That’s What The Water Gave Me

“My subconscious and I are back on speaking terms
He is sending me colours and beautiful words
And far, far away are the harsh city folk
I’m surrounded by country, surrounded by night

As the rain pours down in the yard
Rain, a most haunting sound
Rain makes beautiful music and
Rain brings peace upon all whom it falls”

Martin Stephenson

It’s 5.00am and for the fifth time this week I am awake, disturbed from my slumbers by the sound of no rain.

Normally, in Monaghan, in June, this would not be a cause for concern, but as briefly mentioned last week, tomorrow , Saturday 15th June, we are staging our inaugural ‘Muireann’s River Race’ as part of Cruinniú na nÓg – The National Day of Free Creativity for Children and Young People. In our wisdom we decided to make 100 tiny wooden boats and invite 100 kids to come to Rossmore Park and paint and decorate them before we go up along the river to Muireann, one of our Drumlin Giants, where we will place all of the boats in the river and have a race down as far as Thoth, another of the Giants.

Muireann’s story features water and rivers, she controls all of the lakes and streams in the Park and is connected to Juan McKenna, a Monaghan man who ended up in Chile and helped liberate the country from the Spanish Empire. The river in Rossmore is named after her. (Story in the P.Sss).

Marc Kelly, who has been involved in the creation of all of the Giants in the Park , ten so far, has made 100 wooden boats. Laura, called “The Hannon”, made a lovely poster for the race , announced the sale of the free tickets , which sold out in 40 minutes, and liaised with the council, Creative Ireland, Coillte, Inland Fisheries, Civil Defence, and has co-ordinated almost everything. She’s wonderful…and directly responsible in case anything goes horribly wrong….just sayin’…

Glenn has cast his creative eye over everything, has provided moral support, and will be recording the event on the day. His input so far has largely been to help me out vote an overly cautious, but ultimately responsible, “The Hannon”.

We have attended many meeting together in The Park to review the course, what we need, where to put everything, and The Hannon wrote it all in her hardback notebook :

1.Extra tables  beside picnic area  – CHECK !

2. Marquee/gazebos – CHECK !

3. Volunteers x 10 – CHECK !

4. Paint and markers for decorating boats – CHECK !

5. Boats ( see 4 above ) – CHECK !

6. Civil Defence paramedics – CHECK !

7. Cool limited edition Drumlin Giant sweatshirts for prizes – CHECK !

8. Permission from Coillte/Council – CHECK !

9. 100 plastic balls ( long story ) – CHECK !

10. Bunting, balloons and decorations – CHECK !

Everything has gone tickety boo , except for one quite crucial thing, over which, it turns out, we have no control of whatsoever. There’s no water in the river.

It turns out that a boat race , featuring 100 soon to be decorated , lovely boats , requires more than the trickle that currently meanders down the Muireann river bed.

BUT , there is an old weir in between Muireann and Thoth, so let’s just dam that up better and ‘Hey Presto!’ we’ll have water !

That’s what I thought.

A few strategically placed pieces of plywood that I found in our warehouse, placed against where I guessed the water was seeping under the weir would surely address the water supply problem. So I gathered up three pieces of plywood, attached the logo for the River race to each one, so confident was I that they would not only work, but that passing strangers would marvel at my ingenuity, and would also comment “Look, some engineering genius has created a body of water sufficient to host a boat race featuring 100 tiny boats…and look ! This same genius has already thought of that !”.

I parked in the car park, placed my three large pieces of plywood on the collapsible hand trolley that I also borrowed from the warehouse, and trundled up the path along the empty river to the weir. I placed the plywood on the weir , attached the race signs and slid them into the mud below. I climbed down, wedged them into place with some rocks, explained to several passers by what I was doing, who all managed to hide their awe incredibly well, and then went back towards the car park. I met a pride of Joggernutts out for a run and my friend Brenda was among them.

“What are you at now ?!?” she asked, noticing my now empty trolley, and general air of smug contentment.

“Blocking up the weir to have water for our boat race.”

“Hope you don’t flood the place !” she shouted and ran on.

