May Day Ramble

Warning: this turned into a bit of a ramble. Then again, so did the day, so perhaps it’s fitting. Follow along if you like, or just skim the pretty pictures.

When I left you, I was northbound from Punta Arenas after a hard, but excellent month on the LM Gould. My destination was Rotterdam, where the good folks from OceanX were waiting for me and my OpenRVDAS-partner-in-crime to put in a week of work on the data acquisition software of their state-of-the-art, Starship-Enterprise-like research ship.

But I had a week before I needed to show up, and the best connection between Chile and the Netherlands was a stopover in Lisbon. I’ll skip the Lisbon details, other than it was lovely – I’ll be back. And there’s not much to say about Rotterdam, either: once I showed up, I spent the entire week, churning out code and configurations: code, eat, sleep, code eat sleep. Lab, mess, bunk, lab, mess, bunk. When we got to Saturday, I realized that not only had I not once gotten off the boat, I’m not sure I actually ever got out on deck and saw the sky. But as with Palmer Station, I got done what needed done, and that evening we all wandered into town for a farewell pint. Not much to write about there, either.

What I’m wanting to write about is my reward for churning out that intense week of work in Rotterdam: that it would put me a (long) stone’s throw from Ireland, where my friends have a glorious little stone cottage that they give me permission to use from time to time. I wrote about it this time last year, and the many adventures that ensued in the ensuing days.

That’s where I am now. I’m not planning on having any adventures this time. Okay, one adventure. But close enough to none. This time, the plan is…was…to do exactly what I’d come here to do the first time: write.

Only, with the first light of the first morning of May, it was already clear that it was going to be a glorious day out. Still, there’s my laptop and…oh heck, maybe just a little tromp about the hills.

Well, I wish I could say I had some regrets when I hobbled back to the cottage six hours later, but…what am I saying? I’m delighted to have no regrets.

The initial plan…okay, the second plan had been to pop up to the top of Seefin, the deceptively craggy, boggy peak that rises behind the cottage. But the water of Dunmanus Bay glittered so once I got to the saddle point that I aimed my feet downhill towards town instead of up.

Seefin from the “backyard.”

Seefin (the big thing in the background) from the edge of town The thing in the front is one of the innumerable roadside “standing stones” that date from antiquity.

Kilcrohane is what counts as “town” around here, a delightful little crossroad with a church, two pubs, a filling station and combination post office, grocery, coffee and curiosity shop. The morning hour notwithstanding, there were already sounds of activity coming out of Eileen’s Pub as I passed. I didn’t pop my head in – just waved blindly through the windows and touched my hat in salute. I’d actually stopped in last night, on the way to the cottage. Eileen asked me no questions, but gave me that welcoming smile and reached for a glass to pour me a pint of Guinness. “I was thinking,” she said, “it was about time for you to be coming back around.”

At Eileen’s, the night before.

But no, this morning my stop in town was going to be J.F. O’Mahony, the aforementioned post office, convenience store, coffee and curiosity shop. It’s an undeniably quirky place, the kind with that sort of clutter that, while clearly carefully organized, is also clearly organized by some method that defies any rational outside interpretation. Serendipity has its own rewards, but if there’s something you’re really trying to find, you’re going to have to ask.

Asking presents its own challenges, as the shop proprietor is almost legendary for surliness. It’s an actual stock topic of conversation when you’re sitting with strangers out front of Eileen’s and need to make small talk. But the thing is, my personal experience has always been the opposite: every time I’ve been in, it’s never taken more than three minutes before the he’s chatting me up about politics and launching into a shaggy dog story.

This time did not disappoint on either count (“So, I found myself talking to this fellow, a local politician, who had a problem with not knowing quite when to keep his mouth shut, and I said to him…”). I dunno, I find him charming; maybe he just likes the hat?

Well, by the time I left, my little stroll had permuted into a plan for a picnic out by the old pier, with newly-acquired provisions tucked into my knapsack.

Walking in Ireland is a bit different than in the US. While we Americans seem to be showing an increasing predilection for shooting strangers who wander onto our property, the whole of the country here is innervated with trails through practically everyone’s pasture, driveway and backyard. I made my way along the marked paths through verdant fields, past indolent, incurious herds of grazing cows. Through gates and over stone stiles, through the old churchyard on the site of the original Cill Crochain, down to the beach by the pier.

I was tempted to settle in and eat by the quietly lapping waves, but I already knew that my destination lay further afield. About a mile to the east, if you pick your way along the beach, past the Alpaca farm and lagoon, then cross over the hill behind it, lie the remains of the O’Daly Bardic School.

I’ve written about the school before – run by a powerful clan here in the 1300’s, it was such a major center for the Bardic arts that the King of Spain reputedly sent his sons here to be educated (spoiler: it didn’t end well.) Nothing remains of the school today except a low wall and a pair of vine-choked stone shells. But for this, the first day of May, and my first day in Ireland, it somehow seemed like I could have no other destination: I fancy myself a storyteller, after all. Should I not pay homage to this ancient school that elevated the telling of stories to one of their civilization’s three highest arts?

The day was, as I said, glorious, and locals and visitors were out walking in proverbial droves. I stopped and chatted with a couple of families as I tottered across the beach rocks below the official path. With the family splashing about in the lagoon where the Spanish king’s sons were reputed to have drowned and come back as swans. With grownups and kids along the winding, rocky path back up (“I like your hat!” ventured the girl with the over-eager terrier).

I found myself confessing to one jovial couple – okay, more than one – that I really shouldn’t be out having this tromp, that I really ought to be back on the other side of the hill, getting some work done.

“Oh, no,” the woman assured me, demonstratively surveying the improbably fine weather. “Not today, you shouldn’t.”


“No. I tell you,” she said, in her delightfully rich Irish accent. “It would be a right sin to be indoors and waste a day like this.”

I told her I would take her as the church authority on that proclamation, and absolve myself of any guilty feelings. She nodded and agreed that this would be just fine. Then she wished me a good morning, and she and her husband tromped off in their own direction, on their own indulgence of what the day had given us all.

It’s coming up on 10 p.m as I finish this note, and the western sky is still light enough to trace the waters of Bantry Bay below the cottage windows. It’s been a fine reunion with the corner of the world I love, and a fine way to celebrate the first of May. I’m sure I’ll make time to write tomorrow.

4 responses to “May Day Ramble

  1. Hmmm, well,I started a comment. Annie McCaffrey pointed out a Hawthorne tree on our way back from Avoca and told me of its significance to Irish lore and in particular to May–You don’t carry the flowers into the house, for instance, as it causes bad luck, and there was something about healing properties as well. Also fertility–hence the Maying scene from Camelot. I just learned on FB last night that May eve is the pagan festival of Walpurgisnacht and Mayday is Beltane. The former is kind of like springtime Halloween.
    BTW, bard, Gordon Lightfoot died today according to Youtube. He was 84.
    Glad you’re having fun there again, pal.


    • Oh yeah – the more traditional Irish are mighty particular about practices surrounding the hawthorn. I got schooled by an Irish traveller who was discussing their customs when I asked what, if anything, we should do with the hawthorns on our farm. (It began: “You don’t bleedin’ f*** with them! They’re of the fairies!”)

      Liked by 1 person

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