Una’s Story

It is the day after I died. I did not want to think about it. My parents were out making the arrangements for my funeral, so I asked my new friend, Úna, to tell me about here life at the farm.
“Tell me about the farm, Úna. When it was new and you were alive.”
She looked at me and the left side of her mouth twitched into the faintest hint of a smile.
“Conall and I were both from Drogheda, near Dublin. He dreamed of owning his own farm, but he was a second son. His older brother would inherit the family farm. He had no wish to enter a monastery – he wanted to be in control of his own destiny, and he wanted to have children.” She sat down across from me. 
“I don’t understand. Why would he become a monk? Did he like chanting? Couldn’t he just buy his own farm?”
“Chanting?” Úna tilted her head to one side.
“Mama, my mother, listens to these CDs all the time that have pictures of men in brown dresses on them. She told me they were monks and they lived in a monastery in Spain.” I tried to imitate their singing, but sounded more like a dog howling than a Gregorian chant.
Úna tried to fluff up some half dead flowers on the table. “No, he did not like to chant. In our day, the eldest son inherited everything: farm, livestock and any money. Sons who did not inherit often became monks so they could live in monasteries to have a meal and a bed to keep body and soul together. Iron-willed, or perhaps hard-headed, Conall was in life. Death hasn’t changed him much. Such qualities made him the favorite nephew of his bachelor uncle, Eoin O’Malley. As luck would have it, this uncle was also a merchant with a comfortable income. He owned a grand shop in Galway. Sold fine fabrics from around the world to them who could afford such things. When he died, he left Conall a small sum of money and a parcel of land.”
“You mean here, right?” I looked down at the battered old floor.
“Yes, this very farm.” When Úna smiled, she looked like an angel.
“What was it like back in those days?”
“We had only just married when Uncle Eoin passed, God rest him.” Úna leaned forward in her seat and put her elbows on the table. “For our honeymoon, we traveled west to see our inheritance. As we had to go through Galway anyway, we stopped at Bally Brit to watch the horse matches. What a sight it was, them tall horses racing around, jumping terrifying obstacles at top speed. I could hardly watch, but Conall loved it.” Her face went from sunny to mostly cloudy.
“‘Them horses, my dear, they know what they can do,’ he told me. ‘If they can’t go over the hedge, they’ll go through it.’”
“Even so, some few horses ended the match with broken legs or necks. I was glad enough when we left Bally Brit.”
I sat back in my chair, feeling disturbed. 
“Cleggan was the nearest town of any size at the time, and that’s where we were bound. We roomed an inn there while we surveyed our property. I fell in love with the sea cliffs. The sound of the ocean soothed to my soul.” She closed her eyes, as if she was listening for the sea. “Conall loved the mountains and bogs. He was desperate to have some Connemarra ponies, so he bought a brace of dun mares off his cousins, the Dermot O’Malley’s. Rugged little things those mares were, and oh so kind. Aine and Caera were like family. We loaded their creels with stones to clear the field and build the house and barn. But it was a dubious gift that Uncle Eoin had left us: a farm where nothing would grow. The ponies thrived, of course, but a few sheep and chickens were all that kept us from starvation.”
“Then why did you love this place? It sounds terrible,” I said.
 “Life was a struggle everywhere, and tis better to struggle on your own land than on someone else’s.”
“Conall and I had been husband and wife for a year and a half when I found I was with child.” The clouds lifted and the sun came back to her face. “We were so happy. Even the winter seemed less bleak. Spring came at last, but wouldn’t you know, so did the cholera. Conall had been giving me half his portion of food for the baby, and couldn’t keep up his strength. There was nothing I could do for him. I tried all the herbs and tinctures I knew, but nothing helped. He went first, and so fast. When he got up in the morning, he told me his stomach hurt. He was dead before nightfall. Me, I lingered for almost two days before I died.”