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The first in a series of Commentary based on our continuing attempts to navigate life on the planet that is rural Ireland.


The new gate sweeps up to an arc in the middle then sweeps down on the other side. It is rustic. The salvaged wood is green with preservative. The paint will come next. A deep blue or something to merge with the sky. To make it look bigger, more imposing.

They can’t see into the garden very easily now. One of them passes slowly. We’ve heard that he recently had some kind of procedure. I’m sure he has convinced himself that he isn’t able to walk any faster; he could bust a stitch. This gives him an opportunity to stare as he passes; strained neck, open mouth, eyeball in the back of his throat like surveillance.

The others stop and talk outside the gate and we know what it means. The compound. The blow-ins have walled themselves off like an apocalypse. They meet at the top of the road, the gang of haggard road warriors. Standing in a circle. A secret society ritual followed by a game of cards in one of their homes where ‘the woman’ has made thin ham sandwiches and pots of weak tea.

Inside the house I say to him, ‘we should charge admission. Or a lookers fee at least’.

He laughs but it isn’t really a laugh. It’s more a staccato sigh.

‘We’d make a fortune.’

He pours water on top of the tea bag he used this morning. We haven’t been out for four days and supplies are running low.

The gate, which no one can climb the way they used to climb the cattle gate, is popular. It carries the weight of assumptions. The idle chatter of idle minds like a flu on the brain.

‘We should charge admission and sign autographs,’ I decide.

The cottage is cold so I open the small window in the kitchen. These old country houses. You have to ventilate them.

‘Well,’ he says, ‘we are famous so that makes sense.’

‘The blow-ins from Canada.’

‘The computer repair people from Roscommon.’

They never got it right. They never bothered to ask. Making it up, telling a tale. In the rural part of the country, information is currency. Power. So it doesn’t matter what the story is. It doesn’t matter if it’s true. As long as they have a story to pass, their account in the bank of gossip grows as fat and rich as the land they farm.

I list on my fingers.

‘Ok. So we’re going to charge admission. Sign autographs. What else?’

He places his cup in the Belfast sink. I love this sink. It was one of the things that sold me on the house.

‘I know,’ he says. ‘We should hang our underwear on the gate.’

‘That would definitely make for stimulating pub conversation.’

The farmers could tell their cattle, their sheep, but not their wives. Never the wives.

A car slows down but thankfully doesn’t stop outside. I remember last year all the cars slowing down when the gate men were here. The new gate caused a stir, a controversy. A hush-hush squinting window tale for cold winter nights by the fire.

‘Compound’ (c) 2022 Deborah McMenamy

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