Camino de Santiago - Brian's Update No 2

Brian continues his commentary of the people, friends and family who accompany him or who he meets along the way, and the reflections that occupy him on his pilgrimage.
Days 9 to 14

Day 9 - Saturday April 2nd

Brian leaves me out to where I had finished, actually to perhaps 400 yards, past my stop of the previous evening. I had stopped at road works and he left me to where they had finished.

This is not the first time I have skipped a bit of the walk, on leaving the Beehive we took a lift with a lovely girl who worked at the Beehive; I believe she did the books - why did I not write down her name?

Anyway, Bernadette and I had spent a weekend sussing out our route and we had decided that, for about 3 miles, the road after the Beehive was too dangerous to walk and we had resolved then that we would get a lift past the dangerous part and that we did, with that very kind ladies help. Patsy had not complained!

So, if anyone ever asks me did I walk the whole way, I will have to admit that I did not. I missed about 3 miles plus 400 yards!

I start to walk, Jack has rejoined me, and Nuala will join us shortly. With pride I think - "That is almost all my family on the Camino with me, only George, Sinead, and James to go".

Nuala and the family are coming out to St. Jean de Pied de Port, at the foot of the Pyrenees. "St. Jean at the foot of the opening or door", I assume, is the literal translation, and I resolve then that I will walk with them then for a few miles along the Camino.

James may not like it, he has a mind of his own - "Have I got to or Must I?"- and I smile at the thought. But I know he will. Nuala and George have been brilliant with him, so patient, so understanding, it filled both Alice and I with wonder and love at how they coped and how they brought him on.

He's a wonderful boy and brings magic to all our lives. He asked could he say a prayer at Alice's funeral, of course he could, and did! I was proud of him, particularly at the end, he showed his others grandparents faith, "Through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen".

His other grandfather is now a retired Presbyterian Minister - had been a Bishop, but proper order, "For a limited period only".

I was privileged to be at his farewell service, and Alice would have also been. Alice was a most Christian woman; fell away from organised religion, as I have myself to a large extent, but no kinder or open heart could be found this side of the grave. She is sadly missed but still much loved.

I think of another very Christian man, a true friend, who also has abandoned organised religion. I speak of that reprobate and unequaled extrovert - Pat Fitzsimons - and his good wife Eilis. (It has been her example that has set me on this road; she has walked the Camino twice, and has been a number of years as a warden in a Refugio.)

Anyway Alice and I went down to Kilclief - Norman what do you call them, on Strangford Lough, Strang Fiord; pillaging and raping; "Oh not raping again", says he - to visit.

You never visit, you stay over night. It's obligatory.

Saturday night, we're going to Mass in the morning, eyebrows raised, Eilis and the family we know would be going, but Pat as well?

Eilis looks after the choir, mostly the family, and they run through the hymns for the following day. Great kids, great music, we enjoy.

Pat is going to Mass because it is also the funeral Mass of a local character. A man, like the man of Colm Sands song, "No one has a photo of this man", a character, who, after his death on clearing the house, they find reams of poetry, and writings in the house.

His family have scattered but have gathered from the 4 corners to give him a Christian send off. As indeed has the Parish, the Chapel is overflowing; people are out in the chapel yard - how long has it been before or since that such a crowd has been there?

We are there early, with the choir, Alice has a lovely voice, as has Pat, and they have rehearsed with the choir. Beautiful music, all going well, BUT, is yer man mentioned? Not at all.

Mass is over and we have the funeral service - such an opportunity, such a crowd, such a character, family returned from all over, the Parish has turned out to acknowledge this man!

What was the Priest thinking about, did he think that it was his oratory that brought us there?

He knew the man as well as anyone could have known him, I know that no one knew him, but he was known and well regarded in the Parish. I am still somewhat surprised that Pat did not get up and say something. I'm sure he thought about it.

Anyway, back to the house and very shortly after two ladies are welcomed and come in.

"Oh Pat we were delighted to see you at Mass …" and then it hangs in the air, no need to say more. Pat shrugs his shoulders, in the familiar way that those of us who know him, and are expecting something good to come, says,

"Ye have heard of a lapsed Catholic, well here's a relapsed Catholic" - need any more be said?

The Ladies incidentally were nuns, I can't recall the order, but Bishop Philbin had turned them out of Belfast, and they were now ministering to the people on the Strangford peninsula, living in an old RAF hut at Bishops Court. Is that prophetic - Bishop Philbin; Bishop's Court?

I'm supposed to be walking for Gods sake, what has all this to do with my Camino?

Nuala and Brian are now walking with me I remember carrying Nuala up the better part of Slieve Gullion.

Back to South Armagh.

Although born in Liverpool, living in Down for many, many years, I still feel I am of the soil and people of South Armagh. I will return to it later and to my Uncle Tommy who, among things, at one time saved me from certain death.

We are approaching Enniscorthy. I have marvelled for a considerable time at the size of the fields, smaller here, but on the road I considered them huge, at least by South Down/South Armagh standards.

And where is the population? Where are the houses? Where are the myriad small roads, branching off from this one? Where did the 30,000 come from that were on Vinegar Hill? I wonder were they decimated after 1798? Were those that survived scattered around the globe?

