Here be whales



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It’s not often you get a chance to get so close to whales, dolphins or even seals in their natural habitats.  Depending on where you live it could be the result of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or something completely unexpected.

For others it could be relatively common, something almost unnoticed.  I posted a poem, “The Tholsel, Kilkenny”, here on that very topic, one person’s exotic being another’s normal.

This was my response to a painting by Paul Henry RHA of the ancient Toll House (Tholsel) in my native Kilkenny City, Ireland.  The first time I saw this I was astonished that a sight as familiar to me as a wristwatch could be seen and painted in such a beautiful way by someone from elsewhere.  The poem includes the couplet

So my familiar seems exotic to you,

as my exotic is your familiar too

Perhaps this is an uncommon call to be prepared for astonishment in a wonderful world.


Searching for ‘whale watching tours’ will direct you to various scattered locations such as Alaska, California, Boston, Hawaii.  Perhaps other evocative names appeal to you?  How about Madagascar, Newfoundland, Vancouver Madagascar?  Ireland will be familiar to some, distant and imagined to others.


Walk down the street where I live and you will come to a busy fishing harbour.  Trawlers come and go, fish are offloaded and truck heavily-laden pass through the village carrying the haul to the next destination.  Two piers make up the harbour.  The outer one is larger and is built in deeper water.  The inner pier creates a small harbour generally used by the smaller craft, including charter boats.

‘The Rebecca C’ is a catamaran which is moored in our inner harbour when it is not at sea or berthed in similar ports along the coast.  She has a yellow hull, white deck and cabin and is skippered by Martin Colfer. In season ‘The Rebecca C’ is chartered by angling groups who spend time at sea pursuing their passion.

There is another season in Martin’s work.  He is also a leading light in the Whale Watching World.  Nature enthusiasts, TV crews, photographers, both professional and amateur, pursue their prey with his help, out beyond the Hook Head Lighthouse.


January and February seem to be the best months to catch sight of the migrating whales.  Travelling out towards likely viewing sites you can often pass through large pods of dolphins or be watched by curious seals

One trip in 2016 brought us through a pod of dolphins so large we gave up trying to count beyond a hundred.  What was particularly touching that day was that they seemed to be clustered in family groups, trios mainly of mother, child and father.  Playful animals that they are it is easy watch them race the boat, chase each other towards or sometimes simply showing off.  We have even seen individual fish skimming along beside us, escaping from their pursuers.


Without a doubt the most memorable experience to date has been meeting a Humpback Whale in January 2017.  We were so close not only could we hear her breathing but even see the droplets of water falling from her body, her flukes, as she disappeared into her other home in the depths below.  Gone for now, out of sight, but lingering in our memory for a long time to come.


The Wexford Way and the Knights Templar



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In the footsteps of the Knights Templar

            “Where are you looking for?”

“Well, I’m walking to the Hook for now, but I was just looking at some of these paths and trails marked here on the map.”

My faithful friend, the 1: 50,000 Ordnance Survey Discovery Series, Sheet no. 76, showed me an interesting looking road towards the sea and branching off in two further paths.  On paper at least they looked inviting and surely worthy of further investigation.

“Have you been down that way?”  I asked.

The younger man was studying the map, lifting his gaze to scan the landscape every now and then.

“You’re well able to read the map,” I commented when he pointed to a meandering line of hedges to our seaward side, adding that was where one of the dotted map lines went.

“I’m an engineer,” he smiled, “I’ve been down that way to survey a site for a client.”

“Really?  That would be a fine place to build alright.”

We were both quiet then for a moment, contemplating the serenely calm scenes around us.  Behind me, Northwards, lay the twin bays of Booley and dollar.  The coastline, trending South West here, was composed of much higher cliffs.

Broomhill, at 66 metres the highest point on the whole peninsula, was just ahead.  From the map again I knew the little summit was crowned with a Triangulation Point.  Small wonder various rough surfaced tracks meandered over the furze speckled landscape.

“I noticed some of these,” said my new friend the engineer., “but I’m afraid they’re overgrown now.  I’d say they’re hardly ever used.”

“Would I get through to the cliffs; do you think?  I’m trying to follow the coast as closely as I can?”

“I’d say not.  Well, maybe you could, but it would be difficult.  You’re probably better off following the road for now.  How far have you come?”

With that we were launched into a fine conversation about walking the roads at your leisure.  He was just one of what would become many.  Travel along with at a natural pace with the uniform of the pilgrim, of the walker, broad brimmed hat, stout stick, good hiking boots and you invite many’s the pleasant chat with random strangers by the roadside.

Yet another simple pleasure to be had for free.

We went our separate ways, mine bringing me south again.  The road, still rising, brought me to a little pass between Broomhill and an unnamed, 55 metre stretch of relatively high ground.  This anonymous little summit was crowned with mobile phone masts, broadcasting signals around the region.

