Cottage Gore

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The letter that changed Rachael’s life came in the most innocuous looking white envelope. Instead of taking it out and opening it straight away, she placed it on the counter, and had a coffee. Who wants to read the final confirmation that the job is gone that redundancy is official?

She sat with her current knitting project, furiously working away, staring at the envelope. Click, click, click click, she attacked the project furiously until she found the calm she needed in the repetitive actions.  

Eventually she could bear looking at it no longer, slammed down the knitting, and roughly slid a nail under the flap of the envelope.
But this made no sense! This wasn’t the letter she was expecting. (As it happened, the redundancy notification would arrive the following day, in a considerably more tatty brown envelope)

Noel Byrne had passed away.

Yes, but who was Noel Byrne? She trawled through her memories for any trace of him. If only her mother was still alive, she could have asked her. Then the penny dropped. Aunty Mary’s husband. The slightly peculiar one who refused to ever leave the farm. So she had never met him. Aunty Mary had visited Rachael and her Mum a couple of times a year, until breast cancer took her about 15 years ago, back when Rachael was still in her teens. With Rachael’s Mum also having passed a few years later, there were few reminders of an elderly uncle she had never met, until he had faded from her consciousness altogether.

But now he was dead, and as his last surviving relative, he had left her the farm.

Taking 2 hesitant steps back from the counter, Rachael flumped awkwardly into the chair, and landed uncomfortably on her knitting needles. Fumbling them out from underneath herself, she returned once more to her shawl. Click, click, click, soothe. In the calm of her knitting she began the long slow journey of making sense of the tumultuous changes that were going on in her life right now, and how life had just thrown her yet another unexpected curve ball. 

Rachael’s lockdown luck seemed to be in, at first. No more annoying commute to work, Jubilee line to northern line daily battles, squashed like a sardine. All parts of software development can be done in one’s dressing gown, as it turns out. 

But as it also happens, the rest of the economy was grinding to a halt, the building industry had stopped, so the market for specialist architectural software ceased. Getting a bad dose of Covid herself and being unable to work for months put Rachael top of the list when the redundancies were selected. 

For the last several months, while the ‘restructure’ was in progress at work and Rachael had been at home on endless sick leave she had knitted. The basic skills she had learned from her Aunty Mary as a kid, and not thought about since. Until lockdown, and lots of time at home. She had set herself a goal to learn all the techniques she could, and learned to find comfort in the squish of the wool, the click of the needles, the wonder in the fabric that came from her own hands. 

And so, as a great big barrier against the world outside, Rachael turned her flat into a Cottage Core wonderland. In Lewisham, people were dying, and the sirens of ambulances wailed night and day. Inside, to the smell of fresh baked bread crafting took centre stage. Brightly coloured cushions and throws popped up everywhere. Old fashioned items from the wardrobe she wore because it was expected in the office were replaced by hand knit and hand sewn items she loved. And in her fantasies, as she scrolled tic tok and all the cottage core style gurus she loved, she played with the idea that this could somehow become her life. A little cottage in the countryside, where a fresh pot of homemade soup always bubbled on the range, days of foraging hedgerows and finding fairies to replace the constant sore back from hours slumped over a computer, sore head from the smell of the motorway, and ceaseless hum of the computer noises that followed her everywhere?

How weird that she had indulged this fantasy so often, but never with any seriousness, and here, in her hand, the news that she was now the owner of a farm somewhere in the far west of Ireland. 

There wasn’t much point waiting. The redundancy confirmed, her life in London was over. And the payment, combined with the money her mother had left her, should see her through the first 6 months while she figured out how to get a farm working. Would there be sheep on it? Or cows? Her friends and flatmate all thought she should stay, do a bit of research, and make a business plan first, but Rachael just couldn’t see the point of frittering away her start up capital on London rents while her new Cottage Core life waited for her. There was surprisingly little to pack. A few suitcases of clothes, quite a few more suitcases of yarns and fabrics, one sewing machine, one overlocker, and her bamboo handled needle set packed with greatest care, and she was ready to go. All the finished throws, pillows and other creations stayed with Joanne, her flatmate. More because they wouldn’t fit in the boot of her car than real generosity, but Rachael was glad they would stay where they would be appreciated. 

