bones, flint and antlers.

33,000 years ago: Cro-Magnon man arrives in Britain.

26,000- 19,000 B.C: An Ice Age hits Britain and Ireland, Northern Europe and as far south as Northern France. All these areas become no-go zones for humans. They may have ventured in to hunt for mammoths and reindeer but the snow and ice are too hostile to live there.

15,000-14,500 B.C: Humans return to Britain and Ireland. There may have been as few as 3,000 people hunting in Britain at this time but 80% of the DNA of British people comes from these hardy few. Ireland may have had as little as 500 people in the same period. Ireland is still connected to Britain by a ‘land bridge’ from Cornwall to Waterford.

11,000 B.C: The juniper tree is the first tree to colonise Ireland after the Ice Age. Giant deer and Aurochs may have crossed into Ireland at this time. Look at the last grid to see the list of animals who may have crossed over at this time. Ireland at this time is a land of open meadows, lakes and sparkling chalk rivers.

10,000 B.C: The land bridge disappears with rising sea levels. Ireland is cut off from Britain forever. Britain today has 43 land mammals. Ireland has 26, as the south of England was always much warmer, enabling animals to survive. Agriculture reaches Europe from the Middle East. There are no wild cattle in Ireland or England and no-one is able to farm.

9,000 B.C: The climate warms rapidly. Birch, willow, pine, hazel, elm, oak, beech, alder and lime trees colonize Ireland. It becomes a land of vast forests. These forests are now bogs.

8,100 B.C: Evidence of the 1st humans in Ireland is found at Fermoy, Co. Cork. They are hunter-gatherers and they burn forests to clear the way for small, temporary shelters. Their huts were made of sticks and clay (i.e. wattle and daub) and covered with animal skins. These people may have brought animals like the brown bear with them. They kept dogs for hunting and protection. They tended to hug the coasts and fished for salmon, trout and eels in the rivers. They ate lots of shellfish and crabs and hunted flounder and bass from the sea. They ate wild boar and deer and set fish traps in every location. A full list is provided below.

hazelnuts honey crabs salmon
beechnuts seaweed lobster trout
acorns capercaillie clams fish eggs
mushrooms pigeons barnacles animal fat cakes
blackberries ducks periwinkles crab apples
blueberries herons wild horse nettle soup
watercress bear razor fish beaver
wild garlic wild boar flounder Irish hare
hen eggs wild pig bass great auk
goose eggs muskrat mackerel red squirrel
elderberries fox and otter stew white carrot wild cherries
cormorant sloe berries rose hips cabbage
poppy seeds fennel badger wild strawberries
black mustard turnip wild celery wild peas


These foods are the best guess from researching more than 30 websites on prehistoric Ireland. One example is the nettle. Who knows if it existed in Ireland back then? The Ice Age wiped away a lot of evidence and information is hard to come by. If it did, it is a certainty that they made soup from it in February or March when the leaves were green and without the barbs. These would have been extremely resourceful people, probably a lot cleverer than us. The ancestors of these people were making bone flutes 10,000 years before this and drawing magnificent cave art in France and the Czech Republic. It is very likely that this wave came from France and Spain, in particular the Basque country. To this day, people in the fishing village of Bermeo in the Basque country look very like the Irish themselves. Some have red hair and freckles.

6000 B.C: The first pike colonize Irish rivers.

5600 B.C: Britain gets separated from mainland Europe due to rising sea levels.

4300 B.C: The first cattle arrive in Ireland. The new wave of immigrants are farmers. They are very religious and seem to worship the sun, the moon and the stars.

4000 B.C: The first dolmen is built in Ireland.

3100 B.C: Newgrange is built 1,000 years before the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Newgrange may have been built as an exact replica of the galaxy as it was back then. It may have been strictly for religious festivals. It was probably a form of communication and social control with other counties also.

  1. Make a list of the foods you would and would not eat from the grid above. Is there any food you would not eat under any circumstances? Explain your reasons for this.
  2. How would early man have brought bears over to Ireland?
  3. Describe Ireland as you imagine it in this time. Would you like to have lived back then? What do you think the average age and height of males and females would have been?
  4. How many areas of the world are still unexplored? Can Google provide the answer?         Type In: ‘5 of the most crucial skills for surviving the Stone Age’. Take a look at the foods and skills they needed to survive and make a mini-project on it.



Describing Ireland 8000 B.C: The First Humans Arrive

When we first arrived, the first thing we noticed was the clean air. It smelled of peppermint and fresh herbs. Vast forests of jade-green covered the land yet there were plenty of lush meadows too. The trees were tall and rod-straight and cast a lake of crab-claw shadows onto the ground. In the dark depths of these lonely forests, wolves howled and pigs grunted and snuffled. They were places of great danger if you ventured in too far so we always brought our hunting dogs with us.

The most dangerous creatures were not what you would expect. Only the largest hunting parties could go in search of the Giant Deer. Not being used to humans, it would attack us on sight. I have seen six dogs and many spears hanging from its flesh and yet it would not go down. I have seen men flee to the trees in fright when it charged and see the same men getting impaled on its antlers as the deer butted them from their perches. And yet it was not our greatest enemy.

