(on the topic of SECRETS)


‘….so…. what d’ye want in ye sandwiches? We’ve got cheese or ham.’

“We want peanut butter with jello.”

“We don’t have peanut butter, sorry – what’s jello then?”

The B&B lady is anxious, trying to make up the lunches for the walkers, as well as making the breakfasts.

“Look, where we come from everyone has it, it’s a sort of…….. would you go check to see if you really don’t have peanut butter?”

“There’s no peanut butter.”

The old guy purses his lips, nods dejectedly.

“Eva Mae, go bring the emergency supplies.”

Eva Mae, grey haired and tired looking, disappears upstairs and comes back with two jars, which their table– including a younger couple and two teenagers – finish in one sitting after the man loudly explains to the B&B lady the favour she would do herself, and all Americans, by stocking these essentials. None of the group has even introduced themselves, having arrived separately late at night. Yet that conversation has already set a tone, silencing them all.


The Americans are leaving the dining room, when the complainer sits down with a couple at another table.

“Say, you’re Italian, aren’t you!”

Alessandro’s yellow polo shirt fits perfectly, nicely outlining his very good chest and biceps in a visual pleaser, as he leans back in his chair.

“How you know I’m Italian?” he says, throwing his arms wide. His girlfriend looks uncomfortable.

“ I’m Joe from North Dakota, there’s Italian in our family, I can recognise one a mile off, which part are you from? We’ll have some great times together, I love Italians. ”

The rest of the family, standing by quietly, looking over the heads the others, follow him out of the dining room.

“Ciao!” Joe calls over his shoulder. The silence is broken by Alessandro, endearing himself to all as he stands up and pats his backside.

“In every group, is un delore nel culo”, he says with a sigh.

He is deeply understood by Britta and Manfred, a German couple and Lizzy and Paul, two Kiwi’s. They’re in the tiny village of Camp, at the start of a week’s walk round the stunning Dingle Peninsula on Ireland’s west coast.


The country is baking hot, rainless, for the first time in five decades. The Gulf stream is doing its job of warming this usually wild coast far beyond normal temperatures. Their packs contains mostly rain gear, but every day only shorts and tee shirts are needed. It’s an easy walk from Camp to Anascaul, good roads, though some of the mapped tracks they’re meant to go down- very Irishly- don’t exist.

“I’ve never seen such wonderful livestock,” Lizzy says.

The grass is richly green and lush, the sheep, cows and bulls look so well. They’re as Irish as their owners, coming up to the gate, curious, trusting, content. There are none of the flies and parasites you see on livestock everywhere, they all look like prize winners. You can just see the rosettes on their ears. Paul fishes in the rucksack to get out two apples they were given with lunch.

“No, we haven’t got enough, Paul.”

“They can share.”

“There are twelve of them……you’ll start a fight, better put them away.”

The Americans pass them, Joe leading. “Come on you two, you’re not moving fast enough, keep your speed up. Hup, hup!”

The silence is almost total. The landscape is too open for many birds, so when you stand still you hear…nothing. They tramp for miles without a word, just looking around them. Every driver raises an index finger in greeting as they pass, the sun beats down on this perfect day. There’s an abandoned house – structurally excellent- but when they look through the windows they see an old tree growing up through the floor, bending along the ceiling and continuing to grow out through the broken back window. The outside toilet, though, is in perfect condition with the door open, the lid down, rubbish stacked around it. Two sheep lie on the ground a few yards away facing the bowl, appreciating the scene with the stillness which falls on those gazing upon the Mona Lisa.


Alessandro’s girlfriend Julie has been severely bitten by midges and now has red swollen hands and arms after walking through shoulder high foliage which was heaving with them.

“I put on the cream, but they still bite me,” she moans to Alessandro, swatting them off her arms as she walks.

They’re on a mission to find the nearest chemist, many kilometres further. She looks like Michelin man. They climb a hill, then round a bend to find the Americans sitting on rocks, drinking coffee.