‘But what will you do when you get there?’ her flatmate wailed in the window of the car in one last ditch attempt to imply that Rachael hadn’t thought this through fully.

‘Adopt a cat!’ Rachael answered with total conviction and a note of finality. And started the long drive to the ferry.

That cat she planned to adopt loomed largest in her thought overnight, in the B&B in Hollyhead before the next leg of her journey. She had always wanted a pet, but when you’re a London renter, its not really practical. All her cottage core heroes seemed to spend their lives with a gently purring fat cat in their arms or lap, and with just one more day’s driving, this would be her life too. 

It was very late, dark and cold before Rachael had crossed the country, and arrived at the part of her journey where the motorways and dual carriageways gave way to small back roads to her final destination. All her daydreams of this moment had been of marvelling at the wonderful landscape, perhaps catching a glimpse of the atlantic ocean twinkling in the distance. Instead, she had to focus on night driving by the power of her headlamps alone on these twisty roads without lights, while trusting her sat nav. Until the sat nav started trying to send her totally off road, directing her to make a turn through a gap in a hedge.
Stepping from the car she found that there was sort of a dirt track there, grass growing tall up the centre, with what could be perhaps loose gravel in the right place for a car’s wheels. Would her suspension survive? She contemplated sleeping here in the car until morning brought daylight, but the call of the cottage was too strong, so she nervously tried the lane. 

The farmhouse was small, low and dark. Rachael sat in the car, taking it in from the illumination of the headlights for as long as she could. Every member of her family for many many generations had been born in this cottage, except for her. Well, she was here now. Fumbling for the key  she decided it was time to step across the threshold. Into freezing cold darkness. The electricity was clearly off. But why was it So. Very. Cold? Rachael slept that first night in the car after all. 

Cottage core lifestyle? Cottage gore, more like! Rachael thought to herself many times over the next couple of days. Moments of wonder at the stunning purple mountains all around her, the breathtaking beauty of the scenery intruded every so often. Other times she found herself wondering desperately if Joanne had found a new flatmate yet, or if she could just flee home. In between, most hours of most days were spent trying to sort out the many problems. Get the electricity reconnected, the water turned back on, the back door replaced. The EMTs had broken it in on her uncle’s last day, and it had not been fixed. In the intervening months, many mice (perhaps worse) had made their way into the cottage and taken up residence. The furniture was in appalling disrepair. A new fridge and a new bed were ordered for the first day. Rooting out the calfskin bound notebook she had bought to begin recording the wisdom that would come to her in her new life, Rachael carefully recorded her first entry.

‘Amazon doesn’t offer Next Day Delivery to the Wild Atlantic Way’ Not the kind of entry she was anticipating.

Her car was still completely overloaded, but she didn’t want to unpack her yarn stash or other stuff until the lights and heating were on, the back door replaced, and the mice nests rooted out. 

 It was time she found the local shops. She headed off for her first daylight drive through the countryside, and found her way to a shop/postoffice bizarrely located in the middle of nowhere. 

‘Dee-ah Gwitch’ the woman coming out the door seemed to cheerfully say as she went in. 

‘I expected strange accents, but was that even English?’ Rachael thought to herself. Perhaps it was a tourist using a foreign language, she figured. 

Except inside the shop, there was a woman at the cash register talking to a customer, and two men in work clothes chatting to each other. And none of them were talking in English. But not for long. Silence fell as they all turned to stare at Rachael. Wishing the ground would open and swallow her, she sidled over to the dairy fridge and busied herself choosing some milk, while hiding her embarrassed blush.

Oat milk, Almond milk. Rachael was slightly surprised. Wouldn’t a rural farming location have normal milk? Ah, there it was. She was so frozen with the embarrassment and shock of it all, she’d been focusing only on one tiny part of the shelf. The rest was all what she would have expected. Still, she shot off a quick photo to Joanne, who had predicted that there would be no Oat milk lattes so far from ‘civilisation’. ‘At least they have the oat milk, for when you visit’.
The hum of conversation returned to the shop, and still not a word of English. 

