Volume 6
An Online Literary Magazine
March 1, 2012




Kathleen Glassburn


The deep greens and gray mists give an air of mystery to the Dingle Peninsula.


e’re having a hearty Sunday breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, and bangers served by Mr. Harrigan, the widowed innkeeper, when Devin, his son on holiday from Cork, drops by our table. He wears a cobalt blue shirt that sets off near-black eyes and thick, dark hair. “You’re from that grand town of Boston.”


My sister Leslie doesn’t answer, continuing to push food about with a fork. I say, “Our father’s relatives sailed there from Galway.”


“Do you like Dingle?”


“When we first got here it seemed the most traditional of spots.” If only Leslie would take over, but she doesn’t. “Until we saw Oceanworld and Fungi."


“Ah, that tourist attraction with its bottle-nosed dolphin. You’ll have to take in a few pubs with a bit of folk music and set dancing.”


I glance at Leslie’s downturned face framed in thick blonde curls, and reach up to adjust a barrette that keeps my own ash brown strands in place, “I’ve been wanting to hear more Irish tunes…for my students.”


“Musicians you are. Then, it’s a must.”


Leslie doesn’t bother to tell him she’s in real estate.


“Maybe. After our drive.”


When he’s out of earshot, she mumbles, “I don’t feel like that sort of thing.”


Will she ever feel like anything? Two years ago, before Daniel was killed, Devin Harrigan would have gotten a full dose of her attention. For Danny, a quiet guy, being married to Leslie meant watching her, mascaraed eyes flashing, captivating others. He never seemed to mind because they were a team.


I can’t help but remember my senior prom, over ten years ago. Her address book overflowed. After several tries with boys who had asked but failed to take her to dances, she finally found a presentable date for me. He had a toothy smile and Leslie called him a "great friend."


I scrape up the last bite of my meal. Leslie’s barely touched hers.



Mr. Harrigan ambles over to our car, where I’m fidgeting in the driver’s seat.


“Follow the sign after the bridge.” He gives a wobbly-fingered point to a board, hand-lettered in black, which says Slea Head Drive, Ceann Sleibhe. He pulls off a tweed cap and scratches his head, then leans down to peer in the car. Is he concerned about my ability to comprehend directions? Or, is he worried about Leslie, who sits unblinking, adrift in the passenger seat?


“Don’t know if you’ll get out much, with the damp, but you’ll be dead impressed by the drive. Watch for the soft margin. And, the sheep!”


I start our burgundy-colored Opel with its unfamiliar stick shift. The man at a Hertz counter in Dublin promised it would be a “breeze” to drive. Somehow, even with driving on the opposite side of the road, I’ve managed to get us around Ireland to this fishing village on the west coast.


Devin walks out of the inn’s yellow door, staring at Leslie the way men always do--their faces lighting up as if turned on by a switch. She never glances his way.


I put the car in gear and roll smoothly toward the street, pebbles crunching on the driveway. Maybe I'm getting used to this.


Mr. Harrigan touches his forehead in a salute and Devin waves.


“The innkeeper’s son likes you,” I say.


Leslie’s glazed blue eyes focus on the opaque sky. “Why would you say that, Noreen?”


“A look about him.”


“Maybe it’s for you.”


I don’t bother responding to this silly notion.


Through the curtain of mist, hedges of pink and red fuchsias mingle with a multitude of green hues. Fuzzy outlines give an aura of timelessness. How can this magic escape her? Our left front tire veers into the soft margin. I straighten the wheel, and squint through gathering fog. Ahead, a trio of goats stands nonchalantly on an 18-inch stone wall above Ventry Bay. One fellow has only three legs. Just beyond, there’s a flicker of our first view. I brake the car, steering clear of the soft margin. “How 'bout we take a look?”


“I can see enough.”


“Years ago, ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ was filmed here.”


She doesn’t budge.


Standing by myself, I recall that on this very beach the wayward girl, in her long black skirt, strolled with ruffled parasol held high. The sand looked like gold dust. Sprays of moisture tickle my face and I pull my Gore-Tex jacket’s hood tighter. What would it be like to walk on this beach in the sunshine? To run barefoot in the warm, sparkling sand?


“Are we going to keep moving?” Leslie’s peeved voice intrudes on my musings.


I get back in the car and keep driving. Not much to say about the fog. Then, on a grassy hillside to the right, I see something. “Look! A sheep!” I hand the annotated map to her. “What's it say about them?”


“There are 500,000 sheep on Dingle Peninsula which is part of County Kerry,” she singsongs. “That one seems kind of lonesome. I wonder where all the others are?” Since Danny’s fatal car accident, Leslie hasn’t reached out to, or shown interest in, anyone or anything. She’s taken leave from the office.