“Say, guys, take it easy.”

Joe stands on the path holding his right arm up in a policeman’s stop signal.

“We have haste,” Julie answers, holding out her tight, red arms, trying to pass.

“Stop right there!” Joe steers her off the path. “Lisa, my daughter here, is a doctor. Sit down.”

Julie feels Alessandro silently screaming at her to walk on, but Lisa whips open her pack to reveal a completely full range of medications, bandages, plastic syringes and pills.

“Right, you need antihistamine cream and Benadryl,” she says after a quick look, rubbing cream into Julie’s throbbing arms and giving her a pill. Lisa is pretty when she smiles, though there is no enamel on her teeth.

“Take another Benadryl in 8 hours,” she says handing one over. “Thank you so much.”

Julie catches up with Alessandro who waits on a rock higher up.

“Isn’t that kind of them?” He remains silent, then ups the pace away from there.


Tonight they eat uneventfully. Some disappear early, a few go to the bar with books. The American teenagers are outside playing in the late-setting sun. The boy has braces, the girl is a bit taller with thick glasses, Doc Martens and a pony tail. These two are constantly jumping rope, facing each other, laughing. The rope is imaginary. They manage a double high five with their hands each time they jump.


Joe waits at the bottom of the stairs as Lizzy comes down.

“Say, you’re from Middle Earth, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but it was called New Zealand then.”

“Have you read Lord of the Rings?”

“No, but I saw the film.”

“I knew you hadn’t read it! I’ve been saying all the time “it’s time for elevenses” and you didn’t even react.” She stares at him. He goes on, “…just as well you didn’t pretend you’d read it.”

“Why would I?”

“Have you read Harry Potter?”


“What DO you read then?”

“Short stories….”

“Well, they’re not literature!”

“..and Harry Potter is?”

“I mean proper writers.”

“ Washington Irvine? John Cheever? Alice Munro?”

“Yes, well, you really need to educate yourself with Tolkien.”

She walks on. He follows.

“Unbelievable! But your husband, he’s read it, right?”

“Ask him!”


Joe can be heard across a crowded room, or an empty valley. He is very comfortable popping out from the side of a building, or a closed door, to make his pronouncements. By day three he has informed them individually – and as a group – that he is seeking his roots in Ireland.

“Not Italian today?” hisses Alessandro.

“Well, that too, but with a name like O’Halloran I guess the Irish side might be stronger.”

The walk to Dingle is along a high coastal road winding down to the empty shell of Minard Castle, destroyed by Cromwell’s troops in 1650. Damp, mossy green, with the smell of rich earth and history, it looks romantically frail. The road again turns inland. After Lispole, the way rises to allow panoramic views of the Ring of Kerry, descending into Dingle. There’s a sax player from Alabama on one corner, a piano played by a pretty girl in the middle of a street. Alessandro’s been told to go to O’Sullivan’s Courthouse pub in the evening, a shrine to good music and craic.

“Don’t tell Joe,” he tells the rest of them, unnecessarily.

There’s an old fella in O’Sullivans to entertain them with a guitar and two pretty girls, one with a flute, the other an accordion. The sounds they make are unearthly, the crowd goes mad. Then come the fiddlers. They’re all out until the small hours, this place feels like the beating heart of Ireland.


They’re lodging in a superb B&B, luxurious in every way; décor, location, service. The breakfast menu next morning is generous, international, clever. But.

“We want peanut butter and jello….”

The boy cheerfully brings peanut butter, but Joe’s not satisfied.

“It’s only good if you have jello with it.”

“Well, now, jam’s the same…”

“No, it’s not.” He starts choking on something. For the next minutes he’s red in the face, coughing hard and Eva Mae asks

“Are you all right, Joe” over and over, while the rest of them are thinking “Die, Joe, die!”


Britta and Lizzy are in the ladies’ toilet later.

“That man, really he is an icehole, “ Britta says in a big voice, pulling hard on the roller towel.


“When they pass us yesterday he asked Manfred if his father was at the Russian front in the war.”


