Authors: Tom McCaughren
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Europe, #Ireland, #History
3B Oak House, Bessboro Rd
Blackrock, Cork, Ireland.
First published in 1984 by The Children's Press, an imprint of Anvil Books
This edition published by Mercier Press, 2011
Â© Tom McCaughren, 1984, 1991, 2011
ISBN: 978 1 85635 801 9
Epub ISBN: 978 1 85635 962 7
Mobi ISBN: 978 1 85635 961 0
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They paused. For a moment all they could hear was the sound of their breathing after the exertion of the climb. Then they heard it. It was the voices again â¦
Following Jamesie nearer to the sounds, the others took the horseshoe nails out of the open necks of their shirts and fingered them as if their lives depended on them. This was no time, they thought, to be doubting the existence of fairies or whether necklaces of horseshoe nails would keep them out of their clutches â¦
They were coming closer to the sound of the voices now â¦ In a moment they were at the edge of the clearing, and they were hardly able to believe what they saw. There, only a short distance in front of them, several small figures were dancing around the hillock in a fairy ring.
âAnd look,' whispered Jamesie, nudging the others. âUp there.'
âWhat is it?' asked Tapser, holding the quivering collie firmly with both hands.
âA banshee,' choked Jamesie.
Sure enough, sitting in the moonlight beside the fairy thorn was an old woman. She had a dark shawl around her head, and even in the light of the moon they could see she was small and wizened â¦
To my good friends,
the people of Cong, County Mayo.
In this book, readers will come across many strange stories, including one about enchanted water-horses that came up out of Lough Afoor in County Galway to graze in the cornfields of Seoirse de Barra. The story of the water-horses is part of the folklore of the west of Ireland. However, on my visits to the west with my wife and daughters, I could never find Lough Afoor, or indeed, anyone who knew where it was, until one day we visited Clonboo Riding School.
Clonboo is on the road from Galway to Cong. The riding school, we discovered, lay beyond a marshy area just off the Galway to Cong road, and was run by Alexandra Donnelly Nash. During our visit, her mother Josephine showed us a small flint arrowhead. Alexandra, she said, had found the arrowhead in the marsh beside the laneway. Both Alexandra and her father, Eddie, had studied archaeology, so they got the arrowhead carbon dated in University College Galway. This showed that it was about 4,000 years old. But how did it come to be in the marsh? The answer became apparent when they told us that the marsh was in fact Lough Afoor. Prehistoric man must have been hunting or fishing at the lake, perhaps trying to spear trout.
Lough Afoor is almost dried up now â hence my difficulty in finding it â and, of course, there was no sign of the enchanted water-horses! However, stories such as the one about Seoirse de Barra and the water-horses are part of the folklore of the area, a folklore that also tells of the little people and how they took to the hills and forts after their defeat in a famous battle long ago.
It was inevitable, therefore, that some of the characters in this book should speak of such matters, even believe in them, for the Corrib, as visitors will find, has a magic all its own. I hope my young readers will discover some of that magic when they read
The Legend of the Corrib King
My readers will also discover that Uncle Pakie is involved in a very real battle with the salmon poachers. The story reflects the need to conserve our natural resources, such as the salmon, stocks of which have been dwindling in our lakes and rivers for some years now. To help counteract this alarming trend, the Government decided in 2006 to ban drift net fishing at sea and restrict netting in our estuaries so that more salmon coming back from the feeding grounds in the North Atlantic could return to our rivers or continue on to rivers in other countries.
Much work is also done by Inland Fisheries Ireland to maintain the stocks of salmon in our rivers and lakes. The hatchery in Cong, for example, releases thousands of young salmon into the local river each year. They spend one or two years at sea and then, like all salmon, return to the river from which they came to spawn.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the netting of salmon in our rivers and lakes is not allowed and strenuous efforts are made to prevent poachers putting down nets and undoing the good work that is being done to bring the numbers of salmon back up to their previous levels.
It was a strange invitation, probably the strangest the postman had ever brought to the glen. Cowlick was kneeling beside a stream trying to get fingerfuls of frog spawn into a jam jar when his sisters rushed up the yard to tell him about it, their long fair hair bouncing on their shoulders as they ran.
âIt's from Uncle Jim and Aunt Mag,' yelled RÃ³isÃn.
Rachel knelt down to give Cowlick a hand. âThey want us to go to the Corrib at dapping time,' she panted.
âWhat's dapping time?' he asked.
âYuk,' said RÃ³isÃn, âhow do you handle that stuff?'
Rachel tossed back her head to keep her hair away from the jar and remarked, âIt's only frog spawn.'
âAnyway,' said Cowlick, âwhat else did they say?'
âThere's a funny poem in it from Uncle Pakie,' RÃ³isÃn told him. âCome on â¦ we'll get mammy to read it
Wrinkling her nose in obvious disgust at what the others were doing, RÃ³isÃn turned and ran back into the house. She didn't share their enthusiasm for frog spawn. Being a bit older, a good book was more to her liking.
âWell,' said their mother when they were all together, âthey want us to visit them over in the west of Ireland.'
âWhen?' Cowlick asked her.
