About donalminihane

Dónal is a hotel manager from Co. Clare who also writes.

Blind Bend

That afternoon in the city you see her upstream, two teenage boys in school uniforms flank her, humping schoolbags. When she gets closer you see she is young, too young to look that tired. She thumbs her phone as she walks. One of the lads fires a great gob of spit onto the window of a shop. She turns to scold him and he gives her the finger as they turn the corner at the end of the street.
In the morning I leave the house with the dogs and her face is in my head as I walk. I come to a blind bend in the road. I see three bags of rubbish dumped in a field, white butterflies dancing around the mess and I know now that she put them there. And in a rush, it comes to me that she is a single mum because her partner is in jail and that she can’t afford to pay the bin charges, so in the night, when finally, the noise of Grand Theft Auto subsides from their room, she knows her boys are asleep and she loads her rubbish into the boot of her partner’s car that’s left rusting in the under-ground car-park. She can’t afford the insurance or tax on it but she takes the chance she won’t meet any guards out this time of night. She’s been doing this for months and when she first started, she said to herself that she would just drive outside the city and find a field and dump it there, but once she got in the car and started driving she couldn’t stop. She drove all the way to the coast, to a seaside village and stopped there in the car-park and got out and walked the dark beach soothed by the sounds of an ocean she couldn’t see. She got back into the car and drove into the hills behind the town and found a blind bend on a small road with grass growing up the middle of it with no houses or life in sight and she grabbed her rubbish and flung it over the ditch into the field. On her way back in the car, she felt new. It was getting bright as she approached the city and she looked in the rear-view mirror and said to the reflection that things were possible outside the life she had at the moment. She felt guilty about the cost of the petrol money but she needed to have this one thing. Every two weeks she’d take off with the rubbish and she said to herself that she could have been spending on worse things like other mothers she knew who drank and smoked and popped pills to escape.

There’s a farmer at the top of my road. He’s a bachelor. He’s in his fifties. I’ve been in his house a few times. He made me a coffee once and apologised because he had no sugar. Doesn’t keep it in the house, he said. He had a jar of fresh honey and I took a spoon of it to sweeten my coffee. Seen too many farmers my age let themselves go, he said, too fond of the pan, he said, old greasy rashers and sausages and fried eggs, fried bread and potatoes, everything fried. Fried food, fried heart, he said. Got to look after the ticker. And the place of his was kept lovely, not like a man’s house at all, nothing fancy, lino down on the floors, but clean and smelling nice and in his sitting room on one wall he had the sacred heart and on the other a whole shelf of movies and when I looked through them I saw Cinema Paradiso and Casablanca and Dr. Zhivago and Gone With the Wind and he wasn’t one bit shy and told me that Casablanca was his favourite movie of all and that he’d seen it over a hundred times and told me then that he watched a movie every Sunday night and to call up anytime if I wanted to get a bit of peace and quiet from the kids. But I didn’t. I went at him instead in my head. I knew by the way the house was, that he wouldn’t like it at all if he was driving along in his tractor one day and he found a load of rubbish in one of his fields, the bags pecked open by crows and crap strewn all over the grass. He’d curse under his breadth then and go about cleaning it up and forget about it again, until two weeks later he finds more bags and two weeks later again and now it really begins to bother him and he goes through the bags and tries to find something that would identify the perpetrator, but there’s nothing only Findus Crispy Pancakes and Coco Pops boxes and Hula Hoop wrappers, not even a shopping receipt. He lies awake at night thinking about it and waits for the two weeks to come around again and sits in the ditch in the dark, waiting for the car to pull up. The headlights sear the hedgerow and the car door slaps and he waits until he sees the bags like the dark sky falling in and he jumps out of the ditch and lets out a roar and grabs the figure in the shadows and is ready to clatter whoever it is when she starts crying and he gets an awful shock that he nearly hit a woman, as a woman was the last thing he expected to encounter on the side of his hill in the dark of this night. And later, back in his kitchen, he puts a mug of cocoa in front of her and offers her some honey to sweeten it and even though there is silence now and I can hear the clock ticking between them, I know one of them will say something right soon but that’s not my concern. I’ve introduced them and that’ll do for now.IMG_0001

Echoes- On the Birth of my Son

solstice

Love set you going like a fat gold watch. 