“…and if I read Goethe…..why are those children so silent always?”

“Yes, the girl didn’t turn up for breakfast today.”

“She stopped walking, also, she rides the van with the suitcases. The grandmother and the kids’ mother, they say nothing, always nothing.”

“Strange, isn’t it, only the men talk.”

The next day’s walk is demanding, inspirational. It begins with a coastal walk to Ventry across a great sweep of sands with bizarre rock formations, before climbing up Slea Head over the spine of Mt Eagle for the greatest view in Ireland. The view out to the horizon is spectacular, no wind at all across at the top of the Head, their luck is holding. The only danger comes from killer seagulls, swooping to grab sandwiches, and succeeding. The Blasket Islands hove into view many hours later as they descend back down towards the coast, to the rural, strongly Irish speaking village of Dunquin. A sheep and two dogs at the lodgings watch the teenagers jump rope again, as dusk falls.


Torrential, unrelenting rain drops out of a fine sky next morning as the trail goes straight up through boggy fields. Black- post waymarkers take them up to 650 meters where narrow country lanes lead the way along the coast to Ballycurrane. Though scenic, with fine beaches, their heads are down into the wind. The pelting rain means visibility isn’t good, so nobody risks a creative detour. The only solace is a café to shelter in, with wonderful home made cakes. Mt Brandon looms ahead, faintly visible here and there. It’s easy to imagine how people feel having to endure this weather for the whole walk. There are famously high winds in this place, but today only perpendicular rain. Ballycurrane is in a valley, a welcome sight when they reach it.


Next morning the sun is back for their steep climb up, but looking back across the Conor Pass, Slea Head, Brandon Bay at the top, the windless silence and exaltedness of nature lifts the heart.

As soon as they arrive in Cloghane, Lizzy rushes to beat Paul to the shower. She’s triumphant as she locks the door, but that won’t last long. When she comes out he’s lying on the floor, the backs of his feet sticking out from under the bed.

“What are you doing?”

“The paper I wrote the code on for the case…. it’s disappeared.”

For half an hour they search.

“When did you last see it?”

“If I knew that, I’d have the bloody thing now……”

She goes over the places he’s been, and under the bed sees a glint in the dust of a shaft of light.


“Got it?”

“Well, no, it’s a ring.”

It’s some kind of precious stone set in silver, quite beautiful when she puts it on.

“I wonder how long that’s been there……”

“I need a drink.” He’s sitting in his underpants on the side of the bed, furious.

“Well, red doesn’t suit you, you can’t go down to the bar in those.”

She’s got a huge towel wrapped around her and the sweaty stuff she’s just climbed out of is lying on the floor.

“Ah, idea!” He perks up, picking up the case.

“I’ll try all the combinations – that will unlock it. There are only a thousand….”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ve got no clean clothes, just break the thing open. We’ll buy a strap.”

“There are no shops for miles, and it’s Sunday. Can you remember the code? “

“Of course not……it’s your bag.”

“It’s 421 …. No, that’s my Mastercard number………..284….”

“No, that’s my credit card code.”

They climb back into their reeking clothes and go downstairs. The owner is manning the bar, so Lizzy hands over the ring.

“This was under the bed, someone must have lost it.”

“Ah…the Swedish lady phones every week. We couldn’t find it. What are ye drinkin’, then, it’s on the house.”

An hour later, everyone is quite sloshed. Paul has the suitcase on his knee, patiently working through the numbers while the amused locals offer advice. He was listening in the beginning, but has downed four beers and seems to not particularly care whether it opens or not. Manfred and Britta egg him on. “We’ll count you up, keep going……” “945, 946, 947……,” they chorus.

There’s a roar as he reaches the thousand – and the case stays shut.

The landlord says “Only one thing for it…..” and hands over a crowbar.

Paul does the necessary, to a loud cheer, and someone miraculously produces a strong rope to keep the case shut.

“My round, everyone,” says Paul. Joe walks into the bar.

