After using the court tombs for many centuries, however, some tribes then sealed off their entrances and turned their backs on the monuments and rituals that their forbearers had relied on. What caused this great shift? Perhaps the ancestors in the tombs were no longer listening to the living, or perhaps some new calamity had befallen the tribe which the ancestors were powerless to prevent. . .
Carlton Jones (2013). Temples of Stone: Exploring the Megalithic Monuments of Ireland. The Collins Press, Wilton, Co. Cork, Ireland. ISBN-13: 9781848891678
The next day, many national newspapers ran with a front-page headline along the lines of: Man Pushed Under Bus by Boy (15). The killing made it onto the main evening news a couple of days in a row. Journalists and TV crews had us plagued on the estate for days. There was a queue of neighbours willing to talk on- or off-camera in praise of Rob. In the words of Joe, Rob was a “community stalwart” who was only interested in protecting the estate from vandals and a “small antisocial element” whose behaviour would have gotten out of hand had it not been for Rob and the NW. He was “fine and upstanding” and “always willing to lend a hand to his neighbours”. He was a hard worker, kept his place nice and clean, had a big heart and would do “anything to help somebody in trouble”. There was nothing about the strong-arm tactics he used against the likes of the Bake Sale Bullies, the security cameras or the drone.
For legal reasons, nobody could speak about Lucas on camera (referred to only as the “chief suspect”). He was, after all, a minor. But off the record, people had plenty to tell the flocks of journalists seeking “background” who doorstepped the entire estate and buttonholed passers-by. He came from a “troubled background”. He was always causing hassle around the estate – bush drinking, lighting fires, graffitiing, vandalism, setting off fireworks at Halloween, bullying younger kids. He was not a good student, often went on the mitch.
The local papers, The Limerick Post and The Limerick Leader, stayed with the story the longest and printed pieces containing the most detail. It was from these I learned that the gardaí had recovered a statue suspected to have been stolen by Lucas from the dig. Without naming the boy, both newspapers gave a very full and more-or-less balanced description of Lucas and his family circumstances. These reports described the location and nature of the juvenile detention centre which Lucas now called home and was likely to do so for the foreseeable future.
I only spoke to only one journalist – off the record, naturally. The doorbell had rung several times, both on the day of the killing and the following evening. I had politely put the run on all journalists and was prepared to repeat the same “no comment” to a caller who rang the doorbell just as we had finished cleaning up after our evening meal. When I opened the door, I found myself recognising the woman who was smiling at me with a mix of sympathy, understanding and hope; she was a columnist for The Irish Times and I had a bit of a thing for her, to the extent that I followed her on Twitter and had seen all available on-line video content of her appearances on current affairs programmes and chat shows. She was smaller and more petite in person than I expected, but her newsreader’s hair and trademark broad smile were exactly the same as her profile picture. She wore a light grey business suit of a cut which emphasised her curves and was just as beautiful in the flesh as on screen. Her voice was the same silky southside Dublin purr that made me melt when I heard her on the radio. I almost got carried away and told her I was one of her most avid readers, a big fan, but stopped myself short. I did agree, much to my wife’s later chagrin, to say a few words about the killing.
I told her exactly what I thought about Rob without being unkind, confirmed that he was in a relationship with the dig’s principal archaeologist and perhaps lost the run of myself trying to contextualise the killing.
“It’s like a clash of two Irelands, the old and the new. Lucas and his friends, even though they were born here, aren’t fully of here. In our eyes they’re Poles, Belarusians, Moldovans – whatever. Eastern Europeans. They’re always lumped into that broad category. And they behave in a different enough way from their Irish peers as to stick out. And because their parents aren’t particularly embedded in Irish society their kids aren’t doing the same stuff as their Irish peers – the rugby, the GAA, the scouts, all the usual stuff that normalises kids, brings them into society, keeps them out of trouble. And if the parents don’t have very much culture and aren’t particularly attentive and there’s drinking and fighting at home, you get kids behaving like Lucas and his friends do. And these kids are probably angry and hurt and alienated. And then you have the likes of Rob who see their country changing. They hear more Polish and Brazilian and Spanish on the streets of where they live than English. And their estate is looked down on by people living around them because it’s full of Poles and Filipinos. And so they take it out on the Lucases. And it becomes a bit of a running skirmish.”
