top of page
Image by v2osk


with the martello journal

Turas (A Journey)

by bríd mcginley

Unfurling under the car wheels, the narrow road ribboned through the
foothills of the powder-blue mountains. Na Cruagha Gorma. The
Bluestacks. Rosie knew she shouldn’t have come. Her sigh was
inadvertent, but she felt Eamonn turn towards her, endured his worried
gaze. The meagre lowland fields had petered out. Now raised bog
stretched, muted-mauve spring heather spilling over banks and
           Why had she come? An opportunity to talk? Hardly. Eamonn
wanted to see the course of yet another adventure race, cycling,
mountaineering, running. There’d be no time for talking today. His
unrelenting enthusiasm, once so attractive, now grated. Earlier, as his
usual patter narrated the journey, the word futile rose before her. She
saw hurt wash across his face when she asked for quiet, feigning a
           Intermittent breaks in the hedges allowed glimpses of small
houses. Who would choose to live here? Bogland, moor, wet fields
wrested from the hills, tended with rigour, dotted with sheep. Then,
over another low hill Eamonn pulled in at the most unlikely football
field, a green vision, alongside a startling modern clubhouse.
           ‘You’d be surprised how many people live up here,’ Eamonn
said, reading her expression.

           ‘Enough for a football team?’ Her words clipped, her voice
incredulous. She saw Eamonn’s face tighten, the slightest crimping of
his mouth. Why did everything she say sound callous? Outside,
Eamonn pulled on his rucksack.
            ‘I won’t be long,’ he said, ‘an hour at most.’ He paused,
zipping his jacket.
            ‘It’s called Carnaween,’ he said, hesitant, looking at the
mountain. ‘There’s a pilgrimage to the top every year. In June.’ Now
he looked at his boot, at the small stone he was attempting to dislodge.
‘Traditionally, there was dancing afterwards, like an unofficial
matchmaking event. People came from the other side of the
mountain.’ He looked at her, smiled. Rosie bristled, another of his
stories of hope.
             ‘I’d imagine it’d be hard to find love here,’ she said, her voice
brittle. Eamonn lifted his head, eyes dangerously bright.
              ‘Give it a rest Rosie.’ She saw the anger vie with hurt. ‘You
know, it happened to me too.’
               His skin stretched taut across his cheeks, thin and pale, like
silk at the point of rupture. Rosie felt ice penetrate her abdomen,
resisted the urge to bend over, to scream. Eamonn stood, waiting, she
had no idea for what.
               ‘I’ll be back soon,’ he said finally, and she watched the dust
rise as he jogged away.
               Rosie looked along the road. Eamonn was right, it was a good
place for a walk. Isolated, no houses nearby. In the distance, where the

road curved uphill, a single green fingerpost beckoned, irresistible.
Dísert, it read. She knew the word from school. A hermitage, a
sanctuary, a place of healing. She swung through a wooden gate into a
grassy field, and followed the faint track curving across low hillocks
before dropping to a stream. The fields were tended, tidy, a triumph of
necessity. A wooden bridge spanned softly running water, and led her
to a sitemap with a brief history of the site, its composition, its
significance. Why here, this small semi-fertile place, hemmed to the
mountain by the small river, watched over by Carnaween, overlooking
a desolate landscape falling to the distant sea? Had this been a more
hospitable place in past centuries? A blackbird’s plaintive note trilled,
a breeze stroked her face. She looked at the mountain, scanning it, but
could see no sign of Eamonn, no red jacket winding to the top.
Relationships; no maps or signposts for those, just the same searching
for faint tracks, wondering which was the correct path. She inhaled, let
her shoulders drop, and despite herself, felt an unexpected sense of
possibility. She stepped through another gate and climbed into the site.
                 Then as she scaled the hillside, she saw them; the altar, the
well, the graveyard and cillín. Beyond, under gnarled trees, the portal,
harp-shaped, topped with a pyramid of stones. She didn’t look at the
graveyard. She wouldn’t think about the cillín, this liminal burial site
for unbaptised babies. The board by the bridge had listed cures; a
stone with a hole for poor eyesight; well-water for toothache; and on
the altar, two carved fertility stones. Now, feeling the weight of these
in her hands, she wondered did they relate to the matchmaking. She

looked at the rocky mountainside again, imagined Eamonn’s
determined hiking. He’d seemed entranced by the idea of
matchmaking. But what about match-breaking? Were there traditions
around that? She peered through the hole in the semi-circular stone,
like looking through an old pinhole camera, and for an instant, it was
as if she had entered an alternate space; Eamonn’s face appeared,
inverted, tears flowing downwards, over his forehead, through his
hanging hair. She replaced the suddenly heavy stone. The day had
become unaccountably hot. Shade, she needed shade. Tumbled walls
and a ring of crooked trees marked what remained of a small
enclosure, mercifully chilly. She let her hand run through deep moss
on the tree trunks, soft, damp and cool, recalling his tiny curls after a
bath, and she had the urge to bury her face in its soothing luxuriance.
And as she watched, she saw her hands become immersed in the clear
well-water, saw the enclosure become a cathedral, heard the harp-
portal’s strings play a lament in the pulsing breeze. With her hands
against the moss-cloaked trunk, Rosie’s tears welled and fell, mingled
with the earth, became part of that ancient cycle of love and grief.

She was waiting at the car when Eamonn reappeared. His lilting walk,
red jacket flapping, dark curls bouncing, and Rosie thought of
invisible paths, of unknown tracks, of ancient wisdom, of healing.
              ‘What,’ he said, as came close. ‘What is it?’
              So many tears, so many lonely tears. She opened her arms,
they cleaved together, buried their heads against the other,

rediscovered the bumps and hollows, their ancient topography. Their
pilgrimage begun.

Bríd McGinley writes short fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has appeared in The Bangor Literary Journal, Sonder Magazine, The Honest Ulsterman, The Bramley FlashFlood, and Splonk among others. She lives by the sea in Co Donegal.

bottom of page