Blackwater River at Figulla

She found the spot she knew so well and settled into her folding chair. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply. How wonderful the tinkle of the river, the noise of surrounding bird life – so much clearer today without the usual hum of background traffic. She thought back to the times she had spectated the wonderful show of nature, the deer, the foxes and sometimes a few wee fox cubs. She’d seen the leggy herons, the buzzards lazily stalking high above, the crows, the magpies – the usual suspects, but only once had she glimpsed the kingfisher. By glimpsed she meant she saw a flash of deep turquois and then it was gone.

She remembered her little friend who lived the other side of the river in Dunmacmay, she would cross the river at the steppingstones to collect milk from her mother. When the river was a bit higher, they had devised a system of pulleys and ropes over the river and used an old tin bath to exchange books, comics and bread.

She laughed as she remembered the other kind of smuggling that went on: the pigs, the cattle and how she and other local children would “raid” the farmer’s orchards in Dunmacmay – so many kinds of fruit and vegetables and delicious they were too!

She used to smuggle eggs – 30 dozen eggs in two crates – so heavy the rope handles carved dents into her shoulders. She cringed when she thought back to how she crossed the river, a little wooden bridge – just two tree trunks with planks roped on tight and secured each side of the river. There were wires, if you needed to hang on, but she didn’t have a hand free on those occasions. Back then, she’d be more worried about getting her cargo to the egg man intact – sixpence a dozen was all he would pay and would make a deduction for dirty or cracked eggs. There was always someone high in a tree keeping watch to warn of likely interference from the authorities or the mother of her little Dunmacmay friend would put a red scarf on the hedge close to the river: that was a warning not to approach. When she changed it for the white scarf, then it was safe to cross.

She remembered the fishermen – there were fish in her river: perch, trout, eel and pike, she remembered that pike was not particularly tasty. There was a 25lb pike one time, that some fisherman pulled from the river, that pike was really something – she’d never seen a fish that big.

After a great storm, the river would roar past, so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think, but it had its uses too because old branches and logs that were being swept along got trapped on bushes on either side of the bank. She would climb out over the river on an old sally tree and collect all the old wood caught up in it. Her mother never questioned her on how she got it … if she’d only known.

In her mind’s eye, she could see it all and the noises that filled her thoughts were like echoes from the past, she heard it all. She smiled, so pleased that she had ventured out today and been reunited with so many family and friends even if it was only in the past and only in her head. I better get back she thought and, as she moved to get out of her chair, she spotted it, sitting on a fence post close-by watching her inquisitively. A kingfisher!