The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements 

-Sylvia Plath

The body is rooted, but the mind, the mind travels constantly, back and forth through places and moments and memories, with scant regard for time or space, borderless and often rudderless. It can be a smell, a sound, a touch or simply the leafy dance of the sun on a wall that sets it off. I’m in the maternity hospital in Limerick. In my arms my hour old son. I’m looking down at him and my wife Liz sits on the metal bed opposite. The ward is wearing a snug quietness. Lunch has been served and visiting hours are over, mothers and babies resting in the aftermath of childbirth, sun streaming through the leaves that dance at the window and dapple the walls. There’s the distant din of traffic from the city and the place has the air of a field hospital behind the lines, a sense that war wages elsewhere but here there’s a brief reprieve. As I look down into my son’s eyes, I hear a piercing anguished cry from down the ward and an echo washes over me, and the mind is off on its travels. Places like these, human institutions where transition has long settled are warrens of echoes.

I’m in a classroom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Here too there is a stillness. There is a suggestion that a city moves outside the grounds but this place is not concerned with the sounds of life moving on. Long fingers of sunlight caress the walls through iron bars on the windows. The building is ordinary from outside, flanked in front by a row of palm trees, manicured lawns and assembly areas. Once children played here. Now it is the Tol Sleung Genocide Museum. Liz and I are on our honeymoon and we are visiting between cocktails, out of duty more than anything, it being, as it seems, one of the places one visits when in the city. During Pol Pot’s revolution twenty thousand people were brought through these school gates for their lessons, only three were left out after class alive. Everything here is as it was found, metal skeletons of beds in the classrooms, manacles attached trailing on blood stained floors, thousands of black and white mug-shots line the walls. Some of them are smiling. Here is a place where inmates were sliced open and had organs removed with no anaesthetic, others were attached to intravenous pumps, every drop of blood drained from their bodies to see how long they could survive, others skinned alive. Electric shock, disfigurement, burnings, the jailers here dug deep in the pit of depravity till they could dig no more. Here is a place so soaked in atrocity you wear it afterwards like soiled skin and I’m here with my son in this place. I look down at him and I want to put him back inside. Back into his mother. And then I say to him, I’ll never let something like this happen to you, you’ll be neither prisoner nor jailer in a place like this. Even as I say it I know this is a promise I cannot keep, the world has him now and will do with him as it wishes.

Briefly, I’m back in the maternity ward, I look away out into the corridor. Here comes the next echo. I’m in another classroom, my old alma mater, Ard Scoil Ris, just down the road from the maternity in the leafy Ennis Road suburbs. Again we have the sun pawing at the windows, the corridors are empty save for the smell of floor polish and piss and the weather is good because it is exam time, and the weather is always good when you are doing exams. I’ve finished my last exam of the leaving cert. All the other students have gone. It’s my eighteenth birthday. I should be elated, but I’m not. I don’t know how I feel as I walk the corridors alone. For the first time I look at the old class photos that line the walls. Some of them are smiling. I start at one end where they are black and white and walk along taking in every face, the black and white soon becomes colour and I’m swimming in faces but can’t stop until I come to last years photo and the faces have run out and there is a blank spot on the wall where our picture will be soon, where my face will sink in a soup of faces. I stand in the hallway and I want to scream so that my scream fills this place and never leaves, that my scream levels the walls around so that I’m standing in a pile of rubble. I want to scream out into the hollowness with a defiant roar. But I don’t and the scream curdles inside of me and I walk out the gates of the school an adult.

And now I’m down the road in the hospital again, child in my arms, looking into the innocent ink of his eyes, we’re two strangers meeting for the first time, I know nothing of him and he of me, I have no idea how he’ll be or what he’ll be or where he’ll end up. But we clamour always for certainty and security and I want to promise him something concrete, a promise I can be sure I’ll keep. The nurse is here, pulling back the curtain and the world is at our doorstep, waiting. Liz holds out her hands to take him back. Women are angels. They have more respect for life having experienced the pain that bears it. I look up from my son and over to Liz. She is beaming at us, face saintly with a sheen of love, a balm from her soul that is soothing the memory of the pain and torture of childbirth. She has no idea what I’m thinking or where we were. This is good– mothers of sons shouldn’t have to think on such things. I hold him tight and look in his eyes, all I can promise you is love I say, maybe you’ll be my echo little man, you’ll be my echo?