I woke several time that night with images of Tom sitting on the roof of the CoffeeDoc waiting to be airlifted to safety from the flooded Park, fighting off pine martens, mink, badgers, foxes and weasels for space on his roof, the only dry spot in the whole of Rossmore.

I went out the next morning. One of the signs had fallen into the mud, along with the plywood board it was attached to. The other one was still standing, and very dry looking. There was no more water that there had been the day before.

I consulted my good friend and sometimes running partner Ray.

“I think we need sandbags.”

“I think you’re right.”

Everyone needs a friend like Ray, the kind of friend who not only agrees to your crazy ideas, but who will also be there beside you when you actually try and put them into action.

I called The Hannon.

“The Hannon ?”

“Yes.” The Hannon replied.


“How many ?”

“Not entirely sure….”

“Colm will meet you in The Park to discuss.”

“Thanks The Hannon.”

I met Colm in the Park. Colm is very different from me, in that, Colm knows what he’s doing.

“Forty sandbags should do it. Be here in the morning.”

So the next morning , Tuesday, I went out to the Park, and met another Colm, who thankfully, everyone calls Duke, otherwise it would all get really confusing, who offered to help me, and like the first Colm, also know what he’s doing. Must be something to do with the name. I went down into the river and waded into 60cms of centuries old mud and silt, cleared out mud, branches, twigs, old Harp cans and some other things I don’t even want to guess what they were originally, and then Duke handed me down each and every one of the forty sandbags which  I placed against the bottom of the weir wall and the water seemed to start pooling behind me.

“What are yous’ doing ?” a passerby asked.

“Trying to dam this weir.”

“Never saw the river so low.”

“I know. We’re having a boat race for kids.”

“In June ?”

“Don’t let us keep you from your walk.”

“Never saw the river this low.”

I KNOW !!!!

I clambered out. The water did seem to be staying this side of the weir.

Satisfied , we splodged our way back to the carpark in mud filled boots. I left Duke, saying I’d go back out in the afternoon and see how it was going.

Which I did, and it wasn’t.

It now seemed that there was less water in the weir than there had been before we put in the sandbags. The water had simply found a way around and through.

“The Hannon ?” I said as the phone was answered.


“More sandbags.”

“How many ?”

“All of them.”

“Tomorrow morning.”

I rang Duke and asked him if he could liberate some of the plastic signs which have featured local election candidates gurning at us over the last few weeks. He said he would.

The next morning Duke and I , along with several Raymond Augheys, two Beano Clerkins, three Neil Blayneys and a Peader Toibin, tackled the weir once more.

We removed the first 40 sandbags, placed the Raymond Augheys, two Beano Clerkins, three Neil Blayneys and a Peader Toibin against the weir wall and built up our now 80 strong stash of sandbags against them and were encouraged to see the pallets we’d been standing on start to float above the mud.

An old couple out for their morning walk stopped and looked quizzically at us.

“What are yous’ doing ?” they asked.

“Trying to dam this weir.”

“Never saw the river so low.”

“I know. We’re having a boat race for kids.”

“In June ?”

“Don’t let us keep you from your walk.”

“Never saw the river this low.”

I KNOW !!!!

We went home , content. I told Duke that I was meeting Ray, actual Ray, not the grinning plastic one, for a walk later and would let him know how it was going.

Ray and I met at the CoffeeDoc, had coffee , rum ‘n’ raisin ice cream and headed off for our walk along the river. We got to the weir and ….the water level was back down !

Ray now added hydro-engineering to his incredible list of areas of expertise and started suggesting things we should have done two days ago. He hopped on to the lower weir wall, and I shouted at him to get back up, as I knew that this wall was held together by a paper thin layer of  Victorian cement and wasp spit, and most of the stone underneath had washed away.

Ray now realised that due to his wonky knee, he couldn’t climb back up , or jump down to the dry river bed. I tried to pull him up in vain. Thankfully two of Monaghan’s finest runners, Charlotte and Suzette came jogging along the path, and I asked them to help. They are both Hyrox participants, so I knew they were used to lifting deadweights , so Ray shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. I dropped down two sandbags for him to stand on, and the girls grabbed an arm each and hauled him back up to dry land. Ray was very grateful and neither of the girls will ever have to worry about planning permission ever again.

