Spirit of Killary

Late summer 1979, a cool onshore breeze kisses the rugged coast of Mayo as the pale, apricot
sun sets over a small picture postcard pub, little changed in over a century; it sits unobtrusively
on the banks of Killary Harbour, one of only three fjords in Ireland I am reliably informed by the
genial host as he pours my drink, I tell him there are now four as I travelled over in my Fiesta
from the UK the day before, he laughs politely.
Glancing around I notice a lone figure sitting by the fire in the snug, an elderly sheepdog curled
loosely at his feet, sleeping blissfully; I smile, he tips his cap and extends a nicotine stained palm
towards a vacant stool by the hearth, his leathery, weather beaten hand hints at a lifetime of
hard work, muscular frame and dark eyes belying his advancing years, I nod and accept the
We sit in comfortable silence for a time, watching the wisps of smoke climb steadily towards
the blackened chimney brest; he lifts his gaze and catches my eye which I take as a cue for
conversation, opting for a safe opening gambit I compliment him on his trusty companion, he
glances down, reaches out his powerful hand and gently, lovingly ruffles the head of the
sleeping dog. His voice breaks with emotion and incredible sadness as he whispers that Spiorad
was the best sheepdog in the county and no man could wish for a more faithful friend.
Noticing the filthy, frayed rope knotted around her neck, I instantly regret my suggestion that
such a revered dog might be worthy of a better collar; his eyes narrow as oxygen is sucked
from the room, the ambient murmur of conversation abruptly stops, the dog wakes with a jolt
and, hackles raised gives a low growl, the fire previously silent crackles ominously, after what
seems an eternity the room begins to spin, I realise I am unconsciously holding my breath; I
exhale and gulp in more air, mercifully the spinning relents and life slowly returns to the room.
The dog gives a low sigh, rests a weary head on its master’s begrimed boots, settles once more,
I reach for my drink, vainly attempting to steady my shaking hands as my mysterious
companion downs a large whisky in one seasoned action. Absently he swirls the drained glass,
one ice cube chasing the other in perfect, rhythmic circles, mildly hypnotised by the relentless
momentum the subtle implication of the action evades me, he coughs and rattles the glass
shaking me from my reverie. His unspoken hint for a refill now painfully evident, I raise quickly
and head to the bar and order, I squint at a sepia toned photograph on the wall, noting my
interest the barman lifts it down, blows off the dust, licks a finger and rubs away decades of turf
ash and cobwebs. ‘Tragic story that one’ the barman says handing me the photo, ‘bad blood
between farmers over who had the better dog, that win proved too much for the neighbour, he
snatched dog, tied a rock around its neck and tossed it into the lake, poor old Joe spent the
rest of his days vainly searching the lake for the body, he died a broken man. I read the
inscription ‘Joseph McBride with Spiorad, winner of Leenaun sheepdog trials for a record thirteenth consecutive year’ May 14th 1907. I rush to the snug to find it empty, just a few
frayed strands of rope on the rug by the fire.