 

Imbolc

Wall and crosses at St. Brigid's Well, Liscannor, Co. Clare

Neighbouring villages are within sight of each other

Roosters and dogs can be heard in the distance

Should a man grow old and die            

without ever leaving his village            

let him feel as though there was nothing he missed                        

-Tao Te Ching

Lovely sentiment by Lao Tzu but there are some places and villages that make the business of contentment that little bit easier. I live in one of those places and it is lately that I’ve begun to sink back into the rhythm of the place a little bit, to be part of the tune rather than trying to be the composer. And so it was I waited and watched for the weather on St. Brigid’s Day, the first day of spring, Imbolc to the ancients. Legend has it that if Imbolc was fine then winter would continue, but if the weather was bad then it was a sign winter was over. This day was fine which meant the Cailleach or hag of winter was out collecting firewood to keep her warm a little longer. The Cailleach rules over the winter and Brigid rules over summer, from Imbolc on you begin to see Brigid’s influence but it’s March and the Spring Equinox before the Cailleach begins to wane. Both the Hag Cailleach and the Goddess Brigid reside in our little corner of the world. Always one to hedge my bets I decide over the feast of Imbolc to visit them both to pay my respects.

Hag’s head, we’re told, is where the Cailleach resides when she’s at home, that is when she is not out collecting firewood or whipping up storms. In her downtime she sits jutting from the Cliff-top, sphinx-like in a meditative pose, looking forever westwards at the sun setting over the Atlantic. The view here terrifies me. The great mouth of the universe, open and gawping, ready to swallow you without a thought. And many’s the soul she’s swallowed under the nonchalant eye of the Cailleach. On foul days here the water pounds the cliffs in battalions, fluid armies sent forth from Lir of the deep, harbingers of Armageddon, but the Cliffs hold them back. I stand on top of the natural fortress and can’t help feeling the Cliffs protect us from something, for now. Way below the water’s speak, there is a pull, magnetism about the fall, it serves to remind us how near oblivion is. The Cailleach sits on her perch unperturbed; she’s seen it all from here and waits, knowing the sun will set regardless of what’s thrown at her from the sea.

The day was taking soft steps towards twilight as I stepped down past the clootied trees into Brigid’s Well. Mine was the only shadow at the shrine that hour of the day. Scented candles burned after earlier pilgrims and the music of the nomadic waters filled the space with eternity. This is a timeless, ancient place. People that are gone stare from photographs pinned to the walls, votive fragments of memory peering from pair upon pair of eyes. Yet this is not a place of loss, or of longing, though the waters move there is a stillness, though music flows, there is silence, though these people are gone, they are here. Where can they go? Thus trickles the message to the pilgrims from the waters of the well. The cliffs are a stone’s throw, you couldn’t be further, but here too the waters speak.

There is a crack in everything— that’s how the light gets in.

Brigid is the main character in my novel ‘Clíona’s Wave.’ Her mother believes ‘twas St. Brigid out of Kildare she was named for, her father the Goddess Brigid, daughter of Dagda, goddess of poetry, wisdom and healing. In Ireland the pagan and ancient exist under a thin veil of Christianity and modernity. For thousands of years the Celts worshipped at Imbolc- one of the four cross quarter days of the year – this was Brigid’s feast day; the other feasts were Bealtaine 1st May, Lughnasa 1st August and Samhain 1st November. Now they are Christian holidays, as with the quarter days Christmas and St John’s Eve, where once the solstice nights were celebrated. Enterprising Christians were never ones to waste a good pagan holiday.

I have a soft spot for the old Gods it must be said. They were forever getting themselves in trouble, falling for God’s they shouldn’t have, running off with beautiful mortals, foregoing immortality for a night of passion with some red haired vixen, and they loved a good feast, a goblet of wine or a haunch of venison. They were prone to anger and jealousy and vengeance, but also great acts of kindness, bravery and forgiveness. Sound familiar?

These modern God’s would drive you to drink. They are so perfect, we haven’t a hope! They make us less forgiving of ourselves and less tolerant of others. What the world needs at the moment is a God who leads by example, one who fucks up from time to time but is doing his best, a God who laughs at herself. What the world needs now is a God who isn’t religious.

