By J. Herbert, Ireland.
E: Where is she now? They just announced last call for our flight.
B: In the loo again.
E: Again? But that must be the fourth time since we got here.
B: Well it appears that our little sister is nervous. She should have followed my lead and downed a few stiff drinks.
E: This is a fine start to the expedition – you inebriated and Fodhla incontinent.
B: Well thank the stars that our leader is in control and beyond reproach.
E: Here she is. Fodhla, come on. They have announced last call.
F: Sorry, Ériu. I feel to be possessed by some malicious kidney púca.
B: I think I may have the same fellow on my back.
E: We are all nervous. We have never left our island before now. And besides taking to the skies in one of these noxious flying contraptions that do not look sensible at all, I am certainly concerned that our absence will provoke untold chaos for the nation.
B: Oh for fuck sake, Ériu, as if any Irish person even knows we exist. It’s donkey’s since anybody gave us a thought.
F: Banba! How could you! We are…
B: Come off it. Ériu gets an ungrammatical shout out in some of those patriot songs, but other than that we are at best a mention in an obscure book or two… Though I have to say we are doing well on some of the weirder, pagany-type websites.
E: Ladies, let us leave the debate until we touch down on the island of Lanzarote. It is time now to join this queue. Do try to maintain a little decorum, Banba.
B: Decorum she says. Sure half these punters are half cut.
F: I think I need to use the facilities again.
E: We have to stay in the queue. We will miss the flight otherwise and, from my research, Ryanair does not look kindly on such behaviour. We would have to buy another ticket and I tell you, they are not cheap at short notice.
B: Since when did we give a fuck about money?
F: We could always not go.
E: But we have discussed this ad nauseam. This is an essential piece of work in our project to regain an understanding of our people. A Ryanair flight to a winter sun holiday destination is now an intrinsic phenomenon of Irishness, and it is contributing to the evolution of the national psyche.
B: Ériu, you might want to keep your resonant voice down a bit. Some of our fellow travellers are not appreciating your oration.
E: Very humorous, Banba. Should we leave it to you to interpret our people’s wishes and desires?
B: I certainly feel that I’ve a perfect understanding of your man over there’s wishes and desires… Excuse me one moment, dear sisters.
E: Banba! Don’t you…
F: What is she doing?
E: Ah leave her be. She might be right. She is the one who is most fit for mingling and ascertaining the Zeitgeist. We will do our part by listening. Just try to forget yourself and tune your ears into the conversations on board the aircraft. And when we are on Lanzarote, let’s try get into the spirit of the island.
F: I just cannot believe we are leaving Ireland.
E: Don’t worry; it’s only for ten days. What could happen in ten days? Go ahead there; you need to show the official your passport… Good afternoon. Thanks yes… Down the stairs here. Mind your bag, Fodhla. What an infernal racket.
F: Where is Banba?
E: I hear her drunken laughter coming along behind us, don’t fret. She is certainly on track for enjoying her holiday.
F: I worry, I do.
E: Yes, Fodhla, you always have done. Let’s find our seats. I could not get three together…
F: What! I can’t I mean please I couldn’t…
E: Fodhla darling, watch your head. Let that man pass. Oh what a squeeze. Don’t be worrying, I will be right across from you. And besides, you will have more opportunity to observe your neighbours. Here we are, row 21 and row 22. Oh I wish I could have booked a window seat…
F: I don’t like this. We should have just done a pilgrimage to Ardstaw or Rathcroghan.
E: Why don’t we have a drink?
F: Me? No. No. You know I don’t like alcohol.
E: Well think of it as a pilgrimage and let us go through all the rites. Think of it as a sacrifice for our beautiful, neglected island. Buckle up, darling. We will be mindful, be prayerful, be respectful. It is a kind of Samhain festival displaced to another island, another climate.
F: So confusing. But yet I suppose it makes sense.
E: Where is she… there, fine. She managed to get a seat beside her sweetheart. I do not like the look of him at all. He has an underworld taint on him. But then again, Banba always did like a bit of rough. Let’s recite a little of our verses and order a double whiskey.
