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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Mountain

We’d been asking Aidan all week if he would bring us up the mountain. He kept telling us to wait for a nice day, then we’d all go and pick up the McCaullaghy boys on the way. There was no point going up there on a rainy day, so we just stayed in the house waiting for it to stop raining and watching the A-Team.

Before going to bed Francis reads us Jack and the Bean Stalk, from a Ladybird Read it Yourself book, it’s so much better when she reads it in her Manchester accent and licks her thumb every time she turns a page. As she puts the light out, she whispers to us that it’s going to be a nice day tomorrow and she’ll have a wee word with Aidan.

Aidan is up before us in the morning and it is so bright outside that it makes the inside of the house look pitch black with only little rays of light splintering through the curtains and you can see all the dust in the sunbeams. Francis has made us a fried breakfast and remembered to put two sugars and loads of milk in my tea. Derek pushes me out of the way and takes the biggest breakfast and Paddy has his own special seat and we know not to take that seat or he’ll be telling his parents and they’ll take his side.

Aidan is in the armchair by the range, rolling cigarettes from a packet of Old Holbourne and calling us little buggers and telling us a story about the half-man half-water horse that lives up in Lough Awe. I’ve never been up the mountain before, but Derek and Paddy have and they say they saw the creature and got to go up the mountain at Christmas and play in the snow.

Francis makes sure we are dressed for the day and pulls down some hats for us to wear. The hats are from the Army Surplus store in Carrick and as usual Paddy has the nicest one, but Francis didn’t let Derek bully me and I got the one I wanted. She tells us we look like smart little officers. My army belt won’t stay on so I leave it behind, Paddy got his to stick and he is a smarter little officer than me.

The dogs are barking ‘cause they know we are going on a big walk and Aidan selects his best hawthorn stick and we walk away from Kits Cottage, the little three roomed stone house Kit Marshal left to Granny when he died. The house is haunted and we think we’ve seen the ghost of Kit Marshal but aren’t too sure. David McHenry did see it and he was very nice to him and told him where he could find Aidan and Francis in Maloney’s bar.

We start up the lane, past the old house, which is also haunted, by a mean ghost and we are afraid to look in the windows in case the ghost stares at us and we see the red glowing eyes. We also have sticks, made from straight pieces of hazel and we use them as swords to chop down nettles and thistles on the side of the lane. A few startled sheep “Baa” at us and run up Ee-aw and Dusty’s hill. We shout to Ee-aw and Dusty and we can see them over by the fence, but they don’t say anything to us this morning, perhaps ‘cause they are sad and want to go on the walk too.

Paddy and I race along the road, but Derek can’t ‘cause he is afraid he will get an asthma attack. We make fun of him and he tells us he will kill us. Paddy tries to trip me up as we run, but he falls instead and Aidan tells him it’s his own fault.

We don’t look at the Burn’s house as we pass it ‘cause Aidan and Paul fell out over a spade and now they won’t talk to each other and we don’t take the short cut through their field ‘cause he’ll be out shouting at us and Aidan says that ever since he lost his hand he hasn’t been right in the head. He gave out to me last summer for making fun of his stutter and I cried so much that I vomited up salmon and Francis had to make me feel better and Paul even said he was sorry and didn’t mean to be so cross. Now Derek and Paddy do the stutter noise and make me mad and I try to say things to them that will make them mad, but only Derek gets mad when we say “Chipsticks, Monster Munch, Salt and Vinegar” and then he hits us and wrestles us to the ground. He doesn’t like those kinds of crisps because of his asthma.

Aidan tells us to walk in single file as we walk in the Line to Carrick. The dogs don’t need to be told and Aidan whistles and they file in behind us. The mountain is on our left as we walk in the Line and we can make out the silhouettes of people already up on the mountain. Aidan tells us that they are German tourists and we all shout and wave to them, probably Nazis so we shoot them with invisible guns and perfectly lined up sights. We are smart little officers.

