When I was young, I loved the sound of helicopters. They were a rare occurrence and reminded me of far-flung places and adventure. The same way airplanes do, but more so as I could hear them coming so noticed them more. And I loved the loud noise and how the house would vibrate.
When we moved to Dublin, they became a much more regular occurrence. They’d regularly fly over the house, en route to the National Rehabilitation Hospital down the road. So, they made me think of hope, of folks learning to walk again after motorcycle accidents.
When I was in university, I used to get a lift to field trips from a classmate who had a car and lived down the road, closer to that hospital. One day, as we headed off, a helicopter flew past. “I hate the sound of helicopters” he said suddenly. I was surprised and asked him why. That was when I learnt the meaning of helicopters to a Catholic growing up in Belfast during “The Troubles”. That was when I learnt that helicopters weren’t always good news.
And now, I myself hate the sound of helicopters. You see, our house happens to be close to the river Corrib, the river that flows through the heart of Galway City. And year after year, especially at this time of year, during the bleak winter months, and especially during the “Festive Season” that can be so lonely for so many people, we are woken up in the dead of night by the sound of a helicopter. This helicopter is not flying overhead, transporting someone from one place to another. No. It’s hovering. Hovering over the river, its searchlights visible through our curtains.
I don’t think I need to spell out what it’s searching for. Or rather, who.
Daytime helicopter flights don’t bother me. Our house is also close the the main hospital, so there are often flights to take patients there. And also those who are rescued, from mountains, off boats, and indeed the river. Those helicopters don’t bother me at all.
But, late at night, especially at this time of year, especially if it sounds like hovering, then I hate the sound of helicopters.
And I have a feeling I’m going to be hearing that sound a lot more this year.
[image of a simple drawing in black of a helicopter, on a blue background]