Yesterday Ray, Duke and I went back out with another 20 sandbags, another Aughey, and two more Blayneys and tackled the sidewalls of the weir. We also started to clear a channel in the middle of the weir and subsequent river path, so what little water there was is concentrated in a narrower channel.

Passersby must have a meeting in the carpark before heading out for a walk and agree in advance to ask us the same questions every day just to wind us up. Yet again, a lovely old couple stopped.

“What are yous’ doing ?” they asked.

“Preparing a human sacrifice.”

“Never saw the river so low.”

“For Fucks Sake !”

“In June ?”

“GO AWAY !.”

“Never saw the river this low.”

I KNOW !!!!

We left the Park yesterday evening , very tired, but happy.

Not sure that we’ve done enough, but happy that we certainly did our best.

I saw a river eel.

I saw large stones from the castle in the river that I couldn’t move because they were now embraced by roots of trees along the bank.

I saw really nice people offer encouragement and support from the riverbank.

I saw several people jump in and help.

I saw robins flit along the path.

I saw community in action.

And I saw that the water will ultimately do what it wants. It will find it’s own way. We can’t fight it. We can only cajole it a little. It’s magnificent really..

Humans are 60% water.



P.S. For all of the little creatives out there, this is the simply brilliant The Spark.

P.P.S This is Muireann’s Bridge

Muireann’s Bridge

As you walk around the magnificent trails in Rossmore Park you will notice a lot of lakes, seven in total. Something you might not know is that none of the lakes are natural, they were all created by Muireann , the Drumlin Giant that controls all water in the Park. Muireann rests over her river now, but many, many years ago she was incredibly busy, digging out all of the lakes and constructing tunnels, sluices, and bridges to control the flow of water from her river to fill up the lakes. If you look closely as the path turns at our Baby Redwood towards Druid, you can see Muireann’s river split in two and one channel flows into Priestfield lake.

Back in the 1770’s a young man called John Mckenna was born in Willeville House, which you can still see today if you stand at St.Macartan’s Cathedral and look towards the graveyard. In the distance, behind it, you can see a large old house, and this is where John was born. He was a highly spirited boy and was always looking for adventures. In those days, around 1778, Monaghan was a growing town. A prison was being built where the courthouse is today using stones from the old Monaghan Castle. John and his friends would enter the construction site when the workers were finished for the evening and roll large stones down to the castle’s old fish ponds and make dams. They’d get chased away by the night watchmen. Other times he would organise his friends to go into the grounds around Sparke’s Lake, now called the Convent Lake, where there was a large brewery powered by a mill wheel. He made the wheel go backwards, flooding the brewery and getting chased away again.

 He looked for adventures so often that all of his friends’ parents complained to John’s mother and father that he was constantly getting them into trouble. John argued that his friends only got into trouble because they were slower than he was and that it wasn’t his fault that they kept getting caught.

His father imposed a curfew on him. He was not allowed out of the house after 4pm, and the town’s watchmen had all been offered rewards if they spotted him in town on his own to bring him home at once.

After a few weeks of confinement, he was so bored that he crept out at midnight and instead of going to the town, he walked out to Rossmore Park, or Mount Maria as it was called then, to play in the castle extension works.

He thought it would be fun to push large timbers and cut stones down the hill from the castle to the river Muireann below, to make another dam.

So he did.

He pushed huge timbers that were due to be used in the roof, and stones for the door frames, and then scrambled down the hill after them and started trying to arrange the timber and blocks to dam the river.

“Such a waste of talent !”

John stood stock still. “Who said that ?” he asked nervously.

“I did, of course.”

John looked up, in the direction of where the loud voice was coming from. His jaw dropped as he saw a giant lady staring down at him. He would have run away, but he was so terrified that he couldn’t move his legs.

“Don’t be afraid. No harm will come to you here.”

“Who..who…who are you ?” He asked nervously.

“I am Muireann, of the Drumlin Giants, and this is my river, that you are making a bit of a mess of.”

