A Dragon on the Shannon

There is nothing like a perfect morning on the water. On a calm day, the flat surface disguises
the turbulent chaos beneath. Mist collects mysteriously around the bends of the river. The sun
threatens to break through and sparkle but never quite does. The mighty river Shannon was
where I grew up, it was such an integral part of my life that I didn’t even realise how connected I
was until I travelled to distant shores. My return later to the same stretch of water as an adult
was long overdue. This time I returned transformed.
My arrival was announced with a boom. Deep, reverberating, the sound echos through the trees
and undergrowth along the riverbank. Boom. The cattle in nearby fields start suddenly. Boom.
They are rhythmic, deep vibrations that reach your heart. Boom. The sound of an ancient sport
which predates the Olympic games. As it gets louder, there is the sound of water splashing to
the beat of the same rhythm. It has a start and a finish – a cycle. There are soft droplets before
the next sharp splash. Underneath the rhythm, there is a deep purposeful multi-layered breath.
Finally, the source of these sounds appears out of the mist around the bend on the river.
It’s a majestic dragon. This long, narrow ancient boat has found its way from China to the
mighty River Shannon. Her scales ripple brightly on the water. Boom. Just beyond the fearsome
dragon’s head sits the source of the sound. Boom. A woman perched on the edge of a small
wooden stool. Boom. The voice of the dragon. She beats the drum in time with the dragon’s
movement. Boom. The dragon’s body consists of twenty strong and ferocious women. Powerful
and relentless. The heart of the dragon. Bodies and minds in unison, their arms have extended
to merge with the paddles to create one dynamic movement. Boom. Twenty spears hit the water
as one creating a mighty vortex. The dragon leaps forward taking flight again as a combined
breath fills their lungs. Boom. On the tail of the dragon crouches another woman. She moves in
unison with the creature and uses her arms to steer, her mind to read the wind and the currents
of the water. The voice, heart and mind of the dragon find absolute harmony with each other
and a connection with the water.
The dragon is known to rule the rivers and seas and to dominate the clouds and rains. Finally, it
stops to ruffle its wings. A moment of silence. Then, sounds of mirth and chatter meander
across the river. My breath catches with pride as I stand on the tail. These women are no longer
individuals. They are united as one dragon by a collective purpose, far removed from the land
and its problems. They live and breathe for the water. They come alive and breathe their fire for
each other. The local heron gives a salute of celebration from the bank and circles around them,
curious about this new creature they have created together. The purest form of harmony
existing with nature and each other. These mornings of infinite peace are a rare privilege to
experience. The river is alive. The water is alive. The dragon is alive, from ancient China she
has found her home forevermore on the mighty River Shannon.