Nov 01

echoes pt 2

pt 1 is here
happy late halloween everyone! i meant to post this yesterday and then didn't and then i had no electricity most of this morning, so here it finally is! spooky story from my trip to ireland a few years ago. 

it was the tail end of my mother and i's trip to ireland. we had traveled all over the country before finally settling in the small and depressing village of mohill, in a house that had belonged to a distant relative. the house was so remote that it had no street name and no street number. we had to find it by written instructions and a google earth image of the house. we drove up a hairpin turn and down a narrow road ringed with hedges. 
the house hurt. it was old and sad and everyone had left it. it was also freezing--one of the neighbors started a peat fire in the stove for us, but it went out quickly and we couldn't figure out how to get it to restart. we tried to go shopping but all the townspeople gave us squinty looks and we rearended a car while trying to find parking. eventually my mother and i decided that for our last full day in the country, we would spend as little time in the house as possible. leave early, check out all the attractions that had been recommended to us, come home late and sleep, and we would be out early in the morning. 
the same relative who had given us directions had sent us a list of attractions in the area. most of them were a bit of a drive away but that was another draw factor at this point. we decided to bypass the waterfall, which left us with two places: an old castle, and a passage tomb at carrowkeel. the castle was under renovation and our tour was cut short by that so after looking at the lake for a while we decided to go on to carrowkeel. 
the drive was long and as we drove i felt a song slide into my head. i'd heard it at camp a year or two earlier, but i only knew a small section of the words and one bit of the tune. on the bonny, bonny banks of the virgio... i never sing publicly but the song looped itself in my head so badly that i wanted to try.
a few days ago we'd visited the passage tombs at brú na boinne and newgrange. these were well-kept tourist attractions with raversable corridors and winter solstice simulations--a tour guide led us in and we stared at the ceiling as he told us that the same ceiling had been there for five thousand years. it was incredible to a neolithic celtic nerd like me, and i was hoping carrowkeel would bring the same. 
we followed our directions to a t and ended up parked next to a massive field. there was another car a little ways away and an elderly couple distantly visible making their way across the field. it didn't look like the right place--there were certainly no posters with detailed information in multiple languages, no tour guides and barely even a traversable path. but it was this or o back to the suffocating coldness of the house in mohill so we set off on our way. 
the field must have gone on for miles and its most defining characteristic was that it contained an almost unfathomable amount of sheep shit. in the road, in the fields--it was nearly impossible to walk anywhere without having to stepa round mounds of the stuff. the sheep themselves stood on the sidelines and stared at us, making me a bit nervous--after all, there was no fence between us, and maybe sheep were known to be aggressive? 
the tune lodged in my head. on the bonny bonny banks of the virgio... the field became a mild incline. there was a fence post in the distance. the sheep stared. 
and then they started to wander towards us from their fields. i tensed up a little--the car was several miles back and we were defenseless against a sheep attack, but this one just wandered across the road and then back in front of it. 
we kept on walking, and it walked in front of us. after a few more steps, another sheep came along and joined its fellow in the road. and then another, and another, until easily four or five sheep were leading us up towards the distant sign. they moved at a moderate pace and only occasionally looked back--for all intents and purposes, they just seemed to be escorting my mother and i. 
we reached the top of the hill and found that the sign simply said 'carrowkeel passage tombs' with an arrow which didn't seem to point in any particular direction. there was a step rocky mountainous thing on our right, and in front of us a wider road leading down to what appeared to be a small town and the sea. carrowkeel was a national landmark, so it seemed only reasonable that we should go down the wider road towards the water. it seemed to go on long enough, and was kept in better condition than the road we had been traveling on. 
so my mother and i started down the hill. the sheep did not follow us, but that seemed only reasonable given we seemed to have reached the end of their enclosure. 
and then one of them started to bang his head against the sign. and then another started up, and another, until all of the sheep stood there hitting their heads against a metal post. my mother and i stopped and looked back at the headbanging sheep, perplexed. what were they thinking? 
we looked back up at the mountain. could that really be where we were supposed to go? curious, we headed back up the hill towards the sheep and the rocks. 
the sheep stopped banging their heads on the sign. 
we started up the hill. the sheep stood and watched us for a few moments and then slowly sauntered away back towards their fellows and the piles of their shit. 
the hill was steep and rocky, almost a vertical incline. several times i had to crawl almost on hands and knees. the ground was clean--the sheep didn't seem to have come up here. my converse slipped and slid on the small rocks. this place was incredibly remote. i didn't envy the ancient celts who had had to drag rocks up here. 
eventually we reached the top and found ourselves standing in front of a tall mound of rocks. it was much smaller than newgrange, maybe as tall as i was at its highest point, and all in a shambles--not topped with grass as the earlier ones had been but just rocks sprawling around on all sides. 
i got down on hands and knees to look inside but it was incredibly dusty and probably would have collapsed on me if i tried to crawl in. my mother took a few pictures and i walked around to look at the back. it was much the same--sprawling and rocky, albeit without a door. 
i came back around to the front of the passage tomb to find my mother and tell her that there didn't seem to be much to see here, but she was gone. 
confused,  i stopped and looked around. there was nothing but sheep and rocks for miles around. where could she have gone? i stood still and listened for footsteps. distant baa-ing of sheep, but no crunching of footsteps on rocks, or breathing or the rustling of a person moving. was our car still at the bottom of the hill? it was too far to see. 
i called out for her, but my voice was swallowed by the wind and i got no response. i tried again. nothing. 
i walked around the tomb again. she wasn't on the other side and she had not returned when i came back again. 
for a moment i involuntarily entertained the possibility that i had been transported into another time or dimension. i tried to walk around the tomb in the opposite direction i had intially gone around. i called my mother's name again, but still no response. nothing had changed when i returned to the front. 
i sat down on a rock and tried to resist the urge to cry. i had no idea what to do now--miles from civilization, nothing around but some concussed sheep, and my mother had disappeared completely. i sat and stared at my shoes and the grass and the distant landscapes until i felt a little calmer, but still had no idea what to do. where could she have gone? even if she'd fainted, or collapsed or walked a little ways away, surely she would have heard me calling her? 
it was as i was wondering this that my mother walked around from the other side of the passage tomb, looking very confused. "there you are!" she said, "i was looking for you."
i couldn't decide whether to be confused, relieved or angry. settling on a combination of all three, i breathlessly asked her why she hadn't responded when i called her. 
"were you calling me?" 
i was. 
"i was just on the other side. and then i yelled your name, i was calling fiona, fiona..."
"i... i didn't hear anything," i told her. 
we looked at the passage tomb. it was maybe ten feet long and all just about on one level of ground. there was no reason sound should have carried so poorly. had we really just been chasing each other in circles around it? why had we not heard the other yelling? 
we eventually decided to just return to our car and call it a day, properly unsettled. the sheep ignored us this time, chewing on grass and nonchalantly doing sheep things as we walked by. the car belonging to the elderly couple was gone, although i hadn't noticed them leaving. we left, closing the gate, got in our car and drove away. the bonny, bonny banks of the virgio had finally left my head. 
to this day i have no good explanation for what happened at carrowkeel. i don't believe in anything, not ghosts or god(s) or any other kind of paranormal experiences and i'm sure if i tried hard enough, i could come up with a rational explanation--strong wind, human fallibility, anything. but in those brief moments of sitting on a rock by an ancient tomb, miles from civilization surrounded by creepy sheep, i think i briefly understood what it was that inspired these people to tell the stories they did.