“What’ll ye be havin’?” he’s asked.

“The cheapest bottle of red wine you have. Don’t open it.”

It’s handed over, then Manfred asks,

“Will you join us for a drink?”

“No, I’m not getting ripped off, it’s cheaper if you buy a whole bottle and drink it in the room,” as he moves off.

“Why is he so appalling?” Manfred asks.

“Maybe because he’s from North Dakota,” Lizzy says.

Alessandro walks in looking fed up.

“That man, him, he just tell me Irish people lying that Mt Brandon is so high, is smaller really…..sapere tutto…”

“Have a beer, Alessandro, Mt Brandon is higher than Everest, or it will feel like it tomorrow when we climb it,” Paul says.


By 8 a.m. it is already warm and windless. Mt Brandon is famous for suddenly descending mists, a sign to go straight back down because of the dangerously sheer cliffs. There’s a local expression – clifted – a gentler way of saying someone has died falling off them. Today there’s no chance of mist. There’s a shimmer, like air around a dragonfly, as they walk up the road to begin the climb. Behind a farm gate are three border collies, working dogs full of energy, ready to go.

“Mornin’ to youse” says the farmer, strolling over, “how many of you is walkin?”

“Another nine….why?” asks Lizzy.

“We’re movin’ the sheep so I’ll wait till ye’ve all passed, easier. Fine day for it, like.”


Manfred and Britta come up behind them.

“Those people are not in front are they?”

They all laugh. Soon they’re on the steep climb up the flank. It’s 953 metres to the peak and the rise is hard over grassland. There are sheep: horned, silent, calm. Once clear of the first bit they turn into God’s Arm Chair, and a breathtaking series of springs, mini waterfalls and lakes. They climb slowly, soaking up the silence, realising how impossible it would be to do this in wind or fog. The rest of the group is coming closer. Julie and Alessandro are fitter, younger and they stride up the first bit, overtaking the two couples.

There’s a sound floating up from downhill. Joe’s family are singing How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. Six voices (the girl has joined them today) sound like a choir in these surroundings. The voices carry piercingly, yet the singers seem oblivious to the rage it awakens as they pollute the silence the others are loving. They eventually overtake Paul and Lizzy, smiling as they go, singing Doh Ray Me, each with their solo part. Paul’s mouth is jammed shut, hands on hips, controlling a surge of violence.

‘We came here for the silence,” he says pointedly to Joe.

“OK, we’ll keep it down a bit, but we’re a singing family, that’s what we love about mountains, ” Joe shrugs.

On they go, doh-ray-me-ing a bit softer as they advance upwards. The ascent takes almost three hours, but the singing stops after a few minutes.

At the peak, looking back, the cliff looks too close for comfort, and a small black cloud has followed them up, hovering alone in a brilliant day. The descent down the esk is even tougher, taking twice as long as the climb. Loose shale, huge boulders – bone dry from the scorching weather – parched, bleached so completely that it’s easy to imagine vultures circling. For the first time, poles are essential; those without them are slipping, falling, cursing down the unforgiving, unstable stones.

By mid-afternoon they’ve arrived in the clearing at the end of the walk, the family is eating lunch. Eva Mae is having words with the young girl. Their voices rise. Britta passes them, amused.

“Teenage girls, I have two, they do what they want….”

Eva Mae smiles and begins to say something, but Joe stands up from taking a boot off.

“She’s no teenager!” He’s belligerent. “She’s got a Ph.D from Princeton in early American literature.”

“At her age?” Manfred, who seldom speaks, is astounded into an automatic response.

“Well, she’s 38 years old….”

The rest of the group is visibly frozen into shocked silence.

“Yes….and since then she is back home with us, where she belongs, living very happily.”

Nobody speaks. Eva Mae turns away and the group passes, one by one, confused.

Out of earshot of the family a bit further along a track, Alessandro is the first to speak.

He turns around and asks in a low, urgent voice, “What we hear there…that man, what he do to his family, what?”

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