How much do we know of our history? Depending on our persuasion, what have we been told?

I think of the United Irish men, Presbyterians mostly, and this in 1798, 100 years after King Billy, where did we separate?

How can we again embrace that togetherness which so many of us desperately crave?

I remember possibly the most apt graffiti I have ever seen, on a gable, long since gone, going into Armagh City, (Newry is now a City also! Wow), and it said, excuse my language, "Fuck 1690 lets start again". Sentiments I agree with most heartily

Now into the B&B, not such a long walk and without the pack, I'll rest for a half hour and then visit the' 98 centre. Nuala is for staying put but Brian wants to come and we'll look for a suitable place for the LAST Supper.

We set out, according to the brochure, in good time, last entry 5.00; it's now 3.45, 20~25 minute walk, plenty of time.

Later we arrive at the Interpretive Centre. Disaster, winter hours, last entry at 3.00!

However, our time has not been entirely wasted we have visited Treacy's Hotel and it seems our best option for the family meal.

We call back. Most obliging staff, they are booked out, but…

"Would we like to go into the Thai Restaurant - mind you we're not serving Thai Food, the chef has gone home for a visit." (Before the proper season starts, no doubt.) How Irish can you get? We accept gratefully and are not disappointed.

We assemble later, looked after like royalty, have a wonderful meal, good wine and plenty of it! They discover what I'm about, they send for the local news photographer, a celebrity in our Hotel! Me! A celebrity? - (When I have a few drinks on me, I certainly am!)

Great family photograph, Brian will send through the background. As I leave I am approached, handed an envelope, I accept it gratefully.

"And what's your name?"- this is the girl who has been so good to us all evening.

"Yvonne", comes the reply.

"Yvonne who?"

"Treacy", she says.

"The Hotel?"


I express my thanks and appreciation for a wonderful meal, tell the family that I'm for the B&B (I never am, good intentions!), they are going with Brian and Annemarie to their B&B - they are over a pub, and will put their children to bed, they never got that example from Alice and I!

Anyway when I get outside I open the envelope - two 50 euro notes! I have to tell the others about it and follow them down the street away from my B&B. Everyone is most appreciative, I had not solicited, Yvonne had simply found out about my pilgrimage, and my intent regarding Africa. Aren't people wonderful!

Another bit of good fortune about Enniscorthy. Brian and I, (Nuala, I think, was lying down) had a visitor to the B&B; Eugene Duffy. Eugene organises the Christmas Fast for Concern in Enniscorthy, raises circa 12,000 euros. (Well done and all those who join you)

We had a very pleasant chat, he wished me well and bon chance, and we arranged to send him some sponsor cards. I hope he gets the support that he deserves!

Day 10 - Sunday April 3rd - Enniscorthy to Wexford     TOP

On the road out of Enniscorthy now, I can stride along easily, no rucksack today. Nuala will take it for me as far as my overnight stop at the Whitford Hotel, which proves to be 11.9 miles from the ferry. I had asked Nuala to check it out for me so that I could determine what time I should leave for the ferry in the morning. An easy 4 hours should get there.

Bernadette has joined me for this my last leg of my Camino in Ireland We stride along both lost in our own thoughts, it is a pleasant morning, "The Slaney", now a sizable river is to our right, I get glimpses of it, perhaps 50 metres away, and then it is probably nearly as wide itself.

A nice Par 3, who is making up the 4 ball in my absence I wonder, probably Dick, but then Frank and Finn may have gone to the Mournes. Some time ago we had abandoned golf on a Sunday and went walking in the Mournes. A great move, here we had this wonderful and wondrous facility at our door-step, the Mourne Mountains, and we had hardly ever stood on them.

We had started on a morning when we couldn't play golf because of the frost. It was a bright clear day, we took two cars, and we would leave one at our final destination and drive to our starting point.

Of course this had already been planned, Finn had been doing some walking, he had the maps, he would be our guide and Frank and I had equipped ourselves with the proper gear.

The clarity of vision, the sharpness of the air, white everywhere which, we seen changing to green as the morning progressed and the sun started to have its way.

We reach the summit, on one side looking inland we see the Mournes stretching away before us, a myriad of hues, white where the sun has yet to strike, dark greens and browns and occasionally a brighter green where man has laboured to snatch a piece of the lower slopes from the mountain.

On the other side we have magnificent views over Carlingford Lough. We can't see much of it from here, other peaks obstruct our view, but the sun dances on the water and the Carlingford/Cooley Mountains rise on the far side. We are so close to our Southern neighbours, a mile of water; will we ever be as one?

Brian has now joined us and Jack will a short time later, I know that very soon I will be one my own. I have had terrific support from friends and family on this leg of my journey and I am very grateful. Its after 12.00 almost 1.00, here's a small village two pubs, the first one's not open, we can see people in the second one but the door's not open, must get in from round the back, obviously the landlord has seen us, he opens the door for us and we all file in.

Brian, Annemarie and the children, Nuala, Bernadette, and myself. Soft drinks, and we order soup and sandwiches.