The bell over the door tinkled, and another customer entered. Hope leaped in Rachel’s chest. This guy clearly wasn’t from around here. Look at him, he was just like half the guys she knew from London. He would be English, and more importantly speak English. He went straight to que at the checkout, and Rachael, clutching her groceries, hurried to stand behind him. 

‘Hi, where are you from?’ She blurted out

‘Tawim i mo go-knee … he started, and the rush of blood to Rachaels ears ment she couldn’t possibly have heard the rest of it. 

‘Well, that was a wee bit racist, dear.’ The checkout lady commented. 

Rachael didn’t trust herself to speak, she was so close to tears. She shoved her purchases onto the counter, tapped her card, and fled, while only half registering that while the lady in the shop mostly spoke another language, at least she could also speak English.

It was shame now that was flooding Rachael. Never in her whole life had she intentionally done anything racist. Until faced with a black man in a shop where mysteriously no one spoke in English, and just assumed he wasn’t from around here. He had looked like home! And in that moment, Rachael was truly longing for half an hour back in London. She collapsed into the drivers seat of her car, and asked herself if things could possibly get any worse.

Yes, yes they could, the universe answered her.

Now, her car wouldn’t start. 

Giving up all pretence that anything was even remotely OK, Rachael began to cry. Noisy, shoulder heaving sobs, as she slumped over her steering wheel. 

And now, one of the guys in workman’s clothes from inside the shop was witness to her humiliation. He was knocking on the window of her car, saying something (in English, thankfully) about opening the bonnet and he would have a look. Robotically, Rachael hit the control, and the bonnet clicked open. 

Why don’t I gave you a lift home for now? He suggested 

Woodenly, Rachael agreed. Grabbing her shopping, her phone and tablet, she climbed into a strange man’s car. A second thing she would never have imagined herself doing in London. 

‘Donal’ her rescuer said, as he started to drive.

‘Rachael’ she answered. 

‘Your staying in Noel Byrne’s?’

‘Um, yeah’ (how the heck did he know that?)

Desperate to move the situation onto less awkward territory, Rachael tried making conversation. She grasped at the easiest, most obvious topics. 

‘What are all the windmills for?’

She gestured at the many tall, white windmills on the mountain tops all around.

Donal looked at her sideways. ‘Electricity’ he said, in a tone one might use for a 2 year old. 

Minutes passed. Rachael tried again.

‘The roads all seem so new, but the lane to my cottage is in terrible disrepair.’

‘They had to put in new wider roads to transport the parts for the windmills’ Donal explained. And in a weird way, that made sense to Rachael, and what she had observed about these very new wide roads, suddenly giving way to tiny grass centred lanes. But it was so outside her area of expertise, she had no clue how to keep the conversation going. She looked around, and down into her lap where she held her tabled and phone with her shopping. 

‘The phone signals around here seem good. I was a bit worried before I came, but I’ve had no problem getting online over the last few days.’

Donal was obsessed with one thing more than the new windmills, and physics of tower masts, and the mechanisms of WiFi and so he talked the rest of the journey, and Rachael began to relax and let it wash over her. Almost home,and Donal finally said something not about electricity generation or phone signals.

‘Thats us, up there’. He pointed up a lane to a farm. So, this was not just a local, but her nearest neighbour who had rescued. 

‘And this is you’ he said. They were driving along the field that was the start of her new property. In all the panic to get the cottage habitable, Rachael hadn’t yet taken much of a walk around the land yet, or even got to see it in proper daylight.

‘That side of the road all you have is scrub’ Donal told her of her land. ‘Cant get CAP for that. This side you have this one good field, the house, another good field. And there’s your fairy ring. Watch for that, don’t step into it by mistake.’

What? Was this the same guy who had spent 20 minutes non-stop fast talking about the physics of wifi? Yet, when Rachael looked, she could clearly see the ‘fairy ring’. A large circle where the grass was a slightly stronger shade of green, flatter, and ringed in by an arrangement of stones. 

