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AN CHÚILFHIONN

by ANYA WILSON (Ireland)

Issue 2.3    December 2020

An bhfaca tú an chúilfhionn 's í ag dul ar na bóithre?"

 

Oh have you seen my fair-haired girl walking the roads?

 

The tune sails inside my head, high and slow. It spins me around as I make my way along the field, homeward bound and duty free, no longer a slave of the classroom where Miss Mulcaghy teaches me. It is only myself between the flat blue sky and the flat green field, so I fill the space in the middle with my voice. 

 

"An bhfaca tú mo spéirbeann, lá bréa is í na haonar?"

 

Oh have you seen my love? A fine day and she is alone.

 

What is the space in the middle? How far away is the sky? What is the spread of the sky? My dada's farm spreads for four hundred acres, of this I am certain. Four hundred acres of the golden vale of Ireland belongs to my dada, and soon will belong to me. Never a bad crop nor a poor harvest, my dada is the pride of Cil Dara. The greatest man you ever did see, the greatest man of the seventeenth century, that's what they sing at Samhainn, the feast of the harvest. 

 

When I arrive home, there are men outside our cottage. But they are not my dada's friends. No, these men are dressed in red coats and black shoes with swords at their sides. I've never owned a pair of black shoes before. I lay eyes on mama and dada, she crying and restlessly fixing her woolen dress, he speaking in sullen tones with another man in black shoes. They move towards me, tell me I must fetch my coat, we're going to Connacht. I don't understand. 

 

The men of black shoes sent us to Connacht. "To hell or to Connacht!" they shouted as we made our way out. Well they were wrong, because hell is Connacht. Cold is Connacht, and wet too, but somehow the land is dryer. We travelled with others along the way, they also going to Connacht, they also sent by the men of black shoes.

 

They too had their land taken from them, they too had their land given to people from England. "Settlers,” they called them. "Devil Spawn,” they also called them. They told stories of devil spawn on the journey, and stories of the devil himself. "Cromwell,” they called him. And they sang up and down the road, filling the space in their hearts, where their land once lay. 

 

"An bhfaca tú mo bhábán 's í taobh leis an toinn?"

 

Have you seen my maid beside the sea?

 

I had never seen the sea before, but now I know what the space in the middle is. A great grey field spreading between the land and the sky. But I don't want to fill it with my voice, for it has a voice of its own, the deep roar of a monster that could swallow me whole. I feel as though Connacht has swallowed me whole, for Connacht itself is within the space in the middle, part of the great grey field. Where the earth is not earth at all, but stony dust where nothing grows. 

 

Dada has taken to herding sheep and Mama to weaving the tough grass. Folly, so it is. There is no one here with a want for weavings and no one with a shortage of sheep. There are no schools in the village of Ballysadare. Dada says it is not allowed to be Catholic anymore, but that doesn't make any sense. How can it be not allowed? How can you ask people to stop believing in God? 

 

Well, I know now. As it was only the other day, I was after fetching water for mama when dada returned in the door with a heavy foot and low brow. "They got him, they got Father Peadar," he says with a tear in his eye. "Burned him, so they did. The church and all. They burned it all down, it's all gone." Dada went very silent then, and shook in his seat. It must be fairly bad news to make dada cry for the first time ever, so I began to cry too. "Where will we get mass then?" 

 

But we soon discovered that you can't burn mass. So we have our own secret mass, nearly twenty of us, and each week we say a full decade of the rosary for Father Peadar. Even with the straw and warm breath of Séamus Ó Neill's cattle, the day is bitterly cold, a thin wind passes through the barn and through my skin as I cling to mama's shawl. It is on days like this where I focus on my prayers more than ever, knowing I will be rewarded in the end. 

 

There are voices outside, and horses too. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." My body has stopped shivering, it is not so cold anymore. So I pray harder. "Give us this day our daily bread." Séamus has stopped talking. There is shifting and shuffling. I close my eyes tighter. "Forgive us our trespasses." It is very warm now and the cattle are braying. "As we forgive those who trespass against us." I feel my face getting hotter and hotter, but mama is still at my side so I don't open my eyes. "But deliver us from evil." Roars escalate to screams and there is a funny smell. The wailing, the braying, the flashing of red, yellow, orange, the heat and cold and heat and cold blend until there is only the space in the middle. 

 

But it is not the great grey field. It is that empty space between the sky and dada's fair green field. And I fill it with my voice, the only thing I have left of me. 

 

"Go mb'fhearr leis aige féin í ná Éire gan roinn."

 

He would prefer to have her than the whole of Ireland.

Audio: Anya Wilson reads

 Anya Wilson, age 17, is extremely passionate about issues that mean a lot to her including feminism, girls’ education, and climate action and will take on anyone in a debate! Her biggest role model is Malala and her goal is to use her words to inspire change. She is extremely excited to have her work published in Write the World Review.

 

 #historical fiction          #identity          #community          #family