LACKENDARA by Tom O’Brien
You heard the voices too
At Passchendaele where you
Cowered as the big guns
Bombarded your world to silence
Blasted your thoughts to kingdom come
And left you forlorn
On that ragged outcrop
In the foothills of the Comeraghs
The fox and the curlew your only companions
The gurgling Mahon Falls
All there was to quench your thirst.
For thirty years you trod those hills
Taking little notice
Of ordinary life around you going on
Your presence on the mountain a constant reminder
Of mans’ inhumanity to man.
Jim Fitzgerald, ‘Lackendara’, with an unknown female.
Jim Fitzgerald, known as ‘Lackendara’, lived halfway up the Comeragh Mountains for over forty years. His home was a cave of sorts, with a roof comprised of bits of driftwood, stones and soil, and an entrance concealed by strips of hanging grain bags. A veteran of WW1, where he was said to have suffered shell-shock, he spent the remainder of his life in isolation in this rugged and unforgiving terrain in the foothills of the Comeraghs. He was known as a hermit, though he did venture down to the nearby village of Kilmacthomas every few weeks to collect and spend his pension on some essential groceries etc, but he never dwelt longer than was necessary, happy, it seems, to be back in the isolation of his Comeragh home, where sheep, foxes, and other wild animals were his only companions.
Jim Fitzgerald with Marcela Kirwan in 1955
The only time I ever saw him was in 1958, when a group of us were on a day’s trekking from the Technical College in Portlaw. We had cycled the 10 miles from the college to Mahon Falls, an amazing spot where the river mahon gurgled and rushed down the craggy rocks, before forming the river proper. We had spent most of the day climbing the mountain to get to Coumshingaun, a silent, eerie lake which was near the top, and to investigate Crotty’s Eye, a needle-like projection nearby, where the highwayman, Crotty, watched weary travellers negotiate a treacherous pass through the foothills, before way-laying them and robbing them of their money and valuables. Crotty was eventually hanged for his crimes in Waterford City.
On our way back down we saw Lackendara in the distance, heading for his ‘home’ which was nearby. He didn’t see us because there was a large boulder between us and he was pre-occupied with a fox, which had been following him. He stopped and gave it some food from a bag he was carrying, before patting it on the head and disappearing inside his cave. The fox finished eating then trotted in to the cave after him!
Lackendara died the following year, aged 68.