Cill Rialaig Artist’s Retreat


I stand looking into a field on the edge of Kerry at three cows curling their tongues around grass. On each side the field is bordered by a stone wall. It is December, and I am sleeping in a cottage with a loft bedroom and a turf-burning stove. When I wake, I can see the ocean. When I step outside, I am in a new landscape each day. The hills are sometimes beneath shadow, at other times beyond light. Today the sun, from behind a seam of bogs, falls among the cows. I can hear the warm air coming from their nostrils. I lean on an iron gate, spreading my elbows on either side of my head, and rest my chin on the cold top rung. One cow swings his head around the way a human might swing a fist. But I hold still. His lashes are like giant snowflakes. He lifts his tail and takes a long, steaming piss. A bird wanders near a hoof. Now and then, a cow snuffles and as if by echo, the birds hopping in the grass make a thrumming sound with their wings. All is harmonious, until – meaning no harm – I make a clicking noise with my mouth, to try and draw an animal near. I would like to pet a cow. I would like to lay my hand on the broad, flat part between a cow’s eyes. Perhaps I could write a poem about what a cow means to a field. Perhaps I could write about how field animals are not touched enough with care. But, I have made a mistake; the clicking has caused alarm. All three animals swerve backwards into a far corner of the field, the meat on their great bones shuddering. They stand together now, their oblong expressions regarding me closely and with fear.


Later, I follow an uphill path, lined on either side by fern ditches and trees of pine. I travel on foot. I do not yet know that I am close to the place where three decades ago the Kerry Babies were found – one infant body washed up on shore at Cahersiveen, the other buried on a nearby farm. I do not know that soon I will want to write about these babies and about the other women in Ireland who wrapped their children in the dark and buried them in the bogs and waves of memory. I do not know that these things have meaning for me too. I know only that the tops of the pines shimmer in a way that makes the light seem strange. I continue on, crossing in and out of fields. I touch the ruins of a stone dwelling and try to imagine what the people who lived here knew about the world outside themselves. I try to imagine their hunger. I reach the hilltop and look out across the Skelligs Bay. The ocean is the colour of rain and the rain is tangled in a mist. I remember that I have been told, »out there, is Boston.«