I didn’t bother checking mine, that was unnecessary.  My world for the day was quite simply my immediate surroundings and whatever and wherever I could reach on foot.

As I ambled along I couldn’t help but think about the little roads disappearing everywhere across the land.  There were various times I can recall when, as a young lad, I walked over hills and uplands with my father.  To this day I have few memories of specific journeys or destinations.  What I do remember are moments when he would make observations, teaching me to notice the world around us.

It was from him I learned to look out for the ruins of long abandoned cottages.  Nearby, he often said, there would be nettles growing profusely because the old people ate nettles as a rich source of vitamins in the hungry months.

The people suffered a gap in late Spring and early Summer when the last of the previous year’s harvest was being consumed and the present years potatoes were still growing.  He also taught me to identify the outlines of the distinctive ‘lazy beds’ which were “the gardens where the praties grew” as the old song had it.

Now the cottages and their remains are also fast disappearing, becoming mere humps of stone with some nettles growing through them.  It is a rare sight to find now, the outlines of the little plots and cultivation ridges which fed so many in their day.

I was travelling two roads, one being “bóithrín na smaointe,” as they call it in Irish, the little road of thoughts, when the mind meanders at it’s own pace and takes us places we hadn’t thought of before.  An apt term surely for a day where little roads, the “bóithríní” invited the curious traveller to take their path and see where they might lead.

Now the road was dropping again.  Not far ahead I could see my next destination, the square castellated tower of Templetown Church.


Soon I could see on lower ground inland from me another notable landmark.  The tall and elegant tower house of Kilcloggan Castle rose sternly towards the sky.  Built by the Knights Templar in historical reality as opposed to modern myth and legend, the Castle is yet another testament to the doughty warrior monks of yore.

At the nearby pub called, what else could it be, ‘The Templar’s Inn’, good food and refreshments were to be had for the hungry and thirsty traveller.  It is reasonable to conjecture the same was true in the heyday of the Knights.

On a day like this, early summer, warm air, fresh growth, light and gentle breezes, the world emerging again after the long sleep of winter and the struggle to be born again in spring, on such a day contentment is easily found.  You just have to reach out your hand and touch it.

On such a day as this to put my hand on the door of a wayside inn offering rest and refreshment is surely satisfaction personified.

On a day like this to wait outside on warm decking while lunch was prepared inside is surely appetiser enough.

Content once more to merely sit and be I could slowly absorb everything around me.

The Templars Inn or some such establishment has surely stood at this meeting of two roads for centuries.  It is also likely that a trackway passed along this route for centuries.  The decking ran parallel to the North/South route.  The Inn was built at the junction where an East/West route from further inland linked with the North/South route.

Across the road another track led down to yet another little cove.  Saving that for another day it was the Old Church beside that path that most attracted me , there was plenty to explore in that ancient place.


Over lunch I shared the warm decking with a Canadian family enjoying their own Odyssey.  It was the hat, the pack and the staff which served to, yet again, break down barriers and launch conversations.  Universal symbols of the wanderer, the pilgrim, they invite tales of the road, stories pleasantly shared with strangers.

The descriptions of their journey so far were fascinating.  The familiar is always refreshed and renewed through the lens of others.  Surely after the vastness of Canada and the great remoteness of continental scale distance our little Island would seem dull and uninteresting by comparison.?

“It’s so different,” one of the younger travellers, “nowhere reminds us of home.”

“And it really is green,” another added with a smile, “definitely an Emerald Isle.”  there was much nodding in agreement at this.  Although at home in their great land there was green a-plenty, apparently it was not quite the same as our own forty shades of green.

“Where are you heading?” I was asked.

Again there was much agreement that the lighthouse was a fine destination.  They had been very impressed both by its wild setting and fascinating history.  A lighthouse in continuous operation for over a thousand years was something that spoke volumes to all of us about the common threads running through all our lives down many generations

“Where are you heading?” I asked.

“Cork next, then further West”

“You’re sure to love it, everything becomes much more rugged the further West you go.”

“We have family roots in Cork, be nice to see where our kin folks came from.”

I wished them well on both counts, exploring Ireland and their own Roots.  They were lovely people to meet, reinforcing again my belief, and experience, that the world is full of friends we haven’t met, yet.

Settling my hat, pack and staff I took the next few steps on my own odyssey, across the road to the old Templar’s Church.

All across Ireland the most obvious ecclesiastical remains are the “bare ruined choirs” of the great mediaeval monasteries.  Templetown Church is nothing like those.  A simple square tower, not particularly tall adjoins an equally simple nave, now unroofed, bare to the elements.

On some of the walls, particularly on the windward South and West, slates cling to the walls.  I know houses in Wexford Town where the same weatherproofing technique was used.  Slate is an impervious rock.  Being waterproof they help protect against the furious onslaught of the storm driven wind and rain.


