Davy Donovan appeared in my front yard three days later. I had called his house while
the poachers were still on the riverbank, naively assuming he would be available
immediately. Over time, I found that 'immediately' was not a popular word in agencies
of the Irish State, they much preferred the 'as soon as possible' timescale. His wife,
Brenda, had answered the phone. I explained my situation and told her that I was in
rather a hurry to see him. Brenda apologized and said he was out at sea with the Navy
checking the fishing boats, but she would be sure to send him over as soon as he got
back. She was as good as her word, and that morning her husband stood before me still
in his naval overalls. Through the open window of his car I could see a yellow lifejacket
slung over the back seat. The familiar aroma of seawater, rusty metal and a hint of
marine diesel oil hung in the air. It was not unpleasant, just unexpected so far from the
"Mr. O'Neill?- David Donovan, fisheries inspector" he said flashing a yellow ID card that
was so crumpled and bleached by repeated immersions in sea water, it was almost
"The missus tells me ye've a problem on the river?"
"Indeed I do Mr. Donovan, thank you for coming so quickly" I said as I extended my
hand to welcome him. He stiffened and retracted his own outstretched hand slightly,
then stared me hard in the eyes,
"I came as soon as I could, tis not easy answering the phone when you're nine miles out
to sea, chasing poachers with the Navy. They don't just drop you off home at five every
evening for your dinner y'know." I realized that he had taken my words of welcome as
being a touch sarcastic, so I reached out and grabbed his wavering hand, shaking it
sincerely and thanking him again for coming straight from his sea duties to see me. He
relaxed, and returned my welcome with a smile. Something I was later to discover was
quite a rare event, as Mr. Donovan wasn't given to smiling all that frequently.
"Call me Davy", he said,
And I'm Dan, " I said, relieved that he wasn't offended.. I looked Davy up and down and
was reminded of a fearsome farmyard terrier. He was about five foot six or seven,
heavily built, and despite his bulky sea clothes, it was obvious he was a tremendously
strong individual. His face was as craggy as any cliff on the west coast of Ireland, no
doubt due in part to the smoke from the constant cigarette he had wedged in the corner
of his mouth. Both of his cheeks were also covered with some very nasty old burn
scarring that I assumed he must have received from a childhood accident. His small,
hooded blue eyes confirmed my impression of a stubborn, tenacious character. Davy
had a full head of gray, wavy hair. He regularly brushed it back from his face like an
ancient lion's mane, with a small brown comb he kept clipped to his belt in a little plastic
sheath. It was the only evidence I ever saw that he was at all concerned with his
physical appearance. Despite his forbidding exterior, I somehow knew that we would
get on well, in fact Davy was to become one of the best friends I had during the years I
spent in Clifford.
"Right then, let's get a look at the river and see if there's any hope for ye at all" said
Davy, pulling off his sea boots and throwing them into the back of his car. He eased on
a pair of green rubber thigh boots which I could see were several sizes smaller than the
sea boots. My curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask why the discrepancy in
"Well now Dan, I wear the big boots at sea because I don't swim, and if I'm caught on a
little fishing boat that goes down in the middle of a storm, I don't want to be hangin
around for an hour or two waitin' to drown. Better to have a good weight on your feet
and go down quickly" I had heard that many Irish fishermen deliberately didn't learn to
swim as they felt same way Davy did, but it was the first time I had ever seen the story
"But what about the Navy, or the Coastguard I stammered, "won't they save you..?"
Davy lit another cigarette, inhaled heavily and said, "Sure, God bless us, it takes an
ambulance an hour to get anywhere in this bloody country, how long d'ye think ye'd be
waiting for a boat to find ye at sea..? No, no, quickly and quietly that's the way, just
enough time for an 'act of confession' and a 'Hail Mary' or two and it's all over."
Momentarily alone with my thoughts, I looked up at the morning sun, it's light so filtered
by layers of thin milky cloud that there was neither warmth, or comfort to be had from it
and I shuddered at the prospect of such a lonely death at sea. I returned from my
disturbing daydream to find Davy had set off for the river bank without me, and I hurried
"Is this where they were fishing?" said Davy, crouching down to examine the flattened
grass where my encounter with the man with the baton had taken place. I confirmed it
"He had a good day's fishing out of ye anyway" Davy muttered. He stood up and
extended his hand towards me. There were about a dozen silver fish scales dotted
across his tough leathery palm, looking like a glittering constellation of tiny stars set in a
"About a ten or twelve pound salmon I reckon, enough to keep him in booze and
smokes for the weekend at least." he said.
"What about the other two" I asked, brushing a particularly relentless fly away from my
"Doesn't look like they had any luck" he replied. "Mind you, that doesn't mean they
didn't catch anything, if they didn't clean the fish, there wouldn't be much of a trace
"They were a pretty rough looking bunch" I mumbled as I kicked idly at the blackened
remains of a fire the poachers had lit.
"That fire was to dry out their clothes before they went back to the city" said Davy
casually as he turned over the ashes with a long stick the intruders had cut, but not
"Wet wood" Davy sniffed, "Jaysus! the smoke that must have made, their clothes would
be stinking. Not that a small thing like that would bother the likes of them."
"You know who they are then?" I asked as I skimmed a flat stone across the oily,
smooth surface of the river. Davy picked up a handful of stones and joined me.
"I'd say by the sound of it, twas the Flynns from the north side of the city." he said,
Oho!, they are nice 'buckos', especially Mikey Flynn, the oul fella that you were talkin to.
He'd hit you a clatter with that stick of his as soon as look at ye. That was his son and
grandson with him. Those two are harmless enough, but if 'himself' had drink on him, ye
might have had a fight on yer hands boy." He raised his fists and struck a boxing pose
to demonstrate. I thought back to the confrontation with the old man, and the ease with
which he handled the baton.
"Have you dealt with them before?" I asked, almost certain of the answer before it came.
Davy chuckled and coughed as he spoke, screwing up his face as he lit yet another
cigarette from the one in his mouth.
"Ach, he's one of my best customers you might say. I send him to court four or five
times a year for poaching. Always the same charge, always the same fine and he's
back on the river in a couple of days. Sure he knows the law better than meself"
We fell silent, as a large gray heron strode imperiously across the river just a few feet
from where we stood. He spotted us and froze as if turned to stone. After a
moment or two, he tucked his neck tight into his breast in an attitude of cautious
defiance and continued on his journey. His piercing eyes remaining fixed on us as his
long, pale yellow legs felt their way across the muddy river bed and out of sight behind
the small group of islands that lay in the middle of the river.
"That feathered bastard is the biggest poacher on the river, and he doesn't even need a
fishing rod, let alone a permit" Davy chuckled. breaking the breathless silence as the
Heron vanished from sight. I felt as if Davy was waiting for me to say something, so I
"Well we know who they are, so what do we do now?" Davy was ready with his answer.
"You need a Ghillie Dan, and quickly. Those lads won't be so easy to get rid of if you
leave it too long, and ye can't ignore them. You've some valuable salmon spawning
beds right here in front of us. Those 'gurriers' will destroy everything with their drag
nets,and the breeding fish will disappear entirely if it's not dealt with ."
The prospect of open warfare in my front yard loomed ever larger, and my heart sank.
The distress must have been clearly visible on my face because Davy nudged me with
his elbow and flashed me another of his rarely seen smiles saying,
"Don't worry Dan, I've just the man for ye"
"Who is it " I asked tentatively.
"My brother Patsy. Oh, he'll put manners on them boys alright, indeed he will." he
said as he turned back towards the house, slashing at the tall shiny weeds along the
path with a stick, and whistling as he went.