Raised by the River

We moved to River Lane before we knew that was its name. Google, estate agents and the vendors
didn’t even know, but the Coronavirus brought the OSi map back into all our lives as we rushed to
the boundaries of our 2km radius. Our little terrace of just six houses is fortuitously placed bordering
a park, which borders a town, bordering a county where our capital city employs most of us.
As our removal truck pulled into the lane, the council painted the final strokes on the newly replaced
railings. The freight containers and machinery that had blocked our neighbours’ view for the duration
of their children’s lives, now all departed. Floodworks fully complete. We felt like royalty pulling up.
Beyond our terrace, before the cul-de-sac meets its namesaked river, lay, I thought, just one more
abode. However, as we met our band of friendly neighbours, bit by bit, we heard of someone else
they said lived by the river. I couldn’t quite grasp where, as all I could see was an old abandoned
house with wind blowing through holes in windows and slates. For a while I thought there was a poor
unfortunate holed up in there. Thankfully not. There is an unseen house, the home where he was
raised by the river.
His own father had grown up in the now Halloween film location to the front, while building their
home with his river knowledge, to survive any future potential floods, out the back.
Working in our front garden, waiting to return to Covid-free offices, we’ve listened to his stories of the
heron fighting an otter, spotted while he walked his dog before the dawn; the foster ducks with 19
ducklings in tow; the stubborn teenage outcast of a swan he had to scare back into the water for her
own safety; the lonely goose, who thinks she’s a swan, crying for her lost companions; the sightings
of kingfisher, jay, egret and the “dirty” cormorant; the antics of he and his band of merry waterboys
as life on the river formed them as men.
Throughout the summer they robbed the banks of any wood they could find. Come autumn, they
gathered rocks to an island in the middle of the river, built a solid square foundation, covered it with
tiles of turf grass, and erected a tall spire of burning wood, creating a safe spectacle for their
audience, who lined the park overlooking the river, to celebrate Samhain.
Come 16 they discovered variants of uisce beatha. The water of death to their childhood
apprenticeships on the river. That education poured into their adult lives as carpenters, builders and
unpaid consultants to the less than civil engineers who ignored advice to get their men and
machinery out of the river by 2pm one day. They lived to regret ignoring a local with a lifetime of
experience, replacing any letters missing after his name, as bang on time the water rose to
dangerous levels. However, it was to him they turned, hard hats in hand, as they assembled
residents in a hall, and called upon him to share his knowledge.
As for me, I grew up just a few miles down the road, near the sea to which this river flows. After half
a lifetime away, existing in cities built on big industrialised rivers, I brought my family back to live by
the maritime therapist that saw me through my teenage tears; returning just in time for my own
family’s sanity, as we float through the Corona crisis to the chorus of birdsong, flapping wings,
babbling water and crashing waves.