"...stories birling through my mind..."
A literary journey
Irish culture & folklore
"...stories birling through my mind..."
Ah was sick, sore an tired o the games that Harry an Gary played. Ah was sick, sore an tired o BMXing. Ah was sick, sore an tired o the A-Team. Ah was sick, sore an tired o the band stick.
‘Ah'm bored.’ ah saed tae Mammy.
‘How cud ye be bored? It’s simmer. Ye’re aff schuil. The street’s ful o weans. Away oot an play like the rest o them.’
‘They onlie want tae play on bikes an al. Ah'm bored o bikes an al.’
‘Jenny’s on her ain ower thonner. Away an play wi Jenny.’
Mammy’s eebrous were question marks. She haed a semicolon smile. She knowed ah wasnae sick, sore an tired o Gary’s sister, Jenny.
Jenny gaes tae the Andrews’ schuil o dancin at the Town Hall. Ivery Saturday, ah'm on ma ain on the boy’s side o the hal an Jenny is on the ither wi thirty girls.
It’s wile hard tae be on ma ain at dancin withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
Ah dae the three-han reel wi the girls. There’s a jellyfish on ma left wi airms an legs that shoogle in al the wrang directions. There’s a swan on ma right wi strang airms an graceful legs.
The swan is Jenny.
‘Weel, what are ye for daein?’ Mammy askit.
‘Ah dinnae know.’
‘Ye dinnae know?’ she saed. ‘What aboot a game that you like ?’
‘Harry an Gary dinnae like my games.’
‘How do ye know they dinnae like yer games?’
‘Ah juist know.’
‘Weel, this might be yer last simmer wi them, sae ye hiddae play thegither.’
‘What dae ye mean last simmer?’
Mammy haed a gleek o worry on her face.
‘It’s juist that ye winnae be at St. Joseph’s wi Harry onymair an ye winnae see much o Gary yince ye al go tae different secondary schuils.
It was true that we were al gaen tae different secondary schuils, but schuil didnae maitter for the hale o us played thegither on Greenland Grove.
‘Away an play wi Jenny.’
‘Harry an Gary say that ah'm a right Jinny if ah play wi girls.’
‘Och, a lot o nonsense! Pay nae heed tae Harry an Gary!’
Ah dannert across the road. Gary’s hoose is richt afore mine. We hae prime sentry positions on Greenland Grove. As soldiers o fortune, Gary says it is wer duty tae protect the street frae ony trouble.
Jenny was on the simmer seat at the front o her hoose, her legs pinned tae the groon wi the stappers o twa red roller boots.
‘They’re roon the back,’ she saed as she birled a buttercup in her hand. She hoult the buttercup unner her chin an it changed her neck tae the colour o sunsheen.
Jenny’s face is al spreckled wi freckles an she has a blond bob that hides her periwinkle luggies. Her eenies were skinklin unner the buttercup.
‘Ye must lik butter,’ ah saed, an Jenny leuked up an gien me a smile an ah went roon the back an waatched Harry an Gary oil the chains on their bikes.
‘Ah'm fed up wi BMXing,’ ah saed.
Gary’s eyes were wide wi suspicion.
‘What dae you want tae dae then?’ he saed.
‘Ah dinnae know,’ ah saed.
‘What aboot King Billy bike ramps?’ he saed.
Gary was mad aboot King Billy. If he wasnae makin us aal cycle across a pretend Boyne River on bikes, he was leadin us roon Greenland Crescent in a dummy fluit band.
‘Ah'm bored bein King Billy,’ ah saed.
A flash o red rolled doon the driveway. ‘What aboot King Lir? Can we no hae a game o King Lir for a change?’
‘I dinnae know King Lir,’ saed Gary. ‘Do you know King Lir, Harry?’
‘Ah dinnae,’ saed Harry.
There was onlie yin problem wi playin King Lir, an ah knowed ma pals wudnae like it. ‘We need a girl!’ ah saed.
‘Och no!’ rhymed the baith o them. ‘No a girl!’