I will be on my own from here, it's a long journey home, school and work in the morning, Bernadette has to drive onto Belfast and no doubt get ready for the following day's work.

I hug the children, I hug everybody. No, Bernadette is not crying, "But we are not going to see you" I remember she had said whenever I went off on my "Round the World" trip after Alice's death, but tears are not far away, I turn and hurry away. It's a straight bit of road I look back and there they are, we wave again from a distance, again I turn, no looking back this time.

Now I'm surely on my own, surprisingly I hear the phone,

"Where are you Grandad?"- It's Brennain.

"About 2 hours from the hotel. Where are you?"

"On the road, past Stillorgan, we'll catch up with you."

So I'm not on my own! Peter has driven from Belfast to see me safely tucked up for the night!

I am just checking in when Brennain and Peter arrive, great to see them, I've already eaten but they take a G&T down to the room for me.

I stretch out on the bed, I am conscious that they have journeyed to see me, Brennain tells me gleefully that he will have no school all week, he has a day procedure operation on his eye, which will involve a couple of stitches, and for fear of rough play at school he has to stay at home for the rest of the week.

"What about rough play at home?" I wonder.

Thank God all the grandchildren are healthy and there's plenty of rough and tumble!

I am lying stretched out on the bed and doze. "We'll go Da, let you get some rest" I know he is right. At last I am really on my own!

Day 11 - Monday April 4th - LAST DAY IN IRELAND     TOP

Will this be my last 'Full Irish', I wonder, perhaps on the boat, no matter; it is my last day here on this Island for at least the next 15 weeks.

As I enter the dining room, I hear it, background music, hardly discernible, but it is unmistakable 'Midnight', Alice's song. I sit down and let the music surround and envelope me. I have been told that there are no coincidences on the Camino, strange things happen. Already a few things have occurred, of which perhaps more later, is this instance. The last line, 'And a new day has begun' the music lingers on, hangs in the air and is finally over. I am reminded of a song by Colm Sands, 'And the magic of the music is the note that lingers on.'

Alice singing Midnight will linger forever. Not only with me, I know, but with our friends and family also. She sang it in a particular key, and only Eddie could strike the right chord and note for her. My friends, including Eddie of course, had played at Alice's Funeral Mass.

My niece, Clare, had been charged with the responsibility of looking after the music, I had asked that there be no dreary music. Alice was full of music, and when she was well, full of life and fun, my friends all very talented traditional musicians, were to start playing music, good lively airs, at about the same time as we were leaving the house. A 20-minute walk.

I knew that even then the Chapel would be full, so why not let the congregation enjoy, as both Alice and I had on so many occasions, the pleasure of listening to our friends.

Anyway they wanted to play, or rather they wanted Eddie to play 'Midnight', no voices, we didn't need voices, we would all hear Alice sing. They thought it might be too much for me, but I had said yes, I knew it was right and proper that it should be so.

There were also more of Alice's friends in the Choir Gallery that morning, 'The Girls'.

Always 'My Girls' according to Miss Ethel, sounds like Miss Brody!

Newry owes a great deal to Miss Ethel, she was a teacher in the local Convent Primary School, The Poor Clares, and her forte was in music, drama and speech. She had instilled confidence into so many young people, prepared them to be able, confidently, to stand before an audience or a selection committee, whatever. Miss Ethel had with several others run a youth club for girls; Alice would probably have been 12-14 whenever she joined. They were a wonderful choir, beat senior choirs at the Linenhall in Belfast, were recorded and sang on BBC. This is at a time when young people left school at 14, the members of the club, and the choir, were for the greater part already out working.

Anyway, Miss Ethel was retiring, Alice and her life long friend Phyllis used to bore Jack and I to tears talking about how great it would be if they could get the members of the choir together and the other ladies who had been so generous with there time running the Girls Club

Eventually one night down in our house I got a big pad - 'Names, who is contacting who…' and so it started. They arranged a surprise party for Ethel, she came in at the foot of the stairs, and the choir, who had been rehearsing for quite a while with Phyllis as conductor, started. She couldn't see them, they sang 'Here is a lady sweet and Kind'.

She stopped, "That's My Girls", she said in shock. An interval of 40 years! In she came; Phyllis takes her by the arm and puts her in the Conductors place. What a joyous night, the choir is reformed; 'The Phoenix Singers' and they're still together!

These are girls on the Choir, as the coffin comes in they sing 'Here I am lord'. They too are welcoming their friend.

I think of another line from Colm's song, 'and love and life is letting go as much as holding on' and the magic of the music's in the note that lingers on.

Perhaps that's my Camino.

Before I leave the subject of Alice's funeral there are another couple of items worthy of note. The house was packed all morning, neighbours, family, friends, and then we had a special visit, brief though it had to be; Arthur and Annie Morgan, together with Arthur's brother Fr. Francis, a Cistercian priest from Portglenone, called, they were on their way to Castlewellan where Fr. Francis was to concelebrate the Funeral Mass of their son who tragically died. I was very moved, in my own grief I hadn't even been aware of their loss.

The next anecdote concerns James.

