Lucy’s Cove

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.

The Isolating Man

A Short Sketch


 We saw the old man, leaning on a vintage T1 Raleigh bicycle for support, as he came out of the track to the right just as we were nearing the end of our walk. A green milk crate was secured by bungee cords just below the handlebars. He weaved along the side of the road like a bee returning to the hive after gorging on nectar in a field of clover. It was just before noon.

“Let’s hang back,” Sara says. We are practicing our social distancing.

Then he weaved left near the entrance to our house and disappeared.

“Where’d he go?” I ask. “Do you think he’s fallen into the drain?”

As we reached our drive, there he was, backed against our entry wall, holding his bike between us. He was a handsome man with a neatly trimmed white beard, wearing an ancient tweed jacket over a green argyle jumper and sporting a flat cap on his head. His clothes were clean and he seemed fit enough, but his blue eyes looked a bit unfocused.

“I’m against the wall here because I’m isolating, like, so ye can pass by,” he calls to us.

“That’s grand,” I say, “but we’re going in here, so you’re just fine to go ahead with your walk.”

“Do ye live here?” he enquires, astonished.

“We do,” I answer.

“Have I met ye before?” he asks, perplexed now.

“Oh yes, we’ve met several times before.”

“We have?” he exclaims, eyes round with surprise. “Ye see, I’ve a drink taken. I’m isolating, like, so I take a drink and read and watch the telly. Cocooning, so.”

“That’s all right,” I assure him. “I imagine we’ve all had a drink taken in these times.”

“Do ye live here? In Mullenaglemig?”

“Four years now,” I tell him patiently.

I pick up Lucy to carry her across the cattle guard at the end of our drive, keeping a proper distance from him.

“Do ye know how to walk across the cattle…” he pauses for a long second, thinking, “…cattle guard!” he finishes triumphantly.

“I’ve been doing it for four years now so I’m getting handy at it.”

“Four years!” He looks incredulous. “I’ve been here eighty years. In Mullenaglemig, like. Back down the lane there. Have I met ye before? Ye see, I’ve had a drink taken.”

Sara and Lucy are slowly backing down our drive, socially distancing themselves. Lucy looks a bit nervous.

“That’s okay,” I say as I ease towards them. “I’m sure many people are taking a drink.”

“I’m isolating like, so I take a drink and read and watch the telly,” he repeated.

He slowly heaved himself off the wall, grasped the handlebars like a drowning man who has been tossed a life preserver, and started pushing the bike along the lane, wandering from side to side.

“Poor old guy,” I say to Sara when I catch up to her. “I think I’ll call the Gardai and Sean the postman and ask them to keep an eye on him. He has nothing to do but take a drink, read, and watch the telly.”

“Doesn’t that describe us perfectly?” she answers.

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.

The Healing Well of Poetry

I find myself, in these days when the world is all topsy-turvy, turning to poetry, both reading and writing.

Words from Yeats’ poem The White Birds have been running through my mind:

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a

       Danaan shore,

Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow

       Come near us no more.


And when hope is most needed, Seamus Heaney’s poem The Cure at Troy is always there:

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a farther shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.


On the hill above our house there is a healing well. Perhaps we’ll take a walk up there.

Here is what I’ve been writing:

Three Poems

Two Days Past St. Brigid’s Day

 I back against the ditch seeking

Shelter from the sudden squall.

Hail whitens my shoulders

Like an old woman’s shawl.


 A primrose hides in the brambles

Beside me, searching for the sun.

Together we watch the snow fall 

On Brandon Mountain across the way.


Micheál, who lives on the hill above us,

Says Brigid’s day marks the start of spring.

“But the primrose truly knows.

When she appears, the weather turns.”


The squall passes. I nod goodbye 

To my flowered friend

And walk down the lane 

To the shore and the sun.


The primrose knows.


Three Donkeys

 Three donkeys live down the lane

In the field beyond the trees.

They gather at the gate 

To pass their life of ease.


No trap to pull nor creel to carry,

Their working lives are done.

They nibble at the grass

And catch the warming sun.


We stop and nod and have a word

And share philosophies,

Then wander down the lane

Leading our life of ease.


On Buying a Portrait of Beckett

He glares at me across the room

Straining against the hard black frame.

The sacramental scent of artists’ oil surrounds him.


Cheeks and brow, nose and jutting jaw

And hair as wild as his thoughts

Are sculpted with a palette knife

In tones of black and grey.


Cold, calculating, captured.



He knows he is the genius.

His glare says all of that.

