Peig’s Little River

Since my childhood I have spent my holidays in Dún Chaoin, Co. Kerry, staying in an early 70’s
bungalow after my Grand Aunty May, who had built it in her dream location only a couple of years
previously, sadly passed away. It is a small house but still manages to dwarf the ruins of the home in
front where Peig Sayers was born.
Beyond, the land dips to the end of the bohereen where there is a stream that flattens out after its
precipitous trek down Mount Eagle on the side of which the house nestles. Peig mentions in her
book how she used to cross the little river to the west side visiting neighbours, her best friend Cáit-
Jim being among them, and it is also where she went to live with her poet son Míchaél Ó Guithín in
the 1940s after returning from the Great Blasket Island.
It is a stream you leap across either onto the least drenched and wobbly stones and cobbles in the
shallow wide section that can be driven across, or to the right using the stepping flagstones at the
base of the three arches which make up a foot bridge and barrier before it plunges once again,
disappearing into the fuchsia before its final journey to the nearby sea shore.
To me as a child, the stream seemed to magically appear, flowing out of nowhere from the dark pool
in a grotto of fuchsia, separate from the rabble of mini waterfalls criss-crossing their way far up on
Mount Eagle. This pool grew bigger and deeper with the passing summers as my father put his
engineering skills and our cheap labour to good use in damming it almost as soon as we landed fresh
from Dublin. With some large stones skirting it, this was a welcome spot to sit and cool your feet
especially in the record, scorching, 70s summers.
It was on one of those days I realised that the black specs on many of the rocks, only millimetres in
size, were actually minute snail shells. As I observed one in my hand I was stunned when a miniature
snail with its equally tiny horns nosed its way out.
I have continued to holiday there and, although the beautiful stream has been a constant, like most
things in life it too has been subject to change. The enchanted pool lost it stature as us surly
teenagers were less easily persuaded to be involved in the damming projects and the encroaching
fuchsia then obscured it altogether.
I am not sure when or why the tiny black snails disappeared but around ten years ago there was an
extreme weather event, unfortunately more and more prevalent with climate change, that utterly
altered the appearance of the stream. My sister was staying at the time when there was a
calamitous amount of rain during the night.
In the morning they were met by the shocking vista of the normally shallow stream now in flood,
spread over a large area and flowing over the top of the bridge which was clogged with debris.
Vegetation was obliterated, features levelled, and it carved a different route in the field further
Without its softening shroud of fuchsia, it is exposed and bare, visually having more in common with
the upstream mountainous section that I could never relate to this once exotic stretch. But as
fuchsia is a relatively new invasive species, this pared back look may compare more to the little river
of Peig’s childhood.