We realised soon enough that we were on an island of sorts. We had crossed the small land bridge during a drought and saw it close behind us with the first of the heavy rains. We could not see a single footprint or trace of a fire, and after the first few years, we knew that we were alone. It was both a blessing and a curse. There were only 48 of us and we longed to see others join us so that our tribe could multiply and prosper. There was so much food available that, in those first few years, we never felt the hunger cramps in our stomach. We were happy and content except for our two greatest foes: the weather and the bears.

It was a damp climate and many times we were forced to seek shelter in caves. Imagine the night closing in with clouds of tar-black boiling in the sky above. Sheets of lightning flashed in the sky and the noise was like a dragon’s cough repeating over and over again. We would send the dogs into the cave and wait outside with our heavy bear-spears and heavier hearts. Never have any of us felt closer to death than at that moment. Time and again, the most dreadful howls and roars would come from the cave and a blur of brown would attack us with fang and claw. We would always kill it, thanks to the dogs distracting it, but some of us would never hunt again after. I tell you now that if ever a demon-creature of the forest was created, it is the brown bear. May the curse of disease and starvation lay on its head forever.

You may ask, reader, why we felt the need to rest up in caves when we could have built shelters and settled in one place. We tried it more than once but found that if we stayed, all the big game left soon afterwards. The wild horses would roam far away, the deer would retreat to the high ground and the boar would flee during the night while we slept. Trying to feed a group as large as we were on a diet of nuts and fish proved impossible. We also took care of our elderly as best we could and they needed to be out of the dampness. It may surprise you, but you can’t light a fire in a shelter. The sparks can take hold and burn it down.

And so it was that we could rest up in summer and autumn, when the salmon and sea trout filled the rivers in great shoals of silver. We made fishing nets from strips of bark, built great fish traps with boulders and wooden stakes and the women and children used harpoons for the fish that escaped us. We would even hang quartz rocks from the trees so that the fish would think it was the moon and gather around it. By day and by night, we hunted them down. Those nights were the happiest, when we sang around the campfire with a steaming fish stew packed with herbs. The stars would flash like water-fire and we would wonder if they were the souls of our ancestors. We had no Gods but ourselves, we would laugh, and think no more on it.

When we came at first, some of the herbs confused us as we had not seen them before. We had a simple system for testing if they were poisonous. First we would place them under our armpits and walk a while with them there. If there was a red rash, we threw them away. If there was not, we would then place them on our lips for a short time. If our lips tingled, we tossed them aside. Finally, we would chew them for about five minutes. If nothing else happened, then they were safe to eat. Because of this, we discovered varieties of cabbage, fennel and black mustard that we had not seen before.

When late autumn came, we would find ourselves once more patrolling the shores for razor fish, edible seaweed, crabs, mussels and barnacles. The bravest of us would wade out into the rocky parts and try to dig out the lobsters and octopus. The women and children would go into the forests with the dogs and collect crab apples, hazelnuts, beechnuts and mushrooms. The men built light rafts in case the mackerel decided to come into shore. When they did, they broke the surface chasing small fish, and I have never seen such armies of fish. They stretched to the line where the sea met the sky and made us feel good about being alive. They were such a greedy fish, sometimes they jumped onto the rocks in their excitement and we could scoop them up with our hands.

Winter was our most important time for hunting. It snowed nearly every year and turned the ground into a carpet of snowcloud-white. The prints of the animals were easily followed and we split into many parties to hunt the smaller game. This was the season of the fox and the badger, the beaver and the stoat. We also pursued the hare, the otter, the pine marten and the squirrel. We set game traps everywhere and waited for the arrival of the huge flocks of birds: ducks, geese, swans, golden plovers, oystercatchers and the cormorants who would return to the lakes and rivers. We hunted everything, we ate everything, but we always gave thanks for what we received. When the dark nights closed in, we would sit in the caves, making weapons from bone and flint. The women would scrape the blood and muscle from the animal hides and the children would play at being great hunters.

I can’t remember any of us living past 40 winters. We picked up disease from the earth, infections from animal bites, the lung-rot from caves and smoke and the laughing-cough from the screeching winds. Our children died young from eating poisonous mushrooms and sometimes they were born dead. We fought against the weather and the wolves, the boar and the bears. We fought the rain, the snow, the lightning and the sun. The one thing we never did, however, was fight each other. No matter what the problem, the tribe came first. No-one would betray the tribe.

It was a tough life, but it was also an earthly paradise. The world was young and fresh and many more beasts roamed the earth. We climbed snow-wreathed mountains, crossed Jurassic meadows and heard the piano-key tinkle of a thousand rivers on our quest for food. We saw blood moons and pale suns. We saw fire-rocks blazing across the sky and even saw days where the whole world was plunged into darkness and we were afraid. We saw many things when the world was young that can no longer be seen now. And though I am long gone, I urge you to enjoy the world for what it is. For one day, this world too will be gone. Someday you shall look back and wonder at the innocence of it, this world of problems and conflict, but a healthy and exciting world full of promise for its youth and peace for its elderly.













