Secrets of the Celts: Ridge Running on Short Legs

 Glenveagh. How can I forget that name and what it means to me? In Glenveagh, County Donegal, Ireland, I had an epiphany about short legs and what they are good for and not. They are good for striding down mountains and on flat lands of valleys and ridges. Going upward, they betray. The Celts must have met their defeats in battle when the long-legged Norsemen caught up to them on upward tracks. On the flat and downward, the Celts earned their name as formidable and worthy enemies. No one could keep up with them as they whizzed by thistle and rock, their feet cushioned by moss and heather.

Long in body, short in limb, I am my fathers’ daughter. My Celtic heritage is in my bones, so to speak. So it was that I found myself in Glenveagh on an overcast morning in July with a hearty party of eight trekking off in high spirits from a white van that had transported us to the great green hills for what our guide said was an easy stroll. After an hour’s amble, we stood at a ridge and gazed deep below at a two-story block of stone at the end of a long lough. A stream flowed alongside and at the entrance stood a hawthorn tree that long ago had given itself over to the wind blowing through the lough that itself stretched out between mountains. The hawthorn looked like a druid bent backward with her green hair streaming behind her. Five of us descended several hundred feet to the floor of the glen to get close to the stone box that some call a castle. The ground was rough but the descent was otherwise easy.

Seamus our guide had told us stories about the house, so he did, about sheep stealing and keeping the sheep on the first floor and the loads of manure carted out after the owner was evicted by a landlord who was murdered for his heartlessness. The landowner stole the sheep and let his tenants take the blame. Ach, people were relieved when they heard of his death at the hands of persons unknown and revered for their euthanasia.

Our visit to the house over, my legs and I were ready for the ascent, or so we thought. After a few minutes, they weakened beneath me. Come on, I urged, we’ve got miles to go before we rest. My legs said onward, and we continued our climb. My rapidly beating heart knew that my legs weren’t into it, although my spirit was. Come on. You can do it. I’m not so sure, my legs said back. Onward, legs of mine. Without you working below me, we will not get out of the glen. Do you want the grey mist of death to descend upon us here? Not on your life. Through sheer will, my legs and I pull us up, one foot in front of the other. Left foot. Right foot. Straighten out your leg at the knee to cut down on fatigue. Yes, indeed the team of me and my legs did that, grateful for the instructions that Seamus had given us when we thought we could do the trek without breaking into a sweat.

My legs and I were the last to reach a ridge where the hearty seven enjoyed cake, juice, and eggs. People seemed glad to see me. Then, the rains came. Rain? How about, then came the deluge? So, up we got and my legs were in gear, ready to roll, or at least to put one foot in front of the other. Left foot. Right foot. The rain and the wind pushed us back. I thought maybe they wanted me and my legs to stay in the valley. Maybe our fate is to be pushed backward down the valley, over the cliff, and to fall dead into the cushion of heather and moss.

I didn’t want to stay, but I couldn’t speak for my legs.

Let’s rest a while. Let’s stay and enjoy the beauty all around us, my legs said.

What beauty?  I said. I   can’t see anything except mist and rain blowing sidewards. I’m not buying your shite. We’re going on, I said.. Left foot. Right foot.

How much longer? my legs said.

I have no idea, I said.

This is the longest hill I’ve ever climbed. I didn’t notice how long it was going down. We’re going to feckin die, my legs said.

I won’t let you, I said. We’re  moving on. Left foot. Right foot.

I went from third to last in the then less than hearty party of eight. Two women with bum knees passed me as if they were on motorbikes. I lost sight of the two who were in the lead. Left foot. Right foot. Rain and wind pushed me and my legs back down the hill, and we pushed forward. Salt from sweat burned my eyes. My thighs screeched, What you doing to me?

Drenched through waterproof boots and coat, we reached the top of the hill.

Piece of cake now, my legs said.

Let’s go, I said. We were off. We glided over the flat as if on roller skates, past those who had passed us. Faster, my legs said. Righto, I said. And so we arrived at the white van, hearty, happy, ready to glide over ridges and down the hills like our ancestors in pursuit of Norseman who had not a chance in hell to get away. Short legs are good for something, so they are.


The Queen of the Show

I’m 93 years old and still living on my own. Fields of sheep surround my wee cottage up the mountain. I just had yer man move the rams out of the flock of ewes and lambs. My mammy’s shawl warms my shoulders as I sit in the lounge looking out the window at the rams in the west pasture. They’re peaceful, so they are. One slept next to the fence all day. It’s no wonder. They’ve been busy for a fortnight or more. If I looked out the window behind me, I’d see the ewes and lambs in the pasture across the road. Straight ahead is the dresser full it is with trophies I won for my sheep.

Just a lass I was 80 years ago in the year 1936 when I had my first show. My brother Pete was laid up when he run the plow over his own feet. How’d he did it he never said. I think it was the drink. My da said it’s you that’s got to show the sheep this year. They haven’t lifted the ban they put on me the years ago when I showed up falling down drunk and singing Roddy McCorley at the top of my lungs and kissing all the lassies in sight.

To tell the truth, I was kind of put off by having to show the sheep. I’d already entered for cookery and flower arranging. That’s what I wanted to do. My da said for me to put that out of my mind. You going to be Little Bo Peep at the show.

If it’s Little Bo Beep I had to be it’s Little Bo Peep I will be. I sewed myself a Little Bo Peep white dress with blue trim and a bonnet to match. I cleaned and polished the shepherd’s crook the old fella left in the derelict shed. I polished up my lips with bees wax tinted with beet root and rubbed a bit on my cheeks. I dabbed my poor dead ma’s rose water behind my ears, under my arms, and in back of my knees. The old curling iron got a workout as I twisted my tresses in blonde-streaked curls.

I was the only person of the female persuasion who showed sheep that day. In fact, I was the first ever. Seamus McSorley said something about girls not being suited to showing sheep. I said, Where’s the law about that? The other lads laughed. That was the end of it.

Wasn’t I the queen of the show? I never did know if it was the sheep or me that earned the grand prize. I got best in show, all right. The show committee picked me for Little Miss Farmerette, too. My photo was in the Leitrim Observer the next day holding two trophies. Ach, I was famous, so I was.