The Last Lintels

There I was thinking that this would be a grand morning for a bit of a sleep-in but the commotion below in the kitchen soon put paid to that great idea.  I hear the furniture shifting as Broch struggles to extricate himself from under the chair where he insists on sleeping. Tigger's body clock is set to BARK and bark he does, until I finally make an appearance and there's no let-up until both of them have devoured their breakfast.

Eventually, thick socks and wellington boots are on, the camera is in the bag, the leads are on, the excitement is fever pitch, a bottleneck at the back door is successfully negotiated and somehow we find ourselves halfway down the road to Ballyhealy Beach. This is the life.

After a bright start to the morning, the sun has disappeared but it soon manages to find a weakness in the clouds and spreads a welcome wedge of light along the grassy dunes behind the beach.  I’m thinking that God’s lighting engineer will have his work cut out today.  Our only company is the breaking of waves, avian sounds from above, our own thoughts and that's enough.

We take the laneway behind the sand dunes, pass Fortune’s Potato Plant and follow it along as it meanders ahead of us into the distance. This is my favourite place to walk and the dogs enjoy their unrestricted freedom; we don’t need to be anywhere else.  Today, I'm going to revisit and photograph two of my favourite places.

Broch leads the way.  He knows that I know he will never disappear out of my sight and will always look back to ensure I haven’t strayed.  Broch would have very little time for any of that 'Lassie Come Home' type drama.  Many walks ago he came in contact with an electric fence and, consequently, never left my side until his panic abated and confidence returned.  Tigger’s ears stand erect as he gathers his tail between his legs and anticipates trouble around every corner.  In the fields, inquisitive cows come to check on us and continue to trot alongside us until they decide that we're not nearly as interesting as they first thought.

We round a slow bend and arrive at the ruin that rests, roofless and forlorn, in a small overgrown site that also contains various other outbuildings.  I've been informed that the proprietor of this property, and the last person to live here, was a Mr Tom Pierce.  The residential part of these ruins caught fire once.  A story goes that, during the Troubles, arms and ammunitions were illicitly stored in a chimney for safe-keeping and this was all well and good until, maybe, someone decided to light a fire in the grate below.

I know little else about this ruin and perhaps I don’t need to; maybe it’s better just to imagine the activity and lives of the people who lived here and called it home.  As I walk around the building I take photographs and wonder at how so many stones of different shapes and sizes manage to achieve compatibility and accommodate each other in forming the walls of the structure; a testament to craftsmanship from another time.  Then, I can't help but notice the fragile, timber lintel that still sits astride an aperture that previously contained a small window near the apex of a gable wall.

We leave through a small walled garden at the front of the buildings and continue on our way.

Pierce's Cottage

The lane is guarded on either side by straggling fences whose posts bear the scars of barbed wire and bruising suffered over many years. We leave the lane and cross empty fields towards an area known locally as Drum Island.  Here, the dogs take the opportunity to stretch their limbs as they sprint around, herding each other for dear life. The sound of the waves has faded into the distance and, almost unnoticed, morphs into a near-perfect silence that is only interrupted by nearby birdsong and the rumble of distant farm machinery that's echoed its way to where I now stand, beside a complex of beautiful ruins. The sun has retreated back to its hiding place and the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

Frank Drumgoole occupied this substantial property and was the last to live in it, or so I'm told, and it's been abandoned ever since.  I'm also told that Frank was the first man to introduce the Combine Harvester to the South East. He hired it out during the harvest season and John "The Bull" Ryan, a sixteen times All Ireland Handball Champion from Bridgetown, was employed to drive it. Other than that I have no other knowledge of the history of these imposing ruins but today I am just happy to immerse myself in the air of peace and calm that resides here now.  

In years to come nature may render these ruins invisible as, even now, deep bramble and rampant ivy have a vice-like stranglehold in every crevice, window and wall.  I'm drawn to a gable wall that houses a bell tower at its apex.  There was a similar one at my Uncles farm up in the Midlands where I spent much of my childhood and I remember pulling a long chain to ring the bell that called the farm workers in for dinner. Maybe the Drumgoole tower hosted a bell for similar purposes.

The dogs are sitting patiently in the field and produce that 'where are you going now, you can't just leave us' expression when I climb over a low wall and trample my way through bush and thick thorn towards an area that hasn't yet surrendered itself to the invading jungle.   I'm standing in a large space that may have served as a kitchen, dining room or bedroom.  The emptiness of the space gradually dissipates and is slowly replaced by a haunting stillness and the presence of past dwellers; I start to feel like an uninvited guest. What is it about ruins, abandoned churches, graveyards and even vast, empty cathedrals that can provide such prolonged and eerie silence?  Just seconds of similar silence can be experienced at the end of a powerful orchestral or operatic performance, for instance, before it is shattered by applause.  I've also felt it, for micro seconds immediately after a loud, running engine is suddenly turned off.

I look out through window openings that barely cling on to their surviving lintels and admire the fine views of the surrounding countryside.  Later, when I'm back outside, I look through the very same openings and see only ghosts.

Drumgoole Ruins

Entrance Porch to Drumgoole

Bell Tower

I check my watch and notice that time is getting on and I'm satisfied that I've taken the photographs I came for.  I take a last look around and wonder who the Drumgooles' nearest neighbours might have been and I speculate that the Drumgooles and the Pierces, though fields apart, were 'next door' neighbours.

The dogs look relieved and happy to be on the move again.  We reach the laneway and I think about the route we might take home.  But the decision is quickly taken out of my hands by the two rascals that are now scampering over the sand dunes and on to the beach behind; any route that includes a beach is always their preferred one.  The tide is well out and provides plenty of open space for Tigger to demonstrate his antics.

Soon, I'm a sheep and the centre point of a perfectly scribed circle which he circumnavigates until distracted by the sight of a solitary human being in the far away distance.  Tigger is wary and nervous of humans, cars, bikes, wheelbarrows, garden tools and noise, and foresees trouble where none exists.  I forever need to remind myself that there were episodes in his early life that he will never forget. For now, he needs me.  

All the while Broch, who will gladly greet whoever comes his way, is demanding that I now, this minute, participate in whatever game he has up his sleeve. Tigger then decides, without any clear destination in mind, to sprint along the shoreline leaving behind a geometric pattern of paw prints, tangent-like to his earlier design.

As we approach the Ballyhealy stone the dogs frolic in shallow water and rid themselves of the muck and whatever else from the fields.  By the time we reach the car park the clouds have separated sufficiently to allow the countryside to bathe, for a while at least, in the warmth of the early afternoon sun.

Back home the dogs retire under the kitchen table and I sit and reflect, happy for my thoughts to slip back into the world of stone walls and broken lintels.

The Last Lintel.



Life is good. Tomorrow is another day to look forward to and in the morning I won't be allowed to forget.  A dog's life is short. This is the life.