“So, you’re saying Rob and his neighbourhood watch were racists?”
“It’s hard to say. There are Polish people and other Eastern Europeans on the neighbourhood watch and the gardening committee and the residents’ association. But I don’t know if Rob would have come down as heavy on Irish kids as he consistently did with Lucas and his pals. The only other group to receive that sort of treatment were the Travellers.”
“So, there’s tension here between the Irish and New Irish?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘tension’. But there’s a guardedness. With some. But maybe it’s not particularly because the people are foreign. It could be because ‘bad families’ who happen to be foreign are regarded suspiciously because they’re foreign rather than bad. Whereas if it’s an Irish family causing problems people just classify them as scumbags straight off. It’s complicated.”
“I’m getting the sense that there are a lot of hidden divisions in Mountain View. And it’s a microcosm of today’s Ireland. What do you think?”
“That’s a pretty good angle for a feature! What might one say? We’re all divided and broken up, in a way. Very few people on this estate are from Limerick, not to mind Castletroy. We’re all emigrants here. But some are different from others. Some make an effort to fit in. Some make an effort to welcome newcomers. And some people, both Irish and foreign, don’t want any interaction with any of the rest of us. There’s a bit of everything.”
Flowers began to be placed at the entrance to the estate, even as Rob’s body lay below the Scenic under the cover of a fire brigade blanket. By the time the body was taken away and the gardaí had finished their investigation, which involved blocking the road to traffic until mid-afternoon, there was a thicket of blooms marking the spot. This grew into quite the mound as afternoon turned to evening and featured in many news stories. The flowers remained there until the rain turned them into a multicoloured mush and the wind drove them up and down the link road and chased them around the estate. At the weekend a posse of gardening committee members sallied forth to shovel them away. We kept any notes pinned to the flowers and passed these on to Rob’s family.
Many were addressed Rob personally and said things such as “we’ll miss you forever”, “you were a great neighbour”, “you kept us safe”, “you always had a kind word for us” and “you never refused to help anyone”. The hundreds of WhatsApp messages that flew around the RA group reflected similar sentiments. According to these, Rob had been almost a living saint, selflessly putting others first in protecting Mountain View from hordes of marauders. He seemed to have lent a hand to someone from every household (except those who he spied upon and whose children he intimidated). He was friendly, pleasant, obliging, caring, big-hearted, responsible, upstanding – the list of adjectives went on and on. I did not post anything.
I did go to the funeral, though. I felt it was my duty, a final obligation to a neighbour who perhaps I didn’t like or whose behaviour I didn’t approve of, but who was a neighbour nonetheless. Rob’s family were from the other side of the city. His body was waked in the family home and the death notice requested that the house be reserved for close friends and family only. There was talk of the RA committee attending the wake and offering sympathy on behalf of the RA and NW, but in the end, it was decided to respect the wishes of his mother and brothers and sisters.
What was also decided was that the NW would form a guard of honour outside the church along with Rob’s warehouse colleagues. It was quite a moving sight to see these mostly young men stand to attention as his brothers and cousins carried the coffin from the church to the hearse. The requiem mass had been a moving affair generally. St John’s Cathedral was packed. Dozens of Mountain View neighbours attended. I spotted almost as many local politicians, including our go-to councillor lady and TD. The front pew was occupied by his poor mother, flanked by his sisters, brothers and in-laws. Up to half a dozen pews contained black-clad uncles, aunts and cousins. They all looked to be in a state of deep shock and hurt. His mother was distraught, and her body heaved with grief throughout the service. Rob’s brother gave the eulogy of a nature precisely what one would have expected of such an occasion. A musically talented cousin sang some of Rob’s favourite songs post communion and a niece played the violin during the offertory procession. There was not a dry eye in the house.
