The day is mild. May is here. No rain for days. The river water unhurriedly running towards the sea. Gently flowing over rocks, then plunging downward. Idling in the pool below. Picking up speed momentarily when gushing over the weir not made by man but nature. Pleasant, busy gurgling. Steadily. Perpetually. I listen to it every day, all day. The lazy water attracts lazy company. Enjoying the calm, so different from the rushing torrents of winter. Water striders’ legs dimpling the surface, rowing the light body towards a drowning spider, tumbled from a leaf above. Strider losing out to a young trout, sucking easy prey into its hungry mouth before returning to its sunny hideout near the riverbank. An early dragonfly, iridescent beauty, observing it all. As do I.
Another visitor. Statuesque. Ever patient, easily overlooked, like a grey eminence and just as lethal. The heron’s coiled readiness suddenly gives way to a startled croak, a harsh sound amongst the songbirds’ delightful chattering. It grudgingly, laboriously flies up, yielding its spot to a hind and her fawn. Mother taking deep draughts of clean, fresh water. Daughter puzzling at the mirror image looking up at her. A flash of striking plumage overhead: a secretive jay looking on. Heron, hind, jay. I have seen them here for many years. Will hopefully see them for many more.
Yes, May is here. Primroses, bluebells, lovely tiny violets saying farewell until next spring. Bainne caoin, cheerful looking but treacherously toxic, and ferns abound. Maidenhair, Hart’s Tongue, too many to name. A single crab apple tree, sown by an oblivious bird decades ago, never pruned, spectacularly blossoming every year, gets ready to produce another bumper crop for its own pleasure alone. And oh: My dear old companion. Born the same year as I. Standing by my side all my life. The embodiment of this, our Celtic homeland. My oak tree. Standing tall and proud and strong. Majestic. Sheltering my river, my pool, my weir under its wide Irish crown, some branches covered in mistletoe as if waiting for a druid to pass by and rejoice. It speaks to me with its rustling leaves. I listen.
I stand and watch over the river. I am not alone. My landlord, the farmer, comes to free its passage from debris after a storm. Branches, litter, poor dead lambs from upriver. He takes them away and sometimes he, too, stands and watches my trout, my dragonfly. Another ally calls every few weeks, testing the river water to ensure all is well. Checking if the most elusive of visitors is dropping in on us again: Salmon depositing their precious cargo in the gravel right beneath me. He is happy when he spots their eggs. Tells me to watch over them carefully. I have. I will.
I am Releagh Bridge, 184 years old. My river is Baurearagh, called Sheen a few miles down. Locals love me. Call me handsome, the highest stone bridge in Munster. I made swift travel between Glengarriff and Kenmare possible for horse carts and carriages that could not ford the river. My river. Today, I withstand lorries, coaches, heavy traffic. A marvel. Much photographed. Yet, without my river, I would serve no purpose. Without my river, I would not exist. My heron, my dragonfly, my salmon – without this river, they would not be here. My bluebells, my ferns, my oak, they are much happier for it nourishing their searching roots. We love our river. We are our river. Baurearagh.