In return for the lift home, Rachael made Donal a quick lunch, and acquired a long list of locals and their respective skills, which Rachael recorded on her phone alphabetically from ‘car mechanic’ to ‘woodworm treatment’, Donal also explained to her about the language issue. She had come and settled in the heart of the Gaeltacht. An area where the spoken language in the community is Irish.

Her brain started reeling all over again. She was sure she remembered hearing somewhere that there used to be an Irish language, but that it was a dead language. People still spoke it? For real? And her cottage core future was slap bang in a place where people spoke a foreign language? 

‘But it’s not a foreign language, not here, English is the foreign language’ Donal gently reminded her. A contact for the local community college where they did irish for beginners night classes was added to her ever growing list of essential tabs open on her tablet. 

That evening,  Rachael headed out across her field for a walk. She wanted to finally see her fairy ring. If there is one most remarkable feature of an Irish evening, it’s in the slow descent of the sun, singing symphonies of colours across the sky, and if Rachael had through to bring her notebook with her, she might now have been finally leaving the practical notes behind, and writing ‘feeling welcomed by the land’.

The fairy ring was the highest point. Standing in its centre, she could see over the landscape, the rings of mountain tops with their marching windmills, the tiny glint of the Atlantic ocean to the south west. As greens, blues and purples faded to silhouette from the landscape Rachael felt a sense of beauty so great it had a note of overwhelming discomfort to it, as if this was too much to take in. She sat, cross legged, and became more grounded in the reality of the wet grass under her.  

‘Ah, yes, milk for the fairies’ she spoke out loud to the evening. Taking a saucer and the milk from her backpack, she left her offering. 

She knew from her cottage core tic toks that if you didn’t believe in the fairies, they didn’t believe in you, and a little whimsy felt like a fitting end to an overpowering day. 

Facing back towards her cottage, Rachael headed off. A sudden movement caught her eye. Internally laughing at herself for even checking, she looked back. No fairies, but there was a cat lapping up her milk offering. She stepped back into the ring, and almost lost sight of the cat, although it stayed, drinking the milk. A dark smoky grey tabby, it was almost invisible in the quarter light of late evening. 

‘I don’t really want to chase you away, but that milk was for the fairies? How about I give you your own dish? As if it understood, the cat followed her all the way back. 

‘Not inside’ she protested. Unimpressed by its exclusion, the cat jumped in the bathroom window, and presented itself on the kitchen countertop for its feast. 

‘OK, but not in the car, that’s where I have to sleep tonight’ Rachael conceded. 

The cat, being a cat, took no heed of that prohibition, and slept the night on her chest as Rachael curled up on the back seat, hoping the new bed would arrive tomorrow. 

Donal returned the following day, as arranged, to drive Rachael to the garage where her car waited for her. He was quite happy to drive the extra 8 miles to the town, where the cat could be checked over by the vet, dewormed and deflead. 

The days passed quite quickly after that for Rachael, and her new cat, Dusk. Sleek, silky and wondrous, she would often disappear for the entire day, reappearing from the shadows of evening, as if generated by them, and spend evenings purring in Rachael’s lap while she knitted. 

Money was looming larger in Rachae’ls mind that she would have liked. Her nice little nest egg had been hit with woodworm treatments, new doors, new furniture, essential building repairs and attic insulation. On the up side she had found that one of the outbuildings contained enough cut peat for a couple of years, the ancient range had a back boiler which heated the whole cottage, and she slowly became more comfortable. But sooner or later she would need to get the farm working, and hadn’t a notion where to start. 

She signed up for a couple of courses through the local enterprise office, another one in the community college, and recalled with embarrassment how she had sneered at Joanne for suggesting she should write a business plan before anything else. In apology, she sent a print out of her first draft plan in the post, with a new knitted shawl. 

At first it was hard to get a toe in the door. People knew each other, and knew what they were talking about. She was not only the ‘Sasannach’ – a local word that might mean English person, might mean foreigner, or might just be some kind of offensive curse word, she hadn’t figured it out yet, – but she didn’t know anything about the subject matter.

During her first online class, she mistakenly used the term ‘organic farming’ when everyone else was discussing ‘regenerative farming’. OK, right, note to self, there is a difference! Gosh, but did they have to be so patronising about it?

