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Well, by Theresa Kishkan

by Theresa Kishkan
 

We’d met in Dublin, my son Forrest coming directly from university in Toronto and I from British Columbia. It was May, the same month I’d first arrived in Ireland 23 years earlier. It was something of a sentimental journey for me and a first discovery for my son. We planned to explore Connemara where I’d once lived and after a few days in Dublin, we went by train to Galway where we were renting a car for a week.

The car rental did not go smoothly. I had somehow expected that we would arrive at the train station, quickly procur the car and be on our way west within an hour. We hadn’t counted on a shifty fellow claiming to have the only rental vehicle left in the city which we eventually signed forms for as though we were renting the Holy Grail; insulted, not blessed, given the keys, we walked to a side lane off Eyre Square where a small dirty Nissan Micra waited in a cloud of old tobacco smoke.

So long since I’d driven on the left side of the road, so long since I’d needed to find my way along narrow streets marked with signs that no longer made sense. “Traffic Calming” one announced but instead of soporific lines of cars, there was a concrete abutment in the middle of the road which I had to ease the Micra around, contrary to instinct and reflex, while other motorists honked and tailgated. Heaven help a driver new to Irish motorways. But then a sign did make sense, Clifden Road Ahead. It was the road to my past and my heart tugged a little as we made the turn.

A few kilometers out of Galway, we were driving through the rocky landscape I had come to find. The dark lakes, gorse coming into bloom, and the smell of turf smoke so sweetly unexpected that I stopped on the shoulder of the road so we could breath it in without me having to check for passing cars. Oughterard with the tree-hung river and small hotels, signs leading to Lough Corrib and its ancient crannogs, cottages in fields beyond the road with that low familiar shape....

Fields and sheep in Ireland.I’d forgotten the sheep but soon we had to slow for them, black-faced, white fleeces streaked with blue or red, raddle marks left by rams to indicate successful servicing. The sheep appeared out of nowhere, at ease on pavement as they surveyed the horizon. On delicate feet they tripped from the road, the young ones uttering their plaintive bleats. Twigs of gorse and golden grass trailed from their fleeces.

And I’d forgotten the way a heart stops when the road drops down into Clifden. Half a lifetime and so little changes: the same streets wrapped around the central shops and pubs, the bank, the news agents on the corner, the sound of the river racing beyond Bridge Street. Our room was waiting—window flung open onto a little garden, pink washed walls, faded quilts, towels smelling of fresh air.

I wanted to eat on the strand opposite the island where I’d lived and we found the grocery store where it had always been, though now larger, with a deli, bought cold chicken, bread, tomatoes and apples, and drove out the Sky Road. I missed the turn-off, taken so many times in my past, on foot or borrowed bicycle, laden with provisions, books from the library to last out the storms and weeks of bad weather. But there was a group of new houses at the corner and nothing looked quite as it had until we backtracked, turned, and found ourselves on the narrow road leading to the beach past Miceal O’Gorham’s house in its grove of wind-bent conifers, a dog mournfully watching us pass. We had to stop while John Smith drove his cattle to their evening pasture, him still in the black wellingtons with a familiar dog at the heels of the last wild-eyed heifer. He waved as though to anyone and for a moment I thought to call to him, asking him....but what? Where have the years gone, John Smith, that you are still with the cattle and I am driving with a son the age I was when I lived on the island we could see as we parked the car and took our picnic to the sand.

We had the Ordnance Survey Map Discovery Series 37. It showed numerous sites which I had walked by twenty years ago without knowing they existed. A holy well for instance in Miceal O’Gorham’s very field, fenced in rusted wire and woody fuschia, a sign asking that no one enter because of Foot and Mouth Disease. I half-wanted to knock on Miceal’s door to say, Do you remember me and might we walk on your field? but something kept me from doing so. He had been a romantic figure to encounter on the road, a man with property, a wild Heathcliff profile, an ailing mother kept in a room off the kitchen. A handsome man, cagey in his dealings with cattle and horses, with a reputation for violence, a way of looking at women which disarmed them and I suspect disrobed one or two. So we walked up a hill opposite instead where, by following the contours of the map which remarkably matched the way the hill rose, we found a megalithic tomb facing away from the sea. Wind blew and birds trilled and we sat on the rocks in front of the tomb where inside lay the bones of someone buried perhaps four thousand years earlier, a hip pierced with an arrow-tip, perhaps a pin dropped from a cloak long since disintegrated lying alongside. I lost my shoe in the bog returning to the car and everywhere there was bog bean, marsh marigolds, the finished blooms of lady’s smock. When I woke the next morning, I knew immediately where I was, the sound of the town waking as familiar as my own household. My muddy shoe, rinsed in the little sink in our bathroom, hung out the window. Desmond, with a tea-towel wrapped about his middle, brought us our breakfast and a steaming silver-plated coffee pot. Fine weather was promised, kind words exchanged.