My scanning of the congregation during the service finally yielded the result of locating Dr Cullen and her team. She was dressed as a mourner and at a few points was comforted by one of the women archaeologists who sat close by her. After seeing Dr Cullen in the cathedral, morbid curiosity impelled me to attend the burial, something which I had not intended to do as I was in a hurry to get back to work. I wished to see whether she would attend and what her role there might be. She had not been named in the death notice (either specifically or as a generic girlfriend) and nor had she joined the family in the front pews. Perhaps they were not even aware of her existence. Or perhaps the incipient nature of she and Rob’s relationship did not qualify Dr Cullen as a chief mourner, although barring them being cold-hearted monsters, I’m sure the family would have included her in celebrations had she wished. Regardless, it must have been difficult for Dr Cullen to inhabit this Tenebrae of someone who had lately been intimate with the deceased yet was not in a position to publicly display her grief nor receive the sympathy of the larger community. I wondered had she made contact with Rob’s family. Had she called to the house to pay her respects to her boyfriend’s mother and siblings? Had she been able to say farewell to Rob in the context of a wake?
Dr Cullen did attend the burial. Just as in the cathedral, she was not to be found among the chief mourners who made a close circle directly around the gaping grave. There were far fewer people at the graveyard than in the cathedral, making it easier for me to pick her and her companion out from the crowd. I debated whether to approach her to offer my condolences as I had to Rob’s mother and family directly after the mass. Looking at her face stiff and pallid with grief and her usually poker-straight body hunched in on itself, I found my heart reaching out to her. I picked my way over to her through the knots of mourners as the priest began a decade of the Rosary.
“Dr Cullen – Sue,” I said as gently as I could.
She slowly turned her head from the grave and greeted me with a thin smile. She and her companion had their arms linked. It appeared as if the other woman, was holding the doctor up.
“Cathal,” she said. As if my association with Mountain View brought a wash of memories of Rob to the fore, her eyes teared over.
“I’m very sorry about what happened to Rob. I know you must be terribly affected. It must be awful. I’m sorry for your troubles. If there’s anything I can do . . .”
That was all I could manage. I found my own self on the brink of tears, a common reaction of mine to others’ grief.
“Oh, thanks,” she said in a whisper. “Thanks.”
I stayed by her side until the decade ended and people began to file back to their cars. Dr Cullen showed no sign of wanting to leave, so I left her with an order to take care of herself.
“I’ll try,” was what she said.
Lucas’s family lost no time in moving out of the estate. A couple of days after the funeral, a rent-a-van was seen outside their house and Lucas’s father and another man were observed filling it with the family’s belongings. A few hours later, the van was driven off and the family car pulled out of Mountain View for the last time. The mother and father were never seen or heard of around the estate again. Some said that they moved to Kildare or Dublin to be close to the juvenile detention centre where Lucas would spend the rest of his adolescence. Others said that they moved to England or Northern Ireland or even back to Poland.
“We won’t see them on the telly whenever the trial happens, that’s for sure.” Declan told me. “Coz he’s a juvenile, they won’t be allowed to give his name or reveal any details of his family or show the typical pictures of the mother or father entering or leaving the court. We’ve seen the last of the Wachowicz’s for sure.”
He enunciated “Wachowicz” with the pride of a child having mastered a difficult word. I could imagine him recounting the story of Lucas to his grandchildren in thirty or forty years’ time and taking the same care over the surname.
Within a week, the former Wachowicz home was rented out to a young couple who work in one the medical device factories in the industrial estate. They have a golden retriever puppy and our paths have crossed a few times in the past couple of weeks. I have yet to ask them how they feel about living in a murderer’s house.
When I heard from Declan that the dig was imminently wrapping up, I lost no time in squeezing Archie into his harness and striding towards the Y to pay Dr Cullen one final visit. My presence at the dig’s entrance was relayed to the doctor by the same girl as always, but instead of being called forth beyond the barrier Dr Cullen came out to me.
“Can I come for a walk with ye?” she asked, righting herself after bending down to give Archie a hug and a few scratches behind the ear. Her left ear and cheek were wet from where the dog had been licking her.
She looked a lot better than the last time I had seen her. Wearing shorts and a string top against the day’s heat, along with hiking boots, she looked like a blonde Laura Croft. Her tanned skin and toned muscles gave off an impression of strength and vitality and I realised that I must have looked ridiculous beside her in my own knee-length Dad shorts from which my stick-like, milk-white legs poked out either comically or pathetically – or a mixture of the two. Her shoulders were broader than my own bottle-likes, and her soles elevated her a couple of inches above me (I was wearing sandals). How could even a part of me have thought that there was chemistry between us or that there could ever have been a thing?
