Walking with the Eagle

For the NaPoWriMo prompt. A family memory, not funny, not dark, just sad.

Strangely enough, one of the paintings by Fay Collins Sarah suggests as a prompt for dverse this evening  is very apt. At the end of the poem is a photograph of Croagh Patrick.



She walked lonely paths, my grandma,

diminutive bundle of nerves,

with her burden of tragedies.

She travelled often and always alone,

not even her ghosts to take her arm

for she believed in none of it.

She climbed Croagh Patrick often enough,

beneath the Mayo sky, above the restless ocean,

but not for Patrick.

What had the dour bishop ever done for her or hers?

She walked with Crom, the Eagle and the mountain stone,

and found peace of sorts with that raw, wild presence

the monk tried so hard to shift

with his fasting and his muttering.

She found a sort of solace

in the ceaseless heaving of the waves,

the trackless breadth of the cloudy sky.

I feel her tears still, though I never saw her cry;

I was born with them in my blood,

will carry them in its tide until I die.





Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

62 thoughts on “Walking with the Eagle”

    1. I don’t think she ever really found peace, Peter. She just drove herself on because she felt she was still needed. When she believed she risked becoming more of a burden than any use, she just wrote us all letters of goodbye, went to bed and never woke up.

      1. It doesn’t do you any good having a brilliant mind if your family is too poor to send you to university, and said university wouldn’t give your kind a place anyway.

    1. You’d have loved my grandma. She lost two of her children when they were toddlers, and my granddad died at 55. She destroyed all the death certificates and nobody knows where any of them are buried. She’d have no truck with the priests and believed in nothing. She taught until she was 72, retired and took a degree in philosophy with the Open University. When she’d had enough, when her grandchildren were old enough to look after themselves, she wrote each of us a letter of goodbye, went to bed and never woke up again. She had a will of iron despite being on medication for all the years I knew her. I still miss her.

      1. The parish had a whip round to buy her school uniform to send her to grammar school and the nuns got her to sit the Oxford entrance exam and she passed, but of course she couldn’t take up the place. She was a phenomenon. Taught me New Maths just using the school manual. She’s my idea of Wonder Woman.

  1. A moving portrait, Jane. I think I remember you saying that she lost a child (or children). I can imagine her on that mountain, watching and hearing the waves.
    (I said to Kerfe that ocean/beach seems to be the theme this week.)

  2. She sounds like an amazing woman. There were so many women in that generation who were never able to quite reach fulfilment, but she sounds like a particularly powerful force. I’m so glad the picture worked for you and you were able to post this here.

    1. Thanks Sarah, she was an exceptional woman. I think about her a lot and look out for her in my children. I’m not sure I want to find it though, what she bore would have broken me, I think.

  3. What an amazing poem! You blend two things beautifully – your grandmother’s steely determination and the melancholy she lived with every day. I love your description of the ‘dour bishop’ and the monk as well.

    1. Thank you, Jo. My grandma had a nervous breakdown when my granddad died. It was before I was born and she was on heavy medication all the time I knew her. She pushed herself on though for another thirty years, always restless and on the move, doing and learning. Despite being brought up a Catholic at a time when all the Irish were Catholic and devout with it, she had no belief left after losing her children and her husband. Couldn’t stand priests either. Great lady.

      1. Yes. My daughter lived in Ireland for 16 years. I visited sometimes. We often discuss the Irish soul and that deep sorrow.

      2. They talk about going back for generations but the ones who left because of poverty never made enough money to go back. I suppose when you know what something is impossible, it becomes more of a desire.

      3. Yes, that’s true. We have lots of Irish settlers round this area. They cherish their heritage so much they have an Irish Festival every May.

      4. Mary’s month—how I dreaded it as a kid! There’s Irish (which I’m fine with) and there’s Catholic which has long outlived its usefulness as far as I’m concerned. There are better things to identify with.

    1. Thanks Grace. She was always on the move, always off alone into the wilds or learning something new. She didn’t retire from teaching until she was 72 and that was because she wanted to start a university degree in philosophy! She got it too.

  4. Thank you for sharing your memories of your grandma Jane, how strong she was, how wonderful.
    Your comment of her grammar schooling reminds me of my husband. He was educated at a seminary when it was the way of firstborn sons (being expected) to become a priest. He too was from a poor background and was embarrassed by his makeshift uniform and was ridiculed for it, even by the priests.
    During his time at the seminary, in that cruel environment, he lost his faith…
    As a very bright button he gained a University place, but couldn’t take it up as his parents needed an income from (his) employment.
    Anna :o]

    1. Very similar story, Anna. The talent that has been lost through prejudice and snobbery. One good thing came out of though, the loss of the faith that has held the Irish back for generations.

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