F: Oh my stomach. The speed is unnatural.
E: It is not any faster than our steeds in the ancient days. Do you not remember how we could traverse the island in a day? Travel from Carndonagh to An Daingean, twilight to twilight? How beautiful it was. Not an astroturf pitch or a car dealership in sight. And up we go – Fodhla, you are hurting my hand. I feel quite emotional to see my land, our land, from such a height… Oh to be forsaking it… My hand, Fodhla. Recite, recite!
F: I can’t remember anything except the terrible curses. That one with all the dysentry…
E: Mmm. That is not great. How about Samhain invocations to the falling leaves? Or the migrating birds? Actually that is a very fitting one.
F: But it all feels wrong! We are not birds. And if we were, we would not be migratory.
E: We will have to begin to be a bit more imaginative. It is time to acknowledge that we are way behind the times and are destined for oblivion if we don’t adapt. It might even be too late already. I see wrinkles on your perfect face. I see crow’s feet around Banba’s fierce eyes. And when I look in my pool, I see that there is more silver than gold in my hair. My famous waist is thickening…
F: But you are still so beautiful, and so is Banba.
E: Well of course we are, but we are aging. Which is to be expected I suppose after countless millennia. And I want to know what is in store for us. Do we fade out and pass over to join our kindred under the ground, under the ocean? Who is taking our place?
F: You think we are being usurped?
E: Well I presume that we don’t just abscond or fade and leave the helm empty. But I sometimes suspect that the helm has changed nature and we have not noticed, or it was kept from our notice.
F: I have so few pine martens, so few badgers.
E: I know darling, and I don’t know how to remedy it. My people always fought for me, for the beautiful mountains and bogs, but now the names of streams are forgotten, mountain passes are co-ordinates. Banba is the happy one; she sees the population grow again and is nourished by the plenitude… for now anyway.
F: Did we fail in our duty?
E: Well that is the question. But then again, who can ask it but us? Here’s the trolley. A double? It will do you good. Remember Ath Cinn Chonn. Would you like anything to eat? A little bag of pretzels?
F: Look at all this packaging and plastic. Oh Ériu, I can’t abide it. Where does it come from?
E: A strand of the Zeitgeist. I have been communing when possible with the other sisters across the waters, across the steppes, and they all mourn this blight. There are convocations about these woes enveloping the globe, they fill the noosphere with sad tidings.
F: I have tuned in. I sang some of my own sad pine marten songs. Are you sure this is whiskey? It is nothing like the Ath Cinn Chonn sup. That was like spiced honey and bog dew…
B: Hey, girls. Having fun in the skylounge?
E: Well it looks like you are anyway.
B: Too right. I found myself a nice bad boy to take care of me in Lanzarote. He is a bona fide, deep-Drimnagh gangster with fingers in lots of juicy pies. Though that accent is more Ballinteer I’d say. Anway, he has a villa on the seafront, if you don’t mind. I pledge to do some very thorough investigating for the expedition.
E: Trust you…
B: Yes, trust me. I smell death a mile away even if it is drowned in a sea of CK Obsession- which is a perfume, Fodhla, before you even ask. Read your Ryanair inflight magazine: it’s worth a hundred study hours in the National Library.
E: Do you need to be careful with this Diarmuid of the Ball Seirce?
B: How I wish… Now there was a ride. Ériu, this fella is an unlegendary mortal that does not even begin to understand the nature of darkness. IGS they call it, ‘Imaginary Gangster Syndrome.’ He thinks he’s Crom or something. Crom wouldn’t even wipe his arse with this gobdaw. But I will have a bit of craic.
E: Well there is certainly a lot of to-do about gangland goings on in the press, so it will be a very useful mission for you.
B: Thanks for the endorsement, sis. Bottoms up. I’m off back to my beau.
E: Incorrigible! But somebody has to do it. I used to be so much more carefree, I do miss the divilment.
F: I can’t even remember…
E: Now Fodhla, let’s not be coy. As I already encouraged you to do, remember Ath Cinn Chonn.
F: But that was spiritual, that was for the animals and birds.