After a tough morning on her course, and a worrying lunch poking at the reality of her bank account, Rachael felt drawn to take a walk of her land, something she did quite often. This was where her ideas came from for what she wanted to develop from this space. She walked up through the future sheep pasture and found herself for the first time since Dusk’s arrival, by the fairy ring. On a whim, she returned to the house for some milk, and a blanket.

‘Here’s the thing’ she told the fairies, as she poured their milk, and settled on the blanket. ‘I came here for some cottage core dream, born of a pandemic and a breakdown. But that’s not why I stay. I stay because this is the land of my ancestors. My parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, back to the great hunger, and before, this land, my land, has sheltered my family. These people, they see me as the english blow in, but this is my heritage, and I will stay, and learn this birthright denied. But we also need to get this land turning a profit sooner rather than later. So if you have any thoughts on whether you would rather the company of Galway sheep, or Shetland sheep, grazing your slopes, or what species of trees, if any, to be planted, best find a way to let me know.’

And having unburdened herself to her imaginary fairies, she found a restful calm, and dozed for a while. Until a blaring car horn woke her.

Why was there a car in her lane? She went down to see. 

A car with a trailer was stopped, held up by Dusk, who had decided the roadway was the perfect place to groom himself. A harried looking woman was shouting at Dusk as gaeilge (in Irish). ‘Can I help you’? Rachael called out. Her Irish was progressing slowly from her night class, and she sometimes practised with Donal, but an odd situation like this was probably best in English.

‘I came the wrong way, and can’t turn around here, so I was trying to follow the lane around and get back out the other way.

‘Better to drive up around the farmyard to turn’ Rachael suggested. ‘The lane isn’t passable much further.’ 

The woman seemed about to do as suggested, but then leaned out her window again. 

‘This is Noel Byrns old place?’

‘Yes’ Rachael answered, a little snappily. She was getting a bit tired by now of always having to establish who she was and that she was entitled to be here. 

‘And you still have all the old farm buildings. You would have space for a few hens? And a donkey?

‘What the heck?’ thought Rachael to herself. But a bit more diplomatically simply asked ‘what do you mean? 

‘Sinead. Volunteer for the local rescue. We have 37 sickly hens need foster care, along with a donkey. Old lady had a stroke. Obviously wasn’t caring for them right for a while, but not her fault, not her fault, think people didn’t realise she was so frail’.

And an hour later, Rachael came into possession of a spinning wheel, and the proud foster carer to 37 neglected hens, and a donkey.

The rescue volunteers all rallied round over the next few days, helping Rachael with fixing up the out buildings so she had a proper home for the new animals, the vet came out for the initial check of each animal, but after that there were regular vet trips with individual sick birds. Three were regretfully put down, and Rachael brought 2 others she was particularly worried for into the house. Meanwhile, Daisy the donkey was settling into the lower field quickly, and developed a gleam in his eye and a spring in his step in no time.

Rachael found a stronger bond than she would have guessed with this elderly donkey, who was always so overjoyed to see her, and came running as fast as his tired old legs would carry him at any sight of her.

‘But that field is where the polytunnels were to go, this spring at the latest’ Rachael wailed at Donal, the next time he dropped around. 

‘Once he’s a bit stronger in himself, you can put him down to munch up the rushes in the scrubby fields, he’ll be an important part of reclaiming that land’ Donal suggested, and Rachael accepted he likely knew what he was talking about. He usually did on matters of regenerative farming.

The hens were forever getting into the house. They even started pecking at the back door in protest when they found it closed. Dusk wasn’t particularly impressed at having his domain invaded.

Rachael scooped up Dora for the third time that morning, gave her a quick kiss, and deposited her back into the farmyard. ‘Free range means hens with access to the outside, not the kitchen’ she instructed them, as she often did. 

‘This is all your fault anyway’ Rachael informed Dusk, who was giving her a baleful, accusatory stare. ‘If you hadn’t sat in front of the car that day…’ Dusk turned slowly and deliberately around, put his back to Rachael, and stared at the fairy ring. 