On Omey Island, accompanied by a saint...

We took our ordnance map of the west of Ireland, our water bottles, our notebooks, our guides to birds and flowers, and walked across the sands to Omey Island, where the 19th Century population of 400 has shrunk to fewer than 20, and ruined houses caught the wind in their chimneys. From the steps of one such house, and perhaps not abandoned after all, a sheep dog ran joyfully to meet us. There were burrs in its coat and when it rolled over on the lane, wiggling in ecstacy to have its belly rubbed, we could tell that it was a male. We walked for a mile or so, seeing no one but a man unloading lobster pots from the boot of an old car, and then we made our way up to the headland. A path was indicated on the map but we saw no path, nor the middens also noted on the map, just an expanse of green grass and pale sand. The dog kept running ahead, returning to us in delight, then bounding off to burrow half his body in an entrance to the rabbit warrens we could see evidence of in the dunes. We saw small piles of rabbit droppings. And there were quick elegant bodies slipping into the earth, never quite where the dog pursued them. There were daisies and primroses, sand-spurry and sea-blush. Years ago, when I lived on an island south of Omey, I had come by boat to see the first signs of a chapel emerging from the sand. Those who brought me were not surprised that a chapel might rise from the sand or a small field of graves reveal themselves.

Coastal house in Ireland.No one mentioned the well. Or had they and had I simply forgotten? A young woman does not necessarily connect with stories she hears told quietly, containing within them old habits or superstitions. I knew the chapel had been named for St. Feichin and was not surprised to read somewhere that the well was named for him too. It was located near the shore, a long stone-lined passage leading from it to the high-tide line. Tides would fill the stone enclosure at certain times of the year. We were surprised to see photographs and letters tucked into zip-locked bags and many coins and tiny articles of clothing fastened to the stones around the well. Some egg-shaped rocks rested on the edge. There were plenty of those on the shore and I picked up a particularly pretty white one, made a vague wish about future prosperity, and ceremoniously placed the rock on the lip of the well. Forrest and I each dropped a Canadian quarter into the water, too.

We walked on with our canine guide to the 15th Century chapel, a beautiful structure of pink granite contained within a bowl of collapsed dune, circumscribed by the remains of a stone wall. So long since worshippers came to sit under its roof to praise God, some of them buried on the headland. There was an area called Cnocán na mBan, the hill of the women, a remnant of the old antipathy to women implicit in St. Feichin’s hagiography, although he was not alone among the male saints in his attitudes. In the newer graveyard, built on top of another older one, crosses claimed their dead while wildflowers covered old earth and new earth. I said I would rather be buried among women on the headland, facing north-west, with rabbits burrowing among the daisies, but truth is the dunes collapse and build up, no place is what it seems, permanent or temporary. Things materialize from the sand upon occasion—a tool, a hasp, a leg-bone from someone long gone to God, pottery from local clay.

The dog disappeared before we began our walk across the strand to the car (Omey Island is tidal and accessible on foot except for during the year’s highest tides). One moment he was happily stretching out to have his belly tickled and the next he had vanished into the clear air of the day. I’d like to have thanked him for such excellent company and for alerting us to rabbits.

Returning to Clifden, we went to the library to look things up—flowers pressed into my notebook, a bird, information about the church and the ancient parish of Omey. The librarian was happy to sign us up as members so we could use the computer to check our email and take books along with us on subsequent jaunts. Idly running my fingers along the spines of the volumes on one shelf, I noticed a book on holy wells. Delighted, I took it to one of the big chairs and curled up to read. Was St. Feichin’s well included? It was. The text described it as a fertility well, mentioned the egg-shaped rocks and noted that women hoping to become pregnant placed them by the well. I showed the entry to Forrest and we exchanged looks of mutual horror. I quietly returned the book to its shelf.