“Bring our Leslie home,” Mom whispered, when we said good-bye at Logan. She knows what it's like to be a widow since Dad passed away over ten years ago. Leslie used to be exactly like him. They were the larks to Mom’s and my sparrows.


We’re coming on a sign that reads Taisteaal go Mall.


“What’s the map say this means?”


“Drive Slowly. There’s a school.” She gestures to a deserted yellow building. Ghostly kids seem to be running on the playground. Leslie gazes at two swings swaying in the wind as if only recently left behind. First came the accident, followed by the miscarriage.


I try to pull her attention back to more earthly matters with, "You must be hungry. Mr. Harrigan told me about eating places at the turnaround.”


No response.



Odd-looking beehive huts called “clochans,” resembling stone igloos, dot the landscape.
Moving on, we pass relics built into the slopes. Leslie begrudgingly reads about a Stone Age Ring Fort, dating from 500 BC, referred to as a "fairy enclave." The locals’ effort to retain their first language of Gaelic, as well as these ancient structures, touches me. It makes up for Fungi.


Odd-looking beehive huts called “clochans,” resembling stone igloos, dot the landscape. There are over 400 in the area. Early ones sheltered monks who fled to Ireland’s wilderness, saving Christianity from extinction. I feel a twinge of admiration for their sense of purpose.


“Let’s walk up to one of these.”


“They look awfully dank.” Leslie wrinkles her nose.


We reach a clochan and upon entering, I rub my hand along its rough, dry wall. “Should smell mildewed, but the way they’re built, ‘corbelled,’ keeps them dry.” I sense the presence of a long-ago huddled holy figure. “Can you picture living in here?”


“Too well.” She backs into the rain, me following a few minutes later.


Around some more curves, I spot the site for which this drive is named. “We're at Slea Head,” I announce, feeling like a tourbus guide. There’s a large white figure of Christ with the three grieving women at His feet. “We’re on the westernmost point of Europe. People say the next parish is Boston.”


I’m closer to home than anywhere else on our journey. Waves crash over rocks below. The ocean, visible for only a short distance, disappears into a dense curtain of rolling gray.


“A ship called the Santa Maria de la Rosa sank out there.” I’m reminded of Devin Harrigan’s dark good looks, defining the term Black Irishman. “It was part of the Spanish Ar….”


“That statue is horrible!”




“There’s red paint streaked on the hands and feet. Even the body. To look like blood.” I stare at the blotches and agree they’re disturbing. Still, I feel something else. “Maybe someone was trying to get closer to the pain. Make the story more real.”


“Why would anyone want to do that?”


“Life has been wretched for these people. This gives them hope."


“It makes me sick. When Danny died, and I lost the baby, I went to church…”


I think of our mother's Episcopal Church where you’d never see statues like these.


“It was useless,” she goes on. “Why did God do this to us? I don’t know what Mom was thinking. Why would this place, with its gloomy weather, bizarre traditions and morbid religion make me feel better?”


“We were grasping--maybe something about Grandpa’s Ireland might console you.”


“Can’t you understand? I don’t want to be consoled.”


“We better go. There’s still over half the loop to make.”


When she discovered her pregnancy, Leslie assumed I would babysit on weekends, saying, "You could use something to do."


"I'm plenty busy," I said, but other than preparing for my music classes, I sat alone with the TV most evenings.


Through swishing windshield wipers, there’s an occasional glimpse of reclaimed land-patches where rock walls support grass growing from transported sand and seaweed. We come upon stone structures sprouting from the earth. Some are inhabited. Others fall in shambles, abandoned eons ago. It's the loosely-connected village of Dunquin, Dun Chaoin.


Ahead, I spot a middle-aged woman riding a bicycle up the hill. “Wonder how far she has to pedal?”


“Looks abysmal.”


The woman wears a plastic rain hat. Several layers of handmade cardigans partially cover her dark print housedress.


“Don’t females here believe in wearing pants?” Leslie frowns at the woman’s mud-splattered bare legs. Anklets skim the tops of her brogues. Features bunched, eyes straight ahead, her shoulders bob back and forth. Behind her, a herding dog trots, ignoring the rain.


As our car passes, I raise a hand and smile, but the woman doesn't respond. It’s the first time on this trip that Ireland’s legendary friendliness proves absent. She perseveres as if in a trance. The dog wags his tail and barks when we cruise by.


“Not curious, I guess."


“Good for her. The cheeriness in this country gets to me.” Leslie scowls at the woman she just praised. “Her mind’s on the task at hand.”


The old Leslie would have wheedled an acknowledgment.


Back on the drive, I spot a herd of black and white cows, plugging along toward us. They ooze around our car, engulfing it. Against side windows gigantic heads rub slimy smudges. Eyes roll sideways, looking with no real interest, while an acrid odor seeps inside.


“Must be lunch time. Nothing’s going to keep them from the barn.”