Ideas, in fuchsia and iris, explode around his head

Seeking an escape. 



He stares at me and I return his gaze.

 In silence we wait for the messenger.



May we all let our minds wander and find our healing wells.

The Big Election of 2020

I was just about to toast the mustard and cumin seeds for my toor dal when the car covered with placards pulled into our yard near the kitchen door and two fellows hopped out. I knew what they were here about.

When our daughter arrived for Christmas bearing quality Indian spices for me, I was eager to try them. Tonight, I was making butter chicken using turmeric, garam masala, and ground cumin, along with the toor dal, some naan, and rice. Reluctantly, I put the fry pan to the side of the hob and went to the door to greet the men.

“We’re canvassing for Brendan Griffin,” the first man says to me.

“Would ye consider giving him a number one?” the second follows-up.

Brendan is one of the five TDs (Teachta Dála, a member of the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish Parliament) for Kerry, where we live. He is a member of Fine Gael, currently the plurality party in the government, and a Minister of State for Tourism and Sport. He seems a likable enough young fellow and is very good at standing beside road signs to announce new road works funded by the government.

I’ve been expecting these visits from canvassers for the candidates, so I’ve been doing my homework.

“I have a few questions for ye about Brendan,” I say.


They blanch, not quite prepared for questions.

After they leave, I go back to my spices.

Leo Varadkar, the current Taoiseach (akin to Prime Minister), announced the dissolution of the Dáil on January 14 and scheduled an election for a new Dáil for Saturday, February 8, in just over three weeks. Candidates are chosen, posters go up on roadsides and intersections across the country, canvassers go from door to door, the leaders of the major parties have a few televised debates, and then, in short order, we vote.

This, I must say, is quite refreshing for someone from the states who is used to a never-ending campaign starting the day after the previous election.

A few days after the first canvassers were here, I had a Guinness lamb stew simmering on the cooker, when a pickup truck rolled in covered with decals and blasting traditional music. This, I thought, has to be for Michael Healey-Rae. Michael, and his brother Danny, are Independent members of the Dáil from Kerry and members of the dominant family in local politics. Their father, Jackie, was a legend in Kerry. Other members of the family are on the County Council, and fortuitously, one serves as the director of elections.

Michael, the younger brother, a slim man in his early fifties, always dressed in his trademark black flat cap, is renowned in the area for his service to his constituents. Stories abound of his personal and timely assistance in dealing with the bureaucracy of government. Sadly, less savory stories also abound.

Danny, the older brother by 13 years, is rumored to be in some electoral difficulty this time around. He is well known for his opposition to drink driving laws, claiming “Sure, shouldn’t a man be allowed to have a few pints and drive back to his home?” He does, it should be noted, own a pub. He also is opposed to climate change, saying recently, “To hell with the planet and the fellas that say we must save the planet and forget about the people.” The next day, fair play to him, he apologized to the planet. His position on the influence of fairies on road construction has also been criticized. He is, shall we say, a character.

The brothers are best known for sitting together on the back benches of the Dáil and giving out to the others in the assembly, feeding off each other like an Irish version of Diamond & Silk, but with thick Kerry accents.

I go to the door. A man and woman approach.

“Ah sure, that stew smells lovely,” they begin. “Will ye be voting in the election?”

“I will,” I say.

“And would you give Michael Healey-Rae a Number One? He is very good for the people.”

“Well, let’s say, I’ve heard both good and bad about Michael.”

They shake their heads, sighing deeply.

“And what’s the bad ye’ve heard?” the man reluctantly asks.

“To be honest with ye,” I say, “I’ve heard that Michael isn’t afraid of the occasional brown envelope.”

“Well now, I couldn’t be denying that,” the man answers.

“And the good?” the woman jumps in, trying to turn the conversation.

“That if you have a problem, Michael will take care of you,” I offer.

“So, you’ll vote him Number One, then?” she replies brightly. “And Danny Number Two?”

All politics, as they say, is local.

Later that week, two fellows from Ballyferriter stop by after our stir-fry dinner. I was already in my pajamas. They were canvassing for Pa Daley, the Sinn Fein candidate. Sinn Fein has been a minor party in Ireland, but recent polls show them gaining strength across the country. I pepper them with questions about immigration and direct provision centers, housing and health care, and other hot topics of the election. They have ready answers and are easily the most prepared of the canvassers that have shown up to our kitchen door.

Candidates for other parties miss us. I see no one from Fianna Fáil or Labour or the Greens.

