A Walk Down the Lane

 The days have been brilliant here in Mullenaglemig. Blue skies. Plump white clouds. Gentle breezes and temperatures in the low sixties. Sara has the sheets out on the line and the windows are open to freshen the house. Fine weather makes our cocooning more tolerable. And we’ve been able to take our long walks, weaving up and down our country lanes, staying within our 2 km isolation zone.

The greening hedgerows hide tiny spring flowers in Easter pastel shades. Hawthorns are blossoming, dropping white petals on our path. Fuchsia is starting to leaf out; in a few months they’ll turn the sides of the lanes crimson. Entry gates sport a line of bluebells. And the gorse blossoms are like brilliant sunshine, so bright you almost need to squint when you look at them. But behind those blossoms are deadly thorns.

We stop and watch the newborn lambs find their legs in the fields as they learn to run. Each day they grow bigger. Their mothers keep a careful eye on them. We watch the heifers as they move to their pasture after a long winter in the sheds. There is no joy like the joy of cattle as they are let out to the fields. They arch their backs like the happy cows they are and buck and jump and roll in new spring grass.

But, still, there is a pall over it all.

When we pass neighbors on our walks, we hug the sides of the lane, murmuring a furtive “fine day” as we keep walking. In other times we would stop and chat, asking “how are ye keeping” and exchanging local news. There are few cars for us to salute as they pass us by; there is, sadly, nowhere to go. Farmers still ride their tractors down the lanes but don’t stop and open the cab doors to say hello; they just nod as they putter past. We acknowledge them with a raised stick. Joan in Baile Riabhach waves to us from her front window.

We look up to the ancient oratory where we should have joined our neighbors for Easter morning mass. It has only sheep and lambs for company.

Other days are better. We chat with Mary, down the lane, who has the fairy garden near the wall in front of her house. We are two meters away on one side of the wall and she is two meters away on the other. She is a bit younger than us and can get out to the shops. She insists that we take her phone number and call her if we need anything.

“I go to the shop in Ventry every morning and can drop anything into ye. Call me if ye need something. Sure, there’s only two answers I can give ye,” she says, “yes or no.”

And Thomas, the young farmer up the hill, speaks to us from his yard. We pass news of relatives that have been affected and discuss the effect of the virus on cattle prices. He suggests we walk to the top of the hill behind his farm to see the sea on all sides.

“Just go through the first gate on the left at the top there and follow the track. It’s where I go to clear my head,” he sighs. “When this thing is over, we’ll have a pint together,” he adds. “Maybe two.”

We stroll on, heartened.

A line from Seamus Heaney–from an interview in 1972–has become the guiding light of this crisis here in Ireland:

“If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.”

Yes, we can.

I suppose it’s the way of the world, isn’t it? There are good days and bad days, but together we will muddle through.


Bad Days

A Walk Down the Lane


Rhythms are awry,

The world is out of kilter.


The man across the road,

Who should be playing in the pub at night,

Bows a mournful air

With a birdsong counterpoint.


Two lonely bachelor farmers,

Who should be leaning on a gate mulling cattle prices,

Pass in the lane, hugging ditches.

“Strange times,” says one. “Tá,” sighs the other.


The dead are denied

Their wake and their families the comfort of

Shouldering them to the grave.

Their plots go unattended.


The oratory on the hill above,

Where the village should gather on Easter morn,

Is surrounded only by Toose’s sheep and

There is no one to drink his tay.


Rhythms are awry,

The world is out of kilter.



Good Days

A Walk Down the Lane


The hill above us

Is not afraid.

The oratory is undaunted.


The hedgerows green

And hidden flowers bloom.

The brambles protect them.


Lambs leap and play

On the new grass

With the courage of youth.


The little girl next door sings and

Dances in her fairy garden,

Wearing her princess dress.


The water flows from the holy well and then

joins the stream by the lambing shed and then

passes the field where the heifers graze and then

into the forestry of pine and ash and then

beside the triplet bungalows and then,

and then, alongside the distillery to the sea.

Gathering strength all along the way.

Nothing can stop it.


The butterfly emerges

From her cocoon,

And flits from flower to flower

Without fear.


At one point on our long walk, just where we turn from the high road onto the old Ventry road at Ceathrú an Phúca, I can make out the shape of ancient potato drills on the side of a hill. In the next field the walls of a famine cottage still stand. The broken-down drills have not been used since that famine 175 years ago. As we pass, I think, “People have been through worse, haven’t they?”

We turn and walk home to our cocoon.

May our good days outnumber our bad days as we walk down our lanes.

Love in the Time of Corona

I was maneuvering the people mover down the lane, searching for the oyster farm. The lane kept narrowing and brambles on either side started to brush the sides of the vehicle. Grass was growing down the center. I could hear muffled gasps from the rows of seats behind me.

Four friends from Santa Fe had arrived on Wednesday, three days earlier, for a long-planned visit. I rented a nine passenger van about the size of a small Greyhound bus, called a “people mover” by the good folks at Dan Dooley Car Hire, to ferry the six of us around. We stayed the first night in Galway and were now tucked into Ballynahinch Castle in Galway. The visit to the oyster farm was a planned day excursion.

“Do you think they actually plant oyster seeds?” Tom, seated to my left, asked me.

“I didn’t even know oysters were farmed,” I replied. “I thought you just went out to the beach and raked them up.”

“I think that might be clams,” he answered.

“Aren’t they basically the same?” My knowledge of mollusks is limited. I just know I like to eat them.

Behind me, I could hear Sara, Margie, Ron and Michael chatting away.

Finally, we emerged from the hedgerows and could see the oyster farm in front of us, across a narrow bridge with water on either side. And no guardrails. I drove across. The gasps grew louder.

