Lying with sheep

Jones, the man who washed up on the Sheep’s Head having floated across the bay from the wreck of The Bohemian, took to living in one of the abandoned cottages in Gortavellig. The cottages had been built by the miners who briefly worked the hill there to try and get out its copper. The copper was difficult to reach or not there and so the miners left after a couple of years. Their cottages perched on the top of a cliff looking out over the bulk of  Bantry Bay. It is a rough empty exposed spot and only a man who had spent too many years afloat would want to fetch up there.

The cottages had only been empty a few years when Jones found them. They still had their roofs and strips of sacking hung on nails over the spaces for windows and a door. The floor was only the bare earth and Jones pulled up armfuls of bracken and laid it down in thick heaps to sleep on.

For water the miners had built a dam across one the streams that ran down from the hill and a small pool had been created. But the water was always brackish from the spray that blew up from the sea at the bottom of the cliffs. But it was good enough to live on. Jones cleared the ground outside the cottages and made space to grow potatoes and greens.

In the summer water lillies would bloom in the pool the bright yellow looking out of place against the grey and the brown of the hills and the water.

He bought his goats and then he bought three sheep. The animals ran wild through the hills over the summer and he would follow them up there tramping over the land alone with the clear air and all that he could see. There were nights that he spent up there, curling down to sleep in a flat hollow in the grass, bracken and heather where a sheep had lain in the day. The warmth would still be there and if it was cold he could call to the sheep to lie back down in the spot their rough coats an extra blanket against the night.

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