E: Yes, I believe you. And you never enjoyed it?
F: I never thought about it.
E: So selfless it is a marvel. These pretzel things are vile, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. I am going to rest my eyes and do a bit of eavesdropping for a while. Why don’t you do the same?
F: Will you recite for me first? Dispel the dysentry from my brain?
E: Tellinn, cíarainn, Bees, chafers (restricted humming, tenuous buzz);
cerdán cruinne, barnacle geese, brent geese, shortly before Samhain
crónán séim; (music of a dark wild one).
gair ré samain,
seinm ngairb chéir.
F: Wonderful. Thank you. How many years since I heard that one…?
The sleeping goddesses in the aisle seats would have radiated a celestial emerald light had Banba not cast a protective, dulling shield over the sozzled pair. She had been enjoying herself with the hulk, but sooner than she expected she grew bored, so she sent him off to sleep. She examined the onset of boredom and related it to age; she suffered fools less and less as the centuries passed. A couple of hours yet to go before they landed. What to do? She flipped through the hulk’s tabloid but even that gave her no fun. She hoped she wasn’t turning into the same species of dryshite as the other two, so maudlin it would give you a pain in the gicker. But if she had to be honest, the brutal and frivolous things that used to light up her days are just not working for her anymore. She was viewing life in a very different way.
She found herself drawing graphs a lot.
She was attending night-classes on statistics, and was using them to try figure out what the fuck was going on in Ireland these days. She wanted to discuss her findings so far with Ériú, and even that dolt Fodhla might learn something, but she hesitated as it felt like she could be blowing her cover or something to that effect. It suited her to let the others think the same old same old, that she was a harlot, a warmonger, a bloodthirsty vixen. Though if they thought back, they had to remember her more mystical dimensions too, of course. They just didn’t get to exercise their mystical dimensions much these days. The country was gone to pot with the likes of this big eejit here beside her and all those unbearable cardinals… though the boys in purple seem to be scrabbling a bit lately.
Possibly this brainwave of Ériu’s would shine a bit of light on the conundrum. Banba had no doubt that their aging triumvirate was close to redundant, and that they had hardly any currency with the Irish populace these days, but she was not quite ready to stand down. But what was that all about? Maybe they could stay on Lanzarote? It has a clement climate and volcanoes. That would make a nice change: some African sky, and even a chance that the island tutelaries are in a better condition than at home.
When Ériu awoke, she felt the protective shield. She shrugged it off, mentally marvelling that Banba had the wherewithal to be so attentive when she herself have been so negligent. If that light was detected, as it surely would have been, they would have had a job to do on all the passengers’ minds to obliterate any hint of their extramundane qualities. Though these days, a little extra glow might be explained away by a catalogue of beauty products and procedures. Sometimes she had to do a doubletake on the street when she saw inexplicable complexions, shuddering to imagine the processes and chemicals. And then she had the same reactions to her beautiful land. Unrecognisable when she remembered the glory days before nitrates. Oh maybe she was just too old now for this society and civilisation. She could not be bothered sometimes with trying to keep up with GHDs and dubstep and agrifeed. She wanted to be on a galloping horse and wanted to see MacGréine.
‘Return to your seats please, ladies and gentlemen. The captain has put the seatbelt light on as we are experiencing some turbulence.’
Well that was unexpected. When was the last time she thought of her husband? And now it is all she can do not to call him from the other side, to down this aeroplane and abandon it so she can find him.
She has to breathe very slowly and focus very hard on her rings: the leopard eye, the stream’s source, the amethyst tear. Keep breathing. Back in control; the aircraft steadies. How fascinating.
And how curious that drunken Banba, careless, reckless Banba was mindful enough to throw that cloak over them. She was acting out of character. Though would she have said that two thousand years ago? No, not at all. Curiouser and curiouser. Had Banba been hoodwinking them all these years? To what purpose?- that was the most provocative issue. She was hardly still smarting from that incident with Amergin? Surely not- they had rehashed that affair so many times, and she had thought that it was understood that it was just a play of fortune that he had found her last when he arrived to their island. Ériu had never intended naming the land, that was the poet’s whimsy. And in fact it worked against her, as nobody really thought about who she was after that. Her own nature and cult were sidelined for an abstraction of nation. Which, if she thought about it, she could not care less about. She cared about the mountains and the integrity of the forests, the interplay of landscape and regional soul, but that was becoming a thankless occupation. It was all utterly different now, as if another ice age had transformed the essence of the island. Was that why she felt so adrift, so tenuously connected to the sod?
