Visiting St Boden

That summer was the hottest I remember. It took the good humour out of everyone so by the
time Mum and I arrived at the shoreline of the lake’s dry basin, we weren’t speaking. The
boy who was already a man with layers of mud on his hobnailed boots indicated we should
follow him. I being a lake child who knew about bog holes and suck-mud where dogs
drowned, stood where he stood on tufts of bog cotton. With the evening light fading we
passed a family walking single file back to the shoreline; each placing a hand on the shoulder
of the person in front. Mine were deep in my corduroy pockets.
Ahead was our destination, women in headscarves, about the same age as my mother,
rosary beads slipping through their practiced fingers, their lips moving. A flat capped man
lifting a cup to his lips, offered the lip of the vessel to his small son who shook his head in
disgust. Others, standing apart, listened to a man in a jacket with leather elbow patches, book
under his arm, whose low voice eluded me.
It grew darker at our feet as we approached, even as the sky lightened for a last
glimpse of this vast empty space. Venus hung bright over the horizon, as a cat’s claw of a
moon scratched through the summer’s velvet canopy. Ripples of water flowing from the old
well caught the cold light and shimmered; a beacon, I imagined, for all weary travellers
through time.
Patient for the intense heat of the day to lift and the air in the valley to cool we had
waited weeks to visit St. Boden’s Well. As the lake sunk each day in the summer of 1987,
first the top of the Mill House showed, then the dynamited bridges and tumbled houses of the

drowned village of Ballinahown. Tourists from Dublin, unaware that they’d drank our lake
dry came to see the holy well. In the evenings we saw their cars lights, like flickering candles
strung out on the Lake Road.
Arriving at the well our fingers reached for the same rough stone. Moonlight fell on
the white cross strung with glass rosary beads, looking as if tears fell from the granite. Lots of
words I hadn’t said for ages flooded in. We scooped water from the well into our mouths and
laughed at our daring to be different moment.
His knee prints were in the stone at the entrance where we didn’t kneel, where water
puddled for a second and then was dragged back into the dry earth. A moist green that shaded
into grey, patchworked the tramped-on soil around the square basins. Without me realising
the women ceased their prayers and the man with his student acolytes left. A yawning
silence, many centuries old dropped from the still air giving me a glimpse of the world. Then
we heard shouting from the shoreline and the waving of arms that looked like bushes in a
We knew we had to return to the shoreline and yet we were reluctant. Good manners
made us pick our way back, finding stones and solid ground, my breath breaking when my
foot sagged even a touch. They were both relieved and annoyed to see us, the way people are
when they are both glad and sad, for we knew what we were experiencing was special and
temporary. And that was that, we didn’t visit again because you can’t find the same magic