The Tale of Inis Saimer
That blasted bitch. Puny from her very whelping. And yap! Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap!
Morning, noon, and night. Whine, even in her sleep. Weird. Should have been drowned at
birth. Should have been put down long before we sailed. Never should have let her get on
Sick on land, sick at sea. And the curses of the men. Their looks said it all. Me, their
leader, the butt of every sick dog joke from Karn'th to the land of the Bas'qu. Women!
"Can't control his woman!" "Can't even control his woman's pretty little puppy. Ho-ho;
haw-haw; hee-hee!" Fighting words, followed by fighting deeds, flailing fists, flying feet,
black eyes and loosened teeth.
From the Middle Sea through the Pillars of Hercules and up the coastline of Irenia, insult
and brawl, insult and brawl. Lost two men with broken ribs, punctured lungs. Too much for
Sai, the healer. Left them behind. Coughing blood. No further use in battle. Good men, too.
Mangled a score and more of their tormentors.
You would think she would release me from my pledge. She saw the havoc. She heard the
gibes. She knew the cost. But, oh no!
"Partholan, you promised. You promised me. One more son," you said, "just one more, and I
could have whatever I wanted.
"Just a little puppy of my own," she said. "A little red puppy, that's what I want. And you
pledged in front of Bam, the seer, I could have my own pet. She's mine, mine, do you hear?
And I'm going to keep her. I'm not giving her up!"
We had had the same argument over and over. And always she dragged in the seer. If it had
been left between man and woman, believe you me there would have been one less bitch in the
camp years ago. But the seer. He had prophesied. Break my pledge, get rid of the dog, and
I'd lose my son, my Rury.
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!
Saimer, she called it. After the land of her people, a land of scented cedars, tall trees
marching down to the edge of the sea. A quiet land. A land of peace and plenty, gentle
breezes, bright sunlight, and cool evenings. And the women. Lissome, long-legged, lust
arousing, love beguiling. Love? Yes, love. Love at first. Maybe, who knows, love still?
But the blasted bitch, the ever yapping, ever crapping, ever puking, ever pissing, ever
smelling, ever blasted bitch of a bitch--I mean the dog bitch, the canine bitch--has caused
nothing but trouble and strife since she entered my life, six weeks after the birth of my
third son, Rury.
Sai, the healer said there could be no more, and there weren't. I had other women, other
bedmates, bred other sons, other daughters, but none to rival my three first-sons. Tall
boys. Sturdy lads. Now young men, all but Rury. What is he now? Twelve summers? Thirteen?
And fearless. Like his brothers. Like his--I was going to say father, but you can't call
his old man fearless--not with that bitch of a dog still alive, still causing trouble.
Never knew a dog lived so long. Only yesterday snapped at Kitt, the earth woman, and bit
her on the leg. You should have heard her curses! Some ones new, even to me. Now the
two-legged bitch wants me to get rid of the four-legged red bitch.
Why does a man have to put up with it? One bitch, two bitches; three bitches, more
I gave them all to a new land. Gave them a new country. Kicked the beaker people's butts
and sent them packing. Stupid cave dwellers. And stink! Over at that headland, just above
the stream, you should smell the offal. Bloody primitives. Deserved to be kicked out.
Took their land. Divided their country. A quarter for each of my sons. The south to
Slainge, the east to Laighlinne, the middle to me, and the north to Rury. Rom, the memory
man, has the boundaries in his head. Invented a new word, too. Partition. I like it.
Partholan the Partitioner. It has a ring to it. Takes a good man to know where to draw the
lines. A wise man, too. The wisdom of Partholan. People will talk about it for generations.
Rom will see to it. Pass on the story. Preserve the fame.
Funny place to land up at. Once we left Iberia, ye gods, how the wind blew. Muddy sea.
Muddy skies. Jer, the steersman, fought the tiller. Navigate? No way. Run before the storm.
Lashed by rain. Dashed by waves. Waves? Nothing in the Middle Sea to match them. Mountains
they were. And they covered mountains. The sunken empire, the drowned cities, the lost
continent, a fading memory among the People of the Sun.
Driven west. Driven north. Day after day. Wet sea, wet boat, wet people. Hung on tight.
Sailors sick. Women sick. Blasted bitch of a dog sick.
Then, ten days on, sunshine. A calm sea. Land on our right. A big bay. A river's mouth. A
flat, wide estuary lake. A tiny island. An all-pervading, all-surrounding sound. And our
first seeing of the waterfall.
An offering to the gods. A routing of the primitives. An exploration of the country. But
always a return to our first landing, the little island, easily defended, below the
A rich land. Rich in timber. Rich in wild fruit, in nut woods, in deer and elk, in all
game of the forest and plain, in fish of the sea and birds of the air, doves and wild
geese, and the ever-hovering, ever-watching, ever-circling hawk of the river.
That hawk. Spotted us in the bay. Hovered over us as we landed. Inspects us every day. Garp
says it's sacred. Maybe so. Gives me the willies. Yellow iris. Big black pupil. Eyes set in
a dark streak. Nasty looking. And dive! Swooped right down the first time it saw the dog.
