Monday, September 7, 2020

Chinks in Time

The little field to the south-east of the lake, where the boreen around it meets the road, is called Garrai Wilson; a garrai is a "garden", which in Aran means a potato- or a vegetable-plot. . . . As for Wilson, nobody remembers who he was, but in the census of 1821 I found:

Robert Wilson, half-pay Lieutenant; Royal Marines, age 36, Head Lightkeeper

Ann, his wife, age 30

Robert, his son, age 5

Ann, his daughter, age 3

Eliza, his daughter, age 1

In those days the only lighthouse was above Eochaill on the highest point of the island, whence its ruins still look down toward the lake. Wilson must have leased this garden to grow vegetables for himself and that young family living up there on the windy skyline in the disused signal tower by the lighthouse. Why was he retired on half pay? Perhaps he had a stiff knee which he allowed to be understood had a Napoleonic bullet lodged in it, but which in fact he broke by tripping over a bollard in Plymouth docks while turning round to look after a passing shop-girl, Ann. I picture him in this field, paunchy, grunting, puzzling ineffectually with his spade of unfamiliar design at the shallow stony soil of Aran. He straightens up, putting his knuckles to his spine, and sees through the reeds a heron swallowing an eel. He stands there open-mouthed, long-dead Lieutenant Wilson, keeper of the long-extinguished light, never suspecting that we are watching him through words, those chinks in time. 

– Tim Robinson, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (1986)

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