Once upon a time I had a partner in crime. Or at least he called me that because, like all free spirits, Ray wasn’t really boyfriend material. We did spend nearly all our free time together for a while, from playing gallybanders at the river to catching a wild kitten to clean out its infected eyes to weekends at his cabin, freewheeling into Laragh, no petrol in the tank. That time in life was in glorious colour for which I am ever grateful.
I left, moved near the sea. After some years had passed, I heard Ray was dying of a very aggressive cancer. It was only then that all that had been buried rose up and I realised that I was surrounded by memories of him. Not strange, I suppose, when you consider that Ray always had to be on the move, exploring, that he knew the roads of this county like the back of his hand.
Brownstown Head is the view from my front window every day. Often I see the flash of its tiny grotto with offerings from fishermen and I think of the day he took me to the tiny slip there for a picnic on my birthday. I remember also how that picnic ended, with me, as often happened, standing on the back bumper as he struggled to drive his van out of yet another inaccessible but interesting looking field/mountain/forest.
There are the two pillars there which we walked out to another day, me afraid of the cows, him with that inimitable cheeky bounce of a walk.
The sea beyond Brownstown saw us, on a fiercely sunny day, shark fishing in the boat he had found in someones backyard…
“Are you using that boat?Can I have it?”
…and refurbished. Gallons of oil, balloons, hooks and other stuff and out we went on the long blue swell which made me sea-sick though he was in his element. We caught no sharks but we did haul up a wrasse, a deep-sea fish that inflates from the lack of pressure, I think, if it is brought to the surface. Not a pretty sight.
Beyond Brownstown there is, hidden, Dunmore East where we sat in the boat in the harbour gutting the piles of mackerel we had hauled in off Creadon Head, up to our oxters in gore. And Woodstown where we lit a fire and ate cake. The flash of the Hook in the night, which we visited too.
We spent a summer afternoon at Garrarus once, Garrarus which I visit so much now, which connected to me to this place and these people but then it was relatively unknown to me. He snorkelled, I sat in the sun.
To the west from my studio window I can see the Crohaun, a foothill of the Comeraghs with its radio mast, which I walked up one day and looked out on the sea where he was in his boat with other friends, no room for me. Further north on the eastern side of the range is the lake at Coumshingaun where we picnicked.
To the north west is the northern tip of the Comeraghs near Clonmel and the unofficial shooting range where we took pot shots at paint cans. Sometimes we visited friends in Clonmel had a meal or some pints. On the road back running alongside the mountains is the place where he constructed and had blessed a Mongolian Ovoo which has now sunk back into the grasses. We visited it, walked around three times and made offerings. He ended up in Mongolia. But he came home to die.
I grieved but not alone. It was hard for many people to believe that this fierce Peter Pan spirit could possibly ever be extinguished. Many people will miss him bursting into their houses, accompanied by strangers to whom he wanted to display his talents as a plasterer, or carrying gifts of mackerel or venison and stories of madcap escapades through which they could live vicariously until the next crazy adventure.
Who else would motorbike around India recording his diary as he went?Who else would come out of Africa half-starved and end up walking across Greece to hitch a lift home from bikers?Who else, after all, would drive to Mongolia in a Hi Ace van loaded with Christmas puddings for sustenance?
Then there were the parties and the music:in the half-built houses, on Ballymacaw beach, in barns and in the gers(yurts) he brought back from Mongolia, at his cabin in the Wicklow Mountains. The hunting expeditions, creeping through the bushes at dawn warmed by whisky, dragging deer from a mountain or a marsh, covered in blood. The fishing trips hauling in cod and mackerel from a sparkling bubbling sea. There is so much more, some of which I know, an awful lot I don’t, like for instance any incidents that may or may not have ended up on the 6 o’clock news…
February 10th is the anniversary of Rays’ death and it’s a good a day as any to remember to live with a capital ‘L’. I guess I don’t believe in the hereafter but as he was a bit of a romantic himself, I think I can be allowed the thought that if there are far green hills beyond, he is making them his.