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The passenger pigeon: a comprehension worksheet   Leave a comment

This is a blog post aimed at 11-12-year-olds. It is a 3-class comprehension exercise that explores the most shocking extinction of an animal in recent times. By the end of the exercises, it may lead into higher order  debates about whether we should bring back the passenger pigeon through genetic coding and the risks that entails.

It is from my new book, ‘Blue-Sky Thinking 1’, the prequel to ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’. I will be uploading the full book free on my blog sometime around February or March. It is a fill-in-the-blank workbook with a heavy emphasis on descriptive writing exercises. The solution workbook will be posted separately on the same site on the same day.

I hope you enjoy the post and that it inspires the disbelief and wonder in your students that it did for me. It really is a sad tale in many ways. I also hope the grid at the end of the exercises comes out properly. Forgive me if it doesn’t.


                              Exercise number 1

“Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for the shelter of stores. Horses bolted. A few people mumbled frightened words about the approach of the millennium, and several people dropped on their knees and prayed”.

This quote is based on a true story. The full story will be revealed later in the book. In the meantime, answer these questions. They will require imagination and creativity, and perhaps some of the key words in the text will give you clues. Do not be afraid to be wrong. Not in your wildest dreams could you imagine what took place on that strange, strange day…………

  1. What do you suspect might have caused such panic that day? Think about it for 5-10 minutes and write down 10 possibilities. The best, imaginative answers, as agreed by the class, should get homework off.
  2. What country did this event take place in?
  3. What year and century did this event take place in?
  4. Write a story based on this event starting with the passage at the top of the place. Include some of the vocabulary you have learned from the book already. Make sure to use paragraphs in order to give your story structure.
  5. Can you quickly write a paragraph on the strangest story you’ve ever heard? Then be able to relate the story to the class tomorrow as the narrator. A narrator is a storyteller.


Maybe you could use ideas from this template to help you structure your essay:

Introduction: Describe the scene in the town or village. What are the buildings made of? How many people are there? What century is it? What type of clothes are people wearing? Can you describe some of the activities in the town or village?

Paragraph 1: Add a splash of colour and the clang of sound. What is the colour of the fields surrounding the town? Is there a meadow or mountains in the distance? Can you picture a forest in your mind’s eye?

Paragraph 2: Describe what you think made all these people run for their lives. Your imagination is limitless so any answer you come up with is bound to be great. Make sure you take your time planning the best answer and writing down ideas about how your story will unfold. Was it a man or a group of men? Did it come from the sky or was it some type of unknown monster? Was it a weather event? Whatever it was, describe it well and in detail.

Paragraph 3: Describe the panic in the town. What was the expression on people’s faces? Where did everyone run to? Did anyone save the town? Were you there? If so, you will be writing in the first person, which is you. If you take a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the story unfolding, it is in the third person.

Conclusion: Did someone or something save these people? Did they all die? Wrap up your story with an interesting twist for the reader if you can.

1st person storyteller: Uses the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ in a story.

2nd person storyteller: Uses the words ‘you’ in a story.

3rd person storyteller: Uses the words ‘he/she’ or ‘they’.



 Exercise number 2: part 1

“Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for……”

This is an account of a flock of passenger pigeons who flew overhead. It happened in 1855 in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States of America. The flock was described as a “feathered tempest” and a “growing cloud” that blotted out the sun as it approached.

To fully understand the impact these huge flocks had on the people below, and the wonder and awe they inspired, let us look at some of their features. A French soldier who explored America in the 17th century said: “The Bishop has been forc’d to excommunicate them oftner than once, upon the account of the Damage they do to the Product of the Earth.”

This quote refers to the pigeons eating the crops of the early settlers in America. They even attacked the fields of one of the first English colonies in America 100 years later, nearly causing the colonisers to starve. This colony was called the Plymouth colony.

The American Indians had always hunted the passenger pigeons when they could. They would use the flesh as food and burn the squabs (young pigeons) for their oil. The oil was then used as butter. They could never depend on the pigeon arriving, however. Each year, they moved to a different part of America, depending on where the most food was.

The pigeon was a truly remarkable bird. It’s average flight speed over huge distances was 62 miles per hour if there was no wind. It could have flown from America to Europe in 3 days if it was a migratory bird. Putting it in simpler terms, the island of Ireland is 302 miles long. They could have overflown it in 5 hours. Today, only the great snipe, who migrates from Sweden to Central Africa, can match their speed and endurance.

These pigeons had huge roosts, or nesting sites. Their chief source of food were chestnuts, acorns from the oak tree and beech nuts (called beech mast). They had great eyesight, so they could spot if a forest was bountiful or not from the air. If it was, they would swoop down with a frightening sound, terrifying the wild boar and birds and animals that fed on them.

The pigeons could eat about 100 grams of acorns or nuts in a day. After eating their fill, they could store at least 17 acorns or 34 beech nuts in their crop, a sort of pouch in their throat. Much like the way cows have four stomachs to digest their food, the pigeon would let it digest in its crop over the next 12 hours. If they were nesting, they would feed it to their young. It came out as a sort of paste, like toothpaste, even though it is called ‘pigeon milk’.