‘King Lir haed three sons an a dochter, so we cannae play King Lir withoot a dochter. It wud be like playin King Billy withoot King Jimmy.’
‘Al richt then,’ saed Gary. ‘Jenny can play, but if it’s a load o oul rubbish, ye’ll no get tae pick the game again.’
Ah wasnae that convinced o the game masel an ah was aboot tae suggest we play ocht else when ma eenies cowped an fell on the reflectors o Jenny’s roller boots. It wud be quare an guid tae spend the day wi Jenny, ah thocht.
It’s wile hard tae think o Jenny withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
It was time tae go. Harry an Gary were on their bikes, Jenny chucked her roller boots ower her shouders an I bunged a half a plain loaf an Tayto cheese an onion crisps in a bag for crisp sandwiches bae the shore.
‘Let’s go then,’ ah saed as ah led ma gang ower the backs o Greenland Crescent an across the GEC fectory playin fields. Ah wunnered hoo ah was goin tae explain tae Harry an Gary that they were aboot tae be transformed intae feathery swans. Ah was hairt-sure Harry an Gary wudnae like bein transformed intae feathery swans.
The clouds were dreepin drapples o sun on ma face. It’s wile hard tae feel drapples o sun on ma face withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
‘Once upon a time,’ ah began.
We haed reached the Recreation Road.
‘Is this some kind o a fairy tale?’
It was Harry an his voice was brave an troubled.
‘Shush an listen,’ ah saed. ‘A lang time ago, there lived a king. He was a gentle an a kind king an he loved his four weans. The oulest wean was Fionnuala an they saed she was the bonniest cailín in the land.’
Harry an Gary were half-listenin. They lowped ontae their bikes. An ah leuked at Jenny wi her freckled face an pale skin an she was al periwinkle luggies an skinklin eenies.
‘King Lir’s wife dee’d an he murriet a wuman bae the name o Aoife. Aoife was his wife’s sister an she was aye concernt wi fame an fortune. They say she cudnae thole her niece an three nephews.’
Jenny stapped tae attach her roller boots tae her feet. ‘Ah hear ye,’ she saed, ‘but ah'm goin tae skate doon the brae. Save the rest o the story for tae when we get tae the bottom.’
Skate doon the brae, ah thocht. Jenny cannae skate doon the brae, ah thocht. The Waterloo Road slopes right doon ontae the Coast Road on a blind bend. Harry an Gary were aheid an oot o sicht. What was ah goin tae dae? Ah’d seen Jenny on her roller boots. She was guid on the flet o Greenland Grove, but yince ah seen her skate doon Greenland Crescent, an she took a wile tummle at nummer three.
There we were at the tap o the Waterloo Road, me on the precipice o ma reputation, Jenny on the precipice o her life, an the roller boots were movin an crunchin gravel on the brae. Jenny was rollin quare an quick. I cudnae run fast, but ma feet skelpt the groon that fast ah cud hae won the schuil sport’s day prize for sprintin instead o comin last in the obstacle race.
Jenny was scraichin an screamin an there was onlie yin thing ah cud dae. Ah reached oot ma han an ah snatched Jenny’s han in ma ain. Ah leuked roon. There was naebody near aboots. Ah was houlin Jenny’s han wi nae jellyfish girl amangst us.
It’s wile hard tae houl Jenny’s han withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
Ah lut go.
Ah lut go an ah prayed that Harry hadnae seen me houlin his wee sister’s hand.
The Chaine Memorial Park is lush. Frae the tap o the pairk, ye can see whaur the purple-green ootline o Scotland haps up the sky. Frae the middle o the pairk, ye can see the Townsend Thoresen cuttin a triangle in the haaf. Frae the bottom o the park, ye can see a white peebly shore soukin up the sea.
Ah sut in the copper-tapped shelter in silence while Jenny changed back intae her shuin, an ah leuked at the ripplin bumps an mounds an drumlins o the pairk. Ma een travellt doon the windin loanen, beyont the fish pond an ontae the shore.
It’s wile hard tae sit in silence in a copper-tapped shelter withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
‘There they are!’ saed Jenny. ‘They’re playin army assault courses.’