The spinning wheel was getting more use than Rachael ever expected. She loved her crafts. She knitted every chance she got, and now she had her sewing room set up, she was busy curtaining every window in her home, and for a few neighbours as well. But still, she had a long history of tickering with bizarre crafts for short spurts, and dropping them after spending money on equipment.

So when she saw that spinning wheel sitting outside the old chicken ladies house, and her eyes lit up, she told herself not to be silly. But it was offered, and she’d said yes. Now it sat in the small barn. A geriatric carding machine had joined it, as had multiple giant tubs.

Rachael desperately wanted sheep for her farm (sheep and alpaca, she occasionally whispered to herself, but no one around here had alpaca yet). But she wanted to be 100% sure she was getting the right sheep for the right place. And she wanted to fully understand the fleece those sheep would give, even if she did just sell it all to the local woollen mills.
Donal helped her out with a few bags of fleece from his new Valais Blacknose herd, and promised other fleece to come. He got Tomas in on the project next. Rachael had never forgotten her embarrassment at suggesting he couldn’t be a local as he didn’t look like one, so she was a bit standoffish at first. But as she got to know him, she found him quite inspiring. Firstly, he genuinely didn’t come originally from a gaeltacht area, although he had the advantage of having grown up in Dublin, and learning Irish in school. (‘Still couldn’t speak a word, really, when I arrived. School Irish isn’t the same’) Tomas was a journalist, and had some project or book planned as an ulterior motive for his interest in those on the leading edge of bringing wool farming and wool crafts back to the area. But he was motivated, and had lots of contacts.

Before long there was not only samples of Jacobs, shetland, bluefaced leister, galway and other breeds of sheep lined up along the wall, there were locals dropping by with at least some rudimentary knowledge on how to scour the fleece and card it to get it ready for spinning. Sinead was fast becoming a best friend, and also had the best knowledge of spinning, but as she had recently taken on needle felting as a new obsession, she was also quite likely to divert the best roving away from the spinning wheel.

And it was in the spinning shed one day that Rachael confessed to Donal and Sinead about her trips to the fairy ring, and both times she gave them a gift, she had ended up with new animals about the place. She was surprised at their reactions. Science obsessed Donal most of all. ‘These are not Disney fairies’ he warned her. ‘They are not tiny, they don’t have gossamer wings and they don’t grant wishes. They are the fair folk of another realm, they don’t understand human affairs, and shouldnt be encouraged to meddle. Only harm can come of that!’

Sinead was a little more pragmatic, but equally stern. ‘People here fear the fairies’ she said. ‘Some, especially the older folk, they can be very superstitious. If some old lady saw you in a fairy ring, they could be so frightened they would have a heart attack on the spot. Some old dears cardiac arrest on your conscience. Don’t do it, you couldn’t live with yourself.’

Rachael laughed it off, yet it rankled with her that her new friends hadn’t heard her out properly. Maybe it was resentment, therefore, that triggered her to grab the milk and the saucer the next time she headed up the field.

‘Hey guys, I know I’ve not seen you in months’ she said, as she offered the milk. Things have been busy, as I’m sure you know. So much to do, so much to build. Last time, I told you I came for the cottage core, and reality soon snapped me out of that idea. Well, that hasn’t changed. But then I said I stayed for my ancestors. You know what? I’ve been thinking. Land of my ancestors and all that is very well and good, but if my great grandmother were suddenly to come back from the dead, I don’t think she’d recognise this place of windmills and wifi. Anyway, I came for cottage core. And I stayed and gave it a try for my past and my heritage. But you know why I keep building? Because this place, its my future. Rebuilding a farm, regenerating the land, it’s not about the past, that’s just the text we learn from. It’s about the future and the life we want to lead. The life we want our children to lead.’

And with that, once more, Rachael found a wash of sleepy calm come over her, and she dozed off for a bit, until she was loudly woken by a car horn, once again.

She looked, bleary eyed, down the hill. To a green van with a large tree painted on the side. Oh, darn, the forestry guy! How could she have forgotten? As quick as she could, she charged down the hill, tripping up and literally falling on top of the man at her door. 

