If you love the attraction of a powerful story — wrapped around a dramatic setting, you will have to allow this picture to nudge you off the starting line. As if a door were suddenly left ajar into some world unseen before, allow yourself to drift back in time to the years of nostalgia.
The morning fog had finally lifted. The raging surf was like the advancing lines of an unknown enemy, endlessly flinging itself upon the shoreline. Her lonesome figure stood precariously… barely inches from the spikey grassed edge. Doreen McCumhail, whose dark hair and dark eyes were thought to be descendant traits from the Spanish Armada crews of the mid-1500s, had trekked the well-worn trail known as the Doolin Cliff Walk and been to the top of O’Brien’s Tower on numerous occasions with her father, Dermott. She’d walked with him from the Cliffs of Moher’s most southern point at Hag’s Head, every step of the eighteen kilometres to see the giant stalactite in Doolin Cave where the rockface descends seaward. Soaring to 214 metres at their peak, at the Burren Region, the etched stone cliff face reaches its long fingers southward to counties Cork and Kerry beyond. The girl’s keen eyes had often spotted the Aran Islands in Galway Bay to the north. She’d travelled all the way to Malin Head at the very northern tip of Ireland’s Inishowen Peninsula, in County Donegal, and visited as far south to the safe haven of Kinsale Harbour in the very southern region.
In the dead of a cold Irish winter, late in December, the wind-whipped sea spray fills the air with the invigorating freshness off this rugged east coast. It has been this way for millions of years with nature’s slow carve sculpting the future. The Wild Atlantic Way is a sensational, winding, 2,750-kilometre journey of soaring cliffs and buzzing towns. It boasts a feast of hidden beaches and epic bays smattered with wildlife; like chattering kittiwakes, Atlantic puffins, and if you’re fortunate enough, even an elusive peregrine falcon. During modern times you can drive its full length. Many, like Doreen, trek across the clifftop, the edges peaking slightly upwards like the crests of the haunting waves that roll endlessly below. Eyes cast out to sea, would find it hard not to feel as though you were braving the ocean from the prow of a magnificent ship. It was along this stretch of the south-western Irish coast, at the dramatic Cliffs of Moher, that Doreen McCumhail from Kilshanny, County Clare had ridden her bicycle to the base of O’Brien’s Tower. It stands just to the north of the cliff’s halfway mark. Constructed in 1835, this round stone tower captures the staggering beauty of the views from the top of a jutting angular sheer face.
Now at eighteen years of age, the pretty and shapely lass had refused the flirtatious invitations of almost every boy in Kilshanny — waiting for Mr Right to stray her way. It was nearly Christmas 1965, at a time when the influence of Britain’s rock invasion had grasped the world firmly. Young Miss McCumhail wore her raven-coloured hair in a tall bouffant and her panda-style eye makeup enhanced her already large eyes. The morning’s brisk cutting wind would deter many from the view; the way she liked it. Requiring a doubled silk scarf to protect her locks, and a matching chequered twill-woven gabardine skirt and coat, she gazed through a dream. Here, she could face the white-water of the ocean waves and contemplate her future. At Doolin village, the music capital of Ireland, her sweet voice had proven popular with the squeezebox and fiddle players, so much so, that she aspired to become part of the mushrooming ’60s pop culture.
Transfixed, Doreen never noticed a stranger approaching from the south. With both hands thrust deeply into his trouser pockets and brandishing a strong swaying stride, came a whistling twenty-one-year-old man from Ennis. This medium town was on the Fergus estuary of the famous Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. His name was Deaghlan O’Brien and he worked as a carpenter. Today, which was Wednesday, was his monthly day off. He and his boss were adding an extension to the O’Cléirigh’s pub at Lisdoonvarna, an hour’s stroll away. Confident by nature, but far from confident about the height of the drop, Deaghlan called out to her to encourage her attention. “Aye, miss! If you just aren’t the loveliest thing I’ve seen since I was but a boyeen. And just pray tell me, what would a fine young lass, as pretty as yourself, be a-wantin’… so close to that terrifying edge?”
Doreen turned to match the face to the voice she had just heard. “And… what business of yours might it be, where I do stand?” She clearly took notice of his rugged good looks with a smile wider than the proverbial Emerald Isle itself.
He froze in his tracks about twenty metres from her and removed his cloth cap. “Why, b’ Jesus, you are even prettier from the front! M’ name is Deaghlan O’Brien… What name might ya go by? Please be careful, miss. Are you from close-by these parts?”