Someday I will travel to the maritime states and provinces of the North Eastern U.S and Canada and look out for the same practical, beautifully simple style.  Some day.

In Templetown Church some walls still hold large areas of their slate sheeting.  Elsewhere bare stone gives way to patches of weathered plaster before yielding in turn to the ever encroaching ivy.

It is marvellous to see, here and there the work of the old masons’ hands.  Nails used to hold the slates in place can be found where the slate has fallen away.  The curls and swirls on once wet plaster left by the skilled tradesman can still be seen, centuries later.


This was a parish church, ordered to be built and paid for by the Knights Templar, who one time supported the living of a priest who ministered to the people round about.  The tower can be entered from the ground floor.  Here is the fireplace where the incumbent could warm himself on wild winter nights.  There are the stairs to his living quarters above.

That troubled times came here, that it was built by an Order, no matter how religious, of Knights, is evident just by stepping outside and considering the battlements crowning the tower.  This then was a tower to live in but also take refuge in, a place to defend yourself.

Such clues are truly signs of troubled times.


Walking around the churchyard grounds on the North side I stop and consider awhile the little rows of simple headstones telling us tragic tales of more recent troubled times.  Here lie at rest the remains of mariners who lost their lives during the War Which Did Not End All Wars, 1914-1918.

You know how much you are in area closely connected to the sea when space is made in their graveyards to bury those who are returned from the deep.  All ages, young and old alike, lie here, some named, some not, from both sides in that war.  They were lost from submarines, merchant ships, armed trawlers.  Their final resting place is in these ancient hallowed grounds.  Here they lie side-by-side, enemies in life, neighbours in death.


Continuing around the church to the seaward facing wall I find yet another heart wrenching piece of history.  At about the height a man might comfortably work at there is a poignant mark cut into the wall.  Bearing in mind that this stone is millstone grit you can but appreciate that this was no easy task.  ‘E Lymbery 1847’ So reads the inscription, a name I can barely read and a date.

Graffiti, in the true meaning of the original Latin, to scratch upon a wall.  Carving certainly, incised in stone but not by expert hands or someone with the luxury of precision tools.  Poignant definitely, the date being that of ‘Black ’47’, the worst year of the Great Irish Famine.  The most awful of those terrible times when 1 million died of starvation and disease, when another million fled in horrifying circumstances, a trail of corpses across the Irish Sea and from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

There were countless thousands buried that year in unmarked graves, the dying often burying the dead.  In my childhood the story of the hungry grass was still told, still passed down the generations.  It was said that where someone had dropped dead from the hunger and been buried where they fell, that place was cursed forever.  If you stepped on such ground, you would be overwhelmed by a sudden and terrible hunger.


Did someone later remember that Famine dead were buried on  that spot and marked it as best they could? Perhaps someone, before they fled, marked the place where they had hastily buried their own, taking then to the roads and perhaps the sea.  The silent testament is there to our very own day.

Stepping back onto the road, over a stone stile that itself must be hundreds of years old, I settle my pack, grasping my faithful staff I head due south again.

The Wexford Way Chapter 3



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The Wexford Coastal Path

Chapter Three


The lost treasure of Dollar Bay

                                         duncannon beach sign                                                                                                                                                                                              

A warm bright day in early summer is perfect for the long walk.  Such breeze as there is refreshes.  With clear air and perfect light distant objects seem nearer, they encourage you to keep going, everything seems attainable.

Duncannon beach, from the headland crowned by the fort to the opposite headland at the southern end, is one stretch of the way where I am truly on a coastal path.  Waves lap gently on my right hand side, the last wave breaking in rhythmic tones on the clean, fine grained sands.  Others are also taking the air, kites flutter and fly, dogs chase seagulls fruitlessly and a lonely wind surfer catches the breeze to skim across the smooth waters.

boat and fort

Firm sand underfoot helps establish a steady rhythm and before long the fort and the village it protects are well behind me and the cliffs ahead come into sharper relief.  Geology in the whole Hook area is quite complex and thus fascinating to your average rock lover.  Clonsharragh to my North is formed from a rock known as Newtown Head Member, a relatively tough volcanic rock mixed with mudstones.  The geology map indicates that from here on southwards to Broomhill the underlying rock is Porter’s Gate Formation, comprising softer sandstones, shales and some limestones thrown in for good measure.  Consequently the sea has more success in eroding the the coast there over the millennia since the last Ice Age ended.

Walking by the foot of the cliff yields views of the bedrock in cross-section.  Between this beach and the very tip of the peninsula I will pass through eleven distinct geological zones, in the process crossing over twenty two different faults and sheer zones.  Some of the fault lines marking geologic boundaries are mere metres apart.  A few minutes walking can take you from one to another.  In places the coastal cliffs reveal these boundaries so clearly they can be read as easily as the pages of a well written book.