“I’m sorry. I was just experimenting.”

Muireann smiled and lay down along her river so that she was looking at John rather than down at him. “I can see that.” She said, smiling “But instead of just damming the river to make a mess, why don’t you do something good with it ?”

“Like what ?” John asked, no longer afraid.

“Well , I make small dams, and tunnels in order to make lakes. I can divert water to dry fields so that grass can grow. And I can harness the power of the water to move objects.”

“Can you show me ?” John asked.

“I’d be delighted. Now first of all we can remove this dam you’ve made and rearrange these large timber and stones into a wee bridge.”

John and Muireann spent the rest of the night making the bridge where today you can see her along the river.

The next night, and subsequently once or twice a week, Muireann showed John around the Park and explained the tunnels, channels, sluices, and waterfalls she’d made and what each of them did. She also introduced him to the other Giants. John looked forward to his evenings in the Park , and couldn’t wait every evening for everyone else in his house to go asleep so that he could sneak out to the Park , and Muireann.

A year later a very sombre John McKenna walked slowly to meet Muireann. She could tell immediately that something was wrong.

“Why so glum ?” Muireann asked.

“I have to go away. My uncle Alejandro O’Reilly has come home from Spain and he has convinced my father to let him take me back and to join him in the Spanish army. I don’t want to go.”

“Don’t be afraid John. You have great talents and you will have great adventures.”

“But I will miss you.”

“And I will miss you. But wherever you go , we will be together.”

“How ? “ John asked.

“This river flows to the sea, every sea is connected. So no matter where you are just put your hand in a stream, or the wave in the sea, and eventually , over time, that water will flow through here, through me, and we will remember each other.”

John smiled at that.

John McKenna did indeed go to Barcelona with his uncle. He studied mathematics, and trained in the Royal Military Academy and became a military engineer in the Spanish Army. He fought for Spain against the French in the Pyrenees, where he helped bridge the Adour river. He thought that Muireann would be proud. He fought for Spain against the Moroccans and helped channel the river Loukkos to irrigate the fields around Larache, and he thought of Muireann.

Years later still he was sent to South America to help quell a rebellion by people in Chile against Spain. He fell in love with a rebel called Josefina and changed sides, fighting against Spain, and helping to liberate Chile. He trained the very first miltary engineers in the new Chilean army and then was appointed as Governor of Osorno.

Juan McKenna stood between the rivers Rahue and Damas surveying the ruins of the old city Osorno. It was a desolate place, and the task of restoring the fields, and rebuilding the city seemed impossible. He walked to the riverbank, knelt down, and idly placed his hand in the water…and suddenly he was no longer in Chile, he was back in Monaghan, along the river Muireann, and his favourite Giant was again smiling down at him.

“Muireann !” he exclaimed and ran to her. She scooped him up and he hugged her neck.” I’ve missed you so much !”

She placed him back on the ground, and lay down again, like she had when he was a boy. “Let me look at you, John. My, my, you’re nearly a giant yourself now ! I am so very proud of you. Every time you crossed or entered water, I got an image of you and what you were doing.”

John smiled “They call me Juan now.”

“Juan ? I like the sound of that.”

“I don’t know what to do now. The task is huge and I am on my own.”

“John Mc Kenna ! Sorry, I mean Juan MacKenna ! I have taught you better than that. You know in your heart that you can indeed rebuild Osorno, and more importantly that you are never alone. I am always with you.”

Juan smiled. ”Thank you , my friend. I should get back.”

“Of course. Just close your eyes and you will wake up on the banks of the Damas. Goodbye Juan.”

Before he closed his eyes Juan turned back to Muireann for the last time “Oh, I almost forgot, I’m married now, and we have three children. Two boys, Juan and Felix, and a gorgeous wee girl, called Mariana, which is Spanish for…..”

“I know.” Said Muireann. ”Thank you.”

Juan woke up on the bank of the river Damas.

He did indeed rebuild the city. Today Osorno has a population of 150,000 people and is a centre of agriculture, on the river terraces of the Damas and Rahue rivers.

The main city centre street is Juan MacKenna Avenue.

Author: paul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *