I remove the lead from Lucy’s harness.
She’s startled. Her eyes look at us as if to say, “What the hell is going on?” She takes a few tentative steps away from us and begins to walk in small circles.
The circles get wider and wider and faster and faster. Floppy ears stream behind and her body tilts at a forty-five degree angle, paws kicking up sand. Circles become loops become figure eights. She is like Yeats’ falcon, except with four legs and long ears. Just as it seems she will escape from our gravitational pull she runs full speed toward us and skids to a stop at our feet.
“No really,” her eyes say. “What the hell is going on?”
It has been a bit of an adjustment period for Lucy. The first day, on the drive across country from Dublin, Lucy sat on Sara’s lap and her little nose quivered for five hours, trying to make sense of these new smells. It was slowly dawning on her that she wasn’t in the desert anymore. So many things were unfamiliar. Like rain. Cattle and sheep. And grass. “You want me to go where and do what?”
And now she’s allowed to run free. “This is great!” she says.
But the strand is from another universe. The sand is familiar, but not combined with waves and shells and seaweed. She doesn’t know what to smell first. As always, she adapts. And takes off into orbit again.
We are on the strand between Ballyferriter and An Mhuirioch, a few miles from our home. Miles long and hundreds of meters wide, it runs along Smerwick Harbour on the north side of the Dingle peninsula. It is the perfect place for a long walk, kicking up sand, examining shells, and laughing at Lucy as she runs. Across the smooth, placid bay, we are protected by a long promontory called the Three Sisters, named for the three peaks that separate us from the winds of the Atlantic. Far to our left, on the west end of the bay, we can just make out the Dun an Oir, or Fort of Gold, an Iron Age promontory fort. The whole vista is stunningly beautiful.
But, sadly, beauty in Ireland is often the handmaiden of tragedy. In 1580, in one of many attempts to free Ireland from British rule, a force of around six hundred Italian and Spanish Papal troops landed in Smerwick Harbour and met up with a small band of Irish revolutionaries. They took up a defensive position in the ancient fort. An English force under the command of Lord Grey marched out from Dingle to meet them and a contingent of the British navy moved in to block the mouth of the harbour. A siege was in place. The navy bombarded the fort, destroying the defenses.
After the three-day siege, the Papal troops negotiated a surrender. The terms of that surrender are still debated to this day, but the Papal troops believed that their lives would be spared. Lord Grey planned otherwise. “I put in certain bands who straight fell to execution. There were 600 slain,” he wrote to Queen Elizabeth. The soldiers were then decapitated and their bodies thrown into the sea. To this day bones wash in on the tide.
But for the few Irish soldiers he had a special punishment. He ordered his smithy to break their arms and legs in three places, and left them in agony overnight. The next morning he hung them.
Good Queen Bess wrote back to him to congratulate him on being an instrument of God’s glory. Thus goes Irish history. As Yeats wrote, it is “a terrible beauty.”
Lucy is still orbiting around us with total abandon until she catches something out of the corner of her eye. She skids to a dead stop, backs up a few paces, and looks over her shoulder at us. Strange four-legged creatures gallop by, each with a human on their back. Lucy edges closer to us.
Now, Lucy is not a total naif. She has seen horses before, but always in an abstract sort of way, like through a car window. This is up close though and, she seems to say to us, “They are really huge. And sort of scary.”
As she stands there, the tide begins to roll closer and closer, but poor Lucy is distracted by new smells and seaweed and horses. A wave just barely touches her right front paw. In a truly Olympian move, she jumps eighteen inches straight up, levitates for a moment, flies two feet to her left, and sticks the landing. Somewhere in this wide world, Simone Biles feels a pang of jealousy.
Lucy has learned a lot on this walk and so have we. We wipe her feet, kick the sand from our Wellies, and head home.
Three sisters watch her wild dance as
She runs along the strand, circling
And whirling, kicking up the sand,
That glitters bright with shell and bone.
She stops to watch the creatures prance,
And throws a cautious glance to ask
If God allows the horse to share
With little dogs who run and play?
Lord Grey dispatched the foreign race
But they remain forever in this place.
The tide has yet to wash the blood
Away, and diamonds light the surf.
God’s plan is seldom clear to men,
Or queens. And innocents must die
Before the little dogs can run
And whirl in diamond crusted sand.
So innocence may die in blood
But innocence returns to stay
Where little dogs kick up the sand
And whirl and dance along the strand.