Eighteen minutes is what it takes me to walk to Ballyhealy Beach. This personal best will be beaten this morning as Broch and Tigger appear to be on a mission of their own, setting a pace that I struggle to match. It's cold and grey and the sky is hanging low, but rain is not forecast.
We walk in the direction of Kilmore Quay as it's been over a month since we came this way. Everywhere is ours and there isn't a soul in sight. I enjoy this quietness and don't mourn the absence and excitement of neon and noise that now resides firmly in my past.
I've been a stranger to the sea for most of my life. For a young person, living in the middle of Ireland, the sea was never more than a figment of the imagination, fuelled by John Hinde postcards and glossy brochures in the travel agent's window. In primary school men with plastic white collars bussed us away on so-called 'educational' excursions to seaside resorts like Tramore, Ballycotton or Bray. The educational part was happily provided by a hawker on Tramore Promenade, who trousered my entire day's pocket money by flogging me an unworkable plastic camera. But at least I saw the sea.
Today, the beach is blasted with stones and debris but, thankfully, artery-like corridors of clear sand provide space for safe walking. As we make our way I imagine invisible borders that might be crossed as we progress from one townland to the next.
Since time began, this coastline has been the target of relentless attacks from the sea and now, a fine traditional cottage is well within its sights. The cottage sits precariously close to a field's edge, some twenty feet above the sand and its continued existence depends entirely on the behaviour of the Celtic Sea.
The only safe access to the beach at Bastardstown was provided by a single, concrete slip, but having failed to cope with relentless onslaughts from the sea, it disintegrated and soon became extinct. The powers that be, in their wisdom, eventually constructed a sturdy wooden staircase that served its purpose well, while it lasted, but that also met its waterloo in similar circumstances. Local people still await the promised construction of a permanent, safe access to their beach.
A mountain of quarry rock was imported to protect the defenceless coastline and that sits, like the contents of a landslide that's found a resting place at the base of a low cliff face. In places, the sea has now managed to leapfrog these buttresses and add further damage to the topography of the immediate area. Close by, nature has excavated deeply, creating amphitheatre-shaped voids in neighbouring fields.
Above the beach a large modern edifice sits high altar-like, not a stone's throw from the land's end. I think about its occupants and those of other nearby properties; prey to acts of God and broken promises. Resting behind me there is an idle sea, its surface bearing an expression of innocence. I have a hunch that it's admiring its terrible handy work and planning its next move.
Thomas Köner creates soundscapes of dystopian dread. Tentative calm is obliterated by turmoil and devastation. I press ► and my headphones deliver a wall of discordant noise that gives an impression of imposing itself on the helpless seashore.
The dogs have become impatient and want to move on.
I press ◙ because the cows of Ballygrangans are approaching, trotting towards us in the fields above the beach. I'm sure the cows of Ballygrangans would not take kindly to the drama and despair of Tomas Köner; milking to the melodies of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony would be more to their liking. For now, they look down on us and seem perfectly amused and happy to have us for company.
The damage perpetrated on the coastline towards Ballygrangans is both outrageous and impressive. In places, large mouthfuls of earth have been removed and swallowed by the sea leaving a series of giant, oval-shaped gaps in the land. Timber stakes, having had the ground dramatically removed from under them, hang motionless and redundant from a gallows of over-stretched fencing wire. Elsewhere, triangular-shaped curtains of grass and topsoil drip over the edge, waiting for the moment to detach themselves from the fields that sustained them.
I bring my camera to life. This drama here is camera ready.
Through the private world of a camera's viewfinder, an intimate relationship can be formed with a subject. When this happens it is time to gently squeeze the shutter and move on.
Five signs of danger stand perpendicular to Ballygrangans' twin slips. Three of them warn that this is not a safe place for animal or man. One warns against stealing from the beach and another against driving your car into the sea. No warning against photography, so I take a quick shot and head for Neamstown.
Cottage In Danger
Last Line Of Defence - Bastardstown
The Remains Of "New" Staircase - Bastardstown
The beach here is particularly rough and makes walking more difficult. I'm impressed by the way Broch and Tigger carefully pick their spots between stones and debris; having four legs must make their task somewhat more complicated. Lough Derg and bare feet spring to mind.
The grey pencil line of the horizon is briefly interrupted by the Saltee Islands that lie corpse-like beneath the darkening sky. In the foreground the calm water is sentinelled by the Mageens, a reef of jagged boulders whose tops, like seal heads, gently break the surface as though to scan the shore for intruders.
Here too, the geology of St. Patrick's Bridge reveals itself as it snakes its way from Neamstown to the Saltees. I sit with the dogs for a while to admire its curvature and recall a conversation I had some years back with a local farmer who pointed me to where his land once extended while explaining how the depth of erosion would determine how far into the field his fencing needed to retreat.
While walking back towards Ballyhealy the mind wanders and I remember a dream.
It's the early hours of a Winter's morning and I'm standing in a field that overlooks the beach, as a raging storm bulldozes its way into the soft clay of Bastardstown's coastline. A partly-obscured moon illuminates the temper tantrums of black water and surf. I take a risk and move a few steps closer to the edge.
Struggling to stay afloat, the skeletal remains of a wooden staircase are tossed, dismembered and devoured, resurfacing briefly at the behest of current and chaos. Eventually, shattered steps, broken handrails and half-landings succumb and disappear. Histrionics of thunder and flash lightning accompany the deafening sound of the sea as it collides with land.
The dramatic scale and intensity of a Wagner opera would have its work cut out to compete with this unrehearsed cacophony.
Back in the land of the living, I notice the dogs are paddling by the Ballyhealy stone and for a minute I try to work out just what, in the name of whoever, is Mother Nature up to and who does she think she is. What powers allow her to inflict such misery and destruction whenever she feels like it? I mean, who is in charge around here?
I call the dogs and we head home.
Fences On The Verge
Grass And Topsoil Flow Over The Edge
Initial Damage To Bastardstown Slip