Tale of the Ring

The Tale of the Ring

The Tale of the Ring

The story is a remarkable glimpse into the history of Ireland and its links with Moorish North Africa and Spain. Patricia McAdoo has taken the story of the Claddagh and written a beautiful children’s book with illustrations by James Newell, The Tale of the Ring.

“I grew up in the Claddagh, a fishing village across the bridge from the walls of Galway town. My father was a fisherman and right below our cottage was a slipway where, on clear mornings, the boats set sail, to return heaving and jumping with slippery mackerel and cod. The smell of fish always lingered on the air. Grandfather lived with us and he was so tall that he had to bend very low to come through the doorway. He spent his days sitting outside, watching the world go by and carving pieces of old bogwood. Every year, before the winter set in, he borrowed an ass and cart and went west to the bogs above Barna. When he came back, the cart was loaded with stretches of wood, which he carved into figures during the long evenings. Everyone in the Claddagh knew my grandfather. When I was eleven years old, he carved a boat for me, a white sailed cutter, with cloth sails of calico. Me and my brother Mikey took it down to the small inlet beside the slipway where the boats came in. We put it in the water and ran along the bank. ‘See it, Mikey,’ I shouted. ‘See how it tacks into the wind like Father’s boat.’ We raced the boat until it was too dark to see its sail. Every Saturday, Grandfather took me across the bridge into Fisher’s Lane market where the fish were sold. Here, he laid out his carvings on an old blue shawl my mother had given him. We stayed there until it grew dark and the market closed for another week. Then we went to the harbour to look at whatever ships were docked. On one particular evening, there were a lot of trading ships from other countries. We listened to the sailors as we walked down the quayside. They spoke in languages we did not understand. ‘What was it like to be away at sea?’ I asked. Grandfather, a merchant sailor for many years, was full of stories of his adventures. ‘It was hard, lad, but the great thing about it was we got to see the world.’ I held his hand as I skipped along beside him. ‘And what’s the best place you’ve ever been?’ He didn’t have to think too long. ‘That would have to be Tangiers.’ ‘On the north coast of Africa.’ I knew all the place names by heart from listening to tales of his adventures. ‘And what was it like?’ ‘Oh lad, it was beautiful. So hot we’d jump from the ship right into the sea to keep cool. Not a lot of the men could swim, but by the time we left the harbour, I could jump from the cross-sails.’ I had to run to keep up with his long strides. ‘Where else?’ ‘Let’s see now. Tarifa in Spain, across from Gibraltar.’ ‘And did you ever bring anything back from those places?’ ‘No, but I always tried to carve something to help me remember where I had been. In Egypt, it was a camel I saw one day near the harbour, and in Spain I remember carving a bullfighter. He was carried through the streets of the town because he had defeated the bull.’ ‘Where did all the carvings go?’ Grandfather shook his head. ‘I lost them … over the years.’

We made our way home, talking about the places he had been. It was October. We sat around the fire, me and my brother Mikey, my mother, my baby sister Saoirse on my father’s knee, and Grandfather on his bed. Father spoke as he cleaned out his pipe. ‘The catch was poor again today. Let’s hope it picks up soon.’ ‘What will you do?’ my mother asked. There were a lot of mouths to feed in the house. ‘We’ll have to go further out to the fishing grounds west of the islands. That’s bound to bring us a bit of luck.’ The next day was stormy and the boats stayed moored. I went down to the small beach near our house. My friend Annie was already there, watching the waves break on the shore. We played catch the waves for a while, dancing in and out at the very edge of the sea. ‘Do you want to come to the Aran Islands tomorrow?’ I asked. ‘Father is planning a fishing trip if the weather gets better.’ Annie’s face lit up. Her father was the shoe mender and they did not have a boat. In the morning the sea was calm and I knew we would go. Grandfather decided to come along so we set off early in my father’s boat. Mikey wanted to come too. ‘No,’ said my mother. ‘Not this time.’ We sailed west until we saw Inis Mór, the big island, loom into view. My father tied the boat at the pier and Annie laid out a picnic on a rock. We had the tea my mother had put in a tin can, and some oatcakes with bread and cheese. Then my father set off again, promising to be back before sunset. The three of us started the walk across to Dún Aengus, the ancient fort on the other side of the island. It was a steep climb and Grandfather grew tired. ‘Leave me here and go off with you, but don’t go near that cliff now. I’m warning ye.’ ‘We won’t,’ I shouted back. We scrambled up the rest of the hill and saw the ancient fort of stone. There was a great view of the other islands. We stood for a while and then made our way down. I stopped at the entrance to the fort and looked at Annie. ‘Let’s see if we can spot a gull’s nest.’ ‘We’d better be careful near the cliff,’ she said. ‘I know, I know. Come on.’ We headed towards the cliff edge. I peered down. The water was far below and there were no nests that I could see.

