Kingfisher Bridge

Niamh MacCabe

Ailm Elm
The river wanders past alder, past willow, past hazel. Carrying detritus, untethered fingerlings, soil. Stealing and gifting, past holly, past elm, past rowan. River. Other. Cold. Own. Bridge.

Beith Birch
A shadow hunkers inside the giant concrete pipe under the bridge. River water flows through, drifting under a narrow road which curves soft over. Atop Kingfisher Bridge: the others. Eager, loud, late teens, early twenties, they cross in continuous lines, pulsing to and from college between the rows of newly planted birchlings. It is late afternoon, two weeks until the summer holidays. They cycle, walk, drive, in pairs, alone, in untidy groups, half listening, half talking. They reveal untruths, and withhold talk about themselves. They smell of fabric softener, alcohol, supermarket cologne, grease, mint, sweat, strawberry chapstick. No one stops on the bridge. A chewing gum wrapper is flicked in passing, down into the water below. Other. Cold. Own. Bridge. River.

Coll Hazel
My own fire, my own little hearth. The shadow’s urine is warm in the hum of water under Kingfisher Bridge. But as it passes yew, passes aspen, further downstream along the river banks, it turns cold. By the time it darkens under the girdling silhouettes of hazel, the urine has become the stone-numb water of the river. Cold. Own. Bridge. River. Other.

Dair Oak
The cylinder has a kindness. He thinks it part of him, or maybe the reverse, maybe it has him, this concrete shelter he crouches in. He sees the cavern as certain, unwavering, unmoved. Its surfaces are smooth and unbroken. His spine curves against the circular shield, bony knees pulled to his chest, holding a warmth there, river water swirling about him. He smiles, blurts Hah! when he realises he is trying to avoid getting wet by holding his limbs tight to his body. The sound reverberates against the concrete. He intones: hah hah hah hah. He likes the chatter sound of the echo-back. The syllables whip around—he catches the tail-end. He looks out at the river flow, bringing all into its hold: the fallen leaves of birch, of oak, the broken twigs of alder, of ash, the strands of glossy vine pulled from their source. He sinks further into the water, untangles his limbs, and lets the cold-seep rise past his empty belly into the small warmth of his chest. He lifts a scout-knife from the sodden pocket of his hoodie and begins to cut into the concrete at his shoulder. Ivy weeps into the water, downy birch heeds from its waterlogged foothold on the riverbank. Own. Bridge. River. Other. Cold.

Eadha Aspen
There are no kingfishers under Kingfisher Bridge. There are no birds of any kind. There are no bats roosting, no otters playing, no minks lurking, no pinkeens scurrying, no newts sleeping, no dragonflies hovering, no herons waiting, no frogs breeding, no swallows banking, no voles hiding, no dippers feeding beneath the aspen roots straddling the river bank. There are no moss-covered rocks, no miniature waterfalls, no fractal worlds in pools under Kingfisher Bridge. The river roams through the concrete cylinder before it breaks into light-filled day’s eye on the other side. Bridge. River. Other. Cold. Own.

Fearn Alder
Does Conor join in playing games with other children easily?
Was Conor speaking by two years old?
Does Conor tend to take things literally?
Can Conor keep a two-way conversation going?
Does Conor have an interest that takes up so much time he does little else?
Does Conor have difficulty understanding the rules for polite behaviour?
Is Conor’s voice unusual: flat, monotonous?
Does Conor often do or say things that are socially inappropriate?
Does Conor make normal eye contact?
Does Conor sometimes lose the listener because he does not explain what he is talking about?

Gort Ivy (field)
The idea of river begins a see-through secret within stone, inside Benbulben, the stone mountain northwest of Kingfisher Bridge. It burbles up through limestone rock, through hardened mineral layers, blind as a newborn, sleek, charged. It births in a spring-well on the hillside, spurting into daylight. An ivy-garlanded hawthorn marks the place, marks it in silence for centuries. Leaves rebirth each spring, blood-hued haws on bare branches become beacons for starving birds each winter. Beneath the crooked hawthorn, a measure of spring water overflows the well and runs down between the mountain-stream’s banks, past alder, past heather, past gorse and haggard sheep grouping under scraps of elder, their skinny teeth stripping the mountain fields to the bone, gnawing on stubbled marrow, grey lips sucking the dew from the blades. Amid the banks, the water knows itself as river. It flees unfettered down towards Kingfisher Bridge, and to the Atlantic beyond, on the northwestern coast of Ireland. River. Other. Cold. Own. Bridge.