Alice's 4 daughters, Nuala, Bernadette, Heather, and Anne Marie were to carry Alice part of the way down the Greenan Road. My sister Anne was looking after James, she, James and I were immediately behind the hearse, the cortege moved off;

"Hands, arms and legs inside the carriage please", calls James, I see Charlie looking round, then he sees our broad grins, and James, and of course he to has to smile.

Anne looks over at me, 'What next?' she thinks,

"Auntie Anne were you sad whenever Granny was sick"

"Oh I was James, very sad."

"Auntie Anne were you sad whenever Granny died"

"Oh I was James, very, very sad"

"Auntie Ann will you be sad whenever Granny is buried"

"Oh yes James I will be very, very sad"

"Well Auntie Annie if you cry, I'll give you a hug"

I can see the tears through the smile.

Breakfast is finished, I have already packed and I am ready for this last leg in Ireland.

I go to the desk to check out. A very pleasant girl checks me out. Where am I for, she asks, I explain and without hesitation she gets her bag and hands me money for Concern. A colleague has just come in to start work, a quick word, and she does exactly the same. I should have recorded their names but I am just out from the dining room and I am preoccupied. People can be very generous.

About 3 hours on the road, I am lost in my own thoughts and then…

"Where's the road for Ballyholland?"

A car has pulled up on the opposite side of the road (I walk facing the on-coming traffic). 4 beaming faces: Benny, Antoinette, Jack and Phyllis. My god they must have started early. Hugs and kisses, broad smiles, another hug, the two men are going to walk with me, the hard shoulder can accommodate the 3 of us. The girls drive on, but not very far; we find them parked outside a pub. Plenty of time, I could use a break. No alcohol, wait till I check in at the ferry. Of course I have unburdened myself of the rucksack, so we make good time. I go in and check my latest boarding time. 1½ hours - plenty of time to drive back up the 300 or 400 yards to the pub we had noted on our way down. We have great craic, I have several gin and tonics, a light lunch for me, but then I eat most of Antoinette's chips.

"I suppose you have a cabin?"

"Oh I have, I have taken a shared cabin". - figuring that I will probably have a cabin to myself, not a lot of people will be traveling.

I express the wish that either; "I'll be sharing with a blonde, or have the cabin to myself."

A flutter of eyebrows from Phyllis - "Umm, you do realize that most blondes come out of a bottle" (Phyllis herself is blonde). We banter away until time is up and I must away. Everyone into the terminal, up the escalator, they can go no further, warm hugs and I turn and go.

There's a sequel :- I get my cabin key at the reception desk in the boat, Cabin 744, I have been upgraded at no cost,

"You're sharing"

"Fine" - that's the deal I had made.

I find my cabin; the door is open, a big holdall on the floor, and A WOMAN'S HANDBAG on the chair! There's someone in the toilet, I put my rucksack on the bed, is St. James at his work?

My mind races to the possibilities - What age will she be? Will she be blonde? The bag definitely looks like a blonde's. Will she understand English? Will we get on?

The toilet door opens, I am sure my face registered its disappointment whenever a tall young Frenchman comes out.

Do these men not realize the disappointment and shattered dreams that handbags can cause! Are they without feeling!

I believe he too was a bit miffed.

I show him my key, he gives me my choice of bunk - my rucksack is already on the lower one. "Bon" and I assume he said that's okay, at least that's what the body language said.

He gathered up a few things and leaving his holdall, but taking that handbag, he left, to return later with a key to another cabin.

I understand that a mistake had been made.

So I have my second choice! The boat is on the move. I go up to watch Ireland and home receding.

The Crossing

I waken with a fierce headache, most unlike me; fortunately I seldom suffer from headaches.

It couldn't be the wine, I had dined in the restaurant, had a half bottle of red wine with my meal, started on a second and then gave it away to two lady diners, who obviously were not enjoying their choice of wine. "Thank you, ours is not very nice". I had noticed them chatting away congenially, as they eat their meal, they were obviously good friends, comfortable in each others company. They were, I knew both Irish, I smiled, said I was finished, hoped they would enjoy what was left of the bottle, and headed back to my cabin.

Now here I am, it's two in the morning; my head is okay whenever I sit up.

It must be that engine pulsating through the ship; I feel it as soon as I lie down, even though I am on the 7th deck.

Sit up it is. No phones, no television, no radio, my Carbon Rio MP3 player is charging. This is like walking! Imagination can run riot.

Still thinking of blondes, 2.00 in the morning is a very good time for that!

I have been asked a number of times, what will you do next?

Well, I've been thinking about it. I think I'll go back to New Zealand, after Alice's anniversary mass on the 9th. September and after I return from playing golf with Finn and John in Portugal, which I think will be towards the end of September.

I'll go back to fish again for wild brown and rainbow trout, and of course renew old acquaintances, meet friends and play some more golf. I have fallen in love with New Zealand and its people.

However I might take a companion. - A blonde companion!

I have it, I'll appoint an agent to get this companion for me, and I know the very one to do it for me…

Recently I had the great pleasure of having dinner with a young lady, and her parents. The young lady had prepared a beautiful meal, after which, we were sitting, as you would, enjoying a few glasses of wine and her father recounted the following tale.

