A year after we honeymooned by the shores
of Bantry Bay opposite Whiddy Island –
low lying, with gently rolling hills –
construction began on the island
of an international oil terminal,
big enough to permit the largest tankers
to unload straight from the Persian Gulf.
The bay was ideal – a deep, sheltered channel,
far away from crowded shipping lanes,
and Bantry town’s population was small.
In ’79 an ultra-large tanker
exploded at the jetty killing scores.
The terminal was closed permanently.
Our memories of oyster-catchers
in the estuary were replaced with
the heavy wash of shipping storeys high,
then sudden, volcanic conflagration,
and the bay darkening with flotsam.
The nearby village of Kealkill was the site
of the Civil War’s first fatalities,
two IRA Volunteers from Bantry.
In the ’90s, the forestry commission,
as elsewhere throughout the republic,
on peat land and once cultivated fields,
planted fast growing Sitka spruce – native
to Alaska, sacred for the Haida,
a First Nation coastal tribe of fishers.
One of the residents of Kealkill
objected to the darkness and the dankness
the spruce created, a perpetual gloom
that killed the bilberries that had been
abundant. Every so often, for
twenty years, she felled a tree, and scattered seeds:
birch, hazel, oak, alder, crab apple, rowan.
‘As time went on,’ she said at her trial, ‘I got
bolder’. The Garda had heard the chainsaw,
and arrested her, covered in sawdust.
On Whiddy Island there are the remains
of the blackened oil jetty, and, by the shore,
overgrown with hawthorn and gorse,
the stone ruins of curing sheds for pressing
shoals of pilchards caught off the coast, in most years,
for export to France, Spain and Italy –
a trade abandoned for easier pickings.
Our bedroom overlooked the rich, deep waters.
Above the bed was a garish print
of the revelation of the Sacred Heart.
‘Strange to be there beginning something new…
Strange to go there, for what might come’,
I wrote, more than fifty years ago.
But what do young men know, surprised
by death’s ubiquity? We had driven,
one benign August day, across Ireland,
asking a drunk for the way out of Dublin,
passing galloping horses on the Curragh,
later fallen towers, and barefoot children,
and dry-stone walls festooned with fuchsia –
arriving in the early evening,
with the bay still as glass.