I took us across the green and into the northern section of the Y that was as yet untouched by the builders. Since Lucas’s raid on the dig, the eastern part had been fenced off and the moving of earth into giant mounds and the making of roadways for the diggers had commenced. The grass in the northern section was knee-high, but dry and yellowed from the heatwave we had been having. I let Archie off and he flew around, leaping over hummocks and scrabbling under bushes. Dr Cullen laughed at his seemingly aimless and frenetic wheeling and dashing. Getting straight down to business, I asked the doctor how she was coping.
“I don’t know if I am. I’m just moving through the days. Working most of the time. Eating. Sleeping. Running. Showering. Repeat to end. It all seems a bit empty and pointless, really.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Except the usual cliches¾”
“That it’ll get easier? That it’ll wear off? That time heals all?”
There was an anger and annoyance in her tone. I was about to apologise, when she beat me to it.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m a tetchy so-and-so these days. You’re only trying to help me feel better. Sorry.”
We watched Archie in silence for a while. His tumbling through the grass had raised a couple of mistle thrushes from a young willow. He ran beneath them, his long ears flopping goofily. Dr Cullen then surprised me by reaching into the outside pocket of her shorts (they were of the faux-military type) and pulling out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Picking up on this surprise she said: “I know. I’m a fucking eejit. I shouldn’t have started on these again. But after everything . . . What can you do?”
She offered me one, which I refused, lit up and we returned to watching the dog, who was now sniffing with great interest a pile of straw bedding and horse manure which had been dumped there by the Travellers. The blueish smoke of her cigarette hung in the air about us. Something about the heat, the cigarette smoke, the birdsong and the whoosh of traffic from the nearby Dublin Road made me feel as if we were standing with our backs to the sea on the Costa del Sol. All that was missing was the smell of deep-frying calamari.
“You try to make sense of things,” said Dr Cullen, “and the penny never drops. You never get there. I now know what ‘senseless’ means. A senseless death. A senseless murder. There’s no squaring the circle. No answer. Senseless.”
I had no reply or observation to make to this. I let the silence hang in peace over us. Only after Dr Cullen had taken a couple of drags on her cigarette, I asked her where she was off to next.
“Oh. Another fucking by-pass. In Tipperary. They’ve skirted around a Norman motte-and-bailey, cleverly enough you would think, but initial surveys show that they’ve put the road going straight through a largish rath.”
“Interesting. Should keep you busy, anyway.”
Dr Cullen didn’t answer. She had another drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke in the direction of Archie.
“I was only saying to myself a couple of weeks ago, before Rob was killed,” she said, “that this was almost the perfect life. Good, interesting, useful work. A great team. Decent weather. The thing with Rob. It was like . . . you know that term ‘honeymoon period’?”
“It was as near damn perfect as I’d ever had. I was even thinking of moving in with him. I’d grown fond of Mountain View. Now I don’t ever want to see this place again.”
She blew her smoke out with disgust.
I walked Dr Cullen back to the dig and said my farewell. I wished her the best and said I was always there if she needed to chat. I knew, though, that unless we bumped into one another by chance in Dublin Airport or on Grafton Street or on a beach in Lanzarote, we would never speak or meet again.
“She’s gone out of our lives forever, Archie,” I told the dog as we walked home across the green. “No more huggies from Dr Cullen for you!”
I thought of the dig, the Labacally – the witch’s bed. Of how people who had taken something from there or disrespected the place had had no luck; the archaeologists who were nearly crushed or had fallen ill; my pothead neighbours; Lucas; Dr Cullen. For the latter pair things had gone in the same manner as for the Kellys, around whose old homestead Archie had just been bounding. I had wanted to ask Dr Cullen what she now thought of the curse of the Cailleach, but realised it would have been crass and insensitive to do so. I would have run the danger of trivialising Rob’s death by linking it to a something only referred to in jest by Dr Cullen’s crew.
“A wipeout,” I said to Archie. “Revenge. Don’t mess with the Cailleach.”
I paused to let him sniff around the old, bifurcated ash tree on the western edge of the green.
“I don’t know if you or I will ever set foot in that court tomb.”