“Yes, I’m a local girl, from Kilshanny, no less. I’m not a bit afraid,” she laughed, noticing his angst. “My father and I would flirt with the very edge, when I was barely a three-year-old! Why should I tell you m’ name, at any rate?”
The wind buffeted her from behind. She fought to keep her hair in place.
Deaghlan inched toward her. “Please, you’re puttin’ the willies up me, b’ Jesus. Come away, before the wind changes and takes you from me, forever!”
“I might be a-wantin’ to jump for all you know, Deaghlan O’Brien! Next up, ya’l be tellin’ me you’re a long-lost relation of Sir Cornelius, the man responsible for buildin’ this monstrosity!” Her smile grew larger than his, and with it her face lit up the beaten pathway between them.
“To be sure… I am just that. He’s me father’s great, great, oh… I dunno how many times, grandfather. And show some respect, will ya?”
“Well, my name is Doreen McCumhail, from Kilshanny and I’m on me way to becomin’ a pop star, no less. So, how d’you like that? You may be a handsome specimen, Deaghlan O’Brien, but when it comes to risk with gals and cliff faces, I’m bettin’ you are a fraidy-cat!”
“As sure as the mood strikes, I’ll come an’ spank your cheeky backside!”
“Oh, will ya now? Well, you’ll have to catch me first… I’ll also be bettin’ that you’d be far too slow!” Doreen leapt onto her bicycle — parked leaning on a weathered fence surrounding the tower and pushed hard on the pedals. She untied her scarf and let it go with a burst of laughter. Deaghlan caught it in the wind, stalling him a second as he watched her withdraw the combs holding her bouffant hairstyle in place. They landed on the path. At once, she flicked her waist-length black tresses and looked back over her shoulder. “Return them if you catch me!”
He scooped up the pink combs and broke into a full stride. “Aye… you’re a sassy minx worth a-chasin’. I’ll teach you a lesson in humility, Doreen McCumhail from Kilshanny!”
Doreen pedalled with everything she had, leaving him pounding in her wake. He ran like a deer along the undulating path as it ventured alongside the drop. The girl on the bicycle shrank further and further into the distance. As he gradually gave her up as a lively memory lost forever, the young carpenter puffed his way back to a jog, then back to a walk. Doreen disappeared over a distant hill.
A struggling sun peeped its way from behind the winter clouds lifting Deaghlan’s lost spirits. His heart had been warmed by his brief encounter, but he had little, other than a silk scarf and four combs to show for it; they remained stuffed, one in either side, in his trouser pockets. His fingers twiddling the soft material on the left and plucking the springy teeth on the right. He’d returned to the tune he had been whistling twenty minutes ago as a stranger passed by…
It was an aging man who raised his hat, saying, “The top of the mornin’ to ya, m’ boy.”
Deaghlan tipped his cloth cap, replying, “And the remainder o’ the day ta yourself.”
“A fine day to be a-findin’ true love!” sparked the man’s character-filled face, perhaps noticing the glow in the much younger man’s eyes. “Ya be an O’Brien if ever I saw one, that be for sure!”
O’Brien nodded the plaudit, keeping his eyes on the trail, knowing his chance had gone begging. What if he had said something different? What if he had displayed more courage to her? After all, women did like to be saved — even when they weren’t in danger. His mind pondered the ifs buts and maybes, as his sightline ventured towards the horizon. Something he suddenly noticed was how close to the precipice he was strolling, almost as if the girl from Kilshanny had unlocked his fear of heights. At least something good had come of it. Usually, when walking this route if heading north he would always stay well to the righthand side, and consequently, when heading south, he would remain strategically far to the left. Deaglan wandered up the hill he had last seen her disappear over — eyes confidently out to sea. He rounded a bend adjacent to an ancient derelict stone Viking cottage wall, one of the dozens strewn throughout his homeland.
She sprang from behind the wall…
“Boo!” she taunted, grabbing him from behind with her hands barely reaching around his broad shoulders. “So, the old man never gave me hidin’ spot away then?”
He flexed rigid, startled face staring over the escarpment. All he could see was the violent waves crashing over the boulders below. Deaghlan’s abandoned fear had swiftly returned. “The devil be in you, young gal! He never said a word of ya. Y’ feisty beag vixen!”
Junoesque Doreen released him, pulling him around and planting a succulent bullseye kiss square on his lips. She laughed, saying, “Better teach me some manners, hadn’t ya?” She kissed him even harder and then dashed behind the stone wall and sat on the grass. “I’ll have m’ scarf and combs back then. But there’s no spanking, because you didn’t catch me now. Did you?”