Nearing the end of this, the first of the day’s beaches, I observe other companions of my journey.  Flocks of gulls rest on the exposed sands of low tide, lazy and well fed they only stir for approaching dogs or humans.  A short flight brings them to another stretch of sand no different to the one deserted moments previously.  The important business of resting and preening then continues undisturbed.


A little river cuts across the beach and signals the end of that glorious stretch of sand.  Across the river a short, shingly stretch leads to the base of a line of low cliffs.  I turn left along the stream, a few steps leading to an old bridge over the stream.  Back on the road again I am climbing back up from sea-level, following the twists and turns of an Irish country road.

path underwood

At a point where the road takes a sharp left turn I notice something I don’t recall ever seeing before.  In the very elbow of the right angle a track leads straight ahead.  The driver needs to give their full attention to the sharp blind turn and has no time to notice anything else around them.  Yet there it was, classified on the map as ‘other roads’, of lesser worth than even roads, 3rd grade, and denoted by a grey colour it looked well worth exploring.  A road previously unknown to me, how could I resist the call?

According to the map this little road followed the valley of an unnamed stream.  That same stream seemed to reach the sea at my next destination, Booley Bay.  From the main road I was now ignoring, a little track led down to the Bay and the route I was now on seemed to merge with that.

Unkempt banks crowned with the rich vegetation of old neglected hedges soon engulfed me and closed off any views of the way ahead and the surrounding country.

I didn’t care.

The variety of plants in such profusion close at hand was fascinating.  Buds were budding, early flowers flowering and bees bumbled their way from one source of nectar to another.  All I had to do was let the path guide me along.  In spite of a rough, broken surface the way seemed easy enough.  After about two kilometres the path less travelled was about to merge with the regular descent to Booley Bay.

The last 100 meters or so were marked on the map by a single broken line, indicating a potentially rough way, for the walker only.  Reality and symbol combined in a harmonious whole as the Bay opened up.  The solitude that was so refreshing still held as sands stretched from side to side across the little bay.  The only litter left behind was simply the natural flotsam and jetsam carried in by the tides.  The only sound was that of a little wave murmuring along the tide line.



Pausing and savouring quietly was the way to absorb such peace.  The joys of unhurried walking are many and varied, being able to ease into the unexpected, refreshing body and soul being one of the greater.

Truly as W.B. Yeats reminded us, “peace comes dripping slow.”


Again the willingness to let the way take me where it would served me well.  It was low tide, glistening sands lay exposed.  even more intriguing the headland dividing Booley Bay from it’s neighbour, Dollar Bay, was no longer fringed by the sea.  The headland lived up to it’s name, Black Point, because at it’s feet, as far as I could see, dark rocks lay exposed in a questioning jumble.

Could I round the point?  Could I go beach to beach at sea level?  Was it going to be possible to avoid the obvious way, to refuse the road and choose the sand?

Surely worth a try.

It turned out to be easier than I thought it might be.  Easier and far more enchanting.  Rock pools were a riot of colour.  Fronds of seaweed waved gently, shyly revealing open tentacles of brightly coloured sea anemone enticing passing prey.  On the exposed rock the same anemones were little gelatinous colourful blobs distinct among the crusty barnacles.

Mussels and periwinkles in great clusters clung to the sides of the black rocks, secure in the knowledge that their comforting sea would return in a few hours time.

For the most part I was able to keep to the very edge of the rocks.  This area is technically a wave-cut platform, where the undercutting of the rock cliff from time to time caused the overhang to collapse, scattering rocks at the cliff foot, ready to begin the same process all over again.

The tide was so low that where the Ordnance Survey Map showed a sliver of sand between the adjacent bays was verified by my feet.  A few tidal hours more and this would not be the case.  Delighted with my discovery I stepped on, stepped through and emerged onto drier sand below the cliffs of Dollar Bay.



Such a name!  For young and old alike the name conjures visions of pirates, gold, buried treasure.  I wonder how many times her sands have been swept by metal detectors?  I must confess that I haven’t, yet!

The bay was once known as simply Fishertown but that changed dramatically in the summer of 1765.  a ship,by name “The Earl of Sandwich”, left the Cary Isles, London bound.  she carried a tempting cargo.  Along with passengers and wine she carried securely in her hold milled Spanish Dollars and bags of Gold Dust.  A tempting cargo indeed, too much so for four of the crew.

Somewhere on the voyage, perhaps as they approached the English Channel, the four killed all on board.  With only themselves left to sail the ship she soon began to founder.  Taking to a boat with two tons of treasure on board the four landed on the beach at Fishertown.

Once ashore they buried a large portion of their heavy load and proceeded inland.  Arriving in New Ross they repaired to a tavern, “The Black Bull Inn.”

Spending freely they drew attention to themselves.  Soon enough they were arrested and found to have a considerable sum of money, over 1,200 dollars, about them.  they had little choice but to confess and they told their captors where they had buried their ill-gotten gains.  Soon enough the garrison ar Duncannon Fort were dispatched and they recovered the buried treasure.