One of this young lady's chums had taken her to meet her mother, who is a widowed lady, they got on handsomely. Chums mother and, we will call her B, became firm friends, she was anxious that her own parents should meet this charming lady and she was trying to arrange for them to go visit, at a time that she would also be down with her chum. And she says, "Why not take Brian, you never know…"

We took wicked pleasure out of her embarrassment, but she had paid me a wonderful compliment and I thank her most sincerely for it!

So I now have my agent to select my traveling companion for me...

Agent, here are the criteria for this companion.

  • Unattached.
  • Be mature enough not to be taken for my daughter. (That has happened to me twice in my life, much to the joy of Alice, on one occasion, and worse still, to the hilarious enjoyment of Felix McKnight just before we went on a GAA cruise on the river Swan, in Perth, around 1981 or 2)
  • She must also have "Larry Quinn" qualities. (Allow me to explain, on several occasions in the Burren GAA Social Club, Larry has sat well back in his chair, folded his arms, interlocked fingers, and announced to all within hearing, "Here I am girls, and every bit of me works!" The only taker he ever had was Mary! They have a lovely family, but my favourite is Kieran, a great young man, perhaps more of him later.)

Agent, that's condition no.3 - "Every bit must work".

  • It needn't be said but blonde is another. Not essential mind you! As Phyllis says 'comes out of a bottle'
  • Enjoys golf, fly fishes, enjoys walking, doesn't mind a bit of… (Must be careful of the choice of words here, I play golf with a shower who wouldn't mind making some smart remark whenever you have to make a difficult shot out of the rough...) doesn't mind a bit of uncomfortable living, perhaps
  • Up for a laugh
  • Enjoys a bit of fun and craic
  • Sociable
  • Ready to go anywhere any time at a whim
  • Can pay for her own round and knows when to buy one
  • Multi-lingual and a good sense of direction!

I'll come back to you Miss B if I think of anything more.

Head cleared I'll lie down again, engine still throbs!

Day 12 - Tuesday April 5rd - The Pilgrim Has Landed     TOP

After a restless night I have slept late, an indiscernible announcement wakens me, I get up wash, shave, stow my gear and go up to meet the day. Bright daylight, we are approaching the dock, I get my first look at the French Coastline, a flutter in the tummy, and I go to grab a bite of breakfast. No "Renoir" (the ship's restaurant) this morning, very few left in the cafeteria, bacon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, bottle of orange juice, and of course, "du pain", French rolls, coffee.

Having eaten my fill I make sandwiches of what's left. I've paid for it, so why not? Another announcement, still can't understand it, but it is about foot passengers, time to go.

Back to the cabin, grab my gear, and very shortly I'm standing at the stairs leading down to the long tunnel like escape to France. Down the stairs, along the tunnel, and then I see it, a flexible landing plate, I set foot in France.

Terra firma - how far to Finis Terra, how long, will I make it, who and what will I meet on the way, will my journey influence any ones view of Africa, will it make a difference?

I think of a great man I met some time back, a Choctaw Indian, Paddy had taken him down to meet and stay with Alice and I for a while. One of his paintings hangs in the big room in the Greenan Road. Where would I put it in Rostrevor? (It's a great joy to me that Nuala and George have bought the Greenan Road from me; it is still my home, full of so many happy memories. But as usual I wander.)

On one occasion, while we were talking - and Gary White Deer is very articulate, hard to get a word in - he explained that his people, his nation, have a saying

"Whenever an arrow is fired you do not know where it is going to land".

His people had suffered a trail of tears in the 1830's, put out of the houses that they had built, following the white mans style, living on land, (their own land!) granted to them by there new masters the American government, adopting new ways, farming as the white man, starting to use the white mans money, welcoming, assimilating.

Then came the white mans order, signed I think by the then President, a native of Northern Ireland I think:- 'Go, move, shift, leave everything, take one blanket, (and this in the middle of winter), and travel through the snow, your new home is to be across the great Missouri.'

An Indian Nation of circa 40,000 People decimated, I'm not sure but at least 60-70% perished on the journey.

Anyway, 14-15 years later, this nation, through a group of Quakers, who were administering to them, learned of a somewhat similar walk, which had taken place in the County of Mayo.

A group of some 600 plus people, men women and children had gathered in Louisburg seeking assistance, they were told that the "Workhouse Board", or whoever could grant them relief, were meeting in Delphi. They would have to walk there in order to put their case. The month is February, the weather is very unsettled, but off they set. Several perish on the way. Having arrived there, they are told they are in the wrong place and must return again to Louisburg! A journey of some 12 miles.

I have walked a good part of it with Alice, whenever Don Mullins had organised a charity walk for Africa; Willie McGuinness, Alice's brother, also organised minibuses from school that year as he had done in other years, before and after. Archbishop Tutu and several elders from the Choctaw were walking that year - they only started the walk - a symbolic gesture.

Back to the real story .

On their way back, along this mountainous track, the 600 were overtaken by a fierce wind, these are an already emaciated, and starving people. They have to pass through a narrow, lough filled valley bounded on both sides by high Mountain ranges. The wind is like a tidal bore, it comes in from abroad plain, has to get through, and of course the velocity of the wind magnifies. Most of those 600 plus souls perish; I mean those who survive could be counted on your and my toes and fingers!