She put on her glasses and looked at the letter. âDapping time, Pakie says. He's given Big Jim a poem for you. It says,
Wings that whistle
Legs that fly
Fairies on the island
Fish in the sky
If you cannot solve this rhyme
Come to the Corrib at dapping time.'
âWhat a funny invitation,' said Cowlick.
His father, who was washing his hands at the sink, laughed. âThat's Pakie for you. Always did fancy himself as a bit of a poet.'
âWhere is the Corrib?' asked Rachel. âI know you said it's in the west, but where exactly?'
âThe Corrib,' said her mother, sounding like a schoolteacher, âis the second largest lake in Ireland, after Lough Neagh here in the North.'
âBut where?' repeated Rachel.
Her father winked and said rather mysteriously, âI suppose you could say it lies in the Land of the Little People.'
âDon't be silly,' said Rachel, and her mother added, âDon't mind him, he's only teasing you. It's in County Galway, Mayo, that area.' She rooted in a drawer until she found a map and, spreading it on the table, explained, âHere we are in the Glens of Antrim. Away over there, on the other side of the country, is the Corrib.'
They could see two large lakes, Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, and the village of Cong, where their relatives lived, on a narrow strip of land between them. Galway city, their mother pointed out, was at the lower end of the Corrib.
âCan Tapser come with us?' asked Cowlick.
âWe'll see,' said his father, mindful of the scrapes they had got into with their cousin Tapser.
âDoes that mean we will?' asked RÃ³isÃn.
âWill what?' replied her mother absentmindedly as she continued reading the letter to herself.
âThat we will visit them?' said Cowlick.
âThat's up to your father. What do you think, Dan? They seem to be talking about some time in August.'
âWell, maybe. As I say, we'll see â¦ when the time comes.'
When the time came, however, there was an even stranger message from Big Jim. Uncle Pakie had disappeared.
* * *
It had been arranged that Tapser would go to the Corrib with them. He lived not far from the glens, and even before they reached his house they could see him waiting for them. As Cowlick remarked, you could see his mop of red hair a mile away. Soon he and his collie, Prince, had squeezed into the back of the car and they were on their way.
It was a long journey from County Antrim to Mayo, but they didn't mind. Even the collie was content to curl up on the floor and doze, except of course, when crisps were being passed around. The journey also gave them plenty of time to find out more about Pakie.
They had all been a good bit younger the last time they had seen Pakie, but he had been great fun and they remembered him well â¦ his sharp, reddish face, clothes that hung loosely on him, eyes that sparkled when he told a joke, and a laugh that always turned into a dry smoker's cough.
âPakie's nice,' Rachel reflected.
Her mother nodded. âHe was always good-humoured, even as a boy.'
âTell us more about him,' Cowlick urged her.
âWhat more can I tell you? There are only the three of us â one brother and two sisters â just like yourselves. Pakie is the eldest. I'm next. Then Mag.'
âAnd is he really a poet?' asked RÃ³isÃn.
thinks he is,' said her mother with a laugh.
âBut you can't make a living writing poems,' said her father.
âWhat does he do then?' asked Cowlick.
âPoacher-turned-gamekeeper I suppose you could say. He's a waterkeeper. His job is to keep out the poachers.'
Tapser screwed up his freckled face in surprise. âBut the last time we were there he took us out one night to lamp fish.'
âAye, that's your Uncle Pakie all right. Always was a great hand at the poaching himself. None better. That's why they made him a waterkeeper. Now he's the scourge of the poachers, because he knows all their tricks.'
âI wonder what's happened to him?' said RÃ³isÃn.
âOh, I wouldn't worry too much about him,' her mother assured her. âHe always was a bit of a loner. As you know, he lives on his own and comes and goes when he pleases. He'll turn up, you'll see.'
It was the change of countryside that told them they were at last nearing the Corrib. It was a landscape quite unlike anything they had seen before, except perhaps in the foothills of the Antrim mountains. There were miles and miles of grey stone walls and rocky fields, and they couldn't help wondering where all the stones had come from. Here and there they passed a whitewashed cottage and occasionally a collie dog would emerge from a gateway to run barking at the wheels of the car.
Eventually, a sign told them they were approaching Cong. It was, they found, a beautiful village with an ancient stone cross, the ruins of an old abbey and a fairytale castle overlooking the Corrib.
RÃ³isÃn had been looking up her history books before she left, and was now able to tell her parents that the history of Cong went back into mythology. To her mother, however, Cong meant only one thing, and that was a film that had been made there. Called
The Quiet Man
, it starred John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. She had seen it many times and when they took a quick drive around the village she relived the film and picked out some of the things she had seen in it â the main street, the stone cross, Clarke's pub, and the familiar sign of Cohan's Bar where part of the famous fight scene had taken place. Beyond that were the abbey, the river and the magnificent grounds of Ashford Castle Hotel where, she told them, some of the romantic scenes had been filmed. As she talked about it all, they knew that if John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara were to drive up the main street in a jaunting car, she would think it the most natural thing in the world.