Slow is every foot upon an unknown path.
Irish proverb

We were coming back from Killary Harbour and Forrest noticed a number of things on the map which we could see by taking a third class road leaving the main road near Moyard. I stopped the car on the side of the main road because we couldn’t really see any roads where the map said one should be. Ah, we discovered, reading the legend—there are two kinds of third class roads: the ones wider than 4 meters and the ones narrower. This was one of the narrower ones so maybe it was that opening in the trees. And we turned.

After a short distance on gravel and grass, we came to a farm yard. The road appeared to go through the middle of the yard. Chickens were pecking at the ground and the ubuiquitous black and white sheepdog watched us approach. Two men were talking in sunlight, dressed in suits, one with a tie and a Pioneer pin. I stopped the car and rolled down the window.

“Excuse me, we have a map which shows a road....”

They looked at each other and then at us. A few words were spoken between them. I got out of the car with the map.

“Is it a map ye have then?” Both of them came towards us as though I was carrying the relics of a saint.

“Just here, you see, it shows a road. Is this it?”

One of the men, the one not wearing a tie, proved to have an extreme speech impediment but he was very eager. I think he told us that we were parked in his farm yard, that the chickens were his, the fields we could see. The other man, seeing my confusion, came forward to act as a translator.

“It is his land, to be sure. A road, is it? Ye’re wanting a road?” It seemed to baffle both men that someone might want to drive on a road that appeared on a map and which passed through a peaceful yard, geraniums in tubs by the door and a pile of straw outside a shed.

“We are trying to find some standing stones that are shown on the map. They look like they’d be in the open, near here. Do you know them?”

They exchanged words again with each other and the man with the tie said, “There is a stone, yes, in a field just down the road here. If ye stop and look over the neighbour’s wall, ye’ll see it in the field with the sheep so.”

“So this is the road we take?”

“It is, it is. It is very narrow and ye must drive slowly.” He was translating his friend’s concern that we would not be able to see if another car was coming but from the look of the road, no car had been on it for a long time. Primroses grew in the grassy patches between the gravel.

‘Ye’re not Irish, are ye?”

“No, we’re from Canada.” This elicted great delight, both of them reaching out to clasp my hands between their own, much nodding and smiling.

“And ye’ll be careful to drive slowly so?”

“O, yes, I’ll be careful. I’ve been driving for 30 years without an accident.”

“Thirty years! Never! Ye canna be that old to be driving so long so.”

“This is my son,” I said proudly. As though to prove my age, my tall son smiled from the passenger seat.

“Ah, he’s never yer son! Well, ye’ve the gift of youth on ye anyway. God bless.”

With that, we were on our way, nosing the little car between blossoming hawthorne which reached into the windows to tickle our noses with its sweet smell. It formed a dense hedge on either side of the narrow road with fuschia among it and the raised banks white with wild garlic, yellow with primroses. Birds sang unseen within its depths.

Cottage and flowers in Ireland.A small cottage lay ahead among hawthornes, fenced with stone, curtains twitching at the windows, and beyond it we saw the standing stone, on a sloping field above Ballynakill Harbour. There were sheep grazing around it, tufts of their fleece caught on the lichens growing over its surface.

A stone planted in a field by people wanting to mark an occasion—a death? the passage of the sun at a memorable point in the year? a place of intense energy? I had seen Stonehenge, tried to take its measure among the tour groups and kiosks but this was different. The stone was calm in its history, useful to sheep, perhaps aligned with others in the vicinity, although the point is often made that most have vanished into the landscape, used for buildings, roadbeds. So this stone was monumental in its very ordinariness. No wonder the men had to think before they could tell us where to find this thing indicated on our map, marked as history, but unheralded in a neighbour’s field. And the road which they never would have thought important enough for anyone other than a man driving his cattle from one pasture to the next, the postman on his bicycle, a woman gathering wild garlic for spring flavour, a road defined by hedges stitched together with bluebells and bloody cranesbill. A map is a transparency, a set of codes, which might not make much sense to someone living deeply in its contours without knowing they are anything special.

We were annotating our map as we went along, noting the date we passed a place or visited a ruin. It would add our layer of experience to the formal layers already present—the cartographers’ work, the duplicity of names, the overlay of colonization and transgressions of one sort or another.

“What shall I write on the map?” asked Forrest.

“Put down the magic road, and the date,” I replied.