h-Uath Hawthorn (fear)

Sent: 05 May 2017 17:17

To: Students

Cc: President – Institute of Technology Sligo Students Union

Dear Students
Re: Special Accommodations for Semester 2 Summer Examinations 2017
If you are registered with the Learning Support Tutor or Access Office as a result of a permanent disability or long-term illness and you require special accommodations for the upcoming exams, please fill in the on-line form by 12 noon on Wednesday 10 May 2017.
Please note:
No late applications will be accepted as the online system closes at 12 noon on 10 May 2017

Paper applications for exam support will no longer be accepted.

The exam timetables are now available on the following link:
Kindest Regards,
Other. Cold. Own. Bridge. River.

Iodha Yew
Conor headed towards Benbulben’s eastern slope in the early June morn, as he had done two years before when a lone dog had called out from the top of the mountain. He had a mental map stored from that previous time. He pictured the dotted line as he walked, starting in his bedroom, out the window, under the yew hedge, over the fence, across the fields, crossing the Sligo road at Glencar Waterfall, keeping the lake on his left, up through the pass, around the limestone crags, the memorised dots appearing before him like cartoon footsteps. He thought of the Golden Dog, how cold she must have been, how frightened, how lost. You were cold. You were lonely, you were scared, you were hungry, you were angry, you were tired. By mid-morning, he reached the precise location at the summit and spotted the hawthorn tree in the distance, exactly where he knew it would be, unchanged after over two years, though now in bloom. White blossoms bowed over the spring well.
       Two winters ago, a Golden Retriever dog had spent three November nights on the mountain, caught on a tiny south-facing outcrop of rock, halfway down the cliff-face. She could be heard howling all across Glencar valley but no-one could reach her, neither from above nor below. She had run away in terror from her home in Ballintrillick after her owner had produced the rifle, ready for pheasant and woodcock season. On seeing the heavy black gun swinging on his shoulder as he opened her pen, she had remembered the deafening booms, the acrid smell, the roars, the kicks when she failed to grasp what was required of her. She had fled, running south to Benbulben mountain, passing the derelict stone workhouse, passing the ancient wide open maw of Diarmuid and Gráinne’s Cave halfway up, where thousands of years ago the legendary lovers had lain low before their dawn’s tragedy. On reaching the crest, she did not stop. She ran across the flat bogland crisp with November cold on top of the lonely mountain range, reaching the disused barytes mine with its rusting buckets and twisted iron ropes lying unravelled. She had paused at a brown pool there, drank quick from its dank waters, and continued, still sprinting, her tongue slapping between her black jaws, saliva dripping in foamy swathes. She had run right over the cliff edge on the other side, having no familiarity with the terrain she found herself in.
       She had landed unharmed on a narrow grassy shelf protruding like an open palm from the face of the limestone cliff. There she remained, her yelps resonating in the valley, skimming off the still surface of Glencar Lake, unsettling the pair of mute swans who left their lakeside nest and huddled together in the black middle, circling, watching, waiting. The clear November night sky had been brimming with stars, and dewdrops were diamonds on each of the three mornings. By the third dawn, her howls were nothing more than hoarse whimpers, her breath shallow vapours. There had been talk of shooting her where she lay, but no-one had yet to follow through.
       He had heard her, and had set out in the middle of the night from his home in the crook of the valley to below where she waited for death. Breathing out fast whorls of warm air, he had stood and watched her, his hands on his hips, his cold feet apart. You’re here. Choughs spun back and forth in the thin dawn, cawing. He whistled, and she sat up, tail wagging slow. He began to scale the cliff face.
       It will be talked about, for seasons to come, how Conor, that strange yoke from down the road, the only son, the burden, the loner, the curse, how Conor had managed to reach her when no-one else could. How he had the wile of a weasel, they said, the courage of a peregrine, and the strength of a horse. How he must be touched by God, or some other.
       In the grey light of a November daybreak he had scooped her under his arm and legged it up the remainder of the cliff edge as if he had a pair of swan wings and wild-goat hooves for feet, the dog hanging limp and compliant at his side. He had laid her down when they reached the flat plain at the top. Slowly she had risen to her feet, and began to pad north, homeward.
       He had followed her to the barytes mine, stood looking around him while she drank from the rank water there, then followed her until they came to a lone hawthorn cowed to the prevailing westerly wind. Here they had parted, without ceremony. She continued on her journey home where she would secure a reprieve from the hunt, and permanent favour in her owner’s grateful heart.
       He had watched her amble away, observing the certainty with which she placed each paw, her flaring nostrils pointed home, her footfall muted in the spongy heather. When she disappeared down the other side, he had sat at the spring-well in the scant shelter of the leafless hawthorn tree. He had lifted palmfuls of clear water and drank. He had returned home before the sun had risen in the east, and before his parents had risen from their separate beds. Cold. Own. Bridge. River. Other.