That important detail has not deterred many’s the treasure hunter ever since.  However, who knows?  In the Public records Office of Northern Ireland a note adds the detail that as they were approaching Fishertown they knew their boat was overladen, in danger of foundering.  They jettisoned some of their loot overboard.  Where has that wandered to with the tides?

Meanwhile the unfortunate “Earl of Sandwich” drifted, finally running ashore on the rocks at Island Keane, a short distance west of Tramore.

Not all the bullion on board had been removed.  We know this as a Mr. John Rogers of Tramore lodged a salvage claim on 23rd February 1767 in the amount of, co-incidentally, 1,200 dollars.  He claimed he found this on board the wreck.

The four mutineers were tried, found guilty and hung in a public execution at St. Stephens Green, Dublin.  Afterwards the bodies of George Gidley, Richard St. Quenton, Peter McKinlie and a Dutchman, Andres Lukerman, were suspended in chain on the approach to the harbour of Ringsend, Dublin.  There they remained for years as a grisly reminder and a warning to others.

Murder, greed and gruesome ends seemed very distant on the day I basked in the warm sunshine and the sheltered air in Dollar Bay.

Flying over water, Catalonia



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old cambrils2

Michaela arranged it.  On the quayside

in old Cambrils she sells tickets

to seekers after thrills, those

who would glide above blue waters

lit by shimmering summer sunlight.

old cambrils1

She passed us over to her two friends

on board the smartly sleek speed boat.

Once beyond the harbours arms,

once out on the open water

they prepared our safety harness,

our tackle untangled, our ropes made ready

while we watched, staying out of harm’s way.

They smiled in friendship and aloft we went.


Our big, beautiful brightly coloured

parachute became our sail.

The rope holding us to the deck

became our shared umbilical cord.

Together in the breeze above

we smiled and laughed in delight

as we gently turned along the coast.


Changing  patterns in the sea were visible now,

forty shades of blue water beneath

and above all so peaceful and serene.

No adrenaline rush this, instead we

were content to let the water, the air, ourselves,

gently flow.

bluebird cambrils

At Montjuic Magic Fountains, Barcelona



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magic fountains2

Firstly, they cascade clear, cool, water

down carved stone stairways while

magic fountains1

splashing spouts soar through falling

fountains, mist becomes mesmerising.

magic fountains3

Then, they shine bright lights through

endless drops of water rising, falling,

magic fountains5

colours chasing each other, dazzling

the eye, spectrum becomes surreal.

magic fountains5


Finally, they add music, pouring perfect

notes through water, through light,

liquid notes creating a crescendo





magic fountains6

Duncannon, a stranger called



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Duncannon, a stranger called.

We were happily pottering in our little

seaside garden. It was a fine Spring day.

Plants were placed, watering almost done,

proof against the drought,

when quite suddenly he was there.


He was not expected.  My wife was

the one who noticed him.  She asked,

“what do you make of that?”

At first I did not know what it was

she meant, but looking up from

my work I too saw him close at hand.

He was silent, it seemed he spoke

in ways we could not comprehend.


We were quiet then, as he was.

The only sounds heard were the hushed

murmurs of the little waves gently falling

on Duncannon’s nearby strand.

“We should offer him food,”she said,

then added, “and something

to drink, perhaps he’s thirsty.”

Food and water we placed before him

Keeping a wary eye on us he drank

with evident relish.  Still silence held,

no-one saying anything.  We

watched him as he watched us.

He wore some form of I.D. bracelet, but the

writing was too small, to us almost invisible.


When the water was gone the pigeon

flew away, our little visitor who seemed

to know that we would offer water to

a stranger, even in a drought.

I miss my sister



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I miss my sister


She is my big sister or one time used to be,

Until everyone said she was now grown up

And I was alone as she was too big for me.


Make up and clothes and would you believe, even boys!

These are some of the things my big sister likes now.Version 2

That leaves her no time for me or my little toys.


Her mobile  phone is now her forever best friend.

The door of her room is always firmly closed,

She has important calls to make, messages to send.


So I thought she was too big and lost forever

Until she read a message and tears just flowed,

She called out to me, again we’re together.


She is too big now for a little teddy bear,

So she cuddled me crying and holding on tight,

While I stroked my poor big sister’s grown-up hair.




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book cover

Pools of Light, poetry, prose and photography is now available on iTunes in an iBook version.  This is an enhanced edition which includes both video and audio.  The recordings of the poetry made at the Crossroads Studio, Kilkenny are included, just click and play.  Hope you enjoy this and spread the word widely. Thanks, Kevin.



the following is the relevant link

eBook available now



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“Pools of Light”, my 2015 collection of poetry, prose and photography is available now for purchase online, in eBook format.  I know this will make it easier for readers across the globe to access and I look forward to hearing your comments.  My thanks to Diarmaid O’Riordan, who is responsible for all the technical magic behind this eBook.  Any mistakes are all my own responsibility, of course.