There is also a smattering of small fringe candidates in the race. One, in particular, intrigues me. He is an emigrant from California who is running on an anti-immigration platform demanding to “Keep Ireland for the Irish.” I wonder if he forgot to pack his sense of irony when he moved here.

Saturday, February 8th, is a bitter, stormy day. There are concerns that the high winds and rain will suppress turnout. There is also a major rugby match between Ireland and Wales in Dublin that afternoon that may keep people glued to the telly. Pundits warn people to get out early to avoid the worst of the storm.

I drive into town around 8:30, holding onto my hat and leaning into the wind as I walk down Goat Street to my polling place in the old convent. The nice ladies behind the table check me in and hand me my ballot. Here in Ireland, we have a form of ranked choice voting. I place a number one beside my first choice, a two beside my second choice, and so on. I vote for five total candidates out of the twelve on the ballot, fold the ballot in two, drop it in the box, thank the kind ladies, and head back into the storm.

That afternoon Sara and I turn on the news to catch up on the turnout. Despite the storm and the big match, turnout seems to be quite strong. There was some concern early on in Malin Head, the northernmost constituency in Ireland. The RTE correspondent there reported that the morning turnout was abnormally light, but local people blamed that on a dinner dance on Friday night. Turnout picked up in the afternoon when voters had sufficiently recovered. There was also a problem in Connemara where one of the polling places lost power, so they had to move to a private home. Fortunately, tea and cakes were offered by the homeowner. As it happens, voter turn-out is 63 per cent nationally and a robust 69 per cent in Kerry.

The first round of votes is counted on Sunday. Explaining how votes are counted, though, is like explaining the rules of cricket.

Here’s how it works. Say a constituency like Kerry has five seats to fill and there are 64,000 votes cast, then a candidate would need 12,500 votes, or one fifth of the total, to be elected. Michael Healy-Rae and Pa Daly exceed that threshold on Sunday and are declared elected. Their excess votes above 12,500 (each had between 1,000 to 2,000 extra votes) are then distributed among the remaining candidates in a second round based on ballot preferences. Candidates with low vote totals are removed, which happened to the confused fellow from California. And so it goes, round after round, with low-vote candidates removed and their votes redistributed, until all five seats are filled. This process stretches the vote counting into Tuesday.

Danny Healy-Rae and Brendan Griffin are elected in Round 6 and Norma Foley, a Fianna Fáil candidate in Round 8.

Now you would think that would be the end of it and all the TDs would assemble in Dublin and get on with governing the country.

Alas, no.

Sinn Fein, in a major upset, received the most votes, and 37 seats. Fianna Fáil had the second most votes but won 38 seats. Fine Gael, the party that currently leads the government, came in third with 35 seats. The rest of the 160 seats were won by a smattering of other parties and independents, including the Healy-Raes. To form a government, someone must cobble together a coalition of eighty TDs.

And here we stand, three weeks out from the election, and no government has been formed. Negotiations continue.

Stay tuned.

While we wait, I’ll be cooking. Uninterrupted.

The Man Who Swept the Oscars

“Is this the man who won a Gold and Silver at the Blas na hÉireann Awards?” I ask as I reached my hand across the counter to shake Jerry’s hand.

He smiles proudly as he takes my hand. “And the Rogha na Gaeltachta to top it off,” he beams.

The Blas na hÉireann Awards, given each year at a ceremony during the Dingle Food Festival in early October, celebrate the very best in Irish food and the people who make it. Jerry has won medals in the past for his lamb sausages and for his Dingle Distillery mash-finished ribeye steaks, but never multiple awards in one evening.

Sara and I had missed the food festival this year because we were on a trip back to the states, so this was the first that I had seen Jerry since his big night.

He set the awards on the top of the cold case so that I can admire them. There was a Gold for Herbed Rack of Dingle Peninsula Lamb and a Silver for Lamb Lollypop Chops. To top it off, the Rogha na Gaeltachta recognized Jerry as the best meat provider in Ireland.

“Tell me about the night,” I prod.

“It was like the Oscars, it was. Everyone dressed in their finest, so. We were in the cinema in town. All the big meat producers were there. People from Aldi and Lidl. They spend big money hoping to win awards so they can use them in their adverts, like. They didn’t look too happy when I was called to the stage three times,” he chuckled.

“And then there was an after party,” he continues. “All the bigshots were there. The woman from Aldi was dressed up like she was going down the red carpet. They were all asking me how I won.”

“’I know my farmers and I know my animals,’ I told them. ‘How many animals at a time do you send to the abattoir?’ I said to them.”

“’Five or six hundred, I suppose,’ they said, confused like.’”

“’And do you know when you send those five hundred in the front door that you’re getting the same five hundred out the back door?’”

“’We can’t know that,’ they said.”

“Now I was giving out to them, talking shite like,” Jerry says with a twinkle in his eye.

“I took my phone out of my pocket and set it on the table,” he tells me, setting his phone on the counter between us. “’Can any of ye pick up that phone and call the farmer who raised your lambs or cattle?’ I asked. ‘They all shook their heads. Embarrassed like.’”

“So I picked up the phone and called Seamus,” Jerry says. (This is Seamus Ó Ciobhán, one of Jerry’s best lamb suppliers from out on the end of the peninsula.) “’Seamus! We won!’ I told him.”

“The lads from Aldi and Lidl were speechless, like. ‘You know the farmer who raised that very lamb?’ they asked me.”

“’And the very field he grazed in,’ I say.”

Jerry stops to adjust his hat before going on with his story.

“Just then The Kerryman comes up to the table, wanting to take my picture for the paper.” (The Kerryman is our local paper, a weekly.) ‘You can only take a picture if you come to the shop on Monday so that Seamus and John can be in it. These awards are for all of us.’” (John works in the shop with Jerry.) “And so they did. That’s the picture over there on the wall,” says Jerry, pointing to the wall behind me.

I turn to look at the story from The Kerryman hanging on the wall, with a picture showing Jerry, John, and Seamus in the shop looking proudly at the awards on the table in front of them.

“Jerry,” I said, turning back to him, “I always tell people you are the finest butcher in all of Ireland and now I can prove it.”

“Haven’t I been at since I was this tall?” he says, moving his hand to knee level. “I have an eye,” he said, pointing to his eye, “and a hand,” holding his hand in front of me. “I know the best farmers and I pick their best animals.”

Just then Sara walked in. She had been at the fruit and veg shop next door, so Jerry took the opportunity to tell her the whole story once again.

“I’m on cloud nine, like,” he concluded.

“Jerry,” she said to him, “can we get three of those lollypop racks for Christmas? And maybe two of your t-bones, about two inches thick? Oh, and a nice beef tenderloin? Our granddaughters will be here for Christmas and they’re real carnivores.”

“Of course, you can indeed. Just let me get the book,” he says.

As he walked to the back of the shop to get his holiday special-order book, he was smiling and strolling like he was still on the red carpet.

“The finest butcher in all of Ireland,” I say to Sara. “Aren’t we lucky to have him?”

Wren Day

“Jimmy! A car just pulled into the yard!” Sara was looking out the lounge window. She sounded worried.

I glanced up from my book in time to see a large man jump out of the front passenger seat of a small car. He was wearing a mask.

“This doesn’t look good,” I thought to myself as I got up from the couch.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon on Wren Day, the day after Christmas. It was nearly dark outside and we were already in our pajamas. Meg and her family were upstairs napping. We had planned a quiet evening at home eating leftovers from the Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners – crab cakes, lamb chops, beef tenderloin, and the like – before leaving early the next morning for Connemara and New Year’s Eve in Galway.

No one pulls into our yard by accident. We live in a forestry, down a narrow lane off a slightly wider road. A cattle grate guards our drive. The house can’t be seen from the road. The only people who come to our door are friends coming for dinner, the postman, or delivery men. You don’t just stop by our house to ask directions.

I was a little nervous as I walked to the front door.

Outside there was a large man in a long overcoat and a mask. Around him dance three little people, also wearing masks. Worse, the man’s mask looked like Donald Trump.

Now I was scared.

“What should I do?” I squeaked to Sara.




The day after Christmas is a holiday in Ireland, most of Europe, and the UK. In Europe and most areas of Ireland it is called St. Stephen’s Day. In the UK it is Boxing Day. But here on the Dingle Peninsula, it is called Wren Day, the traditional name. It’s pronounced “wran” hereabouts.

Wren Day, or Lá an Dreoilín in Irish, is an ancient tradition that most likely derives from Celtic mythology that celebratedSamhain,a midwinter celebration. A wren, known for singing all winter, is captured, put in a cage on top of a pole, and paraded around town accompanied by “Wren Boys” dressed up in masks, straw suits, and colorful clothing. Fifes and drums lead the way. They would all be led by a “Captain” with a sword. Strawboys carrying a box ask for donations to “bury the wren.”

In the past, the wren boys would also go from house to house to beg for pennies but, sadly, that tradition has almost disappeared.