Luis Rowan (blaze)
Does Conor have unusual or repetitive movements?
Does Conor say you when he means I?
Does Conor appear to notice unusual details that others miss?

Muin Vine (neck, wile, love)
When he spotted his hawthorn in bloom by the well on the mountaintop where he and the Golden Dog had been over two years previously, he walked over boggy brush and thick heather in a straight line to it. Summer sun had climbed over Glencar Lake below. Its solemn rays struck the water, gilding the swans who paddled there, dipping their yellowed necks and folding their wings.
       It was near noon. He knew they would be wondering where he was. What would I call this, a place? A time? Something other? He felt a rush of pleasure in the possible pain his absence was bringing to his home. He ran scenarios through his head.

Nion Ash (forked)
Your mother coming into your room at nine to wake you for college, used to you sleeping in. Your mother shouting at the crumple of blankets on your single bed, get up, Conor, what am I doing, it’s high time I was able to manage this college thing on my own, get out of that bed before you call my father on me. Your father being called, your father kicking at the baseboard of your bed, your father grabbing the blankets, your father cursing at your mother, where the fuck is he gone now, can you tell me, where the fuck am I? You never signed up for this! You’ve mollycoddled him from day one, when I wouldn’t let go of that fucking blanket like a normal child my age, couldn’t even open my mouth like a normal fucking child. Own. Bridge. River. Other. Cold.

Onn Whin
He spent the summer day on the top of the mountain, walking in ever-widening circles around the flowering hawthorn, remembering the winter dog from two years back, how she had walked with him for a while, how she had left him, just gone back home, no poetry, how he had never seen her again. He ate the packet of gingernut biscuits he had brought with him from home—nobody would miss them, they were always the last ones in the biscuit tin. He drank from the well. Later, he slept in the gnarly crook of the hawthorn tree.
       On the second day, he considered the spring-well to be the head of a large, unwieldy body, a source of ideas, even those not thought of yet. He saw the stream flowing from the well as its neck. He followed the neck downstream to the barytes mine.
       He spent the next day and night there, signing his name over and over again on the old walls with streams of urine, backward, forward, joined, capitalised, upside-down, and vertical, in ogham script, having memorised the ancient Tree Alphabet from the poster on his bedroom wall. Hazel Whin Ash Whin Elder: CONOR. He ate the mouldy cooking-chocolate pilfered from his mother’s baking drawer. It would not be missed.
       On the third day, he left the mine before dawn. He walked the long distance down the neck, through the river, following its dips and curves, keeping within the banks, tracking the path prescribed, jumping from rock to vertebrae rock when the water deepened, dipping his face to drink, feeling the river swirling inside him. The twisted neck delivered him at last to Kingfisher Bridge. Wet-through, tired, and hungry, he hid in the concrete cylinder beneath the clattering footsteps and whirring tyres of his college peers. Bridge. River. Other. Cold. Own.

Peith blog Downy Birch
Initial Missing Persons Report: Conor Phelan Aged 19, Glencar Valley
Statement made by Eithne Scanlon at Sligo Garda Station 03/06/2017

I visited my neighbours Mattie and Rachel Phelan Wednesday afternoon, 31st of May, about two in the afternoon. They were both present, along with their son Conor. They were in the kitchen. Conor remained silent the entire time I was there. He was sitting in his armchair by the window. He appeared to be picking at a scab on his elbow. Rachel and Mattie were sitting at the table, drinking tea. I got a cup; there was still tea in the pot. They seemed glad to see me. There was an argument going on between them. They were using rough language. They had no regard for their son being in the room. They were shouting in front of him, what should be done, who should do it, how come he was the way he was, was it someone’s fault. I cannot remember their exact words. Conor did not appear worried, and even seemed to smile. He did not talk to me, nor did he look at me. He drank no tea. I stayed for about a half hour. They wanted me to stay longer but I had the ewes to feed.
Witnessed by Garda Padraig Conneely, 03/06/2017

Ruis Elder (red)
Volumes of water passed him on his journey downriver. He was slow. When he had reached the foot of the mountain, the water had already brought the thought of him to Kingfisher Bridge. Thousands of round pebbles lit up on the riverbed when the water whorled overhead bringing a gilt of him before gliding down to the Atlantic. River. Other. Cold. Own. Bridge.

