Searching for Jack in Yeats Country

by Dermot Healy

Catherine arrived that night at ten to the pier on Mullet only to find that the Blue Cormorant was working from further up the coast. Killalla they said. She called at Thady's and found the house empty and unlocked. When she opened the huge door of her home place the interior was stone-cold and damp even though it was a warm June evening. It felt strange and unlived in. She wandered the rooms trying to find a place from where she could begin tidying. She found old turf in a shed and a bucket half-filled with coal by Maisie the previous autumn. She lit a fire in the upper bedroom and sat with a blanket round her.

A gale was blowing sand around the peninsula when finally, at three, she climbed beneath the sheets and eiderdowns warmed before the low flames. The bed was freezing. At dawn she drove across the isthmus and headed towards Killalla only to find that the Blue Cormorant had not docked there that night. She sat in the Lada outside the Bio-Energy clinic and wondered what to do.

A fisherman, who was bad on his feet, passed by.

"Wen do you think the Blue Cormorant might come in?" she asked.

"They could be dropping off their catch anywhere," he said, "There was talk of a great run up toward Sligo. You might try Rosses Point above in the County Sligo," he said, trying to be helpful.

She got into her car again, feeling both bemused and appalled by her circumstances, and drove towards Yeats Country.

She arrived at Rosses Point pier at noon. She was told to look out for a boat skippered by George Gillen, but except for a few small rowing boats there were no trawlers. When she asked around she was told that Gillen's mother lived in the village. She went to Gillen's shop and bought two bars of Bournville chocolate.

"George's been away two days," Mrs Gillen explained, "but he'll be in this evening at five."

"Was there another boat about?" asked Catherine, "called the Blue Cormorant?"

The lady couldn't say.

She told Catherine to sit there on the chair in the shop till she rang to see if George could be contacted at sea. When she came back she had a cup of tea for Catherine in her hand, "No," she said, "he knows nothing about the Blue Cormorant. The run, he said, is further North." The two women drank coffee and ate buns in the little shop. "It's a terrible life they have," Mrs. Gillen said, "but they know nothing else."

Catherine strolled around Elsinore House where the Yeats brothers had been raised. The roof had fallen in and the walls were daubed with names, kisses and obscenities. She walked the first beach, and the second beach and the third, till across the strand she could see the woods of Lissadell. A red moon rose early in the sky. A stray dog befriended her.

She stood again on the pier, and found that by now she knew every net and lobster pot. She walked down a newly laid scenic path that gave a view of Coney Island. The dog was with her still. Seagulls were perched on the head of the Metal Man, who looked strangely bisexual above the rising tide. When she came back to the pier she was embarrassed to find that the few men there had begun to recognise her.

"If the fish are running," she was told, "you won't see the trawlers back tonight."

She sat in the car and watched the pier. As small boats would arrive she'd get out and watch them tie up, but still there was no sign of the trawlers. She drove to Dead Man's Point and tried to make out a boat making its way in from the sea. Returning, she cut the engine because she thought she heard the noise of another engine out at sea, but there was nothing. At eight the bay was dotted with the multicoloured sails of small yachts gliding in on a perfect V towards the setting sun. And still the trawlers did not come.

The stillness, with Ben Bulben in the distance and Knocknaree across the bay, was unnerving. One by one the lights appeared in the houses in the village, then on the prom all the streetlights came on. But still the salmon boats did not appear. She went into a nearby pub and ordered a hot whiskey.

"It's beautiful in here," she said to an old blue-eyed man who was stroking a blond Labrador.

"You get used to it," he said.

A small while passed.

"W. B. Yeats lived here," she said.

"So did his mother," replied the old fellow. "God bless us." He looked her up and down. "And what are you doing here?"

"I'm trying to find a fisherman," she replied, "from Mayo."

"You'll have a hard job," he said, "I've never met one myself." He gave an insane peal of laughter without moving his lips, and wrapped the bar. "Service please," he yelled.

"I believe," said Catherine, "that the Spanish landed up the coast."

"We ate them." he replied. "And now they're killing all the rabbits. There's not one rabbit to be had." They drank. He looked at her for ages. "He'll not land here," he eventually said, whoever told you that was not well."


"No," he said emphatically.

"It'll be Killybegs," said the old fellow with relish, "before you have him in your arms."