Leaving the village, they drove out along the Corrib, and at long last met their cousin Jamesie at the end of the laneway. He waved them down and squeezed into the front to guide them along the winding avenue of trees and steer them around the ruts in the lane.
Big Jim and his wife Mag were delighted to see them and ushered them into the kitchen. It was a very emotional reunion for Mag and her sister Mary, and after the two of them had a good cry on each other's shoulder, Mag hugged RÃ³isÃn and Rachel, and then Cowlick and Tapser, and told them how big they had all grown.
âI see Cowlick still has his cow's-lick curl,' said Mag.
Knowing that Cowlick always got embarrassed when anyone made mention of his peculiar curl, his mother came to the rescue by saying, âAnd sure we hardly knew Jamesie, he's got so big.'
âAye,' said Dan, âhe's got as long as a string of pump water.'
Big Jim smiled. âHe's still got a bit to go before he catches up on me. But he's not far behind his brother Martin. Martin's in the guards now, you know.'
âYou mean he's a policeman?' asked Dan.
Big Jim nodded. âThat's right. He's a garda. Or what you'd call a constable in the North I suppose. You'll see him tomorrow, all being well.'
While Jamesie took their suitcases upstairs, Mag cleared a collection of fishing rods and nets from the kitchen table and sat them down for something to eat. It wasn't long before the appetising aroma of a fry made them realise just how hungry they were, and they could hardly wait until Mag served them lavish helpings of bacon and eggs, or rashers and eggs as she called them.
Later, as the young people lay in bed and listened to the voices drifting up from the kitchen, they realised that the tearful reunion they had witnessed on arrival wasn't entirely due to the fact that the two women hadn't seen each other for some time, but also to unspoken concern for their brother Pakie.
Morning on the Corrib revealed a lake that was calm and breathtaking in its beauty. Big Jim and his family lived in a lovely grey stone house that nestled beside its own little inlet and quay on a tree-covered shoreline. The house used to belong to a captain of one of the steamers that carried passengers and cargo between Galway and Cong many years ago, and it had what could only be described as a panoramic view of the island-studded lake.
Not surprisingly, it was the lake which provided Big Jim with most of his income. He didn't have much land to farm, so he did a bit of everything. He even had a horse-drawn caravan which he hired out to tourists whenever he could. But most of the time, they gathered, he acted as a guide, taking out parties of anglers in summer and shooters in winter. Over breakfast, he told them that he and Dan and some of the neighbours would be checking around to see if there was any sign of their Uncle Pakie, and that Jamesie would be looking after them.
âWhat do you think has happened to Pakie?' asked RÃ³isÃn.
âArrah, maybe nothing at all,' he said. âSure he's always going off on his own.' Even as Big Jim tried to reassure them, however, they couldn't help noticing the anxious glance Mag shot across at him.
Realising that they were more concerned about Pakie than they were prepared to admit, Tapser changed the subject slightly by asking him, âWhat about the riddle he sent us?'
âSo you weren't able to figure it out?'
âSure isn't that why they came,' joked Dan. âPakie said they were to come at dapping time if they couldn't solve the rhyme.'
They all laughed, and Big Jim told them, âWell, Jamesie here is the boy who'll tell you about it.
Wings that whistle, legs that fly
â¦ but you have to catch them first, so you'd better hurry!'
âIt all sounds very mysterious,' said Rachel.
Big Jim winked. âAnd there's something else we've arranged for you. After Jamesie takes you out in the boat to explore the lake, he'll take you in the caravan to explore the countryside.'
âOh boy, that's great,' exclaimed Cowlick.
âAye, we all love horses,' said Rachel.
âAnd there's a carnival coming to Nymphsfield,' said Big Jim. âYou can look out for that too.'
âDo you think it's wise to let them go out in the boat?' asked Mary. âYou hear about so many drownings these days.'
âOf course it is,' her sister assured her. âThey'll be wearing life jackets and, anyway, Jamesie will take good care of them.'
âWhen they come in from the lake,' said Big Jim, âhe can show them around the grounds of Ashford Castle. He can also show them the canal. There's little or no water in it, so they're hardly likely to drown in that.'
âNo water?' said Dan. âWhat kind of a canal is that?'
Mag smiled. âI suppose it sounds strange all right, but we do have a dry canal. It's about four miles long.'
âDuring the 1840s,' Big Jim explained, âsomebody got the bright idea of linking the Mask and the Corrib. They thought it would be handy if people around the Mask could bring their produce down to Galway by boat. It took an army of men five years to cut their way through the rock. They built bridges and locks and when every-thing was ready the canal was opened. However, the engineers seemed to have overlooked the fact that the rock around here is limestone. The water just poured through the bottom and disappeared.'
âHow could it do that?' asked Cowlick.
âBecause limestone is a porous rock,' Big Jim told him. âYou can see where the rain has worn holes in it, and there are cracks and caves all over the place.'
âWhat a terrible waste,' said Dan. âI mean, to spend all that time cutting their way through it.'
Big Jim nodded. âI suppose it was in one way, but it was a lifesaver for the people who worked on it. You see, it was the time of the famine. They only got four pence a day, but it probably made the difference between life and death for most of them.'