Don’t be shy about sharing this!

Someone else’s problem



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Someone else’s problem

At Portadown the soldiers, he knew straight away, were going to check him out.  Slowly they walked down the aisle towards him.  No-one pointed at him or gestured towards him, but he knew he would be the one.  Rifles pointed down, trigger finger at the ready, he noted, they continued their measured advance.

“Name!”  The voice was not too loud but there was no mistaking the underlying firmness.

He gave his name, reaching into the top pocket of his jacket for photographic I.D.  He handed it over, wondering if his warmest winter jacket might somehow be wrong in the eyes of the soldiers.  The I.D. was held, examined, passed behind.

“Where are you going?”

In response he rooted in another pocket and pulled out a letter she had written in the autumn.  There was a return address on the envelope.  He showed him that.  The soldier turned it over, read his own name and address.  Bored now he passed it behind him and made to move on.

“Check that matches the I.D.,” the soldier said.

The second soldier looked at the I.D., looked at the envelope, turned it over, looked at the sender’s address, and finally looked at him.  He just grunted, handed back the letter and the I.D., moved on.  The rest of them stared hard at him as they passed by.

He was annoyed while being at the same time, somehow relieved.  All he wanted was to see her, to take a break.  He could have a few good nights while the money lasted.  She had said, “you can see me anytime, don’t worry.  We’ll find a place for you to stay.”

Now here he was, on the train going north, taking her at her word.  He had written but heard nothing in reply.  There was, he thought, a good chance she hadn’t received it yet.  A few days previous there had been no thoughts of doing anything like this.  A seldom seen uncle passing through on his way to the ferry had been met at the docks.  They’d had a good chat, he’d enjoyed himself and as he made to go his uncle said, “here, take this I’d say you could find a good use for it.”  With a smile and a wave from his aunt they were gone and he was left holding in his hand enough for a return ticket toBelfastand the chance not to be deeply broke, for a few days at least.

The train moved swiftly along.  Soon he would be at the station, changing to a bus.  What seemed to his eyes to be densely packed housing rolled by, interlaced by roads heavy with traffic.  He relaxed further into his seat.  Where roads crossed over the railway line the carriage momentarily darkened and he caught glimpses of his reflection.  He felt that he looked good.  He smiled and drifted into thoughts of meeting her, of what might be.  They had never gone as far as he wanted.  She loved him she said, as a friend, a very close and special friend.  She didn’t want to spoil that.  Who knows, he thought, who knows how it might go?

“Ah son, you shouldn’t be here at all!”  The woman’s voice sounded tired, the northern tones resigned.

“You shouldn’t be here at all”. She repeated herself, looking around as if to locate where he should be and how to get there.

He too had looked around immediately he stepped off the bus.  He was in a wide open space by the side of the main road. Behind him, rising up the hill, were rows and rows of almost identical looking housing.  There wasn’t a tree or a bush or a park bench anywhere in the green area.  Everything from the housing down to the main road was open and exposed.  There were just acres of close mown grass, edged by the first of the streets and fringed by the skeletons of a burnt out bus and the rusted hulks of a few cars.

Just like the lady, he had known straight away he shouldn’t be there at all.  He had cursed himself immediately for his wrong choice of bus stop.  Springhill, Springmartin,Springfield, Springburn?  He had made the wrong choice, clear straight away when every brush stroke of graffiti told him so.  The Pope was well and truly fucked if he ever got here and so was he if he didn’t get out of there.

Walking along the path, staying close to the main road, avoiding a group of men around black taxis a few hundred yards away, he had decided to ask the first old lady he met.  If he walked towards the next bus stop, a good distance away, he would get further away from the taxis, figure out something.

The woman at the next bus stop looked at him again and with pity in her voice said, “for your life son, don’t ask that question and you around here again.”

He mumbled thanks, more conscious of his accent than he had ever been in his life before.

“Go you up to yon crossing over the road up there.”  She pursed her lips, thought a bit and continued, “I’m not right sure of the street you’re looking for, but,” she hesitated, “I’m fair sure someone over there will be able to help you.”

He thanked her, relieved that his instincts had been right, that a middle aged woman on her own might look kindly upon a wayfaring stranger, hoping someone else might do the same for one of hers someday.  As he headed towards the crossing she called quietly after him, “mind how you go and be careful who you open your mouth to around here.”

“You shouldn’t be here at all.”  The doorway was a neat frame for the man, large and bulky, eyeing the young stranger closely.  He grinned suddenly, “ach no son, she’s down by the College now, living in a house wi’ some of her friends. Annie!” he shouted over his shoulder, “call out her new address there, will you?”