David, the owner of the farm, wearing a watch cap and waterproofs, was waiting for us. After introductions all around, he gave us a brief tour and told us the history of the farm, which was founded over 150 years ago, but had fallen on hard times during the 2008 downturn. In the past, the farm was a major supplier of oysters to Great Britain. David bought it four years ago.

With his posh Dublin accent, I knew David wasn’t a native Connemara man.

“What made you buy an oyster farm?” I asked.

“I was an accountant with an international practice. I sold my business about twelve years ago but found out I wasn’t suited to retirement. So I bought this place after looking at it for a couple of years. My wife just recently started speaking to me again,” he laughed.

In the first year in there was a red tide that destroyed the stock and he had to start over. Now he is shipping to Great Britain, South Korea, and Singapore.

He showed us a series of screened cages in graduated sizes that are hung from racks in Ballinakill Bay just behind us. The oysters feed on phytoplankton in the bay.

“In this first one we put seed oysters,” he says.

Tom nodded sagely.

David then moved us into the building where a woman was shucking about twenty oysters. We handed over the chilled bottle of Prosecco we had brought from the Castle and David poured six glasses. Margie gamely tried one oyster, fair play to her. Tom had three. Ron and Sara demurred. Michael and I dove in, demolishing the rest. Everyone partook of the Prosecco.

After a tour of the farm down by the bay, we were helping each other into the bus when David asked about our next stop.

“We are going to stop at the nuns’ shop at Kylemore Abbey,” I said.

“Not today, you aren’t. They are closed because of this corona thing.”

The only time the nuns ever close up shop is on Christmas Day.

That’s when we knew things were getting serious.

We drove back to the Castle and made plans to meet in the library for cocktails and some craíc at six o’clock, and to plan the route we would take to Dingle the next day.

Just as I was nodding off for my afternoon nap, the phone rang. Sara answered. I could hear Michael’s voice, “They’re canceling all flights from the UK and Ireland. We have to be home by midnight on Monday. A friend has already booked us on already.”

We dashed to their room where they all sat, stunned. Sara went into organizing mode, calling hotels near the Dublin airport. The Hilton wasn’t answering.

“Try the Maldron,” I said.

They answered on the first ring and we had two rooms sorted. It was a little past five o’clock.

“Maybe we should start our cocktail hour early,” I offered.

“Just let me go change my shoes,” Michael said.

“Wait, you have special cocktail shoes?” I asked.

It broke the mood.

We convened in the library a few minutes later. Paudie, the porter, took our drinks order. Four Dingle Gin martinis, a Cosmo, and a Dingle G&T.

When Paudie brought the cocktails, Margie said to him, “Please come back in about ten minutes. We’re going to need another round.”   Ron, before Paudie could leave, said, ”Maybe just wait outside the door.”

“Cheers,” we all said, raising our glasses, “and next year in Dingle to finish what we started.”

At dinner, Michael and I split another six oysters.

The next day, Sunday, I drove the people mover four hours across the country to the Maldron. There were no gasps, just a few sighs; we were all lost in our own thoughts. Then Sara and I, despite the virus, hugged everyone goodbye and drove back across the country to drop off the people mover and get back to Dingle.

We traded texts with all of them until they were safe in their own homes.


A few days later we heard from some dear friends who live near us on the peninsula but spend the winter in Spain. Their car ferry from Spain to Ireland had canceled, but they thought they could wait things out in the little village where they stay since it was isolated and seemed safe. A week later the situation in Spain became clearer. Everything changed. They decided to make a dash for it through France, the UK, and then by car ferry to Ireland.

We texted back and forth as they flee; their stress is palpable.

They are delayed a further day because they had to wait for a vet to certify their dogs.

Then they text: “We are all packed and leaving tomorrow morning. The dogs are cleared. We have to be out of Spain by Tuesday at the latest.” (This is on Friday.) “Our ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven is 5 p.m. Sunday for a four-hour crossing. We will stay in Newhaven on Sunday night, then drive to Pembroke (Wales) on Monday for the night crossing to Rosslare. We should be home by Tuesday lunchtime.”

We track their progress on the map and through constant texts: “We are south of Limoges in France. Roads almost deserted. Very eerie. Stopped twice by police but waved through. Am disinfecting everything and wearing gloves.”

They drive straight through from southern Spain to Dieppe and are in the queue for the ferry. We look at the map again.

I text: “We haven’t been locked down yet and I can get to the store in the early morning before the Irish are stirring. What can I get you? I’ll put it on your doorstep when you get home.” They will be in self-quarantine when they arrive and will not be allowed to leave their house.

They send me a shopping list for Jerry’s, the greengrocer, and the super market. I am in the super market at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Jerry’s at 8:30, and the greengrocer at 9:00. There is only one hiccup. “They don’t have Oatabix Flakes,” I text. “Is there a substitute?”

“Corn flakes or all bran flakes please.”


The next text: They are in Rosslare! Back in Ireland! Just a five-hour drive to Ballyferriter and home. We wait to hear.

The hours drag by. We pace around the kitchen.

They’re home!

I run the groceries over and put them on their doorstep, along with a bottle of Dingle Gin and Fever Tree tonic. And a cake from Sara. We mime a hug from a safe distance and promise to have a massive party when we come out on the other side.

The order to “cocoon” in our home came three days later.

We are still allowed to walk down our lanes if we stay within 2kms of the house.

The sun has been shining. Mary Murphy has her laundry on the line. New lambs are finding their legs in the spring grass. The cattle are out of their sheds and in the pastures. Dogs come up to greet Lucy.

We walk and think of our friends, safe in their homes, both here and there. We have a party to plan for when we are all together once again, with plenty of craíc and cocktails. And oysters.