And there was more. At the end of the road, we could see from the map there was a holy well. It was difficult to find: the road shown was not a road but a track, unused (or so it seemed), winding behind a cottage with the requisite dog watching curiously as we drove up a gravelly slope. We found a length of pipe coming out of a bank and we were prepared to be impressed, thinking it a contemporary gloss or practical modification. But then we saw the true well. One book told us that “a holy well can be defined simply as any location where water is used as the focal point of supernatural divination, cure or devotion...” We had also learned that many of them carried a history far older than the Christian implications in their names, their associations with saints.

Long before people came to them for the diseases connected with the specific saint—eye problems, warts, mental illness, festering sores, infertility (although I was trying to forget I had made a wish at a well used for just such a condition, I did wonder why a saint who kept women from his structures should have been somehow sympathetic to difficulties a woman might have in conceiving a child), the wells had been important sites for ritual in earlier times. Sacred, powerful, the waters inspired rituals which lingered long after the advent of Christianity. In recognition of this, many sites were appropriated by the Church, given a patron saint, the new sanctity building on the old. We have a well at home, the source for our household’s water, but it is drilled deep into bedrock, partly cased in iron; the water is pumped into our house through PVC pipe. I began to think a little more about water, though, and the way it comes from the earth, the way we notice it and use it, the miracles we attribute to it. Later on we saw other wells that were simply depressions in rock with water coming from an unknown source, green with cress, and perhaps housed in a 19th Century hut. A trail would tell us people had been coming forever.

The true well at the end of the magic road somehow fit our expectations, though we weren’t aware of having had them. It was enclosed by a circular stone wall, waist-high, with mossy steps leading down to the pool, and was filled with clear water. When we threw in our coins, they vanished into its depths, which told us it was deep. There were photographs stuck to the stone wall, packages with letters, coins, tatters of cloth. Ivy climbed over the stones and other plants—toadflax, herb robert, wild strawberries, primroses—grew in a splendid profusion. We could hear nothing but birds, peace hanging in the air like a curtain. So it was a surprise later to discover that the well’s patron saint, Ceannanach, beheaded somewhere near Cleggan (the nearest village) by a pagan chief, had carried his head to the source and washed it, replacing it on his neck before lying down to die by the pure water.

Ceannanach’s church was nearby. It was hidden in trees overlooking Ballynakill Lough, a place of leafy stillness. Climbing over the stone wall to enter the roofless remains, I looked, as is my usual habit, for snakes in the warm grass and then remembered that of course there are no snakes in Ireland, another saintly miracle, courtesy of Patrick. Only lizards, one kind of toad, frogs (though I’ve never seen a frog in Ireland). The churchyard seemed a more likely place to hear owls or encounter hedgehogs at dusk but in the afternoon there was nothing but birdsong and midges. Ancient thick walls and decorated stones, bladder campion and violets threaded through the grass. Beautiful the fit of the stones together, the rough openings for windows, with worked lintels and a small amount of decorative detail.Yes, you could imagine owls here or the murmur of voices within the walls of the church, perhaps offering the Latin responses, or singing a medieval hymn. And sitting very still we heard voices, not the Belgians who stopped their van and set up painting gear on the side of the road, but the pure notes of praise. Patricii laudes semper dicamus, May we always speak praise of Patrick, ut nos cum illo defendat Deus, so that through him God will defend us... I almost hated to start the engine of the car to drive away, not wanting to disturb that evensong.

Horse and buggy in Ireland.

The green field re-echoes, where there is a brisk bright stream...
— Irish 9th Century nature poem

Passing Ballynakill Lough, we saw the island that the map told us was a crannog or a man-made fortified island, we saw a ring fort on the crest of a hill, more standing stones watching our progress on the unfamiliar path. We drove to Sellerna Bay where I had walked to swim years ago when I lived for a time in Cleggan. The weather was perfect for a visit to a beach of white sand, blue water, the graceful company of gulls. I didn’t remember a tomb although the map showed one right in a field by the sand’s edge and sure enough, when we knew what we were looking for, there it was, a wedge tomb facing the sunset. Primroses grew in the grass around it and a small red flower that I thought must be pimpernel. I tried to imagine what lay beneath its mound, the portal opening left for the soul to escape or for food to be given in some mysterious ritual. Excavations of tombs of this period have revealed pottery vessels and tools. I closed my eyes to warm wind and the scent of grass and thought about the lives of those leaving their dead in this place. Such rocky ground! What would they have eaten? Plant pollens tell us something of their cereal crops and of course there would have been meat. Four thousand years ago, there were bears in Ireland, wild deer (as there still are), wolves, sheep. The middens contain shells and bones, burned stones telling us the shellfish was cooked. When I lived here twenty-odd years ago, I had almost no money and gathered mussels for my soup-pot, nettles, pried the meat out of winkles with a pin. Sometimes I would be given a crab or mackerel to cook. But often I grazed fields like this one, searching for silverweed, wild garlic, cress in the damp corners. Later we learned that the patterns of stones in this field were not random but were the remains of Bronze age field boundaries. A landscape is so literal -- it is what it is, made of what is there, yet there is a sense of textual meaning once the materials can be decoded and read. How many places are there on the planet untouched by farmers, ancient or modern, how many seas unfished by nets, how many mountains unclimbed by conquering feet? And what does a field boundary do to our apprehension of history, of place? Once noted, it cannot be forgotten and the wild field at the edge of the Atlantic takes on a gloss of use and husbandry.