Army assault courses, ah thocht. No army assault courses, ah thocht. Ah was sick, sore an tired o army assault courses.
Ah follaed Jenny tae the Billy Goats Gruff wuiden play park. An there they were, Harry an Gary, lowpin ower the wuiden beams wi their feet, grapplin alang the monkey bars wi their hans an sleekin unnerneath the Billy Goats Gruff brig on their bellies.
There arenae ony goats trip-trappin ower wuiden brigs when Harry an Gary are at the Chaine Memorial Park. The baith o them hasted awa frae the brig an scraffled up the cliff an I waited bae the Billy Goats Gruff brig as Jenny trip-trapped ower the shoogly wuid.
‘Right, then, Billy, let us see this King Lir game,’ Harry guldered frae the bottom o the brae. He was clarried in clábar tae the oxters.
‘Weel,’ ah saed, as ah dannered across the promenade tae the white railin bae the sea. ‘King Lir’s new wife teuk the four weans doon tae a lough for a bathe.’
‘Ye-ho!’ yeuched Harry, who haed creepit unner the railin on tae the white, peebly shore. Harry kicked aff his shuin. Gary an Jenny follaed ahind.
I slade unner the white railing, tuek aff ma shuin an stockins an tippered ower the peebles. Ah skiffled ower lempets claggit tae the craigs an scuttled across the sand as dulse an daberlack twisted aroon ma toes. Ah douked ma feet in pirlin rock pools tae sey the watter an the saut stangit the BMX cuts on ma knees.
‘It’s coul! It’s coul! It’s coul!’ gasped Jenny.
‘Och, stop bein sich a chicken,’ saed Harry.
Jenny was flichtin frae the watter an Harry was gulderin, ‘Buck buck buck buck!'
‘Ah dinnae care,’ saed Jenny. ‘It’s coul!’
It was coul an I was foundert, but the cavers was right an saft throu ma hair, an the watter was right an sprightly on ma skin. It was a quare feelin sittin there in the shallae watter sievin the cockles an peebles wi ma fingers an ma toes.
It’s wile hard tae sieve cockles an peebles wi ma fingers an ma toes withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
Harry an Gary were splashin an sallyin in the klach. Ah felt right an sorry for Jenny for she was lanesame lik a sea-maiden on a stane. Ah spleeled up aside her and seen the goose pimples on her airms were red an swallt, an ah wunnered if feathers wud sproot frae her skin.
‘King Lir’s wife cast a spell on the four weans,’ ah saed. ‘She waatched frae the shore wi a wickit grin as ivery yin o them growed feathers. The weans didnae know what was gaen on. They didnae know that Aoife haed turned them al intae swans.’
Harry an Gary cowpt unnerneath the water. They werenae interested in King Lir. They juist wanted tae swim in the mort coul water.
‘The swans were bainisht fae hame for nine hundret year,’ ah saed.
Ah leuked oot across the ebb toward the pencil-shapit Chaine Memorial Tower an ah pictured masel liftin it up an writin a story juist for Jenny.
Jenny was al periwinkle luggies an skinklin eenies.
‘For three hundret years, the swans were set adrift in the wile wild an solitary sea o the Moyle.’
Ah cud feel a wind on ma back.
‘Boo!’ came the voice o Gary an up went the airms o Jenny as she lut oot a scraich that cud hae turnt the tide. Standin ahind us on a black, basalt rock were twa sea monsters draped in slairgy seaweed. Jenny teuk tae greetin an ah lueked at Harry an Gary an shook ma heid.
Gary was first tae peel back his seaweed. ‘Ha ha! Gotcha!’ he saed.
‘Dinnae be sich a girl,’ saed Gary.
‘I am a girl,’ saed Jenny.
‘Well dinnae be such a Jinny,’ saed Gary.
‘I am a Jenny,’ saed Jenny.
‘King Lir’s no a bad game,’ saed Gary. He smiled an shoogled the watter frae his skin lik a duck. His T-shirt an shorts were sappled. ‘Three hundert year at the Moyle is a wile lang time, mind,’ he saed. ‘Ah dinnae fancy three hundert year o schuil!’
