I often think of the days when we were connected to our surroundings in a more basic way. When a man plunged his hands into the heavy loam of the earth, working it with skill and passion, to bring forth a bountiful harvest. Perhaps it is because I'm an island dweller that I feel this way. So many men in the past have faced death just to put a meal on the table. I think that accepting ones own mortality paints the world in wondrous colours. I love the ocean and respect it. It has shaped the very land I stand on, given birth to the all life. The vast expanse of water, that has made us what we are, is the greatest thing I have ever seen. I am drawn to it like so many that have gone before me.
Today the waves are gentle and inviting. They lap against the limestone cliff as it plunges into the sea, diving deep, where light has never shone. The wind is sharp with just a taste of winter. Gulls hang in the air, effortlessly riding the currents with skill. A watery sun sinks slowly into the west as I wander the contours of Kerry Head. I know this land well, it has a feeling of history. The walls, built by hands long vanished from the earth. Coves, worn into the rock by eons of erosion. All this existed before I was born and will continue to exist long after I am gone.
I visit the old grave yard remembering those who went before me. I wander among the stones, some new, some older than time. The ones that fascinate me most are the ones so weathered that all trace of inscription has vanished. These blank tablets of rock ignite my imagination with possibilities. As chance would have it, I stumbled on the final resting place of Sheila Lennihan. Her headstone inscription reads;
Sheila Lennihan (ni Brennan)
1905 - 1978
Beloved wife to Eamon, on whom she still waits.
The story of Eamon and Sheila Lennihan is well know in these parts and sadly their story is not uncommon. You could search for a year and a day amoung the headstones in this grave yard but you will find no monument to the late Eamon Lennihan. He left a more personal reminder of his passing. This is his story.
Eamon Lennihan farmed a small holding, clinging to the very edge of the land before it gave way to the harsh Atlantic Ocean. Like so many others he had to turn to to the sea to make ends meet. Early each day he would take his battered old bike and ride the short distance to Kelly's Cove and his Currach. For those that don't know, a Currach is a traditional Irish boat, made from pitch and hide. The hide in modern days had been replaced by canvas, but the intention remained the same. In these simple craft, Irish men have challenged the might of the sea for hundreds of years, gathering what little they needed to survive. Sometimes the saddest facts are also the simple ones. Not every man that left in a Currach came back.
On a morning like any other, Eamon waved goodbye to Sheila and set off on his rickety old bike. Before the sun was high in the sky, Eamon pushed the boat into the waves forcing the Currach away from the land with powerful strokes of his narrow oars. The little boat creaked and groaned as it rode the swell, laden with its cargo of lobster pots. Before long Eamon and his Currach were out of sight. The day was a bright one with a gay breeze, the ocean rose and fell gently.
In Lennihan's cottage, Sheila prepared a pot of stew, tended the chickens and looked after the few cattle they possessed. When the sun began to dip towards the west, the pot of stew remained untouched and cold on the kitchen table. Shelia had worn a trench of worry, from door to window, as she waited for Eamon to return. He had never been this late before. In the end she could wait no longer and hurried toward Kelly's Cove. As she raced past men toiling in the fields she asked if they had seen her Eamon? None had. Soon the news spread and concerned friends began to gather.
When Sheila reached the end of the path she saw Eamon's bike leaning against the dry stone wall bordering the sheltered inlet, his Currach was not on the shingle beach. Sheila searched the ocean for her husband as people rallied round. Men ran to boats, launching them into the evening sun and stroking for known fishing spots. Women gathered around Sheila but she would not be move from the edge of the cliff. She searched the horizon and cried with joy when she spotted a boat, only to sob with anguish when she realised it was a search boat returning empty handed.
The last boat returned just as the sun touched the western edge of the ocean. Sheila refused to be moved and the women built a fire on the edge of the cliff to keep her warm and to guide the lost Eamon home. The beacon burned all night and in the morning everyone except Sheila accepted the tragic loss.
Sheila never would, or could, accept that her Eamon was not coming home. Every evening before the sun would set she made her way to Kelly's Cove and watch the horizon until dark, waiting for her man to return. Having no body to bury there was never a grave stone erected in memory of Eamon Lennihan, that is not to say he was forgotten.
I give Mrs Lennihan's headstone a touch for luck before walking down the path that took me to Kelly's Cove, to stand on the headland, as she had done every night to watch the sun go down over the wild Atlantic Ocean. As I rounded the last corner I caught a glimpse of Eamon's Monument, still lying against the wall where he'd left it, all those years ago. An old bike waiting to carry its owner home.
Perhaps I was a bit harsh about technology at the start of this piece, when used right, there is majesty in just about anything.