Deaghlan had been completely swallowed by her high-spirited nature, which tailed in the vortex of her innocent Irish beauty. He fell helplessly by her side. Their eyes affixed upon each other’s as if it was always meant to be. He held her face with both hands feeling for her honesty and reaching for her soul. Again they kissed, both were in total disbelief of the other’s chemistry, then leaned on the billion-year-old stones. From their wind-shielded position, the pair gazed out over the blue-green Atlantic waterbody, which appeared as endless as time itself.
He handed back her belongings, uttering, “This is sheer madness… You have stolen m’ heart, in no time lassie. To be sure, I think I love you! Shenanigans and all.”
“I’ve waited a long time for you t’ come along, Mr O’Brien. Ya shan’t be lettin’ me down now. Can ye be counted on?”
“For sure, I’m the most trustworthy fella you’re ever likely t’ meet. Let’s come back ’ere again and again. I love it! We’ll call this our secret li’l meetin’ place, and not tell anyone else about it. Will ya marry me, already? I’m practically beggin’ ya, Doreen McCumhail.”
“I’ll have to think about that, now. Will ya come ta meet me Father? How far were ya plannin’ on walkin’ t’day?”
He stood up and reached for her hand to pull her up. “I’ll walk t’ the end of the Earth for your love. If that’s what it takes… Now, show me the way!”
The couple were married at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilshanny, the following March. It was a small intimate family and close friend’s affair. Doreen’s three older sisters, Mary, Clodagh, and Caitlin were her bridesmaids. Her father, Dermott, proudly gave her away. Deaghlan’s brother Sean and sister Laugemoran represented his side because, sadly their parents had been taken in a freak boating accident four years previously. His mates, Chris, Cabhan, Cairan, and Conlaoch, from the fledgeling band The Misty Irish C’s played a mixture of pop and traditional, whilst Doreen adlibbed the words. The whisky flowed and the dance went all night.
They rented a small house In Ennis where the carpenter had many contacts — soon forming a truly grounded relationship. Bolstered by Deaghlan’s sure-footedness and kept laughing with Doreen’s feisty sense of humour, a lifetime brimful of over-indulgent love sprawled like a venturesome road before them. Many evenings were spent sharing tales on the front porch with a glass of Irish whisky, Deaghlan plonked in his only family heirloom from Sir Cornelius; an ancient Victorian iron-backed chair, and Doreen in her grandfather’s mahogany Rococo chair.
The couple matured with the passing years refraining from children, by choice of Doreen, who never gave up on her dream to sing professionally. By the mid-1970s, still without her big break, the forthright woman began to lose faith in her ability to ever reach the big time. She had taken a job in Limerick as a shop assistant. Deaghlan consoled his lover by working harder at his family carpentry business, which had flourished in the country’s mini-boom. The Misty Irish C’s had made several records and always invited them to any gigs around the country, but it wasn’t the same. He kept his word by taking her for frequent walks along the Cliffs of Moher where they would reminisce about their unexpected meeting, which all seemed so long ago now. Every time they reached the old stone wall, they would stop and clown around, just as they did almost ten years ago.
During the spring of 1978, the now thirty-year-old Doreen met a man from Liverpool, England, who happened to venture into the perfumery where she worked. He browsed the shelves and heard her singing behind the counter.
“Beautiful voice you have there, miss. Are you a professional?”
“Oh, how I wish,” she said, turning to meet the customer. The 60s panda eye makeup had long-since vanished, but her big dark expression-filled eyes still retained the allure which had captured Deaghlan. “I’ve always wanted to be — but so far, no such luck. I’d do practically anythin’ to break through! So, what ya be interested in?”
The European man, in his forties, wore a sharp suit highlighted by snakeskin ankle boots. He had a moustache and long wavy hair. An unnecessary pair of large sunglasses were perched on his hairline. “Now you’ve really caught my interest in more than the fragrance I came in for,” he said in an Anglo-Spanish accent. “My name is Marlowe Johnroshe, I’m a music producer from the Merseyside. How would you like to do us both a big favour?”
She spread her hands apart on the counter, leaning in his direction. “Do go on!” Doreen’s plunging vee neckline was doing far more than barrack for her singing prowess.
“Firstly, a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent Opium, largest one you have.” Marlowe retrieved his wallet producing a business card and several hundred Irish pounds, all in twenties.
“Spray or splash on?”
“Let’s try the splash on, shall we?”
Doreen scavenged about for the popular scent and placed it on the countertop. “Who be this for, Mr Johnroshe? She’s a lucky gal in anyone’s language.”