He wrote down the address the man gave him on the envelope.  He asked for detailed instructions for the bus changes he needed to get there.  A girl, younger than him and mad with curiosity about the young man who had come so far to see her sister, told him what he needed to know.

“Come on,” she added, “I’ll walk you to the bus stop.”

She tried to pump him for gossip.  Where did they meet?  What brought him up here?  Was she in trouble?  He had younger sisters himself and was easily able to divert her.  As he jumped on the correct bus she yelled after him as a parting shot, “tell her I’ve got her room now, she needn’t mind coming back!”

This time, no bother, he followed the directions he was given and ended up at the right address, an older, quieter district.  Mature trees could be seen at the end of the street.  A giant yellow crane was bright and cheerful against a sky turning to blue beyond the park.

There was no-one in.  He went to the pub on the corner.  After a pint and a ham sandwich with mustard relish he began to feel better. The pint tasted strange, sharper where he was used to a smoother, creamier drink.  It was a relief that his accent was not a problem.  If anything it broke the ice.  Afternoon drinkers, long bored with each other’s company, were delighted to have a youngster, not from thereabouts, to exchange banter with.

Then she was there.  Suddenly, unexpectedly there and he thought, exactly as before that she was beautiful.  He laughed easily and she smiled and her smile, on her lips and in her eyes, was as bright as the sunlight now streaming through the nicotine stained windows.

“I only looked in to see if Marie was there, you’ll meet her.  I don’t always do that but I felt like I should look in today.”  She linked her arm through his and glanced at him repeatedly as she spoke.

At the door she stopped and looked at him closely and said again, “I can’t believe it!  You just came up and managed to find me here.”  She sounded glad; she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  For a time he lost himself in her embrace and was conscious of nothing but the softness of her long red hair against his cheek.  He breathed deeply, inhaling her scents, shampoo, perfume.  They clung to each other comfortably until she said, “there now, come on and we get you inside.”

After a flurry of introductions in the kitchen, none of which he caught properly, they were alone again in a bedroom upstairs.

“You can leave your bag there,” she pointed to a bare space on the floor.  The room was cramped; two beds jammed together with little space between them dominated the room.  Leaning against the fragile seeming wardrobe he pulled aside the net curtain for a clearer view.  An untidy garden backed onto it’s twin.  The green between the houses softened the monotony of red brick.  It reminded him of where he had left to be here.

He wondered where exactly he would end up sleeping.  As if prompted by a subtle telepathy she faintly blushed, a pale pink flush faintly colouring her pale skin. Almost shyly she said, “come on, I’ll show you where you can freshen up.  Lord!  I still can’t believe you made it here, and you found me.”

He trailed along the corridor behind her as she led the way to a bathroom which looked as though it hadn’t been maintained in about forty years.  Alone and catching sight of his reflection again he felt suddenly nervous, unsure.  What if this didn’t work out?  Didn’t go the way he hoped, planned?  Throwing the towel on the basket he shrugged at himself in the mirror and stepped back outside.  She was there again.

“Ready?”  Her smile was enough for him.  “We’ll go into town, just the pair of us.  We can get something to eat and then,” she almost leaned on the word, “then we’ll go somewhere for a few drinks, you’ll meet loads of people.”

Feeling that he had done that already he felt in lighter mood all the same.  He took her arm in his, smiled at her and said in that event it was time they left.

“See?  I told you, life goes on.”  Her hand across the table lay on his.  His distress was clear to her. With sympathetic eyes she continued, “don’t think about it.  I know it’s strange, but there you are.  What else do you do?”

What else could he do?  He enjoyed the meal they shared, the easy way they felt together.  Over the candlelight her eyes sparkled in the beautiful restaurant built out of the ruins of the bombing.  Again he loved the light reflected in the shining curves of her hair.  She caught the look in his eyes and said, “you needn’t be looking like that,” she said, grinning in a mischievous way.

When they left they linked arms and huddled closer, an evening chill encouraging intimacy.

He loved the old pub she brought him to.  They had started in an empty snug, still close.  He thought the colours of her crocheted poncho were like echoes of the stained glass windows.  An old lady, thin and worn looking but bright and chirpy in herself, joined them.

“Ah, you don’t mind me joining you, do you dearie?  It doesn’t do for a lady to be seen in a pub on her own.”

“Not at all, come on in,” she said.  He smiled agreement.

“Ah you’re very kind.  It’s a shame to be interrupting young love.”

They laughed together and reassured her once more.  He was quietly pleased.

The old lady spoke to him, “would you mind going to the bar for me, young man?  I’ll give you the money.”  She reached into her bag, fumbling for a purse.  “It doesn’t do for a lady to order drink at the bar, here you are.”

