Lucy started to squeal just as we passed the town burial ground on the Slea Head road. She stopped briefly to do a few crazy circles in the back seat as we went by the petrol station and shop. By the time we got to the distillery, just at the Milltown roundabout, she had her paws up on the window, squealing again with delight. She knew where we were going.
It took all the willpower we had not to squeal along with her.
For the past eight weeks we had been restricted to a radius of two kilometers from our home. Now that restriction was increased to five kilometers. The possibilities were endless. We could go to Smerwick Harbour. Ventry beach. The Burnham road. The Pilgrim’s Way on the other side of the hill. It was like we had been serving five to ten years at hard labor and were suddenly granted parole.
Where to go first?
“Let’s do the harbour walk,” I proffer. “We’ll walk out to the mouth, to Lucy’s cove, and let her run free.”
“Lucy’s cove” is what we call the small, narrow beach that overlooks the mouth of the harbour. Lucy runs giant figure eights on the beach at low tide, ears streaming behind her, kicking up sand. And we watch her and look out at the water trying to spot Fungie, Dingle’s resident dolphin.
“Let’s go,” agreed Sara. We were both a little giddy.
The harbour is like a giant bowl–the town sits at one end and at the other is a narrow opening to Dingle Bay. High hills on either side hem it in, like warm embracing arms to welcome sailors home from a long voyage. We start walking at the car park in town and follow the curve of the harbour all the way to Hussey’s Folly, a stone tower near the passage to the bay. Lucy’s cove is just beyond the folly. Cow and sheep pastures roll down from the main road on our left to the water’s edge on our right. Once we are past the hotel on the edge of town and squeeze through the stile to the first field, I let Lucy off her lead and she runs free, dashing through the tall grass in the pastures and then putting her front paws on the sea wall to watch the birds on the shore.
During our unfortunate incarceration, I had been researching wild edible plants that grow in the Dingle area. I had already made a pesto of Three-Cornered Leeks that grow on the verges of the lanes from mid-March to May: a good handful of leeks, a bit of parsley to temper the leeks, some toasted pine nuts, a splash of sherry vinegar, and decent olive oil. Sara loved it drizzled over Jerry’s rack of lamb and the roasted vegetables that we had for dinner on Easter. I even used the edible blossoms as a garnish on the serving platter.
As we walked along, I point out to Sara some of the edible plants in the pastures and on the sea walls.
“Oh, look at these stinging nettles,” I say. “Folklore says if you eat nettles four times in the month of May, it’s good for the blood. I could make a soup with these.”
“Uh huh,” she mumbles.
“And these are wild parsnips,” pulling a few out of the ground for her to see.
“O’Connor’s in town has very nice parsnips. All cleaned up, with no dirt on them.”
“And this is scurvy grass,” pointing to the white flowers growing on the sea wall.
“Why would I eat something called scurvy grass?” she asks. There is a hint of exasperation in her voice.
“Well, it doesn’t cause scurvy, it’s to prevent it, like,” I respond. “The blossoms would make a nice garnish, don’t you think?”
“Jimmy. I am not eating anything that grows in a cow pasture.”
When Sara says Jimmylike that, I know that there will be no scurvy blossoms scattered over my next rack of lamb.
There are more stiles in the walls that divide the fields. As we squeeze through, I ask, “Do these stiles seem narrower than the last time we were here?”
“That could have something to do with the meals we’ve been eating,” Sara answers.
Lucy runs ahead of us, head to the ground and nose quivering. She’s renewing her acquaintance with the trail.
The tide is low, so the sea-bed is exposed for forty or fifty meters from the sea wall to the water. Two or three figures wander about in wellies, carrying buckets, and collecting shellfish and seaweed.
Just past Hussey’s Folly–a crenellated tower built by a land agent around 1845 to help the unemployed during the Famine–we follow a narrow trail along the cliff’s edge between towering gorse bushes. The trail takes us down to the beach. Lucy knows the way and runs along the path ahead of us down the cliff face.
“Hmm,” I think to myself as we weave through the gorse, “I could make that gorse cordial our friend was telling us about.” I don’t share my thoughts with Sara.
Lucy is trotting along the seawall below us, leaping from stone slab to stone slab, making her way to the sand. She reaches the beach and looks back impatiently, waiting for us to finish our slow descent. At last we join her and she turns and runs down to the water’s edge and then back around us in a wide circle. Over and over she runs. Five times. Ten times. She finally pauses to catch her breath and to smell the bladder wrack and kelp, then takes off again until exhaustion kicks in and she collapses on the sand.
We stand on the shore with the sun on our shoulders and listen to the water lapping at the beach. Gulls float above us. The wind whistles as it passes through the sea arch across from us. The boats that would normally pass in and out of the harbour, taking tourists to see Fungie or bringing fresh fish back to town, are gone for now. The sun on the water makes it look like there are diamonds dancing on the sea. There are only the soothing sounds of nature.
A few lines from Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” run through my head:
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
After a long while, we turn and climb back towards the Folly and those narrow stiles, leaning on our sticks and each other. Lucy follows behind us, a tired puppy. It’s been a good walk.