Margaret Kiernan writes poetry and short stories. She is published in both.
She is part of the Thursday poetry workshop at Galway Arts Centre, 47 Dominick Street, facilitated by Mr Kevin Higgins, Poet.
She has a background in Public Policy and Social Justice. Margaret enjoys painting in watercolour and in acrylics.
She has four grown-up sons. She lives in Mullingar.
Dismount Where the Winds Cross
By Margaret Kiernan
The north-west captivated our imagination. It was a good distance from where we had previously lived in the Irish midlands. It was an area of the country with which we were not familiar. While it was part of the Irish Republic, in the province of Ulster, it was geographically away out on a limb. Different in so many ways. The climate was colder. Snow usually arrived in October. People were less concerned with Dublin and the happenings there, politically and socially. It was beautiful. The colours of the landscape were breath-taking.
Donegal had mountains and great plains of bog and rock. Sea and great big skies. Beaches like no other that stretched as far as the eye could see. Trawlers that fished the sea, where you could purchase fresh fish on the quay when the boats came home. We learned about variety and to know the difference, value wise too. Our diet changed, we grew to love fish and dropped our meat -eating habits. Beef in the midlands had a high value, it still has. All those green acres of grass producing amazing beef.
Moving to Donegal town for two years created a deep impression on me. It did too on my two curly haired blonde boys. Their father worked in the public service. His transfer viewed initially, with despair. Those two tiny tots would have to change friends as well as home. We needed to purchase a new house. Sell our home in the midlands.
Leave good friends behind. In the eighties people re-located for work, unlike now, when people travel long distance in a daily grind to earn a living.
When we arrived in Donegal, it was the week before Christmas. We moved into our lovely home, a long low yellow brick building rested into the garden, surrounded by green fields and hills. Soft accents floated out from cottages and hot uses, where spinning wheels spun tweed all day. The neighbours warmly greeted us. Unpacking quickly and taking out what we needed, we went and purchased a Christmas tree. We set it into the floor-length bay-window and decorated it. We fully intended to have a traditional Christmas in our new Province. To make the Christmas as luxurious as possible. We would not be with family or friends. We needed to compensate.
We made the decision to do a large shop. Fill the house with all good things for the holiday season. The value for shopping in Northern Ireland we were aware of, and we both agreed we would travel there. We started out early in the morning for Enniskillen town, in county Fermanagh. We drove south to Bally-Shannon and then headed east; we were on the way. A routine we quickly became used to in the following years.
Driving over bogland, we finally spotted the river Erne up ahead. It spread out like a great sea. It was beautiful. Dotted with islands. Even in winter it all looked so green and blue.
In summer months it shimmered.
Now on that first trip, we were excited. We were nervous too. For the children, mostly. We knew that we would arrive at a military checkpoint. As we left the Irish republic and entered Northern Ireland.
Our children had never seen soldiers in full battle combat gear. Indeed, they played with toy soldiers and games with guns, their father held a game-licence and owned shotguns, but this would be different. We explained to them as we drove along what they were likely to see.
As we glided to a stop when requested to do so, at the formal checkpoint. On each side of the road stood men in uniforms and in full camouflage battledress . Some of them knelt along the ditch. We noticed different uniforms but mostly, we saw the guns, aimed at us.
Soldiers stooped over the magnifying lens on those guns. It was broad daylight.
Tarpaulin hung in swathes and, camouflage netting draped across large poles. Red notice boards gave written instructions directed to the civilians in cars.
Soldiers signalled some cars to pull over off the road , one soldier directed a car down out of view, under the tarpaulin tunnel.
We watched and waited for our turn to proceed, or not. I looked back at the children in the rear of the car, I smile brightly. They sat there, in their warm woollen Aran sweaters, innocently looking about them.
I spoke my thoughts aloud and wondered if I would be warm enough if asked to get out of the car and stand in the freezing cold. It was December.
“Should I put my topcoat on”? I asked aloud.
My husband that I was to sit very still and not speak.
Finally, a soldier approached the drivers car window of our vehicle. He requested to see a driver’s licence. He took it and spent time looking through it. He wanted to know where we were going to, and why. Then he spoke in an accent unknown to me. He said,
“Stay put, don’t move”
He stepped into a hut. It seemed ages before he re-appeared. Handing back the document, he signalled with an arm action to move forward. He uttered not one word aloud. With a degree of concern about moving, we were not in a hurry to action any movement. It felt as if we had committed an offense. Somehow, we both felt baffled, we both looked at each other. Seconds seemed like hours. Oppressed breath exuded through my nostrils.
Finally, we did move forward, very slowly. Easing back into the stream of road traffic, we were relieved.
I engaged the children in conversation again. Asked if they were looking forward to arriving at the shops. Said it wouldn’t be long now.
The oldest child said,
“Did you see that gun Dad? It is like the gun that the A-Team guys hold on telly, da.”
His father said he had seen it as; he tersely checked his wristwatch. December rain began to fall. Somehow the excitement had left the shopping trip.
We both agreed we would not delay getting the provisions. It was our intention to return and be back and through that checkpoint before darkness fell.
Later that week we climbed the hills near our home and watched the lights in houses strung all along the valley. To our north, the Blue Stack mountains spread out, blissful beneath the blue-black sky, in the shadow of the moon. It truly was Christmas.