There is even a song to mark the occasion:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds

On St. Stephen’s Day got caught in the furze

So it’s up with the kettle and down with the pan

Give us a penny to bury the wren.

Wren Day would have been celebrated all over Ireland until the middle of the last century, but gradually it died out. Here in Dingle, though, the tradition goes on. The old ways are honored. But, fortunately for the wild bird population, the wren is now fake.

We had taken Meg and the girls into town earlier in the day to see the festivities. The parades were supposed to start at one, but it was now nearly two and the town was eerily quiet. We walked up Main Street but no one was about. “Irish time,” I think to myself.

“Let’s walk down the Mall and see if Grainne’s shop is open. She’ll know what is going on,” I suggest.

As we get to the bottom of the Mall, just at Bridge Street, we hear music coming from O’Flaherty’s Pub. When we round the corner, there is a mass of people dressed in green and gold costumes wearing skirts, capes, and helmets, all made from straw. Others were wearing brightly colored wigs and antlers. Santa Claus was wandering through the crowd. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, the legendary eighty-nine-year-old “voice of Gaelic games” on RTE radio and television, dressed in a straw skirt and a flat cap, stands ready to follow the band around the town.

Straw-clad characters roam through the crowd, shaking their boxes and asking for spare change. I hand the girls a pocketful of small coins to contribute.

There are four or five wren groups in town, headquartered in various pubs. Costume making takes place in the pubs in the weeks leading up to the big day. A Captain is selected and is supposed to be the leader but, as a fellow said to me, “We don’t pay him much mind.”

People jam the door O’Flaherty’s. Fife and drum music comes from inside.

“Let’s go in,” Meg says.

“Ah, you’ll never get in there,” I say. “It’s too crowded.”

Meg disappears.

A few minutes later my phone vibrates; a text from Meg.

Inside to the left in the snug. Having a glass. Make yourself small and squeeze in.”

Sara and the girls decline.

I squeeze through the door, muttering “Sorry, sorry.” The band is playing a tune, arrayed around an upside-down Christmas tree hanging from the ceiling in the central room. I find Meg in the snug and join her in a glass.

The band starts another tune and marches out the door to form up in the street. The crowd gathers behind the band, led by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. The Captain raises his sword. The street goes silent. The sword comes down and the band erupts. Around the corner and up the Mall they go.

We turn and walk up Green Street to meet the parade at Main Street. As we reach the top, the band from Stráid Eoin, another wren group, turns the corner arrayed in Blue and White. The Green and Gold follows them down Green Street as the bands play competing tunes. As the day goes on, there will be more parades and more pints taken, long into the night.

We head back to our car in hopes of a quiet evening around the fire, in our pajamas, eating leftovers.




“Jimmy! Open the door! It’s Thomas and the kids from down the road. They’re here on a Wren Day visit!”

I open the door, warily eyeing the man in the mask.

Thomas and his kids enter the house, jumping around and causing a commotion. The two girls, nine and eleven, are dressed in princess gowns and wear lace masks. The six-year-old boy shakes the box for coins. He is Thomas’ constant companion in the cab of their tractor and even wears an identical hi-vis suit when he’s with his Da. Tonight he has a long coat and a Donald Trump mask. I slip five quid into his box.

The eleven-year-old plays a tin whistle while her sister dances a jig. Thomas grabs Sara and whirls her around the foyer in a wild dance. Meg and the girls peek over the banister, not sure what is happening.

And then they are out the door and into the car as we shout “Happy Wren Day!”

Thank you, Thomas. The tradition continues.

The Lucky Man

A Short Sketch

“What’s the other fellow look like?” I say to the man behind the shop counter. He’s sporting a mighty gash in his lip, just below the nose.

“It was entirely my own fault,” he answers. “I should have had more patience.”

“My god,” I think to myself. “Somebody really did punch him.”

“What happened?” I gasp.

“I was down at the farm on Sunday evening,” he says, “and I was in a horrible hurry to get home to watch the big match. I had the horse on a lead trying to force him into the stable. He didn’t care about the match and didn’t want to go into the stable. Wasn’t he as stubborn as me? He was planted on one end and I was pulling away on the other. Swearing at him, like.”

“Did he kick you?”

“No, thanks be to god, or I might not be here to tell you the story. There’s a safety catch on the lead that I was too impatient to close. The lead came off the halter and came back as fast as you please. Split my lip, so. Jaysus, there was gobs of blood everywhere. I grabbed a rag and had it up against the lip. I couldn’t see where the blood was coming from.”

