Authors: Matthew Morris
There must be something about the air on an Irish island because that night Meg had the most vivid dream of her life. She was standing on the deck of a Galway hooker. Its crimson sails billowed overhead. She took out the compendium and held it up to take a course reading. In the sun, it shined like a golden mirror as she dialed coordinates into the volvelle. The deck was heaving up and down in heavy Atlantic swells, and Meg yelled out orders to her crew, who readily obeyed. She looked out to starboard and saw a corsair ship rapidly approaching, and called out to her crew to be on the ready for battle. The dark-skinned captain of the corsair was standing on the bow of his ship, calling for her to hand over her treasure. She yelled back defiantly “Never!” and turned the tiller hard to the right to ram her foe. Then she woke up.
Davins were sitting at the table eating breakfast when Meg walked in. Her head still awash in her dream, Meg did not notice that they were all nicely dressed. They told her that the fog had lifted at some time during the night and Shay was on her way back to Inishbofin. After breakfast they walked down to the harbor to meet the ferry and her.
The argument that had separated them and
Meg’s anger toward her mother for taking a ferry had all but washed away. In fact, she was so excited she could not wait to see her mom step foot on the pier so she could run up, hug her, and tell her all about her discovery. Her plan for the day was to walk out to the castle with her mom and see if they could find some clues as to where the treasure might be or the entrance to the secret chamber.
The sky was grey and the water dark and choppy. Meg kept glancing at the castle the whole walk over
, unable to take her eyes off it as they waited on the pier. They were going to find the treasure, she knew it. The ferry came around the lighthouse next to the fort and slowly entered the harbor. There were a lot of people standing at the pier and Meg wondered why. Trout said nothing, but his mother and father greeted most of the people there with a solemn hello. Then she saw it. On the deck of the ferry, her mother was standing next to a wooden casket with a flag of dark red and white draped over it. Trout told her the flag was the colors of Galway and that nothing would be open on the island that day. Owen was coming home to be buried, and his people were there to greet him.
, including Declan, walked to the end of the dock and hoisted the casket above their shoulders. They carried it down the pier, past the onlookers, and towards the church. The islanders joined the slow procession. Shay was following the casket, and when they went past the waiting Davins, she reached out for Meg and they walked together in silence. People standing on the road bowed their heads when the procession walked by. Meg looked up to her mom and saw she had tears in her eyes. Meg started crying too.
St. Colman’s church was not far from the pier
. As they approached the church, Meg saw more people standing outside waiting. At the back of the crowd, wearing his fedora hat, she noticed Alonzo Woods. He held up his hand in greeting, but she didn’t wave back.
They were ushered into the chapel. It was painted in bright red, blue, and yellow
. The stained glass windows shed what little light they could, given the overcast day. Church was something the Murphys rarely attended back home, except on special religious holidays and for an occasional baptism, mostly because Shay and Mark always had work to do on Sundays.
The smoke of incense hung in the air as the priest
said the funeral mass. Towards the end, the priest recounted the first time he met The O’Flaherty.
Owen was walking the shore as was his custom
, and the priest asked why he did what he did. “I’m waitin’ and watchin,” was his reply. “For what?” asked the priest. “For my Kathleen to come home.”
The mention of Owen waiting for Nanny to return to him sent Meg and Shay into hysterics. They held onto one another
crying convulsively and they heard more wailing from the people gathered behind them.
He was looking for Nanny, not her brother,
I don’t ever want to get so mad at my mom that I never talk to her or see her again.
After the service the pall bearers carried the casket back down to the pier where the
Cailín Mo Chroí
was now tied up. Meg was not sure what was going on, and asked, “Mommy, what’s happening?”
’re taking him to his home where he grew up. That’s where he wanted to be buried.”
The men carefully loaded the casket on the boat and tied it down. Declan, Trout
, the priest, and a few other men stayed on the boat and helped Meg and Shay on board. Just before they cast off from the pier, Meg could not believe her eyes. They hoisted white sails on the Galway hooker. Someone must have changed the sails at some point over night because when Meg rowed past it the day before, it still had red sails.
“He was a
king” Meg whispered to Trout.