‘No the Moyle schuil,’ ah saed. Ah pointed tae the north whaur the tip o Ireland nebs the tip o Scotland at the Mull o Kintyre. ‘Thonner’s the Moyle sea,’ ah saed, ‘but on their road north, the swans stapped here in Larne in the ancient kingdom o Latharna, an they were greeted bae the land, for it see’d that they were coul an it reached oot its airm tae gaird them frae the wild haaf. The airm is Islandmagee. Thonner, leuk!’
‘See ye in the forest!’ Harry guldered as him an Gary hasted awa drippin dulse an daberlack ahind them. Ah follaed on alangside Jenny.
We were in Bluebell Forest, a sparse wuid wi a wheen o spindle-lik trees. Twa ropes dangled from branches an we teuk it in turns at swingin lik Tarzan. An as the sun skinkled throu the branches, we lay aside yin anither on a gressy clearin.
It’s wile hard tae see the sun skinklin throu the branches withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
‘What happent tae the swans?’ Jenny askit, gleekin up ower the square fringe on her face as she propped her heid on her elbae.
‘Princess Fionnuala leuked efter her brothers for three hundert years at the Moyle sea, but the swans haed tae move back west where they spent anither three hundert years swimmin in a loch. Och, they haed a quare time o it here in the ancient Land o Latharna, an when they flew west, their lang, white feathers fleeted tae thon very spot an transformed intae spindly trees.’
Jenny’s blue een were right an sair.
Ah sat up tae face her as the story birled throu ma mind.
‘They greeted tears sae heavy that they cascaded intaea river, a river caaled Inbhear an Latharna.’
Harry an Gary baith skellied up at me.
‘What’s up next?’ saed Gary, as a craw scraiched in the trees.
It’s wile hard tae hear a craw scraichin in the trees withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
‘Next up is the Pond o Eyes.’
Ah gien a smile an ah led wer gang alang the cliff tae the Chaine Memorial Park. We sprachled up the ripplin bumps an mounds an drumlins for tae reach the pond.
Harry an Gary were takin heed.
Ah was hairt-glad o the story in ma heid.
‘When the swans came, the guillemots flew in fae Stranraer an did welcome them. When the swans came, the kittiwakes flew in from the Gobbins an did welcome them. When the swans came, the buzzards flew doon fae the Glens an did welcome them.’
Ma han was soarin throu the sky.
‘But Queen Aoife was a wicked Queen an she sent craws from the ither side o Ireland an the craws cast coul winds ower the swans as they bathed in the wairmth o Larne Lough.’
I stapped tae imagine the scene masel. ‘Weel,’ ah went on, leukin at the bird aroon me. ‘The micht o the guillemots an the kittiwakes an the buzzards houlit back Aoife’s winds an Larne Lough did keep King Lir’s weans warm an the airm o Latharna reached oot its han an snatched the een frae al the craws an wapped them intae this pond. Nooadays the craws can tae be heared squealin in pain as they circle the sky. An that’s for why frog spawn is knowed aboot these pairts as birdies eenies.’
Harry an Gary were al periwinkle luggies an skinklin eenies, an they leaned in close tae me as we al bent ower the pond. Ah smiled at Jenny an doukit ma hands in the green watter, slatherin frog spawn ower ma airms. Swift-like, ah held up a drippin han o birdies eenies up close tae the gleekin eenies o Harry.
‘That’s mingin,’ he saed, yeuchin an ticherin as he slavered his hands in the coul gundge forbye.
‘Ye’re right an guid at tellin yarns,’ saed Gary as we dannert frae the corner shop at Boyne Square wi wer drinks.
A flochter flissled ma throat.
‘Ay, ah think ye’re the best person at tellin stories in the world,’ saed Harry.
The flochter fissled ma tummy.
‘I liked the bit aboot the trees,’ saed Jenny.
The flochter was al ower ma legs an ma airms ah smiled as ah sipped pride throu the straw o ma strawberry Tip Top.
