Lay of the Land
It's ironic that Travellers seem to spend less time stuck on mobile phones than the settled community - at least judging by the cheerful clan that descended on the riverbank in this country town some Sundays ago, a clatter of children running past teenagers on a bench with their heads bowed to their screens.
Their mothers sat on the grass, watching as their menfolk clambered into the river. More than one of them lost their flip-flops in the process, much to the amusement of all concerned. They reached the arches of the old stone bridge, where they stood poking the water with sticks. There was plenty of roaring and laughter, not least when someone did a full body tumble. Only a couple of fellows stayed on the path above, fishing rods set before them.
What were they doing, I wondered, until I decided I had better go over and find out. They told the children to let the lady pass, until they realised that I didn't want them to get out of my way but in fact was intent on getting in theirs. A child gave my leg a friendly smack as a man explained that they were "trying to get a trout, sure, but he's hiding under the rocks".
Did they tickle it? I asked, that random knowledge lodged in my head. They did, he replied, pointing to a fellow standing bent over in the river below, his eyes fixed on the water like a hungry heron. "You have to be patient and stay like that for about 20 minutes."
You could use any stick, three or four lads appearing as if from nowhere to show me the thin willows they were using, a fishing wire down one side ending in a hook, with an unfortunate worm dangling on it.
"Any rock in the shallows and a bit of sun on it," he told me, confirming that it was an old tradition. "It's faster than a fishing line."
Would he eat the catch? "I will," he smiled. How would he cook it? "With a bit of milk and mushroom sauce," he smiled again.
The human heron just misses a catch. "Ah, mammy!" lamented one. "Ah, daddy!" went another.
A young woman approached and started talking to me about the otter; "they'd bite you, wouldn't they?" We agreed that there seems to be fewer ducks this summer.
"It's a lovely spot," she said. "It's lovely further up for swimming." She nodded across the river. "You live in that house, don't you? You're there a long time. We see you sitting out."
She told me that they hail from Kilkenny city and haven't been here for a while because of the virus. "T'will never be the same, will it?"
"A good bottle of brandy will cure it!" a man piped up, and everyone laughed. She told me that she doesn't like "that Donald one".
I introduced myself before I leave. "Anne Marie," she answered.
Later, I watch her sitting on the riverbank, leaning affectionately into her husband and likewise staring at his mobile phone, their son draping his arms around them both. Later still they all leave, taking all their litter with them, leaving nothing behind but the echo of their laughter.