‘Let’s go back,’ said Annie. We were about to retrace our steps when, out of nowhere, a seagull flew in from the sea, swooping very low, right across our heads. I tripped and stumbled forward on the slippery grass. The swirling sea came towards me as I fell over the cliff. I landed hard on a flat piece of rock a few feet below the edge. My foot throbbed with white-hot pain and I closed my eyes, too scared to look. Annie was calling to me but I could barely hear her above the screaming of gulls and the crashing waves below. ‘Richard, quick, quick. Look up! Give me your hand.’ But I didn’t want to open my eyes. I knelt, holding on to a small piece of rock that stuck out from the cliff face. ‘I can’t.’ My voice was only a whisper. ‘Come on, Richard. Come on. It’s not so far. See, my hand is just above you. I can pull you back up. Look!’ So I opened my eyes and there was Annie with her hand almost touching the top of my head. I reached up slowly, my fingers icy and shaking. ‘That’s it. That’s it. Come on.’ We heard Grandfather shouting our names and at that moment I felt Annie’s hand grab the tips of my fingers and then my wrist. ‘Now, hold tight. I’m going to pull you up. Hold on.’ I thought my arm would break. The pain shot through me. I was too scared to look up but I listened to Annie’s voice. ‘I have you. We’re almost there. Hold on. You’re nearly up.’

I wanted to scream but my voice was gone. My legs were shaking. The wind hurt my ears. I searched for footholds in the cliff face with my knees and feet, scrabbling to get up. Annie held onto my wrist and, after what seemed like a long time, I gripped the top of the cliff and was able to pull myself up to the flat grass where Annie lay. Her arms were bleeding where she had scraped them on the rocks. I heard Grandfather calling us again. A few minutes later he came stumbling across the grass. He was out of breath. ‘Are ye all right?’ he asked. ‘I got worried.’ I stood up but I was a little dizzy so I sat back again beside Annie. Grandfather took out his handkerchief and mopped her arms. ‘What happened?’ ‘I fell,’ I managed to whisper. ‘Annie saved me.’ Grandfather shook his head as if he could not believe our luck. ‘Well, lad you have yourself a brave friend here in Annie.’ ‘I know,’ I said. ‘Thanks Annie.’ She smiled. Her lips were blue and trembling. ‘We’d better get back. Your father will be landing soon.’ We could hear him whistling before we saw the boat. He had had a good catch. We walked slowly towards the pier. By the time the boat pulled in, my arms and legs were beginning to feel better and I was no longer limping. Grandfather said nothing about the fall and neither did Annie. She pulled her jumper over the scratches on her arms. We would never again go on a trip if my father knew what I had done. But it was all I could think about on the way home and all that night. Grandfather was right – Annie had been very brave.

We went back to playing on the beach every day and feeding the swans at the slipway. The winter set in and the weather worsened. The fishing catch got smaller and smaller. One day, as I came home from the beach, Grandfather called to me from his usual place. ‘Come here lad, it’s time I taught you a bit about carving.’ I sat on a low stool beside him and took the small knife and piece of bogwood he handed me. Then I watched his hands and copied what he did as best I could. I grew tired of holding the knife but all the same I stayed by his chair, my eyes fixed on his hands. The first thing he taught me to carve was a Galway hooker, which is a boat with two sails. It took me three afternoons and, when it was finished, Grandfather patted my head. ‘Now go and show your mother,’ he said.” pdf extract


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