Sail Willow
They hadn’t noticed him missing until they heard from their Head of Department at Sligo Institute of Technology that the police had been informed of his disappearance. They felt guilty that they had not noticed his absence. They readied stories to tell the police interviewers who had scheduled one-to-one meetings in the Quiet Room by the non-denominational chapel. The interviews would be with those who had shared class modules with him, as well as anyone who knew him on a personal level. They were excited at the thought that their contribution might mean something.
       Conor was quiet, they said. He had his own way of doing things. He didn’t say much. He was gas, they said. No, they couldn’t remember when they had last seen him. Must have been a few days ago, maybe a week? Probably. He was quiet, you see. They had felt something in their bones, though. They had had dreams, no, they had had nightmares. Should they write down any dreams they had, or memories, just in case it might be some kind of lead? Some kind of premonition, or psychic finger-pointing? Is there anything else they could do to help? Would a FaceBook page be a good idea? Would they put posters up in Doorly Park, in Hazelwood, at Dooney Rock, Rosses Point beach and Strandhill? Other. Cold. Own. Bridge. River.

Tinne Holly (ingot)
Does Conor appear to have a strange memory for details?
Does Conor like to do things over and over again, in the same way?

Ur Heather (earth)
All day, sitting in the shallow river under Kingfisher Bridge, he cuts into the concrete cylinder with his pen-knife, scripting in vertical lines, working from bottom to top:

Burung Udang.
Tsui Niao.
Chim Bói Cá.
Raja Udang.
Pékakak Chichit.

       He urinates into the water the mouthfuls of river he had drank on his journey here. The warmth clings to his groin as he chisels. Easy as this. My own fire. He finishes, and examines his scraped words. Beside the list, in swirling letters, he writes Your Halcyon Days and underlines it, scoring deep into the surface of the concrete with his pen-knife. He listens to the dying drone of passers-by overhead on their way to and from college. His fingers are cut red-raw; he dips them into the river. Drops of blood are carried downstream past willow and vine, past hazel. His head throbs, his belly moans. He looks west, to where the water wanders out to the Atlantic Ocean, maybe to return again in time. He imagines his own blood and urine, already there, ahead of him, cold, lost with the untethered fingerlings. Shivering, he pulls his hands quick from the water. He remembers the Golden Winter Dog, how she had returned to a home that terrified her. How she had known what to do. How she was not afraid. Cold. Own. Bridge. River. Other. Own. Bridge. River. Other. Cold.

nGéadal Broom (killing)
Conor’s mother lays on his single bed, dragging his blankets up around her to get the smell of him. She is unable to find the words that would fit her despair. She is unable to cry. Since he has been missing, she has spent most of her time in his room, surrounded by his things, his books, his papers, reading through his endless lists to find him. She thinks of where he might be, how he might be. She does not imagine him dead. Are you cold? Are you lonely? Scared? Hungry? Are you angry, Conor? Are you tired? Lying back onto his pillow, she fingers the worn edges of the poster above his bed: ‘Ogham, The Gaelic Alphabet Through Trees’.

Straif Blackthorn (sulphur)
Were it not evening, and were the roads not deserted, someone would see the shadow climb up the river bank. Someone would see it pull at the downy birch to gain foothold, muttering swan wings, wild goat hooves, weasel, peregrine, horse. Someone would hear it dripping river water as it crosses Kingfisher Bridge, skulking between the rows of birchlings. Someone would see it head east towards Glencar Valley below Benbulben mountain, east for home.


Dublin-born, Niamh grew up in Paris, in north-west Ireland, and in Washington DC, where she graduated from the Corcoran School of Art. She worked in the Animated Film industry, returning to north-west Ireland to raise her children. She began writing in 2014, and has been published in Ireland, the U.K., and the U.S in The Honest Ulsterman, The Writer Magazine, Wasafiri International Contemporary Writing, Structo, and Tears In The Fence, among others. She is currently completing an Honours Degree course in Writing and Literature.
Twitter: @NiamhMacCabe