“He was The
O’Flaherty, the last man of his clan.”
They sailed out of the harbor and turned right following the shore
towards the island that was just south of Inishbofin. Trout told Meg it was called Inishark, or Shark, for short. It was a deserted island whose last inhabitants were evacuated by the Irish Government in 1960. The Shark islanders were forced to leave their home because there was no good harbor on the island, and they would sometimes go months without aid from the mainland when the weather was stormy. Many of the younger islanders had emigrated and the aging population was too much of a liability for the government. The Shark islanders were all given land on the coast, and it has been uninhabited ever since.
boat neared the island they dropped the sails and rowed the last hundred yards to a tiny, shallow cove with a small, rocky ramp at the end protected by a dilapidated sea wall. Meg could see that in any kind of bad weather it would be impossible to land here, and she wondered how hard it must have been to live on Shark.
Shark was a big hill of an island beaten by the wind and waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Due to the absence of a good harbor, the Shark islanders had led an isolated existence compared to their close neighbor to the north. At the head of the cove where they had come in, Meg saw a rusted old hand winch on the hill. It must have once been used to pull the boats up on shore. The men on board tied the hooker to the old pier. They then hoisted the casket on their shoulders and marched slowly through deserted fields where only sheep roamed. As they walked, Trout told Meg that Bofin islanders still used Shark for grazing their animals. They walked past roofless cottages, long ago abandoned, until they reached the ruins of a church that was surrounded by weather-beaten gravestones.
church, they were told, was called St. Leos. It had been built on the site of a seventh-century monastery that was founded by a monk named Leo. It had been a very small church from what was left of it. The priest told them that, in the church’s heyday, the Shark Island women would carry their own stools to church on Sundays, as there were no pews in St. Leos. The men used to stand along the outside walls during the service.
The pall bearers
lowered the casket into a freshly dug grave that overlooked the ocean. The priest splashed holy water over it as they said a final prayer for Owen O’Flaherty, the last in his family line. Everyone present helped throw the dirt back onto the grave. Meg looked out to the Atlantic Ocean so loved by her family—it seemed even wilder here. Inishark had quite a different feel from Bofin.
It occurred to Meg that they were standing on the edge, on the very last bit of Ireland before it met the vast, wide ocean. The mood was somber and the wind whipped everyone as they worked to cover the grave. After the last shovelful was thrown, Meg felt the mood change and the men began to smile.
“A long life is to be celebrated, not mourned,” Declan declared as they walked back to the boat. When they
reached the pier, one of the men told Meg and Shay that they had to take the white sails down and put the red sails back up. Knowing this would take some time, Meg and her mom wandered off to take a look inside one of the cottages that still had a roof.
front door was hanging loosely on a rusted hinge. Shay carefully pushed the door open to reveal a cottage identical to Owen’s back on Bofin. A chair was pulled up to an empty fireplace and dusty cabinets lined the walls. A solitary plate rested on the table in the same spot where it had been left many years ago.
took all they could when they left, but some left it all,” Trout said. He had entered the cottage behind them. “They didn’t want anything that reminded them of home when they was evacuated.”
three said nothing as they wandered around the deserted island, listening only to the sound of the wind. The image of the abandoned cabin stayed with Meg as they traveled back to Bofin under the red sails.
It seemed that all of the people who lived on Bofin Island came out to celebrate the life of Owen O’Flaherty. The pub was packed. Men and women were seated in groups, talking about the news of the day, and kids were running around everywhere, excited at the big gathering. In a corner of the pub a group of musicians was playing lively music. Everyone swayed and tapped their feet to the rhythm.
Shay and Meg sat at a table with the
Davins, who entertained them with more stories of Inishbofin. Declan told them that Owen really didn’t speak to many people on Bofin, but he had managed to get a story from him now and then.
Owen’s family had fled to Shark to hide from the English. It was the perfect place because of the difficulty landing on its shores. Owen traveled the world captaining ships, and on one particularly stormy day he was forced to stay on Bofin until conditions permitted him to land back at his home on Shark. He was walking along the beach in the West Quarter, looking out at the unreachable Shark Island, when he happened upon his future wife. He fell madly in love. Owen was so in love, he moved to Inishbofin to be with her and they soon married. With raised eyebrow, Meg shot Trout a glance at the mention of her great grandmother.
