Water of Life

My family lived with Pop at the Mill House which was dwarfed by the mill on the gable end facing
our kitchen. We had a beautiful garden, but to the side was an untamed wilderness full of wild
rhubarb, wasp’s nests, and badgers, which led directly onto the river.
Although we were forbidden to enter the ‘Wild place’ as we called it, we were drawn and explored it
often. Every season revealed its magic to us along the river and kept us busy in our own little world.
In springtime the bluebells bloomed without fail and in summer the fishermen would gift my mother
with the odd fresh salmon caught just beside our house. The earthy taste of the salmon reminded us
of the smell of the butterfly flowers that grew in abundance along the water’s edge. We got to know
the otters and they didn’t seem to mind us; I suppose it was as natural for us as it was for them to be
My Uncle Mick would visit every weekend and bring us for walks along the river as far as St
Catherine’s; he had a great eye, and would point out new things I hadn’t noticed before. The dragon
flies feasting on the crab apple tree or the kingfisher swooping for fish to feed its brood. He could
even see the river fairies, describing their little tunics and seeing the little rascals playing tricks on
the blackbirds. “The river of life” he used to say, “Study the river Mary, and listen to what it whispers
to you, it harbours the secret of life”.
We would often take an expedition on the river with our father in his old motor boat. Up by St.
Catherine’s where we would spot the grey heron, then the smell of the wild garlic would invade our
senses, on past the Spa Hotel, ducks and water hens scattering in all directions. The waterfall in
Lucan always took our breath away. On arrival at the Strawberry beds we entered an enchanted
place with rolling valleys and deep waters. After having a picnic there we would make our return
journey. It never ceased to amaze me how utterly different the view was on our way home.
In the nineteen sixties we had a huge fire. The ferocious flames stole our mill away from us right
before our eyes. Unbearable heat and black smoke seeped into our house. Bossy Harrigan saved our
lives, lucky he was on duty that night. He threw stones at our bedroom window to waken us. My
grandfather Pop wanted to stay in the house, I think he wanted to go down with his beloved mill,
eventually my father persuaded him to leave and the fire men took him out through the drawing
room window. Dublin Fire Brigade stayed all night fighting the fire, but only the outer walls remained
of the old mill, its innards eaten away by the flames. Our house was saved, the river provided an
endless supply of water, and the fire chief told my father we were very lucky to have a water source
beside us. The Liffey, the water of life had been our saviour.
I’m much older now, but the Liffey is embedded in my soul. I look back and think of the many happy
adventures I have enjoyed with my family, and I’m so glad that the majestic river is still flowing,
bringing life to every living thing.