Boat Story


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Their eyes spoke of a life he could never understand; a life that had seen the end of other lives. I think home is only in their minds now. But everything changes into something else. Do you know what I mean?

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Tell me, Willie, do you know a Dots Murphy? I was talking with him the other day. What if I told you he was involved with the volunteers, what would you think of him then? The soldiers who had been loud with the drink began to grow quiet and smoke their cigarettes in silence. He raised himself from the table and the captain shook his hand. And the soldiers had launched into song again. Of the rest of the night, there was little he could remember, a stumble home past the Protestant graveyard, and up the long lane to the open kitchen door. The night had passed into memory.

The captain had seen home, he had told him; he alone, at least, had seen it. And perhaps for the others it was better to have died on some lonely bog road, as it seemed they would never - could never - settle back into a normal life. Fighting for something that no longer existed: themselves.


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Maybe it was better this way, he had thought, and agreed with himself. What have you to say in your defence? Fatalities occur in a war, but we are not murderers. His mouth was dry now. When the gavel banged off the wooden table no sound seemed to echo. The court rose to its feet. There was a dignified shame to all these people: butchers, shopkeepers and farm labourers, parading as men of honour, as judges, as sergeants, as soldiers of destiny. He was pushed this way and that. The court swore allegiance to the new flag, and was not one of its colours, the orange, for him? It had been several hours now and the first rays of the early morning sun were beginning to appear as they walked outside the Catholic school hall.

The two men who had entered the Routledge family home hours ago escorted him now; there was no great fight, no mad dash for freedom, they walked side by side with him, as men might do coming home from a football match or after a night of heavy drinking. The boat waited in the shallows, tied by a piece of frayed rope to a fencing post, its oak cracks having seen season after season.

It dipped and bobbed as they climbed on board. Back and forth, to the left and right, as their feet stepped awkwardly into place. The water lapped as the wooden oars splayed out into the lake again and again. The boat slowly made its way across the glassy frame. The morning was coming, the sun rolling out over the village and the farms. The men did not talk now except for the occasional grunt and groan as they strained their arms.

Willie sat and stared at his surroundings, his hands, his feet. The dew would be on the grass, he told himself, and the cattle would have to come in from the top fields for the milking; he could just hear the sweet scutter sound of the white spray against the stainless buckets.

His father would do it today, he told himself, and Pat the Squint would be over later to see about getting his big sow covered by the boar. And Willie smiled to himself at these thoughts of such meaningless things, such things that make a normal day, and which seemed now so extra normal, so alien. The middle of the lake grew nearer. Stripped back now to their shirts he thought he recognised their faces, they were no older than him, might perhaps have been friends. He felt a shiver run down his spine and pulled his coat closer, placing his hands inside its pockets.

A dark soft mass lay at his fingertips and he smiled to himself. Willie pulled out the loaf and brown-paper wrapped ham. Willie pulled out his hay knife, all battered and worn, and handed it to the man, who did not think it odd that he had been so armed, as they would have put it. Three slices of bread were cut and three slices of ham placed upon them.

The men ate slowly, silently, the batch loaf crumbed and moistened in the mouth. They did not know what words to say to such an act of kindness, in the circumstances. The bread now eaten, the men grew quiet. The other man who had been silent all the while fixed his face and unbuttoned the revolver from his holster. The wild ducks rose up across the lake and flew out towards the village where people were beginning to rise for the day.

The shop keep would open his shutters and the morning papers would arrive from Dublin with news of more deaths.

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The headlines seemed to be the same now each morning. John Connell is an award-winning author and playwright. A former human rights investigative journalist, he now lives in rural Ireland.

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His next book, The Cow Book, to be published by Granta in June , is a memoir of his life as a cattle farmer. He is working on a theatre play with actor Stephen Rea. Applications for National Childcare Scheme entitlement to open November 20th Capture the taste of Christmas in these cocktail and dessert recipes Commenting on The Irish Times has changed.

To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber. Please subscribe to sign in to comment. During that period, Istanbul was still recognized as the world capital of maritime civilization. Istanbul residents during that time were not inclined to summer in the countryside or elsewhere. What started as travel in various types of caicques evolved into slightly larger touring boats, and ultimately moved into even larger excursion boats in the early 20th century.

What made them so charming that people still miss them today? Readers Comments 10 Comments Add a comment. Basit wrote: Such a good story, it is realy inspiratinal. A beautiful story on mending a family far greater than ones kindness could ever imagine.

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Marian andeweg wrote: I love this story. I try to live by it but sometimes am just too busy with my own life. Thanks for the wonderful reminder! MadronaMan wrote: Love this!

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Though you had me at the first mention of a boat! They would say stay away from the boat it is not yours don't touch it. I am thinking of the times when i wanted to repair something when i wasn't asked and people close to me would reprimand me for "sticking my nose in other peoples' business". Very nice story.

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Neadimc wrote: Fantastic short story about doing the right thing and going about it humbly. Which is what the boat painter did. I suppose it is about paying attention to the most relevant details in life because no matter how fabulous the boat looked after its paint job, it was only fit for purpose if it was seaworthy.

There is a bit about recognition there also but attention is what is jumping out at me this morning. Glad to have read it. Rajni wrote: Little kindness of repairing a hole saved lives. This story makes me think of the "holes" in our lives. Do we bother to find them and repair them for good? I am not trying to find negativity in others but as an act of kindness give them an opportunity to look within and repair the hole if it is found.

We may have a hole of taking it for granted.

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