A roosting tree averaged 80 nests in each. One tree was counted and held 317 nests. Tree branches cracked and entire trees crashed to the ground with the weight of the birds. One roosting site measured 850 square miles and held 136,000,00 nests. That’s bigger than the county of Kilkenny. It’s also bigger than any of the smallest 18 counties in Ireland.

In 1860, a flock estimated at 3,700,000,000 flew over Wisconsin. In 1866, a flock 300 miles long and 1-mile-wide, took 14 hours to pass. By 1878, only one large nesting site was left.

By 1890, they were rare. By 1900, the passenger pigeon was extinct in the wild.

Martha, the last one in the world, died in Cincinnati zoo in 1914. In her final days, she lived alone. Her wings drooped and she trembled. Visitors kept throwing sand at her to make her move. Her keepers had to rope off her cage to stop them.

The most plentiful bird in the world was gone forever and would never return.


Exercise number 2: part 2

  1. “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”             Benjamin Franklin

Based on that proverb, do you think all of this story is true? Why? Why not?

  1. What surprised you the most about the information in this passage? Explain why.
  2. What happened to eliminate the passenger pigeon so quickly? How long did it take?
  3. Are there any lessons for the future to be learned from the passenger pigeon?


John James Audobon, naturalist, autumn 1813:

“The air was literally filled with Pigeons. The light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of the wings had a tendency to lull my soul to repose.”

3 days later, the pigeons were still flying past John James Audobon.


Simon Pokagon, a tribal leader, May 1850 (writing in 1895)

“… an army of horses laden with sleigh bells was advancing through the forest towards me. As I listened more intently, I concluded that instead of the tramping of horses, it was distant thunder; and yet the morning was clear, calm and beautiful. It came nearer and nearer. While I gazed in wonder and astonishment, I beheld moving towards me, in an unbroken front, millions of pigeons, the first I had seen that season.”

He described how the flock would swoop and plummet to avoid hawks and “pour its living mass” hundreds of feet into a downward plunge.

“I have stood by the grandest waterfall in America, yet never have my astonishment, wonder and admiration been so stirred as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors from heaven.”


The Commonwealth newspaper, reporting the experience of a group of hunters in Wisconsin in 1871. The hunters came upon the pigeons leaving their nests in the morning to seek food. The noise was so loud, most of them dropped their guns.

“Imagine a thousand threshing machines running under full headway, accompanied by as many steamboats groaning off steam, with an equal quota of trains passing through covered bridges- imagine these massed into a single flock, and you possibly have a faint conception of the terrific roar.”


Aldo Leopold, ‘On a Monument to the Pigeon’, 1945.

“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons: trees still live, who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence, only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”


Exercise number 3: part 1

Reasons for the Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

The history of slaughter doesn’t explain it: In 1771, 50,000 pigeons were shipped from a town in one day. They may have been used for human food or pig fodder. In 1822, one family killed 4,000 pigeons in one day. The feathers were valued for pillows and bedding. Big tunnel nets could take 3,500 at a time. Even gun clubs got in on the act. They were trapped and shipped live. Perhaps this is where the term ‘clay pigeon’ comes from. One competition for shooting released pigeons took 30,000 kills to win the 1st prize! Even still, there could have been as many as 10 billion left by the 1850’s. The pigeons could double their numbers even in a bad year.

The way they flied: Sometimes the passenger pigeons flew just 3 feet above the ground. This might be because they were flying over a river or because there was no wind above. People would use clubs, poles, rocks and nets to catch them. These ‘super flocks’ hardly noticed the people trying to kill them as they were all massed together.

The way they nested: The passenger pigeon nested in ‘super roosts’, as we have seen. In the 1878 roost, 50,000 birds were killed every day for 5 months. One shotgun blast into a tree killed 61 birds. The trees were burned down to make the young birds fall out of their nests. Burning sulphur was used to choke them and they would fall to the ground with a fizzling sound and crack open.

The population boom in America: For centuries, people from around the world had been emigrating to America. From Ireland alone, there could have been as many as 2 million in the time of the Great Famine and its aftermath, 1845-1855. People fled religious persecution, wars, overpopulated countries, and to live a better life. This meant that isolated areas the pigeons depended on for food were being cleared for farmland. The era of the ‘super roost’ was nearly over.

The railroad: The first railroad opened in America was in 1830, from Baltimore to Ohio. By 1861, there were very few parts of America that people couldn’t reach by rail. The amount of timber required to build the lines, melt the iron, house the workers and set up new towns was staggering. Whole forests were burned to feed the need for progress and civilisation.

The telegraph: The first commercial telegraph was established by 1845. It was called the Electric Telegraph Company. By 1861, a network stretching from the East coast to the West coast was complete. Professional hunters, as many as 3,000 of them, now followed the super flocks wherever they went. They would get a telegraph telling them where the pigeons were and descend on the roosts. In the last great roost, 50,000 pigeons were killed every day for 5 months. Technology was killing the pigeon. Combined with human greed, it was a lethal mix.

Other reasons: By the mid-90’s, a few small flocks remained. Maybe it was the stress of being constantly hunted and witnessing their chicks burned out every year that finally did it. There was still plenty of food. Perhaps a disease not known to us helped to kill them off also. No-one to this day can be certain how a breed of bird with one flock numbering 3.7 billion could be extinct in the wild within 40 years. Maybe mankind finally put paid to them. The passenger pigeon is a valuable metaphor for how we look after the planet and its species. Whether we like to think about it or not, we are the caretakers of this magnificent planet of ours. Nature will have its revenge on us if we keep destroying it. TI: ‘Why the Passenger Pigeon went Extinct’ to and look at the comments for more information.


Exercise number 3: part2

Description of a Passenger Pigeon Flock by an Eyewitness: 1st person narration

They say they are gone now, the flying ants of the air. They say there was a time when they could block out the sun and send men and women screaming for the Lord to save them. They say they killed them with pitchforks and potatoes and poisoned them with whiskey-soaked corn until none were left. I can’t comment on such things but I can, in the winter of my life, tell you about the day I saw it for myself.

I could never forget that day. Even now, with the brain fog swirling in me, and my loved ones long passed away, I can never forget. It is burned in my mind’s eye the same way the autumn sun shone that day. I remember it so well for I have never seen a sun like it, since or before. It hung like a pale globe in the sky, giving off ore-gold lines of light. The very air shone like earthlight and I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a fairytale.

The forest was full of sound when I entered it. Far away, I could hear wild boar munching and champing on the seasonal feast of acorns and beech mast. There was an opera of birdsong coming from the tree’s canopy. It was an old, old forest, a sleeping soul long before man had first stepped onto its soil. The trees were rust-brown and spread their arms high into the Babylon-blue sky. The once-green leaves had all burned into hot-oranges and bonfire-reds. There was a carpet of mulch on the floor and it smelled organic and musty. When fingers of light poked through the trees and hit it, it sent a phantom-grey mist up in the air.

I inhaled deeply, enjoying the earthy cologne of the forest. My lungs were young and mint fresh back then. I could sniff out a crop of acorns or a blueberry bush from quite a way out. The forest was full of such scents, even though the first thumbs of frost hung in the lightless shadows. Sitting on a log by the river bank, I let the tutti-fruity smalls wash over me. The river chattered in its ancient tongue, the voice of bells and water. Scooping a handful of its bounty, my teeth tingled with its tundra-cold taste. I lay back, enjoying the melody of the river.

I must have fallen asleep, for when I awoke, the forest was womb-silent. Nothing stirred, nothing sang, nothing sounded. Then I heard a trembling in the air. The last of the leaves fluttered and flapped to the ground, as if an unseen hand had pushed them there. A whirring sound came to my ears and the droning of a million bees’ nests filled the forest. Deer, boar and bears ran past me, in fear of their lives. I heard a flapping sound then. If I was asked later, I described it as the sound of a winter wind chasing a bird down a chimney, but loud enough to make me cover my ears. It came in a mighty rush and I thought it must be either a forest fire or the End of days.

Then the fingers of light disappeared and a mighty cloud plunged the forest into darkness. I heard a pok-pok-pok sound and my head was hit twice by unknown objects. When I reached up and felt for it, I thought I was indeed injured. There was a mercury-red stain, but it was white also. When the first pigeon came into my sight, he was followed by a hundred of his fellows, then a thousand. They filled my vision, more of them than the stars in the night sky, blotting out the world as I knew it. The sound was worse than the greatest hurricane I have ever walked through and my eardrums were ready to burst. They cooed and flapped, purred and pooped, gorging on the acorns and beech nuts.

Never considered a wise man, this day I believe I was. I ran. Like the boar and the bears, I ran through a blizzard of poop and the world’s greatest legion of pigeons.

They didn’t even move while I dashed through them. I couldn’t hear the sound of their wings snapping or their necks cracking. I felt it through my moccasins, though, and the feeling sickens me to this day. Feathers flew in front of my face and I lost all sense of direction as the sky was no longer a compass for me. There was no sky! The only sensations I had were the splatter of poop on my face and how it burned my skin. I know not for how long I ran, but it was the longest race of my life.

Finally, I made it to the fringe of the forest and burst into a clearing. I could see the foreheads of the mountains in the distance and how they were creased with snow. My lungs were still heaving like a bellows and my face felt like there was a layer of lava on it. I rubbed off the grime with water from my canteen and kept moving. The noise from the forest was still a crescendo and it was not until I had raced a mile away that I felt comfortable.

Looking back, I saw that they had taken their fill from the forest. Rising into the air like the breath of a dragon, they wheeled and looped in the sky. Then they straightened and flew over my head at an astonishing pace. I could see that they had slate-blue bodies and a coppery underside, for many dropped to my feet if I but lifted my arms. I stood there for hours, marvelling at their numbers. Never have I felt so alive as in that moment, with the thrumming of wings washing over me like the rumbling of thunder.

A thought came to me then that if the End of Days really did arrive, these would be the last creatures left alive on God’s great earth. Such were their numbers. Such was their power.

  1. Looking back at the full module on the passenger pigeon, what are your thoughts on it?
  2. Did you think this was an accurate recreation of what it might have been like to see them? What do you think the passage might have missed in its description?
  3. Write down your favourite 5 sentences from the passage and say why you liked them.
  4. There are attempts to bring back the passenger pigeon through genetics. Would you support such attempts or do you think it is ‘playing God’ like Jurassic Park?
  5. In the 1st column below, write in the rarest birds, animals or amphibians in your country. Did you know that 13% of birds, 25% of mammals and 41% of amphibians are under threat of extinction worldwide? If they are under threat, put them down as human failures.
  6. Write out a list of ideas (with your partner) that might help save endangered species.
  7. Are there any success stories about saving or re-introducing animals in your country? Write them into the 2nd column. The 3rd column is for alien species that destroy the environment. The 4th is for a list of animals you would like to see re-introduced (re-wilding).


I hope you enjoyed the post.


Describing Autumn Worksheets (11-15-year olds)   Leave a comment

This is a describing autumn worksheet to help teachers and parents. I hope you enjoy the post and can get value from it.



Many people have a dislike for autumn. They see it as a gateway to a darker world. The hour goes back, the shadows close in and stories of hobgoblins and spooks are told around fires again. September can be the most beautiful month of the year, however. Although the schools are back, the weekends still see lines of cars heading for the beach.

God’s daystar still burns bright, dancing on the ocean like faerie-fire. The sea sighs and sleeps in its blue robe before the late, autumn winds lashes it in anger. Barbecues sizzle and the smell of charcoal and burnt meat is mouth-watering. The days unfold slowly before the night throws up a galaxy of stars. They glitter and gleam like diamond dust in the velvet-black sky.


The September mornings are bright and airy. Horses and cattle still munch and graze the fields. The horses snort and toss their heads, glad to be alive. Then they break into a gallop, their hooves thrumming across the soft, turfy ground. Some of the dawns are beautiful and you can see the mist rising like a dragon’s breath. It drifts up, circling the trees with its ghostly tentacles.

In the forest, the leaves are still spring-green and lush. The first dark spots appear on some of them as a warning that the summer is fading. Winter buds poke through the hazel and walnut trees. There is an opera of birdsong tumbling through the air and the world is a happy place. In the distance, you might hear the witch-wail of a jay, a type of coloured magpie. Because of the jay and the screech-owl, people in olden times believed that the souls of the dead returned on October 31st. We will come back to that later.

For now, the rivers run joyfully. They are neon-blue and bounce over the rocks, throwing up spray that looks like lemonade. The rivers are the highways of the forests and fishermen stand in them, hoping to pick up a plump trout. The trout can be seen in the gin-clear water, their speckled bellies heaving up and down. Their spots are the colours of the rainbow: yolk-yellow, bilberry-blue and plum-purple. Sometimes they break the surface, leaping into the air and landing again with a watery splash.

The mountains in the distance are not yet snow-cloaked. They are old and tired and punch the sky wearily. In a few weeks, a ring of snow will appear on the highest peak. An Alaskan-cold wind shall sweep in from the north and the first frosts shall crisp and shrink the juicy grass. Every animal that can harvest, hide or hibernate shall disappear for the year. They will escape the sharp fangs of Jack Frost and re-emerge in the cold, ancient light of spring.

Winter is coming and there will be a Reckoning.

  1. Which of the six paragraphs did you enjoy the most? Say why you thought it was the best.
  2. Give an example of five metaphors in the passage. Then try to replace them with 5 different metaphors.
  3. Write out your own story about why September is special to you.
  4. Replace all the underlined words with a different word or phrase. This exercise should be done in pairs.


October is the month of fire. The leaves turn to magma-reds, hot-oranges and fever-yellows. The forest becomes a riot of colour and hard nuts thunk-thunk-thunk to the ground. Squirrels scrabble and claw through the crackly leaves, hoping to get one last bounty.

The sun is cold and pale, throwing down weak lances of light. The sun-spears do not reach the sooty heart of the forest, which is rayless and eerie. The moon comes out and creates a dome of soft light over the trees. It is a moth-moon and it hangs in the sky, as bloodless as a glowing pearl. Behind it, the sky is inky and the stars flash silver like ice-sparks.

When the squirrels go to their mossy beds, there is no sound in the forest. There is no insect-hum, no leaf-rustle, no wind-music. Instead, strange shapes appear, dancing in and out of focus. The sound of human voices breaks through the quiet glade. They carry torches which look like a row of fireflies. Bulls bellow, sheep bleat and dogs bark. It is October 31st, 500 B.C. in a forest in Wicklow.

The men are wearing the heads of deer, wolves and bear. Their voices are low and hushed and are grit-and-gravel deep. They do not shout as the souls of their ancestors are returning to the forest for this one night. Halloween is the night when the door to the Otherworld is open and evil spirits can be seen by the human eye. It is the only night where the Celts are afraid of the dark. A huge bonfire is lit and the struggling animals are sacrificed.

Three cups are passed around. One contains wine, one contains apple cider and one contains wheat beer with honey. Each Celt takes a mouthful and their voices rise higher and higher until the druid tells them to be quiet. He chants some spells and he banishes the fairies, the banshees and the shape shifters from the forest. Now they celebrate the end of the harvest and feast the night away. For in their calendar, tomorrow is the first day of winter, and tough times are ahead.


The leaf-stripping winds pass through the forest. They shriek and moan, making the branches creak and crack. The trees look like skeletons and the forest floor is covered in piles of mulch. The bitter winds are an omen for an even deadlier enemy coming to the forest.

Jack Frost’s glassy fingers are beginning to creep across the land. The first signs can be seen on the meadow grass. Dawn frost carpets the grass like frozen pixie-dust. It gleams like a million fallen stars. The trees are leaking orange blood and the scent of amber hangs in the air. Pine sap and wood gum ooze from the bark and the forest fills with its minty smell.

The lonely mountains are weighed down by a sky-bucket of snow. Smoke rises from sleepy villages and the sky turns a grim, ash-grey. Only the Jesus bird, the robin, wants to sing any more. He flies onto the highest branch and opens his beak, flooding the forest with his music. Although the winter will be tough, he knows that spring is only a short hop away. The forest goes to sleep for the winter, shrinking and tucking itself in. Only the robin is left to witness its cruelty.

  1. Which of the 3 monthly descriptions did you enjoy the most? Explain why.
  2. Try to replace the underlined words with a different word or phrase. Do this in pairs.
  3. Pick out the best three sentences and say why you liked them.
  4. Try to identify 5 metaphors and 5 similes in the passages.
  5. If you had to add 5 sentences, what would they be and where would you put them?


I hope you enjoyed the post.

You may decide to add more questions to the ones above. This is an extract from a new educational book. It is the prequel to ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’ and is designed for the first year of secondary school.

For more information on my books, just click on the book images below. It will take you into the book site.


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Describing Curraghmore Estate (Updated)   Leave a comment

This is a short post describing one of the oldest Irish estates. In a way, it is my first personal post, but I hope others will take the time to visit this serene and special place.

I recommend that everyone visit it once in their lifetime. At 2,500 acres, it is the largest private demesne in the country, I believe.

Waterford is a place of stunning beauty and Curraghmore is probably the jewel in its crown. Recently open to the public, I had the pleasure to walk around it and got the guided tour. I will be returning early next year to repeat the experience. I hope you enjoy the post.

Curraghmore Estate, Co. Waterford- Heaven’s Hideaway


If you ever want the sunshine to dance from your eyes, take a visit to Curraghmore Estate sometime. It’s not so much an estate as it is emotional blotting paper. All your worries and cares will drain away under the gaze its broadleaf trees and the brooding power of the ancient walls.

Like a sea sky, Curraghmore doesn’t just appear; it slowly unfolds, rolling out with a latent majesty designed to clobber your senses and stun-clap you into submission. The French called this mirage of the eye ‘delayed gratification’ when building their great estates. The De la Poers came from Normandy to Ireland in 1167. One can see why it took 18,000 men to build the Gardens of Versailles and wonder in awe at how many Curraghmore employed.

It is gatehouses that strike you first. Cockerels the size of ostriches graze freely around them, half hidden by the Jurassic grass and tangled undergrowth of the forest. The gatehouses are hobbit-like and quaint in their appearance. They speak of a time when people believed in the Other because they could not trust the self. As if to apologise for their homely size, vast fields flank you left and right as you drive in. They’re so big, you’re half expecting to see The Wild Bull of Cooley roaming in them. Instead you get the pheasants.

First comes one, then two, then a dozen until, finally, you understand that you’re in nature’s womb. Their raucous clucks, witch-croaks and cheese-grating caws freckle the air and the trees above them leak out with an uncommon greenery. A louche river ribbons through the world-weary fields and time-chiselled forests. It flows like a robe of constellation-blue between wide, stone-walled banks. From the mortar-crumbling bridge built in 1205, you can watch salmon wriggle upriver and dance through the river weed. The leaves of the overarching great oaks seep with such mellowness local legend has it the salmon pause to eat them on their final journey upriver.

Then you see something that makes you rub your eyes. Darting under the whiskers of whispering moss are white birds of great size. Are they egrets, you wonder? They are not. They are the famous white pheasants of Curraghmore, as bold as brass and as rare as iridium. Brought in centuries ago from the Caucuses, they can only be found in such numbers in Curraghmore and can’t be seen anywhere else in the wild. The Sitka Spruce that leans over the bridge is 160 feet of heaven-touching wildness but because it’s in a hollow, it’s not the tallest tree on the estate. It is a fitting guardian to these beautiful birds.

Finally you come to the house itself. On one side, it can be approached through a yawning courtyard lined on each side by neat stables. The gravel is courteous to car tyre and tread of paw and hoof. The house, though large, doesn’t loom over anything much. It lingers there like a trapped memory of something it itself can’t quite remember. It is inoffensive and gentle yet it remains the pulsing soul of this great estate. The rear of the house hosts a lake in the manner of the grandest abbey and its ivy-clung walls glint with richness in the riparian light. The lake is vow-silent and the house seems tattooed onto its gin-clear skin.