The mountain is completely purple from this side and I imagine how soft it is going to feel underfoot and there are places of gray and they look like loose gravel to me, but Aidan tells me that they are huge boulders and when I am up closer I’ll see.

They’ve started to build a new Tech beside the old one and Paddy tells us that he’ll be going there, but we’ll have to go to the one in Killybegs which isn’t as good. I pick little green balls from the evergreen trees in front of the old Tech and throw them at Derek and Paddy, Derek throws them back and Paddy says to clear off.

We cross over the stone bridge into the town and spit into the river below, we pass Enright’s Bar and Chappie’s where Francis works and we take a seat outside of McGinley’s shop while Aidan goes into the house next to the post office to get the McCaughley boys. Paddy sees Garda Bradley walk past and go into the police station and tells us that his son Manus is a fucker and Garda Bradley is just as bad.

The McCaughley boys come out and at first we are all shy, then we remember we all played last August at Paddy’s birthday and we relax and Aidan goes into McGinley’s and buys us each a HB Frog and then goes into the pub next door for a few minutes and then comes out and we head off down the Tilan road.

We are still using our hazel sticks as swords, people are looking at us as they work in the fields. They think we look strange with our officer’s hats, but they look strange to us with their big wellies and hay fork and old Masey Ferguson tractor with the link-box and black and white sheep dog lying on the ground beside them. Aidan waves to them and they wave back, but still unsure.

The Tilan road goes along the side of the Salmon Leap river, which we had already spat into back up in Carrick, but up there is its called a different name. We can see northern Irish people fishing down by the Junction Pool and one of them is fly-fishing. Derek tells us that he knows how to tie a fly ‘cause Granda Sharkey showed him and bought him a whole kit for making them, with pheasant feathers, canary feathers, duck feathers and all kinds of colorful wings. Aidan brought us poaching down the Salmon Leap and we had a mono filament net and we had to be very quiet so the fish and the bailiffs wouldn’t hear us. We didn’t catch any salmon, but Aidan had a flue and after being soaking wet in the water it went away and we took home two trout.

As the river turns into the estuary we can see the woods across the way and it feels disappointing that we’ve already walked so far and yet we are just across from the house and we can see the smoke rising up out of the woods from Kit’s cottage and we shout to see if Francis can hear us, but she can’t.

Paddy asks if we can walk down as far as the rusty Mackerel and go up by Bun Glas, but Aidan says no that we’ll go the other way and up to the One Man’s Pass by the little road.

We are at the very bottom of the mountain now and the road rises steadily in front of us and the mountain is so big that you can’t really see it anymore, just all the fields in front of us fenced in with barb wire and skittish sheep with blue necks and red arses that run away when they see you. The lambs are a few months old now and they play and leap about and look like they are having a grand time, but the older sheep know better and it is better to run away and munch on grass than waste time having fun and being happy as a young lamb.

We tell Aidan that we are thirsty and he tells us to lean into a little steam and drink our fill. The water is freezing and refreshing and tastes so good. The McCaughley’s are worried that it is not clean. Aidan tells them that it is a lot cleaner than the water they drink everyday from the tap at home, filled with chlorine and chemicals and aluminum and all kinds of bad stuff. “Why do you think they give you teeth tablets at school?”

We meet some of the tourists coming down the road and they don’t look like Nazis at all, but they do speak like them and Aidan says to them “Guten Tag.” They giggle and walk on with their red and blue rain gear swishing with every step, just like the red and blue of the sheep.

There is a lake in the bowl of the mountain and Aidan tells us that a few years ago is was much bigger and in ten years there won’t be much of it left, so enjoy it now while you can.

We see a bird way up in the sky hovering like a helicopter and then it dive bombed like an aeroplane, quick as lightening down to get its prey. We said it was an eagle, but Aidan said it was a hawk and the last eagle in Donegal was killed a few years ago by some English wanker and now it’s stuffed and sits in a case in the Highland Central Hotel in Donegal Town.