The Choctaw nation, now few in number, hear about this from those most Christian and charitable people, the Quakers. They have a big "pow-wow". They gather up whatever money they have and send it to Ireland for famine relief.

That's what Gary White Deer was talking about, the Choctaw Nation fired an arrow whenever they sent the money for famine relief, I too am firing an arrow, a small gesture, but we do not know where that arrow will land.

Every time we give, every time we make the effort, we do not know what good will result from it. It matters not how much; it does matter that the effort be made. These are my thoughts as I arrive in France.

Out of Cherbourg

Once on shore I immediately set out to walk, I am hailed, "Monsieur!" eventually I realize I must take the coach to the terminal building. Clear customs, and now I'm on the road, at around 11.30.

Which way? Look at the map; the road appears to lead straight away from the docks. Of course it doesn't, a myriad of roads, not sufficient detail on map, I am the only pedestrian. Ah, here is one now, "Pardonez moi?", a shrug of the shoulders, other pedestrians, a vague wave of the hand, this way, a nod, fine this way it is. Of course, in only a matter of a few paces, I have to make a choice, this road or that.

Eventually I ask the right person, a nice young woman, no English but does take the time to direct me properly. I find a sign for Coutances, great now I'm on my way but I have been walking and enquiring for an hour! Not a great start. Must get a "Plan de la Ville" if possible, in future.

Uphill, steep but I move at a steady pace, a roundabout and for the first time then I see my destination named. Bicquebec, all the way by road, I have questimated it at 25K, the sign reads something less, a sigh of relief, I have already been walking for 1½ hours.

Route D900 all the way, a busy enough road: verged on both sides, grass, a fairly deep sheugh or drain, a little grass and then the fence or hedge.

I am surprised, I had expected the growth to be more advanced than our own, but no, if anything we have a slightly earlier season. I am taking all in. No stock whatsoever in the fields, could they be afflicted with the dreaded Foot & Mouth. I remember the bleakness of the Cooley Peninsular, and South Down and Armagh recently.

I meet no one, a very, very rare toot of a horn; perhaps they have seen my Scallop Shell, hanging on the back of my rucksack. Houses are rare, I admire the stone structures, an individual style, reminiscent of Jersey, but not as grand. Definitely not as affluent here. And they don't have the resting places on their chimneystacks for passing witches to set down. No, they have no time for witches here, or for fairies either for that matter.

John Boyle 1869 - 1959My Grandfather Boyle, now there was a man for fairies.

When John and I lived with our Grandparents, and Uncles; Peter, Tommy and Mickey. Grandad was an old man; at least I thought he was. It was his prerogative to be up last, to have his breakfast served to him in bed. A "Patsy Quinn" sort of man, having 'granny' running after him!

Granny and Grandad's bedroom was a small room built off the kitchen, a lean-to off Murphy's Stable. As it only had two small exposed walls into the garden, it probably was a very warm and snug room.

Anyway, Grandad's breakfast would be brought down to him in the room, a mug of steaming hot tea, freshly griddled bread already buttered, and an egg! He was the only one in the house to get an egg from one end of the week to the other. The egg invariably would be boiled, slightly on the soft side. Grandad sat up in bed, complete with long flannel nightshirt and a "Willie Winkie" nightcap. We would be down sitting on the bed. He had lost an eye, when cutting through rock; I think it was at Fearon's Brae. He had augmented his income, raising a large family on a small farm would have been very difficult, by undertaking some contracting work. I know that he had prepared the base and the site works for Glassdrummond Chapel, using only the most primitive of levelling instruments.

He was quite a man; his funeral was among the largest I have ever attended. Men wheeling bicycles strung out for over a mile along the New Line. Jostling to take a turn at carrying Johnny Boyle. (It is 3 mile from Ballinaclosha to Glassdrummond Chapel).

Whenever the patch was off you could see deep into his scull, and the empty socket often wept and had a yellow puss in it at times. It must have caused him great discomfort, yet I never heard him complain.

He would whip off the top of the egg, and we would get it, perhaps even with a hint of the yoke in it. And then, joy o' joys he would break off a bit of bread, which you could dip into that welcoming red yoke! Perhaps a sup of tea after it had cooled a bit. Tea was always the same whether it was Grandad's or brought out to the field - strong, very sweet and hot. Why does tea not taste like that now!

Then there would be the fairy stories; oh, he could spin a yarn.

There are two forts within sight of the house, one a double ditch fort, one side of which shares a boundary with Dan's land, which Grandfather purchased following the murder of his cousin and the taking of his own life by Dan Reel. It is still known as Dan's. This fort has always been overgrown by blackthorn and some wonderful hazel. A great place to gather hazel nuts! The other fort is only a field away, in Murphy's or Tight's ground. Part of it came very close to Boyles ground but it is completely in Murphy's. Our access was always through Micil's field. Cattle grazed in it and very little thorn was ever allowed to encroach on it.

Well, we heard all about these forts, and the wars between the opposing fairies who dwelt in both; about the rabbits with bits and bridles and wee saddles; about their music and dancing, about what to do if you were to meet any of these creatures at night; how to escape from Will O The Wisp. Captivating, mouth-hanging-open stories, always eager to hear more…

But sure, we had to go to school.

