The cemetery at Ardbear Cemetery, seemed more foreboding than ever. Framed from behind by the setting sun, the ruins of St Mary’s Church Tower stood as a stark reminder that death was inevitable. The old oak tree had long lost its leaves, and sends long evening shadows across the land..
John, passes through the wrought iron entrance to the cemetery. In his arms, bundled against the cold and damp evening air, is his two month old baby daughter. This is the first time he had brought her to this terrible place.
He is soon in front of Kathleen’s grave, he knows the path by heart. He had walked that path every Sunday evening for the past month and a half.
Kneeling he brushes some leaves from the grave. He stands, unable to look at her grave, he addresses the headstone.
“Mo chuisle, my darling, I have brought our daughter to meet you. She was baptised yesterday. I named her Máire, the child we wished for. She has your blue eyes and red hair my love.” Tears start streaming down his face. “Your Mam says she looks just like you when you were a babaí. She never fusses, my love - but I know she misses you.”
“Oh my love, my love, mo chuisle” he sobs “I see you every night in my dreams. I hear your sweet voice but when I reach out for you, you are gone.”
Looking at his daughter he continues.
“Your Mam wants to take her back home with her to Cork. She says it is not fitting for a single man to raise a child alone. I don’t know what to do. I can’t bear to part with her, she is all I have of you.”
“I could move to Cork, there is always work there. But then I wouldn’t be able to visit with you, my love, and that would break my heart.”
He kneels down picking a small amount of dirt from the grave and puts it in his daughter's hand ‘So she will remember this day.’
He stands and starts the long slow walk back to his cottage, his daughter asleep in his arms.
John’s cottage was better than most. A thatched roof with a single window, the cottage measured about 20ft x15ft. The white wash on the stone exterior was flaking away. Inside is a flagstone floor that needs cleaning. A peat burning fireplace with a chimney was at one end. To the left of the fireplace curtains separate the bedroom area from the rest of the interior. A cradle is on the right of the fireplace.
A cook pot hangs in the fireplace. Two shelves on the wall opposite hold bowls and a few others of their meager possessions. Under the window is a table with two chairs and a three legged stool. A rabbit hangs from the rafters ready to be skinned for tomorrow’s dinner.
Kathleen’s mother, Florence, had prepared a rough turnip stew for dinner.
After settling Máire into the cradle John joins her at the table. Beside the stew there is a large loaf of bread and fresh butter. By the standards of the time John is doing well. But, he knows Florence is right, there is no way he can raise a child on his own. His own parents have long passed away, there is no one else to look after his daughter.
With the light fading and not wanting to use up the precious candles Florence and John go to bed. She takes the curtained off area that served as their bedroom, he rolls a mat on the floor in front of the fireplace.
With only a rough blanket to cover him, John finds it hard to get to sleep. His mind was going over what he knows he has to do. As much as he likes his mother-in-law, giving up his daughter for her to raise was something he couldn’t bear. If he moved to Cork she could help him raise the daughter he loved more than life itself.
As much as he wanted to be there to raise his daughter the thought of leaving was equally untenable. How could he leave Kathleen’s grave or this house where they lived and loved, the house where Máire was born, the house where Kathleen had died two weeks later.
Finally, sleep comes.
It is still night but John is awake. He can sense there is someone else in the room. In the moonlight coming through the window he can see someone bending over the cradle. For an instant he thinks it is Florence checking on the babaí. As his mind clears he can see the figure was wearing a wedding dress, Kathleen’s wedding dress. There is a coronet of wild flowers on her head, just as there was the day they were married.
Kathleen’s spirit turned and stood beside him. She was more beautiful than he remembered. Her skin was so pale it seemed to blend into the dress. He tried to get up and hold her, she shook her head - no. She looks at him softly, lovingly. Tenderly her voice echos in his mind
“A chuisle mo chroí, pulse of my heart, I will never leave you. Death could never end my love for you. My grave, this house are only things - I will always be with you. Take our daughter to Cork, raise her with all the love we share."
Kathleen’s mother has taken Máire with her to Cork. John will be joining them shortly. The Squire had always been good to him, he had agreed to stay until a new hand could be hired.
The new hire will be moving in at the end of the week.
Wanting to leave the cottage better than he found it, John has white washed the cottage and scrubbed the flagstone floor. He leaves their bowls and dishes for the new hire. ‘He is just starting out and will need them.’ He is ready to leave - there is just one more thing to do.
Making a coronet of wild flowers he takes the long walk to the graveyard and Kathleen’s grave. Kneeling he places the coronet on her grave.
“Mo chuisle, I am leaving today. Our wee one is with your Mam in Cork and I am leaving for there . . . Slán go fóill, good bye for now my love, good bye until we lay together once more.”