After a drink of water in a little well we leave the path and begin a very step climb up to the One Man’s Pass. We had to go over the boulders now that I thought were gravel and I couldn’t believe how big they were. A little further up Aidan told us to find blueberries in-amongst the heather and we found so many that our mouths were blue and we had a great feed. Derek was complaining of his asthma and we stopped to take a rest and let him take a puff on his inhaler.

The One Man’s Pass is the most dangerous little piece of land in all of Ireland. On one side there is a drop 1972 feet down into the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side there is a steep drop back into the valley we had just climbed up. If you fall to either side you are going to die. Aidan asked is any of us wanted to go across it. I said no, but Paddy said yes and crawled along it on his hands and knees. Aidan did it standing up and I was terrified that he’d fall or a strong gust of wind would come and blow him into the sea.

While they played with their lives I looked down on the ocean below. You can see the Giants Table and Chair that was used by Finn McCool when he was in this part of Ireland and there are little fishing boats bobbing up and down on the waves. We’d been shark fishing out there before and I know what it’s like to bob up and down on those waves and Derek knows what it’s like to lie seasick on the nets all day while the seagulls and gannets squawk over head.

Aidan rolled another cigarette from his plastic pouch and said “a horse, a horse, my Kingdom for a horse,” and then started to sing some old sixties song that Paddy knew the words to. You were only allowed to listen to The Beatles and Sixties Mania at Paddy’s house and Paddy told us that all there was on the radio now was shit.

We left the One Man’s Pass behind and walked over the plateau of bog and rock. A big cloud had settled on top of the mountain and a light mist of rain and fog surrounded us. None of us had a raincoat so we took shelter by the old Spanish Church while Aidan told us its story.

A Spanish monk or man of God was ship wrecked just off the coast of Slieve League and somehow he managed to swim or drift ashore to one of the beaches at the base of the cliffs. He looked up at the tower of rock that lay before him and prayed to God to help him once more. That little Spaniard climbed with no rope or pick or anything, all 1972 feet to the top of the cliffs. He was so thankful to God for sparing his life that he built his church up here out of the mountain’s rock. He only had a few gold doubloons on him and he used these to fund the church and a few years later he built another church a few miles between Carrick and Kilcar. That little Spaniard had a wealth of courage, strength and perseverance.

When Aidan finished the story the rain had lifted and we explored the ruins of the church for archaeological evidence and gold doubloons. We didn’t find much but we did find carvings in the rock that read: Peter Murphy, Dublin 1962 and Hans Von Height, Berlin 1935. Aidan said it was a fucking disgrace the way they defaced the place. No respect whatsoever for history.

Before we left the site of the Spanish Church we built a little rock monument to mark that we too had been here. All around the place were hundreds of little rock monuments and some of them had photos in them and plane tickets and other little trinkets. We wanted to take some of them with us but Aidan said to leave them alone.

We began to walk over the plush purple heather now and Aidan ventured us to the edge of the mountain to look at Lough Awe where the half-man half-water horse lived. Lough Awe was one of many lakes left behind after a great glacier had ripped its way along the valley leading into Glencolmcille on its way down to the sea. But Lough Awe was the only one that was red and gold in color and looked like magic. The sun shone down on it and I was hypnotized by its beauty. I looked closer and closer and suddenly I lost my footing and went to fall headfirst over the edge of the mountain to the lake below, but Aidan caught my jumper and pulled me back, close one.

We continued on over the mountain and came across a tiny little pool of water that was shaped in a perfect circle. Aidan said that was the place where the half-man half-water horse came up in the middle of the night to steal sheep off the mountain. We threw stones into the pool of water and stuck our sticks into the mud at the bottom and the dogs barked and jumped in after the stones, but the half-man half-water horse didn’t eat them.

