The tale that follows is true though forty three years have passed by and of course as years disappear under the bridge, memory has an increasing capacity to distort what really happened...
|Killary Harbour, Ireland with the youth hostel on the right|
There is a road in the far west of Ireland that wanders around squat hills and across ancient boglands all the way from County Mayo into the wild north of County Galway. In early June, back in 1974, that is where I was heading.
I stood on the outskirts of Westport with my thumb pointing hopefully at the billowing sky. After half an hour, an old black car pulled up. It may have been a Humber or perhaps an Austin. The driver was a Catholic priest called Father Stoker. He was bound for Galway City via Clifden where he had some church business to wrap up.
Father Stoker was well into his seventies with straggly white hair and stubbly whiskers to match. I noted his slightly bloodshot eyes and the golden signet ring on his left hand. We had twenty miles or more to travel together and Father Stoker, clearly a genial sort of fellow, was glad of my company for at least part of his car journey. He had a few tales to tell and he was keen to hear what I had seen and done since arriving in Ireland ten days before.
At the county border on the N59 there's a little settlement called Clog. I kid you not. It was just as we were leaving Clog that Father Stoker asked where exactly he should drop me off. Studying my map, I explained I wanted the Lough Fee road just south of Derrynasligaun. He chuckled at my pronunciation.
"But that's in the middle of nowhere!" he declared. "Where are ye heading after that?"
"I'm going to the youth hostel at the head of Killary Harbour."
For some reason, the car suddenly decelerated. Father Stoker gripped the steering wheel tightly, staring straight ahead before building his speed back up. Ahead, a pair of crows were picking over the flattened carcass of a dead rabbit but they flew off as the old black car approached.
Father Stoker didn't speak another word until we reached the drop off point. I heaved my bulging rucksack from the back seat and leaned back into the car's upholstered interior to thank the old priest for the lift.
He grabbed my hand quite tightly and as he did so I noticed a curious symbol engraved on his golden ring. Perhaps it was Celtic. His cheerful demeanour had changed. With his rheumy eyes locked upon me he whispered, "Mind how ye go young fellow. Mind how ye go!" And then he released his grip.
I waved as he drove off, leaving me at a blustery road junction far from anywhere. A rusting sign swung from an old post - "Hostel 2", meaning I had two miles to march with my Famous Army Stores rucksack - all the way to Killary Harbour.
TO BE CONTINUED