By February 1st most of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. That’s ok. The best bit of advice I got lately was from a girl I shared a fag with outside a pub. She told me that if I was going to have a cigarette at that particular moment I might as well enjoy it, and then I did. Only when you realise you are never going to be perfect will you allow yourself to be good. In each of us is the Cailleach and Brigid, the hag and the Goddess, pagan and Christian, the cliffs and the well, that is what it is to be human, to exist. Light and darkness move within us throughout the seasons of our lives, sometimes more light, sometimes more darkness, equinox when we are born, equinox at death, we dance between solstices in between. And so we watch and wait for the Cailleach to pull her brittle bony fingers from the land, we wait for the poetry of spring from Brigid’s breath and all the while the well whispers its wisdom for those who wish to listen.

January Flower

solstice

Taking down the decorations used to depress me, the sight of the naked tree in the corner, taken out then and left on the road for collection, pathetic strands of tinsel hanging on for dear life.

­­We have tested and tasted too much lover

Yep! the post Christmas hangover always hurt, you’d be dragging the arse out of it after New Years, the 2nd the 3rd the 4th tracking the week into January with anxiety, until little by little no trace of Christmas left, no excuse for excess and there you were staring at the shorn tree in the corner like the emperor without his clothes.

This year I took on the role of spectator a little bit, treating Christmas like a parade and letting it pass me by, enjoying the spectacle of it but not getting swept away

The last bite of the Christmas dinner wasn’t down the throat of my Grandmother, God rest her soul, but she’d say that’s it now, ‘tis as far away now as it ever was. There was a glee about her as she’d say it, revelling in it, longing for the return to normality. She’d been around long enough to know the bliss of routine.

Wherever life pours ordinary plenty, won’t we be rich, my love and I

That’s where things are at the moment.

Trying to forge all the different strands of life into one routine, so there’s no peaks and troughs just even keel.

It’s like trying to plait a wild gypsies hair into one neat ponytail, but it will come eventually I’m sure, all rivers learn to meander and mellow the nearer they get to the sea, knowing I suppose that they’ll get there anyway.

I have finally finished the edit for ‘Clíona’s Wave,’ my first novel that will be released in the Spring. What began as a frustrating experience ended as a rewarding one. You see, I’m a lazy fucker. I’d put the book away, shelved it and started another one. Then when Indigo Dreams said they were going to publish it, they assigned an editor to me, and she went to work, and it was painful. Editing a book you thought you were done with is like lying in bed after an ill-judged one-night stand, smoking cigarette after cigarette when all you want to do is get out of there and move onto the next conquest.

Last night however as I read over it I was glad of the time we spent together over the last couple of months, at least I can move on from it now and say it’s finished or at least that it’s more finished than it was. I don’t know if a story can ever really be finished, there will always be the regret that comes with hindsight. I am hoping to launch it at the Doolin Writers’ Weekend at the end of March and also planning a launch in Union Hall(where the book is set), so the next few months will be busy promoting Clíona’s Wave and trying to finish my second novel Leap of the Foals. We have our third child due in April so the goal is to get the second novel finished before the new arrival and the start of the busy season in Doolin. A short piece of fiction of mine was short-listed for the K Award judged by Claire Keegan, you can read this piece here https://donalminihane.com/2014/09/04/dead-priests-house/

Even though it’s January there’s a lot to look forward to but I’m trying to learn that the trick isn’t to look forward to something, or to look longingly back, the trick is to enjoy the moment, each one as we move along, easier said than done, especially in January I hear you say. But you know what, I got up this morning in the dark. I looked out the window. It was a bar-room brawl of a morning, nasty, dirty, bad tempered, shutters outside the windows clattering with a hollow thud off the wet stone, trees, wind and rain pulling out of each other, tugging and tussling, only the few houses were still on the landscape, motionless like petrified bar-maids caught in the melee. I pulled on my boots and coat, called the dog and headed up the hill. It’s never as bad when you get out in it. The weather is like most things that confront us. The day had dawned proper when I got back to the house, the kids were up and the porridge was on and the fire was lighting. The tree waited in the corner. I put it out before breakfast.