“Don’t go beyond the river.” My grandmother called as she sat by the cosy fireside. Her rural West of Ireland lilt soon to be lost to her generation. The words were echoing through the walls of the cottage as we bundled out the front door. The house sat perched at the edge of the earth surrounded by visions now mostly seen on postcards. We set off like little soldiers, donned in the oversized dry muddied wellies that were available, padded intensely with various socks to fill the gaps and for extra protection. After our armour, came choosing our weapons, a beech, birch or perhaps the mighty oak. With sticks like swords, we were finally equipped for our biggest adventure yet, to our favourite body of water.
Instantly greeted by the arms of the gentle summer breeze, the calmness of the North Mayo countryside was ours to explore. We met monsters and fellow recruits on the battleground. Cats teased us with their secrets while the dog ran ahead to lead the way and the sheep popped up like boundary castle walls. We hid behind the rushes, climbed over the hills, spied on flies in meadow flowers, dived out of the busy bees way, collected odd sods of turf, stayed out of the bog and danced with the butterflies. Then finally, we spotted the old cowshed. Not long now, we nodded to one another, the sun feeling hotter as we navigated our way through the multi-coloured heather. We made it to the river.
It trickled with joy at our arrival. It’s beauty always second to none. We cheered and ran alongside it to celebrate. Staring at it for hours, enamoured by its mystery. Where did it come from? Where did it go? What was the other side of it? Why could we never cross it? Would we ever? Dropping local leaves, placing our bets and racing them down, the cows gathered as well-oiled audience members, drinking from their tavern. Skimming stones and spotting life as the frogs sometimes joined us. We washed our boots only to dirty them again. The novelty never wore off. The river was never the same twice. Always moving, always changing. Full of surprises.
As the dew fell, the midges acted like bouncers of the water, ushering us home. But before we went, one last splash and glance at the place to breathe it all in for fear we forget. It always felt a million miles away yet exactly like home. We waved goodbye to the playground of my father, those before him, and now ours. This shared imagination continues today, filtering down through the generations and all inspired by a river that runs through the ages.