A little old man in a tweed hat got up from his chair.
A hush fell on those gathered as they knew what was coming. The man sang a sad song of a young immigrant who had left Ireland for America. Each song verse told the story of letters sent back and forth between the young man and the family he had left behind. And each verse ended with the man promising he will soon return home to visit, but he never does. Everyone in the pub nodded their heads in understanding, as no family on Bofin had been spared the sorrow of losing a family member to the dream of a better life through immigration.
After the song
ended, the din of the crowd grew louder and the rhythm of the music picked up. A few people got up to dance. Declan raised his glass and made a toast to the memory of Owen O’Flaherty. The table replied with the traditional Irish
to your health
. More and more people joined in to dance. Even Trout dragged Meg out to the dance floor to teach her a few
céilí was Ireland’s traditional folk dance. It was very similar to square dancing. Pairs of dancers stood in rows facing other couples, each dancing back and forth in a one-two-three jig. Meg had never had so much fun. Like waves crashing on the shore, the lines of people first moved in toward each other and then back out. The couples then weaved in and out, over and under, their hands joined like live Celtic knotwork. At one point in the set, Trout held Meg’s arms and they twirled in a circle as fast and as hard as they could. For the first time ever, Meg understood why her sister loved to dance—it was exhilarating!
When they finally sat back down they were surprised to see that Alonzo Woods had joined their table, a pint of Guinness in hand.
“Hello, children,” he said to Meg and Trout as they settled into their chairs. He was talking with Shay in low tones and they had very serious looks on their faces. Meg could not make out what they were saying but she could tell that her mom was uncomfortable.
“What’s that about?” asked Trout.
Maybe he’s telling her how he found us out at the castle in the fog, and my mom is mad that I was out on the water after my accident,”
she whispered back.
Shay and Mr. Woods continued their discussion in hushed tones. When he finished his drink he stood up and went back to the bar.
Shay looked over to Meg. “I need to talk to you.” She got up from the table, took Meg by the hand, and walked her outside.
Meg was nervous and started
to speak before her mom did. “I’m sorry, Mom. We were careful on the water and Trout knew exactly what he was doing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Us rowing out to the castle in the fog yesterday. I just had to get out there and I forced Trout to take me.”
, that…” Shay said, giving Meg a look and a nod. “I knew about that already. Declan called me after he gave you two the currach.”
Meg was relieved
, but now curious. “Then why did you bring me out here?”
“Mr. Woods wants to buy Owen
“He’s an archeologist who does a lot of research on Bofin and he wants a permanent base here.”
. Mom, we can’t sell it. It’s ours.”
“Meg, it’s actually Nanny’s, so it will be up to her to decide what to do with it
. Besides, what can we do with property in Ireland?”
Like a sudden storm
, Meg burst out and told her mother about her discovery and all that had gone on the day before.
“Granuaile…,” a smile crossed Shays lips. “I suppose it’s possible. Do you know she has direct descendants in Westport
Sligo that trace their lineage all the way back to her son Tibbot?”
Meg nodded her head
. “She also had three children with her first husband, Donal O’Flaherty. Maybe we come from one of them. Why else would they put on the white sails of a king for Owen today?”
kings don’t exist anymore in Ireland. ‘Kings,’” Shay made air quotes with her fingers, “are chosen by people in certain areas to lead, but the title does not pass on to the king’s children. Back in Cleggan, I was told that Owen was called the King of Inishark because he was the oldest one left from the island and that the remainder of the Shark islanders wanted to pay him his due respects with the white sails when they heard we had sailed up from Galway in a hooker.”
Meg was unconvinced
. “But we can’t sell, Mommy… It’s our home.”
“Nanny will have to decide that for herself when we call her tomorrow. For the time being we need to get ready,” she
kissed Meg on the forehead. “It’s Halloween and we are in Ireland, which is where the holiday first started! Let’s have some fun!” Shay put her arm around Meg’s shoulders and led her back into the pub.