The map promised something called a cillín. I knew that cill or kill meant church so we walked to the end of the sand, looking for the remains of a church. On the map, the site appeared to be along the shore of a creek leading into Sellerna Bay. We found the creek but nothing else, just rocks and primroses and shells left by gulls. It was a lovely location, in sunlight, overlooked by some farms, the creek very swift and clean. But something of a mystery. Later, in County Kerry, following another map, we tried to find a cillín and couldn’t so I asked in the library if the woman at the desk spoke Irish. She did. I explained that we had been trying to find cillíns indicated on maps and there seemed to be nothing there and were we looking for churches or something else? She was not friendly at all and said she didn’t know, churches probably, but she was obviously not interested in helping us find out. It wasn’t until months later, when my son came home for Christmas, bringing with him a copy of the Archaeological Inventory of West Galway, did I learn that a cillín was a children’s burial ground. They were accorded their own section in the Inventory and “are characterised by the presence of numerous small, uninscribed set stones, often arranged in rows.” Would we have recognized the place for what it was had we known it was a burial ground not just for children but for others “perceived to be in some way outside of society: aborted foetuses, strangers, suicides and Famine victims...?” (A child conceived because of a wish at the well of St. Feichin and then a husband or lover disappearing or failing to materialize in the first place after love beneath flowering trees?) And was the librarian somehow reluctant to share with us the added association with Limbo and “otherness?” I knew from living there more than 20 years ago how a person could be called a blow-in, never mind the length of their residence, and never accomodated, alive, in the usual way. How lonely for a child or a stranger to be buried so far from a church, a home, left only an uninscribed stone which a person, a stranger herself, coming later could not even recognize. And yet there was water nearby, that bright creek and the open sea, hooded crows among the cow pats and snow buntings in winter at the high tide mark, the occasional woman gathering seaweed for her potatoes. Maybe on a quiet day, the voices from distant churches might be carried to the sad stones: In memoria eterna erit iustus, the just one will be in eternal memory...Hibernenses omnes clamant ad te pueri, the children of Ireland cry out to thee... And who of us knows what company might be there when life leaves us, alone or not, birds rising from the field light as souls?

Do Not Enter. Area Closed Due to Foot and Mouth Disease.
— Sign seen all over Ireland, Spring 2001

We didn’t see St. Patrick’s Well off the Maam Valley road, nor his Bed a little further on. We drove as far as the path to that Well but then it led through a farm yard and the sign told us to Keep Out. Later in our trip, we ignored the signs and ventured into Hoare Abbey, a field of beehive huts on the Dingle Peninsula, a grove of ogham stones on a private drive, but we hadn’t yet found the courage to climb the gate, walk up the path smoothed by centuries of travellers and believers.

Castle in Ireland.We didn’t see a tomb off the Streamstown road for the same reason, nor the promontory fort off the Lower Road. We did walk down to Clifden Castle past standing stones which later proved to be follies, according to the Archaeological Inventory of West Galway; we read this with chagrin, remembering our attempts to determine something from the way the stones were aligned on their slope leading down towards the sea. But fake as they might be in their current placement, I thought the stones themselves could have been brought to the castle grounds from somewhere nearby where they’d stood since the dawn of time. We found the broken bodies of infant rooks fallen from the nests all along the towers while the walls resounded with the echoes of those who had not fallen but grown to noisy maturity. Nettles brushed our legs in the shrubbery and cattle scattered from the rooms of the ruined castle. All of this could be explained by evolution, nettles replacing ornate plantings, the cattle kept by local farmers who had procurred the lands previously held by the Eyre estate (themselves tenants for generations), the corpses of the birds a warning to those free spirits leaning too far from the safety of the nest.