Yap, yap, yap went the bitch; screech, screech, screech, went the hawk.
"Partholan! Do something! Save the dog. Save Saimer!"
Bloody bitch. Cares more for the bloody dog than for any bloody one else. Me included.
"Come here, my pet. Come to Mammy. Mammy will protect you. Bad bird! There now, Saimer;
"Partholan. Do something! Partholan, do this! Do that!" Sweet is the sound of the waterfall.
Not sweet the sound of her voice. Can't get away from it. Island too small. Must find a
better place. A bigger place. A place where that voice can't carry.
But I'll miss this bay, this berth, this river, these wooded banks, the blackberries,
loganberries, raspberries, the haws, the honey, the nuts, and the salmon. I've travelled
many weary days, a thousand weary days and more, but salmon like these I've never seen
before. Not one for talk. Not me. Never was. Deeds, that's me. Action, that's me. But
these salmon, these silver salmon--never saw anything like them. A graceful fish. A
powerful fish. A knowledgeable fish. Wait for the tides, they do. Crowd the pool below the
falls. Waiting. Patient.
Moon mother draws in the sea, filling the lake, raising the level of the water, lowering
the falls. Then, one fierce thrust of tail, breaking the surface, arching in the sunlight,
higher and higher, into the lip of the torrent, some to gain the placid water above, some
to fall back, to wait, to break the surface once more, to glisten in the sunshine and, with
one desperate lunge, reach sanctuary in the quieter waters of the river above.
Six seasons I've watched the salmon run, and each sea harvest better than the one before.
I'm partial to salmon. If I had my way, I'd eat it night and day. It's the teeth. Not what
they were. But a good chunk of salmon is easy eating, and herself knows how to cook it. Say
what you will, that she does. Sure there's a lot to be said for her after all. But that
bloody bitch, the dog--there's always something.
What now? Damn voice cuts to the quick.
"Oh, there you are--"
Where the jurassic acre did she think I was?
"Well, I need him. But you'll do."
I'll do, will I? I'll do!
"Thank you very much, ma'am. So I'll do, will I?"
"For heaven's sake, Partholan, don't take on. I don't know what's got into you lately. No
matter what I say, you always take it the wrong way."
"The wrong way? Me?"
"Yes, you. They don't call you Wrong-way Partholan for nothing!"
That again. So we didn't go south. So the wind blew us north. So I should never have left
the Pillars of Hercules and the safety of the Middle Sea, Why would she bring that up? Why
"I've been thinking." "About Saimer."
That damned bitch.
"I'm afraid of that hawk. What if it comes in the early dark? What if there's nobody here?
Who will protect her?"
"Hawks don't fly in the dark!"
"Yes, but what if? I've been thinking, and I've just had an idea."
"Partholan, I want you to build her a little house, a wee house of her own, to shelter her
from the dark, from the wind's way and the rain's way, and, above all, from the hawk's
A house for the dog! A dog house! Who ever heard the like? "Partholan builds doggie houses;
Partholan builds doggie houses!" You can hear the children's sing-song, rhyming, rhyming,
rhyming. You can hear the people jeering, jeering, jeering. I can feel my blood boiling,
I'll kill the bitch. I'll kill the bitch. I'll drown the bitch. I'll--
The rock in my hands was wet. And red. Blood red. The little red dog was lying on its side.
And the little red dog was dead.
"You'll rue the day! You'll rue the day you did this deed. Just you wait and see!" And she
cradled the little dead dog in her arms.
I left the island. I went up the left bank of the river. Just above the falls was a ford,
and there stood Rury, spearing salmon.
High above in the sky was another watcher. High above in the sky was the hawk.
Somehow I knew it would happen, and my blood ran cold. As he tossed a fine fish to Roz on
the bank, his foot slipped, and Rury, my precious Rury, was gone. Not even time to let out
When we found him next day we saw the gash on his head. At the foot of the falls he had
bashed it. His body lay limp in the water.
We will leave this place. We will go to the far side of the country. There, on a headland,
we'll start afresh. And the wind will carry her voice away from me. Over the plain. Only
the hawk will hear. A plague on her! A plague on it! A plague on me!
"Inis Saimer. In the estuary, just below Assaroe Falls, lies the islet called Inis Saimer,
where tradition says, Partholan, coming from Scythia about 1500 B.C., landed to make the
first colonization of Ireland. The island is said to be named after Saimer, the favourite
dog of Partholan's queen, which Partholan killed in a fit of rage."
(Official Guide to Donegal).
"The Age of the World, 2820. Nine thousand of Partholan's people died in one week on
Sean-Mhagh-Ealta-Edair, namely five thousand men, and four thousand women. Whence it is
named Taimleacht Muintire Partholain. They had passed three hundred years in Ireland."
(The Annals of the Four Masters
translated by John O'Donovan).
The Hawk of the Erne Navigation
First Page | Previous Page | Next Page | Last Page
| Canadian Vindicator