I am sifting through old photos, trying to put some order on them when one catches my eye causing an unexpected memory to come cropping up.
A memory that causes me some consternation not just because of my loss of the place but also because of an incident that occurred there and which I couldn’t decide was true or if I had dreamt it!
I ring my younger daughter to find out.
‘Of course it was true!’ she exclaims somewhat impatiently (she is expecting a call from the garage to say her car is ready and she does have other things on her mind like being on time to pick up her three boys from school).
Really?’ I asked again ‘And you quite sure I didn’t dream it?’
‘Sure I’m sure’ she sighed ‘A small boy with blond hair, his arm in a cast down in the ravine! Mom you must remember! I was about eight at the time And I can remember it as clearly as though it was yesterday now PLEASE get off the phone , the garage is probably trying to contact me …….’
There is a waterfall in Glencar.
Not the famous Yeats’s waterfall but another and to my mind more splendid one.
Poised high on a cliff on the south side of Benbulben on the sligo Leitrim border, it is set in a magical enchanted place.
A place, so filled with hazel groves and windswept hawthorn trees and rocks that have tumbled down the steep mountain sides and settled long enough to become covered with thick blankets of soft moss that would put the gardens of Kyoto to shame, it’s no wonder Yeats wrote about it.
Even the way the waterfall flows is in the hands of the gods, for when the rain has been plentiful and the wind is from the south the water is blown backwards up over its top.
The Irish name for it is ‘Sruth ar áit an airde’. (The stream against the height.)
The locals call it ‘The mare’s tail’.
When the wind is blowing from any other direction, the water falls straight down into a large pool-like basin and from there, down a further series of pools until it forms a river and flows out into glencar lake.
But when there has been no rain for a while, it loses its might and becomes a trickle. And the ravine, gouged out over thousands of years, is calm and the moss dries on the rocks so you can climb them without slipping and sit among the ferns and dip your toes in the pools.
I know all this because I had the pleasure of living beside it for many years.
On the day of my story I was out working in the vegetable garden.
That’s where I first heard the singing .
A high ethereal sound as though of a child blending its song with the wind and the sound of water. I stopped digging to to listen more attentively.
‘Can you hear it?’ I asked my youngest daughter who was busy popping the peas she was supposed to be picking for the dinner into her mouth
She stopped mid chew and nodded.
Yes she had heard it too. I wasn’t mistaking it.
‘It’s coming from the river’ She looked at me half in delight, half in fear.
We crept out through the small gate and peered over the edge of the ravine.
Sure enough down below us among the pools and rocks we saw a small boy climbing confidently, blond hair dappled in the undergrowth, singing to himself.
He turned for an instant and I glimpsed an elfin face through the ferns, then he was gone again, his song mingling with the trickle of water.
I glanced at my daughter. Her eye’s were wide with delight and without a second thought began slithering down the steep bank, using the large bunches of ferns as footholds.
I followed close behind.
‘Shhh, Don’t frighten him’ I whispered as we reached the bottom and moved quietly, following the sound of the singing and avoiding the deep pools that lay scattered along the dry river bed
There he was, just ahead of us, hunkered on a rock, peering into one of the pools.
He couldn’t have been more than five or six, a sturdy boy. His lower right arm encased in a mud splattered plaster cast. He had stopped singing and was concentrating on the spread of water in front of him.
‘What’s them beetle’s called?’ He asked looking up, not one bit surprised or alarmed by our arrival.
’Water-skater’s’ my daughter replied perching on the rock next to his.
‘How d’you know ?’ He looked at her dubiously.
‘I saw them in my book, It’s all about beetles and nature and things’.
‘Cool’ He breathed.
Together they squatted in silence their knees touching their chins as only children can do and watched the small beetles skimming across the surface.
‘How did you get here?’ She demanded after a moment ,
‘I flew’ He grinned cheekily at her, demonstrating a flying motion with his arms, the plaster cast making the movement awkward for him.
‘I fell out of the tree house’ he explained proudly, noticing her staring at his arm. ‘And I broked me arm. In TWO PLACES! It was sore but I didn’t cry’
‘Where are your parents?’ my daughter persevered. She was eight and very practical.
‘Back at the picnic place’ he straightened up, balancing easily on his rock and pointed east.
My mouth dropped open.
The picnic place was two kms away at the other waterfall , a tough trek through the swiss valley which was the only way he could have come.
‘With the baby’ He frowned, trusting one hip forward and putting his good hand on his hip. ’Oh Annabelle you’re sooooo cute’ He mimicked adult voices
I tried not to smile.
‘I’m hungry have you any chocolate biscuits?’ He looked at me hopefully.
‘lots’ I laughed ‘come on’
He grinned confidently, taking my hand in his small one.
I could see the Headline ‘Child lured from family picnic with promise of chocolate biscuits’
Back at the house, he wolfed down three and a glass of milk. I saw him slip a forth into his pocket.
Then we drove to the other waterfall following the curve of the lake.
The mountain, reflected in the still water, looked dark and brooding.
Distracted by two fishermen in a boat, I nearly hit a car hurtling in the opposite direction.
The driver swerved and stopped just in time as I pulled into the ditch.
‘It’s me Da’ the boy shouted eagerly.
A large red faced man leaped from the car.
‘James!’ He shouted angrily, but there was relief in his voice too.
’Where the hell were ya? Yer Ma’s been worried sick and I’ve tramped all over the bloody mountain searching for ya! look at me good shoes! they’re ruined! now get in the car!’
He tried to give his son a smack but the boy ducked and jumped into the back of the car.
I could see a teary faced woman through the windscreen.
A blond curly haired baby was waving it’s fists in the back.
Before I had a chance to explain the man muttered a brief thanks and they were gone, my little fey boy grinning mischievously out the back window.
He waved goodbye with his good arm, then as the car disappeared around the corner I saw him pull Annabelle’s curls and hold the chocolate biscuit teasingly above her head.
This is the end of a true story.
The old photo of my daughter in the vegetable garden with her friend picking peas. To the right in front of the cart is the way down to the ravine. The top photo is of us with some friends looking down into the swiss valley.