We didn’t see the signal tower beyond Cleggan Farm or the cairn on Tully Mountain. We walked in the direction of the Mass Rock beyond Glencraff but didn’t get that far, nor did we take the ferry to Inishbofin to see the star-shaped fort, or the fort of Grace O’Malley, although I had gone there as a young woman, so wrapped up in my fierce longing for a fisherman’s love that I walked the quiet roads of the island without seeing anything but my own sorrow translated to ruined walls, the corpse of a seal on the rocks.

But we heard owls in the trees around St. Mary’s Chapel in Clifden when we were walking back from Church Street with a pizza; we heard a myriad of birds on the Roundstone Bog when we walked out to photograph a working, someone’s turf spade left against a trench; we found another hidden church on the Cleggan Road by walking into a dense thicket of hawthornes; we saw the emptied face of a lamb on the high trail to the well at Maol Roc, no other remains, the eyes nipped out but the nose, lips and dark skin intact; and we walked back to Kylemore through a tunnel of wild purple rhododendrons. We sat on a bench at sunset in front of Kings Bar, drinking a pint of beer, with the voices of children vanishing in the evening, and we saw a girl walking back from the Sky Road with a book in one hand; I recognized the look of ardour on her shining face.

And I wanted my wish at St. Feichin’s well to have been worthwhile, though not for fertility—I have three children, the youngest 16, and don’t see myself pushing a pram down the country road where I live, as I approach 50—but perhaps these things are metaphorical. I wished for prosperity which could be fecundity of mind and spirit (I am a writer, after all), riches of the heart. The saint sounds like he was a resourceful man, converting a pagan sea captain to Christianity and building a monastery and cloister (the chapel came later in his name). Stories about him include the usual details of lepers and sores and obviously he was nervous about women, thinking they needed to be kept separate even after death. And then there was Ceannanach, carefully carrying his head to his well so he could wash it and place it again upon his shoulders before dying.

The longest road out is the shortest road home.
— Irish proverb

On our last day in Clifden, we packed our cases into the grim car along with our stones, our shells, the books we’d bought, and our water bottles and maps. Desmond and Eileen hugged us away like family, calling God speed as we drove off. I had forgotten how heavy is departure, the weight of longing approximate to granite. I’d slept in the sultry air of Connemara and did not dream of anything memorable but woke each morning hungry for Eileen’s brown bread and an egg carried to the table on a china saucer like a rare jewel.

Ireland shoreline.We were heading south, to County Kerry, and then to Cashel to see Cormac’s Chapel on its famous rock. We had no detailed Ordnance Maps to use for that part of the journey, having exhausted our desire to trace the intricate patterns of history across a landscape. We were simply going to look at things which appeared before us—Kilmalkedar Church and the alphabet stone in its churchyard, Gallarus Oratory, Yeat’s tower standing above a leafy river. Of course there were more maps, simple ones, for how could there not be with a mother driving a rented car on unfamiliar motorways, a history student for a son, but I did not feel the tug of connection as I did that day on Omey Island with the bones of the women on the bare headland for company, did not hear the voices quietly singing their responses in Ceannanach’s church. It was enough for me to watch things pass.

We hadn’t come to see wells only but our map was annotated with their names. At home we have a well, nothing as pretty as Ceannanach’s in its veil of ivy, but a source for our household, clean and cold, capped in red iron. In thinking about our search for ruins in the west of Ireland, I was filled with a desire to look at our own local maps and the leftovers of names, what they meant. We were discovering how little a map could tell of a place, and how much, naming and usage at odds with each other or else providing a cryptic commentary on history. Ancient stones, churches, graveyards of children and strangers, wells used to cure boils and infertility, some of them protected and forbidden to women or memory (those dolmens subsumed in walls, barns...), some of them still off-limits because of a new pestilence. It came as no surprise, driving up out of Clifden but thinking of home, to remember that our own water comes from underground streams running down off Mount Hallowell, named for Captain Hallowell of the HMS Swiftsure, Battle of the Nile, a name reaching back into the shadows of our language and giving credence to the idea that behind every name, another layer, and another, until a ship’s captain returns to the source of holy water that begets us all.

  

Theresa Kishkan lives with her husband John Pass on the Sechelt Peninsula in British Columbia where they operate High Ground Press. Her books include Red Laredo Boots (1996), Sisters of Grass (2000) and A Man in a Distant Field (2004).
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