“My sister… She won’t wear anything else. And secondly, take this card — if you want to try out at the Dublin Music Festival. I’m searching for something I believe you have. That is why I am here. Give me a call if you think you might be interested. Tomorrow would be fine. I can drive you everywhere.” His eyes swam outside to where a silver Aston Martin sat waiting. “Keep all the change. Let’s just call it the down payment of my investment, shall we?”
“You’d be jokin’ of course, Mr Johnroshe. You’ve barely heard a tune from me. I can’t possibly accept this!” She gawked at the crisp banknotes — then fell as silent as the sheeted dead. Inside her head, the imaginary wheels of success turned faster than she could cope with.
“Heard enough to know… and it’s Marlowe. I’m deadly serious miss, eh?”
She fanned the cash like a hand of cards. “Just call me Doreen. I may be in touch.”
He left her with a quizzing smile…
Doreen O’Brien drove home that afternoon with her head in a cloud of showbiz mania. Her beloved Deaghlan was working late, as usual, to finish their house he’d started building at Lahinch, on Liscannor Bay, each day after work. He arrived on dusk. As the curtain of night fell upon her that evening, she said nothing to Deaghlan about the auditioning, in case she failed.
After two months of meeting Marlowe three times a week, Doreen’s attitude had changed. An air of importance exuded from her usually devil-may-care persona. Though she still sang around the place they were living at, on weekends, the songs sounded different from the ones he was used to. Still, she said nothing of her surprise. One month later, he began arriving home before her and it was often dark. One night he questioned her. “Aye, I got t’ be askin’ ya, love. What are ye up to these days? I’ve nearly finished the house, an’ ya haven’t visited it for over a month. Y’ seem very tired lately too. Are y’ workin’ a second job or simply losin’ interest in our dreams?”
Gone was the fire in her eyes — replaced by the tiredness of long days. She gave him a peck on the cheek and replied, “I’ve never stopped dreamin’ Deaghlan. Mine are perhaps a wee tad bigger than yours. I’ll be goin’ ta Dublin for a week or two soon. I can’t tell ya why though. I just need ya ta trust me, okay?”
His face, which stared back helpless, seemed as unflustered as fate. “Dublin, y’ say? And what’s so special goin’ on there that ya can’t share it with y’ husband?”
“Oh Deaghlan,” she eased in her rich County Clare accent, “remember what I told ya when we first met?”
“O’ course I remember! Ya drove me mad up there with y’ teasin’ and jokin’ around… on the top of Moher. I’ll never forget it, ta be sure. Damned changed me forever, woman!”
“Exactly, Deaghlan… people are a-changin’ regularly—”
He interjected, “B’ Jesus, I’m comin’ ta Dublin with ye!”
“No! This is something only I can take care of, me boy!”
An argument, the likes of which they had never encountered before, followed. For the first time in their marriage, they slept in separate rooms. In the morning, when he woke up to apologise, she was not there. He was left with no option other than to trust her words. A lonesome week slogged by. Then a phone call. Another week — another phone call. Doreen sounded fine and reassured him that all was okay, and she would be returning on Wednesday, in three days.
And return she did…
The couple moved into the house he had finally completed — however, something had drastically changed. The year that followed was an unpleasant metamorphosis by comparison to the previous twelve harmonious ones. Devoted Deaghlan felt as if he was negotiating an unpredictable roller-coaster ride. Her mood swings increased by the equivalent level that her laughter decreased. He began to feel quite ill, simply putting it down to the stress of their situation. Often distant to him, she began dressing in expensive labels and had changed her perfume from his favourite; Diorella by Dior to Yves Saint Laurent Opium. Their walks along the trail above the Cliffs of Moher diluted to once every three months. He started doing the trek alone, enraged by the feeling of being there without her. Deaghlan grew suspicious and decided to follow her to work. He waited across the street in the cosy coffee shop owned by his mate Conlaoch O’Toole, bass guitarist with The Misty Irish C’s. At 10:35 am, he heard the little bell above the shop door ringing. Deaghlan stared across the rim of his mug, as a bearded debonair gentleman with long hair entered the perfumery. His heart fell into a world of pain when he saw their hands clasping across the counter through the big glass window. Doreen had no idea that she had caused it.
He whispered into the cup, “Holy Motter o’ God, I just hope he’s a relation or somethin’, that’s all.” Deaghlan masked his face with the mug to watch them leaving together. Her beaming smile was the very one which he hadn’t seen for quite some time. Doreen’s laughter made him feel sicker than he’d been before. He left the coffee shop with his heart dragging along the ground behind him. Marlowe Johnroshe was no more a music producer than he was the country’s Prime Minister; he had made a fortune from selling cocaine to rock bands. He was, however, a master of seduction whose charming words and spoils of cash had quickly poisoned her honour. Foolish Doreen had become entangled in his web of duplicity, and she’d sampled more than just his wares of white powder. Her involvement with him had cast the loyal affections of Deaghlan aside like a worn-out pair of shoes.
