Breda phoned just after I arrived from an afternoon of shopping at Marks & Spencer in Clonmel, the largest town in the nearby area. She invited me for a walk, which I couldn’t resist even though it was late, close to dinner, and I had to race to change. She picked me up, risking the terrible hedgerows of the two bureens, which have gotten noticeably worse since I have been here. Breda’s husband Greg refuses to drive down the bureens at all; once when he picked up Simon and Erica from the bus after a long trip to the U.S. they had to walk down the bureens pushing a wheelbarrow that contained their luggage because Greg dropped them off at the top of the road.
Our walk was across country, from the road to the river; we were accompanied by Breda’s spaniel Molly. Molly is a rescue dog, and even after several years of living with Breda and Greg she is extremely wary of strangers and ducks any time someone reaches down toward her. The walk was through a sheep field. At the edge of the river we came across a sheep’s skeleton, its skull separated and a short distance away.
The ground was very wet from the day’s rain, and by the time we got to the river we were all soaked through. On the way back to the car my socks sloshed around inside my boots, my hiking pants were wet past my knees and I was definitely in need of a hot shower. Back at the car I carefully approached Molly, who licked my hand. When we got to the top of the first boreen I told Breda I would walk back in, an announcement she received with relief.
We made plans to walk again the next evening, and at 6 o’clock Breda was back, turning down my offer of meeting her at her house (the boreens again). This time we drove to Cappoquin for a walk along the river. This walk follows a path. If I had been able to leave earlier we could have walked the full 3-hour loop, but instead we opted for two hours of walking. We started at The Forge, a twee cottage with murals painted on the front of it. It looked like a tea shop but was someone’s house. The walk took us over several wooden bridges and at one point through a campground full of Scouts, who were preparing dinner to loud rock music. Their tents were pitched across a grassy meadow and they all seemed to be having a good time in the warm dusk. Breda pointed out that they would be less pleased with themselves the next day, since a major storm was due. Still, it was good to see some many girls and boys enjoying what was passing for nature for them.
On the way to the walk Breda took me to two holy places in the area. The first was the Grotto. This was the site of a vision, one of those visions that bring Our Lady down to the people. The vision is the usual kind, with masses of roses and a lack of specifics, but in essence Our Lady was explaining that the waters were blessed. Near the water there is a trough full of plastic bottles so that believers can carry away the water. There is a box for petitions (with a misplaced apostrophe) and the ugliest donation box I have ever seen. Clearly the earlier ones had been breached; this box was a human-size lump of bright blue concrete that looked like it had been plucked out of a sewer. Given the fact that thieves in Ireland had been known to attach chains to ATMs and yank them out of the wall with a tractor, I wondered how secure even this pile of cement would be.