Coming or going to school of course was more magic. The fairies often left gifts for the Boyle grandchildren. You might find a penny, or even a thrupenny bit occasionally, which they had left in the lane. The only one who could be told of course, would be Grandad; otherwise, the magic could go away. We could never allow that to happen.

It's wonderful how time passes when you allow your mind to wander and your feet; legs and arms find their rhythm.

Here's Bricquebic, I have had a stop on the way and have eaten the sandwiches I had taken from breakfast. I am in a grand square, there is a chateau to my left, it is now a "Logi" Hotel, and I will stay here tonight. I will rough it again on the Camino.

Day 13 - Wednesday April 6th - Bricquebic - La Haye du Puits     TOP

Now this is walking!

At last I'm on the "Piste Cyclable", I've eaten a decent breakfast, cereal, orange juice, Café au lait, et du pain and I'm on the road for la Haye du Puits.

No traffic here, this must have been an old railway line, cuttings and ramparts, even gradients, nice reddish hard standings, easy on the feet. Lined both sides by a screen of trees, not yet quite in leaf, but looks like hazel and birch, I can still see some of last years leaf on the birch.

Am I alone in this world, I see no one. I hear the buzz of a chain saw. Periodically I see well laid out, very neat stacks of small bore timber. Not logs, but where these trees have been hard pruned and the timber neatly saved. Occasionally I smell wood smoke, no doubt coming from the odd fire that has been lit to burn the smaller branches, but generally nothing is wasted.

I meet no one on my walk, but at last I have seen some stock in the adjoining fields.

Must be organic farming, I think. Here and there through the trees I glimpse heaps of manure which have come from a dunghill, waiting to be spread.

No horse and cart here, which had to loaded at the house, pitched on with grapes, and then pitched off again as the horse goes slowly over the ground to be manured.

Perhaps up along drills which would again be ploughed by the double plough, after the manure had been spread with a grape and the seed dropped.

I think of Seamus Heaney's Poem, is it called 'The Plougher' but of course it is really about his father.

This is good to see, well rotted manure, ready for spreading, I've no doubt it will be mechanical, but how much better than those tankers which spread slurry to the four corners, polluting our waterways and lakes with their runoff. Foul smelling, lingering for days.

They have destroyed Lough Sheelin; I have taken Jack and Brennain up there to fish; no free rising trout now, a decimated native stock, new stock introduced, not of the same calibre, little or no Mayfly hatch, no dapping now with live Mayfly.

At last, another human being, a man at one of little houses which happen at every road crossing, no doubt a keeper of gates in earlier years, is tending his garden.

I have experienced a culture shock yesterday, no one met my eye, no one, except that is for the very rare toot of a horn, hardly as many as four yesterday, know I exist.

Perhaps this man working out in his garden will lean on his spade and try to engage me in conversation. At least I might warrant an inquisitive stare, but no, I'm definitely not in South Armagh now.

No "Grand day, how's it cutting, will it hold up do you think?"

No enquiry as to who you are, no recital of your genealogy - "Ah Janey Boyles boy, and how are Janey and Pat, and how's Johnny and Mary? Tell them I was asking for them. Good gasun. I suppose you'll be calling into Fearon's? Tell old Biddy I was asking for her so."

I am a non person here; he turns his back and continues his work. I continue unperturbed, I have my musings and memories.

Talking of South Armagh, I'll tell you a tale that I have often told to demonstrate just how little news a true South Armaghman (or woman) would give you.

I know this to be a true story because I heard it one night whenever my Uncle Peter met up with an old school chum. They were swapping yarns, remembering instances from there school days, yarns about Old Denney, the headmaster and the like.

Anyway, "What about your man and his confirmation…" goes the craic (It appears that there was this gasun at school, he had missed out on confirmation which took place about every 3 or 4 years). He wasn't the brightest but he was the biggest. Head and shoulders above everyone at school, as big, or maybe even bigger, than Old Dinney himself.

Confirmation day is approaching, the Ecclesiastic Inspector visits the school, he is a Father Murray, and his twin is also a priest, and also, an Ecclesiastic Inspector. They probably covered the whole Dioceses.

Old Dinney has a word with Father Murray - "Now", says he,"if the Cardinal" (I think it was Cardinal Logue)" wants to ask this gasun something, for God Almighty's sake tell him to keep it simple, he'll be away from school shortly. There'll be no mistaking him"

And here, wasn't it the big day.

Of course, the Cardinal goes along the line: striking cheeks, asking the odd question, laying on of hands, and he comes to your man.

We'll call him John.

"Tell me John, what happened on Good Friday?"

John looks the Cardinal straight in the eye -

"Why?" says he, "Did you hear somethin'?"

Thank God, I now can see the steeple of La Haye du Puits; I'll soon get these boots off and soak these feet.