But Banba. Is she interfering with Ériu’s brainwaves, sending her off on nostalgic tangents? She looks back to see a grin on that gorgeous face, and is presented with a delicious wink. The snoring hulk beside Banba is a heap of synthetic brawn, hideous as a Firbolg on steroids. Yes, that woman has been hamming up her Morrigú proclivities in the latter years. Civil wars and water charges had her all riled up, but it never seemed to consume her like in the old days when the foes were supernatural. Though undoubtedly there are still some supernatural foes, but they are sneaky; they are disguised as normal human entities and enterprises.
It made her tired. But it was time to talk to her sisters, her avatars (don’t say that aloud), about what it was they were going to do. Maybe they could stay on Lanzarote? Leave Ireland to its own devices and new mysteries, to the next as yet unannounced generation of divinities.
Fodhla opened her violet eyes and felt the weight of Banba’s protective cloak. She pulled it tighter around her shoulders, inhaling the ravishing perfume of musk and heather.
Days on the heather, lying on the sunny side of Knocknaree, listening to the wizard linnets sing in the sky, telling love stories and lies about each other’s husbands. Son of the Plough, Son of the Hazel, Son of the Sun. They would watch the Atlantic and invent names for the colours on the waves. Banba always had baskets of fruit and oval cakes of honeybread. Ériu sang the songs that kept coming and coming as the generations of varied tribes flourished and explored the land. The people sang the seasons and the hunts and the crops and the bees. They sang their crannógs out onto the lakes and sang fires up into the heavens. Ériu collected the songs and kept them circulating so that the mountains were wreathed in clouds of verse and the streams never felt lonely. They would listen on the side of Knocknaree and spend centuries in a rapture. Fodhla’s pine martens and wolves, her linnets and stonechats would appear and make offerings. She let them lick a drop of blood from her pricked finger and eat the seeds of her own botanicals from her pockets. The people climbed the mountain and fell onto the heather enchanted by the scent-the songs-the wave glints-the presences. They left a cairn of white stones, or balls of wool, or pieces of cooked meat. Sometimes they danced and that gave the goddesses such joy that the whole land undulated.
On Samhain the three watched from the modest height as the bonfires bloomed over the land until there was a mist-softened light from earth to rival that of heaven. They supervised the revenants as they billowed in from the other side, the dead undead for a kind few hours.
But now the dead were not welcome and nobody threw bones in the few fires. The mists still rose but mostly unobserved. Fodhla lived at the foot of Knocknaree and spent hours lying on the heather. Ériú preferred to be on the move, investigating the land and the developments. Banba took to the Viking towns and especially the capital. She and the Liffey became great pals, relishing nightown and the antics in the flats. But even An Life decided that her time was up; rumour was that she had gone to try find somewhere clean in Siberia.
Only the three of them left now, that they knew of anyway. And it was so evident that they were redundant. Maybe the time had come to concede, maybe they could just stay in Lanzarote.
But the pine martens? She would stay until the last pine marten. The wolves were gone, and those poor big deer with the ridiculous antlers; the shrews were under threat. That is the way of the world and it was time to be at peace with their impotence to change things. She still believed that her own power was to be there, with the life that hummed in the forest, on the mountains, under water. There was still a loud, fragrant mass of bioenergy breathing and processing the island, keeping it somewhat alive despite the despicable behaviour of the humans. She would be there to give her divine support to it until the last pine marten; then maybe she would head away for good to Lanzarote… though it had yet to be seen if it was as hospitable as the legion of holiday makers suggested.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we will shortly be landing in Lanzarote. The local time is 15:47 and the air temperature is a lovely twenty-eight degrees…”