“They’re determined. Galumphing. A step at a time.” Leslie’s head bobs. Then, "Here comes that woman.”


This time, she walks her bicycle around the herd, brushing by a roadside building, passing so close that I hear water sloshing in her shoes. As before, her eyes stay straight ahead. Not even a wink for our shared predicament. The dog weaves in and out between manure-encrusted legs, mindful of a kicking hoof.


Shortly after leaving the cows behind, the woman and her dog wend their way down a driveway toward a cottage. A mile or so later, we arrive at the turnaround where another sign indicates two different roads will bring us back to Dingle Town-11 km, either direction. The dreariness of the day has succumbed to darkness. I’m tired and wet and hungry. Without consulting Leslie, I head right, away from the ocean, and search for somewhere to eat.



Down this road, with hazy fields on both sides, I spot a shake-covered building, smoke drifting from its chimney. The parking area is empty. Inside, the comforting aroma of meat and vegetables simmering fills the room. A woman with a mantle of gray frizzy hair and pale pointed features greets us with, “Failte,”--welcome. She leads the way to a table tucked next to a fire. “I’ll bring tea?”


“Thank you.” Beside me is a bookshelf. I pick up an autobiography by Peig Sayers documenting hardships of life in the nearby Blasket Islands, Na Blascaodai.


“Did you enjoy our drive?” Leslie asks.


Taken aback by her interest, I say, “Yes, a lot. I’d like to come back again when it’s clear.”


She doesn’t ask when.


“Did you like it?” I refrain from saying at all.


“Eventually.” She blows on her tea.


“When did that change?”


“It was the woman on her bicycle. And those silly cows.” A small, long-absent smile fleetingly appears. “Their persistence despite the weather.”


“No matter how difficult the day.”


“She didn’t feel the need to be friendly or pleasant. Blast the rest of the world.”


“She was...”


“There’s always been this expectation that I would be charming. Delighting everyone. Taking charge.” Leslie looks through a window at the falling rain. “I can’t do that anymore.”


Her eyes meet mine, holding steady. I see watery blue with gray and green. They used to dart excitedly, from person to person, never resting long enough for this kind of scrutiny.


“You’re always going to be miserable?”


“I’m not miserable.”


"What are you then?"


“I’m sad and angry."


The woman with the cloud of gray hair returns, carrying a basket of bread and lamb stew in earth-toned pottery she says is made locally.


When she leaves, Leslie sits forward. “I always got what I wanted. I didn’t think about it much.” She goes within for a moment. “Now, I don't want anything except..." She takes a deep breath. “I want you to stop watching me, hanging on my every word, as if at any moment the real Leslie will suddenly materialize. She's gone."


I feel as though she’s taken my shoulders and given me a shake.


“I’m lost and I don’t have a hint where I’m going. I can’t very well show you.”


As we continue silently eating, the door opens, and in walks Devin Harrigan, his dark hair sparkling with raindrops. He smiles broadly and strides our way.


“I saw the Opel. Glad you’re well. Da fretted when the weather changed.”


“How thoughtful of you to come checking on us.”


“Tis nothing. I needed to set his mind at ease.”


“We didn’t have any problems, except for a herd of cows.” I laugh.


“It’s hard to come this way and not get stalled by one type of animal or another, but I was sure all would be well. You were in complete control when you left.”


Devin declines my offer of stew. “I’ll join you in a cup of tea.” He pulls up a chair and rests his arm on our table.


Other than a greeting, Leslie doesn’t say a word, for which I’m unexpectedly grateful. Tones from a piper begin to float through the background. It’s “Londonderry Air,” a piece I played at the memorial service. Listening, I'm surprised not to feel like crying for Danny or clinging to Leslie.


I tell Devin about the three-legged goat. "That'd be the Scanlons',” he says. “There're many roaming these hills, but only one like him." And, with a grin, "That fellow's almost as much of a curiosity as Fungi back in town. Maybe they should charge for viewings." Then, "Speaking of town, how about a round of pubs and Irish music?"


“I’d rather settle in with my book,” Leslie says immediately.


“Noreen?” Devin’s look of anticipation never wavers.


“I’ll decide when we get back to the inn.”


There's still the rest of the loop to drive and plenty of soft margin along the way, but I'm already looking forward to joining him--for the music, of course. Singing the lilting ballads and dancing a carefree jig, on Devin Harrigan's strong, bent arm.


Kathleen Glassburn has an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She has been published in such journals as Cadillac Cicatrix, Cairn, Crucible, Lullwater Review, Marco Polo Arts, SLAB, Talon Mag, among others. She is managing editor of The Writer's Workshop Review. Her personal website is: www.kathleenglassburn.com.


Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List iconSign up for our Email Newsletter








Home | Search | About Us | Submissions | Mailing List | Links | The Writer's Workshop