It’s wile hard tae sip pride throu the straw o ma strawberry Tip Top withoot stories birlin throu ma mind.
Ma daddy was quate at dinner. Ma mammy was gye an quate forbye. Ah wanted tae tell the baith o them aboot ma King Lir story. Ah wanted tae tell the baith o them aboot the monsters comin oot o the sea. Ah wanted tae tell the baith o them aboot the Pond o Eyes.
Ah wanted tae tell the baith o them ivery wee thing, but afore ah cud begin ma story, ma daddy saed, ‘How wud ye feel aboot flittin tae England?'
The world stapped movin an the stories stapped birlin throu ma mind.
‘We’re thinkin o movin.’
It was ma daddy’s voice again an ma mammy was leukin at me at him wi nae semi-colon smile.
‘It wud be guid. There’d be nae trouble there. Ye’d like it.’
Trouble! ah thocht. What trouble was there here? ah thocht. It was al BMXs. It was al ban sticks an futbal an storytellin bae the shore. It was al Harry an Gary, the soldiers o fortune an the swans o Lir.
It was al Jenny.
It was al Jenny wi her periwinkle luggies an skinklin eenies.
‘Ye’d go tae a nice schuil in London. Yer daddy will hae a job in the Metropolitan Police in London an there’ll be nae trouble,’ saed Mammy.
‘There isnae ony trouble here!’ ah shot.
Colour dreeped frae ma mammy’s face.
‘Ye’ll like it, son,’ saed Daddy.
Ah stood up. ‘Ah’m no for gaen tae live in London. Ah’m for stayin here.’
Ah was gurnin on the inside, but ah cud still taste the pride ah haed sipped on the road hame frae the shore. Ah slammed the scullery door an walked ootside.
Harry’s bal was lyinin his driveway. Ah kicked it atween twa jumpers an scored. Harry’s bike was lyin on its side in the gairden. Ah lifted it an ah rode doon the street. Harry’s ramp was at the corner o Greenland Grove. Ah wheelied over the ramp an the tears that were hidin inside o me dried.
An ah was hairt-feared.
Ah was hairt-feared o leavin Greenland Grove.
Ah packed up the ramp an teuk Harry’s bike back tae his driveway. Jenny was there on the summer seat. Ah sat beside her. She was al quate luggies an quate eenies.
‘Is it true?’ askit Jenny.
‘What?’ ah replied.
‘Yer mammy toul my mammy that ye’re for flittin tae England.’
Ah didnae want Jenny tae see that ah was hairt-feared.
Ah tipped ma heid up tae the sky. Greenland Grove is al yella in simmer evenins, like somebody is houlin a giant buttercup again the rows o white peeble-dash. Ah leuked ower tae ma hoose in the corner, the gateway tae the soldiers o fortune. Ah leuked up tae the boxroom where ah haed served five years o sentry duty alangside Harry an Gary, watchin the street for trouble, checkin unner cars for bombs.
Naethin haed iver happened. There haed niver been any trouble on Greenland Grove. An it haed been a quare while since there was trouble in the land o Latharna.
‘Ah dinnae want tae gae tae England,’ ah saed.
‘There isnae ony trouble in England,’ saed Jenny.
‘There isnae ony trouble here,’ ah saed.
‘There’s the Tower o London in London,’ she saed.
‘There’s the Chaine Memorial Tower in Larne,’ ah saed.
‘There’s Princess Diana in London,’ she saed.
‘There’s Princess Fionnuala here,’ ah saed.
Ah smiled forbye.
Ah dabbed Jenny wi ma shouder.
Jenny dabbed me wi her shouder.
Ah sat wi Jenny. She saed naethin. Ah saed naethin.
We waatched the weans o Latharna play unner a buttercup sunset.
Scene from Snugville Street
The Wedding Wisp
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
History & folklore
Language Blog I
Language Blog II
Language Blog III
Language Blog IV
The linguist behind Ulster Scots.
Kailyard & Dusty Bluebells
Jean Park of Ballygally
Fiddles and Melodeons
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School
Lesley Allen & Helen Nicholl