Inside its walls is magic; rare treasures, tales of derring-do and rooms seemingly untouched by the endless swirl of ancestors and industrial change. The portraits, a Reuben’s here, a you-know-who-there, are a living reminder of the people who lived and died under this broad roof. Basil, the genial host, will guide you around with a dulcet voice to crack the hushed silence the house inspires. The tick of a clock, the rustle of cloth, the sigh of a door; you feel that the house should not have to endure any more decibels than this. It has seen and heard too much already.

After the house tour, you are taken outside to a marvel of imagination. The Shell House was built in 1754 and took 261 days to complete. One can see why, as the opera of the sea is captured in snapshots inside this remarkable monument. It is shaped like an old, Irish round tower. Seashells from the most capacious seas and distant beaches speckle the walls, covering them entirely. Conches, cockles, clams and very rare shells jostle with the light spearing through the slits, making the room sparkle like Solomon’s mines.

A walk around this 2,500 acre estate shall give you a sense of peace and isolation rarely found in the modern world. Like the faint, dying call of a trumpet, it is the last echo of an Ireland that no longer exists. When the heaven-leaking light begins to fade, the stars can be seen scattered like diamond dust on black velvet. There is no light pollution in Curraghmore. In fact, there is no pollution of anything, including its spirit. Its Tolkien-esque dimensions ensure that.

When your day ends there, you are left with a sense that your footfalls are merely dust in the vast hall of history that is Curraghmore House. You ache for more of its grandeur, more of its spaciousness, more of its wildness. And then you find yourself silent on the journey home, reflecting on the memory house it has given you.

Such is its magic. Such is its sorcery.


If you wish to check out any of my books, just click on the images below. They will take you to the Amazon website. I hope you enjoyed the post.




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A descriptive writing comprehension for 11-15 year olds   4 comments

This post is to help teachers with a one-off comprehension exercise. It is designed to show how a splash of colour and a dash of sound can improve anyone’s writing. I hope you enjoy the post. It is taken from the prequel to ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’, available on Amazon. All my books can be viewed simply by clicking on the book images below. I hope you enjoy the post.



Summer is my favourite time of the year. I love to see the conker-brown trees grow a shaggy head of hair once again. The treetops explode into carnival-green for a short time and the birds sing their summer carols between the branches.

In the gardens, the snipping of shears and the hum of lawnmowers can be heard. Pollen drifts through the air like invisible stardust and the sweet taste of ripe fruit can be plucked from salad bowls. Lemon-yellow hay swishes and sways in the meadows. Plum-purple skies kiss the day away. It can be soul raising to sit down and watch the golden eye of dusk turn to rose-gold, blink and disappear.

The dawn chorus announces itself before the rising sun. A ballad of birdsong cuts through the cold, crystal air. The skies are diamond-pink and ring with the joy our feathered friends feel. Then Titan’s wheel peeps over the horizon, throwing down spears of nectar-gold. The dewy ground steams and the burned-earth perfume of the meadow ghosts upwards. Chemical-blue streams babble over rocks and lazy trout drift in moonshine-clear waters.

As the day goes on, clouds as fine as llamas’ wool sail in the sky. Under them, flocks of crows roll and loop like storm-tossed gunpowder, happy to be alive. Their caws echo as if they are in a dome of glass and the world is happy.

In a few short months, autumn will be upon us. Shadows will creep across the land and raindrops will drip from deep caves. The summer leaves will change their cloaks to lava-red and blazing-oranges. Bat-light replaces daylight and the first fires will crackle and splutter in cold grates.

The autumn winds will appear and creaking trees become wailing banshees. The rivers will swell and burst, flooding the once-golden meadows. God’s nightstar, the moon, throws down splinters of weak light and phantom-eyed owls hoot and haunt the night. Doom-black clouds shall roll in, pregnant with rain. Great forks of lightning will fizzle and siss in the sky, flashing like a witches’ whip.

Then, when Hallowe’en and the horror is over, a great dread shall settle over the land. The white skies strangle all the light. Snow will fall. A tomb-like stillness will be broken only by the muffled grenade sound of boots crunching through snow. Ponds will freeze like silver dishes and whiskey-nosed children will break the silence with their laughter.

Christmas Day is here. Frost-fingers hang from the window sills. Turkeys sizzle on oven foil and crackers snap and burst. The pine sweet smell of the tree fills the house and ribbons of fire chases the burglar-black shadows away. The angel looks down on the house while the star-flash of tinsel glitters and reminds us of the past.

Enjoy summer while you can. It is a long way to Christmas.


  1. Did you like this passage? Explain why or why not. Pick your 5 favourite lines from the passage and explain why you liked them.
  2. Does this passage show how you can write better? Explain why or why not.
  3. Write out a passage using autumn and winter colours, sounds, images etc. Use your own words. Before attempting this, plan the passage with a spider map or by using word grids.



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