When the pipes were calling

White rocks (c) Fred T.

Barbara Marsh is a playwright and author.

We first met Barbara when she submitted Stowaway for #LIF2020, a play about an Irish woman stowing away on a ship bound for America, hungry for and needing of a new life. She has a new play coming to the Northwest soon, Babylon Besieged, that we encourage you to keep an eye out for.  Barbara’s work always seems to involve a yearning; here she spins us an Irish coastal yarn…

When the Pipes were calling


The music’s stopped now. I don’t know why. I’d been hearing it for about a year. And so had Paddy.

We’d be walking on the beach and as soon as we turned off up the cliff path towards White Rocks Waterfall, we’d hear it. Starting high and calling, calling, the pipes, on and on…

Crying, sad, luring us up, up the rocky path and echoing back across the green, cold white tipped waves below and behind us. Paddy could hear it, too. As soon as it started, he would stop, prick up his ears and start loping along
the path faster, with me puffing behind, trying to keep up with him. Most of the time he was my only friend and companion, Paddy. Together -in this land so new to me- so breathtakingly beautiful; by the sea, with its rows of pink and blue painted cottages and its emerald fields, rolling back beyond, dotted with a few whitewashed farmhouses.

Dermot got Paddy for me when Paddy was just a puppy, as company, because Dermot had to be away -working on the rigs- a lot of the time. He was making good money and I just lived for the times when he was back home. After all, I loved him so much, I had chosen to come to live with him here in this land of his birth, which he would never forsake.

The first time I heard the pipes I thought they must be putting on a turn at the little stone café, nestled on the grassy verge, by the rocks at the top of the waterfall. It was a dusky, cool evening with a little breeze dancing playfully over the glittering, falling water. Just time to grab a coffee before night fell and I had to plunge back to the beach below to the sheltering, pink painted walls of our cosy cottage. Only there was no turn. Just a few fishermen swapping yarns over the chips and fish (that they’d probably supplied) and a couple of tourists trying out some seaweed speciality. But no music.


Yet it happened each time Paddy and me took the steep, rocky climb to the café at the top of White Rocks Waterfall. And every time, Paddy lay at my feet, underneath one of the little tables outside; always with his ears pricked, staring up at the highest white rock, shining almost silver in the fading light of day.

Eventually, after a few visits (when I’d got to know him better), I plucked up courage to ask Shamus, the old proprietor, what he thought Paddy was looking at. He gazed consideringly at Paddy. “Ah, well now”, he said, stroking his beard reflectively with a weather-beaten hand. “Mebbe he’s been here before”, and turned away and would say no more.

I remained uneasy about Paddy and the pipes. So, when I began to hear the music outside our cottage walls and observed Paddy gazing longingly across the bay towards the White Rocks -his brown eyes glowing fervently- the unease turned to fear.

One day, the music grew louder and Paddy ran down to the water’s edge; barking and wagging his tail madly, as though there was someone standing there. I’d had enough. I phoned Dermot and summoned him home. I told him we’d have to leave.

So, then he confessed he could hear the music, too, and quite a few other people did – all up at White Rocks though, never at our cottage.

“It’s Aileen O’Hanlon” he explained. “Wonderful woman piper in these parts. Sometimes held a session at the White Rocks café. Drowned, poor soul, in that stretch of sea water below the Rocks. Went in after her dog; got into difficulties it had. Irish terrier like our Paddy. Probably got hers from the same breeder, over in Ballyblane. Both lost – and her so talented. She’s just a sad spirit so she is. She means no harm to anyone. It’s just Paddy can see her. And it’s an honour to the house to be having her”.

And we went on hearing Aileen’s music, me and Paddy, after Dermot had gone back to the rigs. I got used to it and it was very beautiful really.