The burly husband said nothing when they met that evening, because he loved her so much that he couldn’t risk losing her. He went about his business as though nothing was wrong, mindful of keeping a watchful eye on her every move. He desperately wanted to confront the philandering pair but hoped it would soon be over and he would get her back. A month later he fell very ill forcing a visit to his doctor.
“Somehow you are slowly being poisoned by potassium chloride, Deaghlan. The blood tests I have had done on you are showing this almost undetectable increase in your levels,” remarked the brilliant American physician, with a look of unbridled concern. “Who on Earth would want to do something like that?”
“Must be just m’ own stupid self that done it. I’ve been crook recently, so I upped the ante of m’ dosage,” he replied, “I’ll be more careful from now on, Doc!” Knowing that divorce for staunch Catholics was out of the question, he now feared the real truth…
Deaghlan watched his food and drink intake over the next month and began to recover but acted as though he was ill. He noticed the fuss Doreen had been making of him lately and accepted the attention. Still, he said nothing…
On a glorious Saturday summer morning during July 1979, Doreen mentioned that she had to work. Apparently, a new fragrance line from a recently established manufacturer, Renzo Rosso was being instated at the shop and she had to set up the display. Deaghlan waved good-bye, saying he needed to finish a job up in Abbeyknockmoy in Galway, anyway. He told her he would have a surprise meal prepared for her return. They kissed. He drove straight up to the ancient village to paint the customer’s new walls and collect his money. By 2:30 pm he was on his way back and decided to encompass the view from the Doolin Cliff Walk, since it was such a clear day. As usual, Deaghlan tipped his cap to the odd passer-by wishing them a grand day. He observed a pair of peregrine falcons plummeting towards the Atlantic at blinding speed, each seizing an unsuspecting pigeon in mid-flight and flying off. In the distance, his keen eyes caught sight of the little stone ruins of the Viking cottage, and his heart skipped a beat. The sea breeze was minimal, and so, he decided to pay it a visit. Despite his troublesome marriage, with such a fine day surrounding him and a pocket replete with cash, and having just witnessed nature in its rawest, he felt good about life. Keeping well away from the edge, as always, Deaghlan drew closer to the crest of the hill — clear was the stone wall. A smile found its way to his face.
Then the unexpected happened…
As he approached, the distinct sounds of laughter invaded his ears. It was her laugh. His mind catapulted back nearly fourteen years, to when Doreen burst from behind the overlapping-stone structure. His smile sank to a scowl at the sight of Marlowe grasping for her waistline. They sauntered onto the pathway and kissed. They hadn’t seen him. Seeing it right here, in blatant dishonest view, a knife of deceitful shame pierced his heart. Deaghlan saw his love disappear as swiftly as the glint of light does on a turning sword. His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay. A voice angrier than the North Atlantic waves shouted, “Aye, I be right the first time around, weren’t I? The devil be in you, young gal!” Deaghlan launched toward their embrace, stopping short because they were near the extremity. “What the hell a’ ya thinkin’? I know all ‘bout ya tryin’ ta poison me! These cliffs were ours! For t’ love o’ Mary, I’m wishin’ I’d never stepped foot up here in me life. It’s drivin’ me stark ravin’ crazy!”
Doreen spun around in Marlowe’s arms. It was impossible to conceal her guilt. She had her full lips pressed silently together. She had her thick black hair free in the gentle breeze and, as always, those piercing eyes, as deeply dark — as are the desert skies. Suddenly, she broke into a Delilah laugh right at his hurting face. In an act of malice, she stroked her fingers through Johnroshe’s hair.
“Who are you?” uttered the brazen Marlowe. Deaghlan did not answer.
“Why lover,” Doreen grinned, “he was m’ husband, once!” She kissed Marlowe briefly, then added, “Ya don’t have to be too concerned, not only is he nearly dead — but the scaredy-cat is terrified of the Moher’s sensational abyss!” She enlarged her eyes. “Boo!”
Within a second, O’Brien stepped forward, placing his strong hands against the pair and shoved them mercilessly over the edge. Their screams vanished into the breaking whitecaps. He stood inches from the cliff face, without fear and quietly said, “Aye, ta be sure, darlin’ — sheer madness. It seems like ya cured me.” Nobody saw them falling…