Etain grumbled and groaned.
“Why do I have to go? There will be enough people, it’s not like there are any Bilberries anymore. Sure, most of them are gone by the time of the walk, we should have it earlier.”
Her mother sighed.
“Look, it really isn’t about how many Bilberries we get, it’s to keep the tradition going. The last Sunday of July, before Lughnasa. This goes back to ancient times and..”
“I know, I know, the High King had the rights to the heath fruits of Brí Leith, people kept up the tradition of Bilberry Sunday, though they had it the 1st Sunday of August here for a time maybe because the party used to be a week long, maybe because the church interfered, they kept it up until the 1960s, coniferous trees blah, blah, blah.”
Her mother smiled, her child might find it boring now but she was going to remember and pass it on and that was all that mattered. That had been the whole point of the revival of Bilberry Sunday and the purpose of the walk, nothing more, nothing less, everything else that came of it was a bonus.
A couple of people in the village had an idea ten years ago and it kept going, even during ‘The Covid’. The first year of that they all went separately and took pictures and this year they were having a small social distance walk, no frills or frolicks but nice all the same. People get used to anything really.
Bilberries were returning too, along with the people, every year there were more and more pockets of them. It could be because the trees were being cut but maybe it was the will of the people marking the day year by year. She certainly liked to think so.
Etain looked at her mother wondering what nonsense was going on in her head now, smiling away to herself like an idiot. She loved her really, she wasn’t even her mother, she just cared for her since she was a young teenager and they faced many trials together.
“Ok,ok, I’ll go.”
“Thanks love, much appreciated.”
They headed off to the meeting point, 11am at the GAA pitch. Strange time to pick but someone did and it continued. There were only a few gathered, those that understood the importance of heritage and the old ways. Etain recognised most of them, some were unfamiliar, every year some ‘newcomers’ joined from near and afar. Even these seemed familiar. They had a friendly spirit about them.
“Look at all the old souls” said her mother as she looked around her.
“Sorry, did I say that out loud?”
Etain looked at her wearily. She smiled over at the group as one spoke telling everyone to “stay safe and keep your distance”. The leader, a gardener, who was at one with nature, then led them on the walk past his house and up the hill, stopping to give some knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area as he walked. She liked his way, there was an easiness about him and while he never really spoke to her and her mother she knew he knew they were there and was pleased they had come.
They walked up the hill and more gathered each side of them, quietly walking along, united in their purpose of remembrance. It was a fine sight to behold. The sun beat down on them, not as hot as it had been the weeks before but hot all the same. The weather had been strange this past while.
The tree cover shaded the walkers in places and the breeze helped with the heat.
Etain saw her mother waving her hand from side to side ever so gently and singing to herself. She was happy. That was good to see, so much of her life had been filled with rage and anger at the injustices around her and set upon her.
They went off the trail a little and came to one of the stone cottages. They stopped for a while and chatted about the ancestors that lived on this hill when it was clustered with houses similar to this and they all went silent for a moment considering the lost. They were lost to famine and emigration, war and exploitation. A moment was the least they could give them.
“Did you see that!” a young girl broke the silence.
“I had my eyes closed” said another
“What did you see? Was it a deer? A hare? A Sparrowhawk?”
“No, no, I swear I saw some people dressed in costumes, from the 1800s or something, just standing beside the group with their caps in their hands and smiling at us.”
“Trick of the light”
“You imagined it.”
“I saw them too, I saw them too”
“The veil is thin here” the leader said and he smiled over at Etain who returned it with a cheeky grin.
“Do you think she saw ghosts?” one Walker asked their friend.
“It was more like we were the ghosts in their reality.”
the child replied as she skipped past,
“like we slipped into their time because we were still.”
The group whispered and looked around them but no more visions did appear. They carried on, returning to the path, to the stories and the knowledge given as they sauntered up the trail.
“That was funny” said Etain.
“Was it though?” her mother replied getting slightly agitated.
The breeze grew stronger, it was almost cold, a sharp winter feel to it though the walkers were relieved to feel it.
When they reached the top they stopped a while to admire the view. They could see The motte in Granard, Cairn Hill and Sliabh Bawn. Some thought they saw Loughcrew.
“} could see Brí Leith from Uisneach one day I was there” one said “I wonder if we could see Uisneach from here”
“Once, you could, when the landscape was different, fires were lit from hill to hill, it was a wondrous sight to behold” someone replied. No one looked to see who, they were too busy trying to figure out which way to look for Uisneach.
“Now that was funny!” her mother whispered in her ear. Etain smiled. The breeze got warmer.
They crossed over the road and to the other side, it was marshy on this side and full of life, frogs and newts, dragonflies and butterflies, the birdsong consumed the walkers.
“This year seems different” one said, “otherworldly.”
“Doesn’t it just, you can almost feel the gods around us.”
“It is so beautiful up here, you’d nearly forget all the troubles of the world.”
“Good for the soul.”
The child who had disturbed the silence earlier at the ruined cottage did it again.
“There’s more people up ahead, do you see? Is it a party? Why are they dressed in tunics and capes? Look how the gold on their shoulders and necks shine.”
Everyone looked, nobody saw.
“She has a great imagination,” her mother said.
“Stop saying that. They’re there, can’t you see them?”
Etain stepped forward.
“I can” she waved her hands. At first nobody noticed and then they all looked at her and her mother.
“Is that Etain? Is that Fuamnach?”
“Did you organise this? This is so cool! Is there going to be a reenactment? “
“Organise what? No, we had nothing to do with this. We’ve no idea who these are.”
“Yes you do and you’ve everything to do with it. Come let’s join the others.” Fuamnach replied as she invited the group to join the party that now was joined by the people from the cottages.
More and more kept arriving yet it never seemed crowded. They weren’t sure how long it went on, it seemed to be days, then suddenly it was over and they were standing on the hill, no party, no costumes no Etain, no Fuamnach.
“Probably best we don’t speak of this” the gardener said.
No one replied.