He negotiated his way to the counter, the space outside the snug rapidly filling up with customers, a mixture of people of all ages and styles.  He was fascinated by the hissing of the gaslights, he had never seen working gaslights before.  The gaslight, old tiled walls, tobacco coloured ceiling, fashioned a mellowness entirely in harmony with his own feelings.  He noted the signs on the walls stating that team colours were not allowed in the bar.

His accent and the rising levels of laughter, and easy flowing conversation made for some difficulties with the barman.  Unfamiliar with the drinks and the coins he fumbled at first but then she was there again at his side to help him.  She joked easily with the barman as they collected their drinks and change.

Gradually they were joined by more of her friends.  They were easygoing, no-one concerned by a stranger popping up suddenly in their midst.  They told jokes, interrupted each other, shared cigarettes.  They talked about music they liked, books they’d read, films they’d seen.  No-one spoke about religion, politics or sport.  When the talk came round to a new art exhibition she became animated.  She was passionate in her opinions, strongly defending her point of view.  He remembered once playing for her a song about her being an artist, having everything she needed, being able to paint the daytime black.

As they left heavily armoured police vehicles were gathered around the entrance to the hotel across the street.  Their blue lights bounced off the old tiles adorning the pubs facade.  Traffic was being diverted away from the area.

“Come on,” she hurried him along, both immediately anxious to be elsewhere, not wanting the day to end there.

In the quiet of the night she could feel his silent tears.  Reaching across the narrow space from her bed she felt for, found and held his hand.  “It’s ok,” she whispered.

With his free hand he squeezed his eyes to dry them.  He told her he knew that.  He was even able to lightly, softly, laugh.  It was healing laughter, free from self pity or vindictive sarcasm.

When she had insisted on undressing in the dark he had known it would be like this.  He had known it when he felt a long cotton nightdress brush against him as she turned down a quilt on the smaller bed.  He told her he wasn’t crying because of that.  She was right.  It was ok.  But why, he wondered, was it that women he felt so close to wanted him so much, as a friend?

“I can sit with you quietly for ten minutes and it feels like I’ve told you everything and most of all, that you’ve heard me.  That’s why.”

She got out of her bed and came over to him.  They held each other tightly, quietly, in the dark.  She kissed him once and said, “you are a really good friend.” She emphasised the word are, “I don’t want to lose that.”

She went back to bed, “we have a long day tomorrow, and we’d better sleep now.”

Holding hands across the space between them they fell asleep.  They slept easily, both of them.  Dreams kept them company and in the morning when he woke, when he opened his eyes, he was looking at her looking at him.

Blue skies, a light wind, it was a morning full of promise.  Taking the sunny side of the road they strolled along together.  He was content that the day should unfold whatever way it would.  After the art gallery they bought ice-cream cones and sat on a bench outside the Victorian glasshouses, basking in sheltered warmth.

“We’ll go outside town now, if that’s all right with you?” Her eyes on his were open and honest, trusting.  That was fine by him he told her.  He felt peaceful and calm; he smiled and told her this too.

“Then maybe a long walk in the country is just the thing.”  She patted his arm, looked at him and said, “do us both the world of good.”

They went to the open air folk museum where they walked and talked for miles.  Weaving their way from one re-located traditional home to another they drew their own stories around them.

In silence when they absorbed one new place after another they walked from the Antrim weaver’s cottage to the shepherd’s house from the Mournes.

At the little café he thanked her, holding one hand in both of his.

“You’re a good friend,” she hesitated, smiled and continued, “and at least you believe I’m an artist.”

In the morning she brought him to the station.  The unfinished drawings he had admired the night before were in the heavy portfolio satchel that dragged from her shoulder.  He knew she needed to hurry, that she had to go, that she had taken the trouble to see him off safe, to say goodbye.

They hugged, he boarded, she was gone.

At Portadown the soldiers ignored him.  Leaving, he was someone else’s problem.

UCD Festival 2016

June 20th 2016 had a fascinating day wandering around the first UCD Festival with Catherine.  We toured the Veterinary Hospital, fascinating all the incredible technology used there.  I have often seen references to Dublin Zoo sending animals to UCD for examination and treatment, a truly marvellous facility.  In an agricultural country like ours such a research centre is obviously of great importance.


a return, 41 years laterThere was so much to do and see we couldn’t take in everything, sadly missing out on friends and family of the late, great, Maeve Binchy talking about the wonderful writer she was, next year perhaps.

Robert Grogan gave a mighty performance of an action packed fun-filled tour through James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Great show and can be seen all summer here -Strolling Through Ulysses! @ the Stag’s Head Parlour Lounge, Dame Court, D2

There was what one speaker called a “poet rich audience!” (wonderful phrase) for the poetry and song gathering.  As part of that event they invited poets to handwrite and sign a poem of theirs to add to the Poetry Wall.  It was without doubt an inspiring event and one I will definitely list again next year, as the UCD motto has it, “ad astra”

This links with the poem I offered “Duncannon, a stranger called.


kevin at poetry wall

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