“What did you do?”

“The daughter was there and she took hold of the halter and didn’t he follow her into the stable, prancing and showing off like a pretty boy. Then she drove me into town to the clinic. I thought for sure that there would be no one there on a Sunday and I’d have to go to Tralee and spend half the night in A&E. But a GP from SouthDoc was manning the fort and he went to work on me. Ten stitches it took before it was sorted. By the time I got home, though, the match was over.”

“You’re a lucky man it didn’t hit you in the eye,” I commiserate.

“Ah, sure, if I were lucky, it would have missed me altogether and I’d have seen the match.”

Winter is Coming

We were in a friend’s kitchen having Sunday lunch when the first storm of winter hit.

There were ten of us around the large white pine table made from salvaged boards many years ago. The planks were worn smooth from years of elbows and forearms and sliding plates. Gravy and wine stains stirred memories of past meals. Five Brits, two Irish, three Americans, none born on this little sliver of land, but all here by choice. Eight of us had a clear view of the fields beyond the house through the large window over the sink.

We lunched on roasted pheasant with bacon; carrots, parsnips, and potatoes in duck fat; steamed leeks and cabbage. Lemon cake came from the group baker. There were gin and tonics, a favorite of the Brits, and plentiful red wine to wash it all down. Conversation flowed, flitting from topic to topic, for three hours: the state of the world, Brexit, and local politics were all covered.

We were passing the cheese board when the woman to my left glanced out the window and said, “Oh my, would you look at that?”

The trees in the hedgerow were bent almost to the ground by the wind. Then the rain started. Hard. Darkness fell.

Storm Atiyah had formed near Iceland a few days before, gathered strength over the North Atlantic, and was now a Code Red storm descending on the Dingle Peninsula with sustained winds of 60 miles per hour and gusts of over one hundred.

There was a flurry of hurried goodbyes as we rushed to gather our coats and get to our own homes while it was still safe.

The first fellow out the door wrestled to open his car door against the wind before his wife ran out. All we could hear over the wind was a cry of “Bloody hell” as he struggled in the darkness.

Sara and I made it home, creeping along familiar roads to the other side of the hill, avoiding fallen branches, and straining to see more than a few feet ahead. At last we were safe in our home, leaning on the door to shut it behind us. I lit the fire in the lounge and we settled in to wait out the storm.

That’s when we heard a thumping upstairs.

I rushed up to find a window in the small bedroom swinging wildly in the wind. I grabbed the handle and pulled it shut. A good hard pull. The handle came off in my hand. “This might not be good,” I thought. The screws in the window hinges were partially pulled from the frame.

“Bring a screwdriver!” I yelled downstairs, trying to hold onto the window. Sara ran up with the toolbox.

I sat on the window sill holding the sash up with my left hand while using the screwdriver in my right hand to reset the hinges. The wind was blowing fiercely. The Storm Force 10 gale pulled the window out, threatening to deposit me in the drive below. Then it blew the window in, threatening to crush my left hand. Then out again. The drive loomed beneath me. Then in. Out and in. Out and in. I turned the screws frantically.

Here is how you occupy your mind while leaning out a window during 100 miles per hour winds: “I could be blown out this window and fall to a horrible death,” I reflected as I turned the screwdriver, “although it would be a legendary death. Maybe someone will write a ballad about it.”

At last, the screws were set and the window was pulled shut. I retired to the lounge and my fire, this time with a strong whiskey in hand, thinking it’s better to be alive than to have a song called The Man Who Blew Out the Window sung in pubs.

Outside, the winds wailed.

Winter is Coming

 Winter is coming.

The sun rides lower in the sky.


Cold wind blows across the mountain from the sea,

And trees raise bare white arms to seek the sun.

Frost descends.


Winter is coming.

Hard rain pelts the window panes.


Boats are in their cradles, pots are in the yard.


Winter is coming.

Hedgerow flowers fade away.


Our blackened fingers pick the last sweet bramble fruit

And leave the rest for birds and fox to have a feast

On Stephen’s day.


Winter is coming.

Hay is gathered in the barn.


The sheep move to the lower fields and cattle to

The shed. The dogs fluff up a bed of straw and wait

To run again.


Winter is coming,

But we’re well prepared


With spuds and onions from our patch

And carrots from the Maharees.

We’ve Jerrry’s lamb to feed our souls,

And hickory and ash to feed our stove.


Strong walls surround us.


We’ll burrow in and wait for spring.