From there we could see where the estuary meets the sea and the big rock that is shaped like Moby Dick and Aidan does an impression of Captain Ahab. Then just around the corner is Derrylaghan beach where we saw the naked tourists a few weeks ago and we couldn’t get them out of our minds and we talked about their breasts all the time.

We were now at the very corner of the mountain as I called it. On one side you had the road into Glen and to the other was the way back to Bunglas and all the places we had been earlier in the day and right before us was a sloped drop of purple fields and rushes and small farm houses below.

Aidan said “on yer marks, get set, go” and the whole gang of us boys ran down the side of the hill as fast as we could. Some of us ran so fast that our feet came up over our heads and we tumbled a few yards and crashed and picked ourselves up again and continued running. Some of us got our wellies or shoes stuck in muck holes and ran on without our wellies or shoes and had to run back to get them. The dogs ran along side us and barked at our progress and wove in and out of the rushes. The startled sheep didn’t know what to make of us and ran away and went “Ba, Ba” and the young lambs jumped in the air to see such commotion coming down the side of the mountain.

Within a few minutes we were at the bottom and climbing over a barbed wire fence and the sweat was pouring off our foreheads. Derek was wheezing like he was going to have an asthma attack and Aidan was coming down the hill just behind us with a rolled cigarette in his mouth.

We were back on the Tilan Road now and Aidan told the McCaulghey boys to just walk on up the road to their house, as their parents would be waiting. They wanted to come on home with us, so he told them next time they could. It was strange that it had taken all day to go up the mountain and then in just a few minutes it was all over.

We crossed the river just up from the Junction Pool and Aidan helped us across the water and then helped us across the fences “one, two, three, jump.” We didn’t go the direct way home, instead we walked down by the shore and the tide was coming in for the night and Aidan told us to be quiet when we were near the otter’s holes. A big pollock was coming up the estuary and the water was so clear that we could see its big mouth opening and closing as it made its way up to the place where the salt water turned to fresh water and it would have to turn back after feeding.

We found an old bust football on the shore and kicked it back into the water and Paddy and I could see where we had lined up about fifty old bottle last week and then threw stones at them. Aidan saw all the broken glass and started cursing and giving out about how people had no respect. Paddy and I kept our mouths shut and Derek threatened to tell on us. I remember the way the light bulbs broke with a little puff of smoke when I broke them and the bottles just shattered and little splinters of clear and green glass just went everywhere.

Aidan found a good piece of rope and brought it with him and we followed him up through the ferns and up the path that brought us home through the woods. Paddy ran to be the first one on the tire swing and we pushed him on it and when it was our turn he ran on home so he didn’t have to push us. Then Derek and I ran on too ‘cause we were afraid of being left alone in the woods and getting attacked by a badger that wouldn’t let go of your arm until it was dead.

Francis said she was happy that all her smart little officers were home and had a lovely dinner cooked for us. Aidan sat down in his armchair by the range and rolled another cigarette and sang along to Hey Jude on the radio. Francis stuck newspaper in our wellies and put them down behind the range so they would be dry for tomorrow. We put on the telly and all three of us lay back on the sofa watching the A-Team and felt totally exhausted after our big hike up the mountain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi George, Just read The Mountain and, as Paul Byrne would say, you get gooder and gooder. Your memory is as crisp as morning frost and brought back things to me that I had forgotten. The fish that came in and out with the tide were usually mullet and I shot one of the poor fuckers in the shallows one day and Lucky retrieved it. I thought I had bagged myself a salmon.

The Mountain is one of the very few things that I miss about Ireland. I always said to it before i went up, " Be good to me now, for I come with respect and love." The mist could come in off the sea so fast and it was dangerous to wander around blindly on top because of all the cliffs. Many a tourist, mostly german, went up on a fine day and to return to Tellin Pier via Paddy Ringo Cunningham's boat, having been picked off the rocks at the bottom.
I am sure Frances enjoyed reading it too as she really loved you guys. A