‘Hi, hi, sorry, sorry, I was up the field, and lost track of time’

For the rest of the day, they walked her land, and she looked at it with new eyes, as the forestry consultant pointed out new potential to her. Evidence of which trees used to grow where, the scrubland and how trees slowly reclaim land if given the chance, and we don’t need to fight it, we can help them on their way. The ever growing sense Rachael had that she was connected to this land, that it was her, and she was it, became so much stronger that day, with this kind, encouraging man at her elbow, talking so lovingly of the potentials of rowan and ash, elder and oak. 

Still, most of it washed right over her. How can anyone pay attention to dry facts when they are spoken in such a voice, with eyes that green looking right at you? She gazed upon him, and gazed upon him, and self consciousness fell away, and she ceased to pretend she was doing anything else. 

And so, when he suggested they drive into the town for dinner, she felt like all her dreams were coming true. 

Rachael told very, very few people any of that, and never to another living soul did she confess that come morning, as the first crack of dawn broke a thin grey light through the curtains, he simply vanished from her bed. She was still nearly asleep, but ever so aware of him sleeping beside her, and then, with no sense of movement or warning, he was not there. Alarmed, she woke properly and sat up, flicking on the light. A fox. A fox tail, fliting around the corner of her bedroom door. She ran after it, and again saw what was probably a fox, hurrying up the hill in the direction of the fairy ring. 

The more conservative and gossipy of the locals all decided amongst themselves that Donal must be the father of Rachael’s baby. After all, it was clear to anyone with eyes in their heads that they were very good friends. 

The rest of the village were quite aware that it was highly unlikely that Donal was the father. They knew that he was indeed good friends with Rachael, but his special friendship was with Seamus, and it was Donal and Seamus that could get lost gazing into eachothers eyes, not Donal and Rachael. 

Between the arrival of her first 10 Vailis Blacknose sheep, the establishment of the polytunnels, and the baby booties, cardigans and bonnets that needed knitting, Rachael was a bit to busy to worry about the village gossips. She really would have liked to speak to a certain forestry consultant again, however. Yet she couldn’t even remember his name.

She rang the Forestry NGO. They were a bit confused, as they had no consultant who matched his description. They still had her down on the list as waiting for a consultation, but, and this was most unusual, they were glad to tell her she was already approved for a significant grant. She tried, many times, but there was no trace of her visitor ever again.

Her daughter was born, 9 months later, on a freezing cold early spring day. Piercing green eyes, jet black hair, and Rachael’s cheekbones. From the outset, she was a quiet, solemn little girl, with a deep empathy for all living things, a love of all trees, and almost an ability to speak to the land itself. She had little interest in knitting, crochet, spinning or any other crafts, at least not when she was young. She was too flighty, with too much of a need to get outdoors into the open air. But the sheep, and later the alpaca, loved her as she loved them, and no animal ever got sick on the farm with their little mistress to care for them.
Rachael settled into the community bit by bit, until only an occasional reminder that she was an ‘outsider’ popped up. Eventually, none at all. Her friendships with Donal and Sinead stayed strong, while her relationship with Tomas grew to something more, until he rented out his house in the village, and moved in to the farm, a perfect location for his writing. Eventually, another child was added to the family, and life seemed perfect.  

As the weather warmed, Rachael decided to take her baby daughter up for one last serious talk at the fairy ring. For the first time, she was careful not to step inside it. She slid a saucer of milk to its edge. ‘Thanks’. She said. ‘Thanks for my future. You have given me more than you could ever know. We are good now. We don’t need any more help. At all. There’s many who have suggested this farm would be a fantastic caravan park, easier money than farming. We could put the toilet and shower block right here on this spot. You know, if there ended up being any meddling, or that. Or. Or, if things can stay quiet, if there is no interference, we can stay here and love this land, and protect it, and ensure this fairy circle is never disturbed. We will always protect you, but we don’t need your help.’

And Rachael started to feel a bit sleepy, as if laying down to have a nap would be wonderful, but she was too smart for that now, and strode back to the house with her daughter, for a busy day of work. 

By Ciara

I learned to knit as a young child, and came to crochet much later in life when I could no longer knit. Sharing the joy of crochet with sustainability and slow fashion in mind is a passion

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