Day 14 - Thursday April 7th - La Haye du Puits - Coutances     TOP

I try to make it an early start; I intend to go as far as Coutances to day. It will be on the 'Piste Cyclable' for most of the way, only a short piece of road as I approach Coutances. Part of the Piste had been closed off as I had approached La Haye du Puits but the map shows it going off at right angles to the D903, I find the D903 and very soon, I am again walking along the Piste. The weather is very changeable, I have on my wet gear, I have opted, in the interests of keeping the weight I must carry down, to have wet suit over trousers, and mountaineering jacket only, no Poncho. That has already been sent home. Hope I have made the right decision! Again, I observe all that is going on around me. Plenty of bird song here, but none on the road stretch. At last I see evidence of more stock in the fields, more arable land here also, and a crop just starting to show. It has been sown very thickly, but through the trees and at this distance, I cannot determine what it is. Also I see those very orderly stacks of timber, must be a lot of wood fires here, the timber is neatly stacked and often covered to protect it from the elements, much like a turf stack. Yet the only time I can get the smell of wood smoke is when I occasionally come on a group of men of men, who I presume are on maintenance work and having driven a small lorry along the Piste are trimming and cutting back the under growth. They light a fire to burn the arisings, which are too small to save.

There are barriers at every road, a round pole stretches across the entrance to the Piste, walkers enter by a sort of stile, you don't have to rise over anything, and you simply weave past a barrier. The posts are hinged to an upright on a galvanised hinge and drop down into a galvanised u shaped bracket on the other upright. Occasionally I have noticed some of them have locks attached. But there is also evidence that local farmers use them for access to their land. However there are no signs that they are ever used for access to houses. I see the odd farmhouse but they are usually about two fields away.

Fields aren't huge but not small either, there does not appear to have been the removal of ditches and hedgerows that we have experienced.

Perhaps there were no grants!

We have become a nation of people who will hardly scratch themselves unless we can get a grant for doing so!

And what about 'The Fund for Ireland?"

Admittedly, it helped retain a great deal of what could have been lost, but I fear it was abused.

The rain has eased and my spirits lift.

Maybe I'll sing an old song.

No one to annoy me here anyway, the very rare one I see in his or her garden hardly takes me under their notice, so sing it is - but what?

I have a lot of songs, some day, (ah, we have all heard and said that before) anyway, some day I must at least write the titles down, and with the help of God, I will.

For now since I have been thinking about 'The Fund for Ireland' I'll sing, 'A Song for Ireland' And I do.

You know singing helps you along and the pace increases and you don't notice the kilometres dropping behind.

The singing reminds me of a wake I had attended down in Newcastle, Co. Down.

It was the wake of a grand old lady, a woman of wit, and fun, who had led a full life and was ready and well prepared to meet her maker. Her name was Alice O'Boyle; born in Fermanagh, married Sean O'Boyle and raised her family in Armagh City.

Sean O'Boyle is a legend, a collector of song and story all over the North. Because of him, we have retained much of what might have been lost.

Alice stands on her own she also is legendary.

Sean had predeceased her by several years, she had lived with her daughter Eilis and son in law Pat in Kilclief.

She had a 'Granny Flat', and retained her independence almost to the last.

She is now being waked in her son Manus's residence in Newcastle. Alice and I, that is my Alice and I, go down to the wake. We only know the area wherein Manus has his home, and we drive around.

Not much sign of a wake about here, but it looks as if there's a party over there, we'll enquire.

We have the right house, full of people, young and old, grandchildren mostly adults, sons, daughters, daughter and sons in law, and Sean's brother Vincent or Vincy as he was affectionately known.

There is music and song, stories of some of Alice's exploits.

Then a serious interlude: Cathal has called for order, to arrange the music for the following day, he will act as cantor, and so a rehearsal of the music for the requiem mass takes place. Whenever Cathal is satisfied that all is well, the celebration of Alice's life continues.

This is when Vincy comes into his own.

Vincy sits at the piano, a flurry of fingers over the keyboard, playing away he half turns in his seat, looking at us over his shoulder;

"You know the way…" says he,"…the Irish were always regarded as great fighters, ever since the time of the Wild Geese, fighting in all the great European Armies… did you ever wonder why it was that they never could win a battle at home?" one of those rhetorical questions.

We knew well he was going to explain it to us.

"How's that", came the chorus.

"Well…" said he, "…it's all down to music"

"Ooh!" says the chorus.

And then he launches into - Da de dah da dah dah dahh de da, da de da dah dah dah dahh - The Marseilles, French national anthem; then "Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the Waves", then a German Anthem, then into Spanish, into the "Stars and Stripes".

Each sung in its own language, no da de da there!

All hammered out, and sung by ourselves as well of course, with great gusto. "Music…" says he, "…to set the blood racing, the feet marching, the arms swinging, get you ready and mad for battle. But when they were at home, what did they do? Into battle playing de diddle dum, de deddle dum. How the hell could you win a battle playing music like that!"

I decide as I think about it, that I will listen to Altan or De Dannan on the morrow.

Alice O'Boyle's funeral mass was held in the round church in Newcastle, the place was packed, the service was very respectful and very moving and I am glad that I was there to listen to and be moved by the music with which her family bade her farewell, and, paid her tribute.

The towns in sight I'm finished for the night!



Days 15 and 16   

BACK to Camino Home Page