Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


Troubled Soul


The man walking towards me looked a bit different from most of the others I see on the canal. Usually it is couples, groups out running, or men walking a dog or a couple of dogs. It’s still a bit different to see a man under fifty walking alone. Maybe they think it’s not for them, they haven’t reached that stage yet or maybe they haven’t got the time. If I ever do see a man out alone either he is running, dressed head to toe in Lycra, or else he’s a troubled looking sort, out occupying his time, clearing his head, dealing with his demons.

This fellow was well-dressed in a padded, blue jacket, warm black scarf wrapped around his neck and a clean pair of jeans that ran into a comfortable looking pair of shoes. These were the giveaway. He wasn’t wearing runners or walking shoes, more the type you’d wear around town and the canal is that bit too far from town for you to wander onto it when out buying milk. No, this man looked the type who might be out for a pint, or as I thought when I saw him, out avoiding going for a pint. He was looking over my shoulder, beyond the immediate start of the walk, either judging how far he was going to go or, as it was getting dark, if he would even go at all. Sometimes these are the fellows best avoided, they could be the ones with the awkward questions or the ones difficult to walk away from when you start a conversation.

He continued to look over my shoulder as I walked towards him, looking around me even, trying to get a view along the bend of the canal. In his right hand he had a pair of black gloves, matching the scarf and he was slapping them off his left hand as he looked. I put Daisy on her lead again, readying her for the walk on the road. As I approached him he spoke, while still looking beyond me.

“Did you see an older man with a couple of terriers down there?” he asked.

I stopped beside him and looked back down the canal walk too.

“No, not that I can remember,” I answered, thinking that I hadn’t seen anyone with terriers but mentally double checking on who I had passed in case I was missing someone, “no definitely didn’t see a man with terriers and I walked down as far as the lock gates.”

“Oh, maybe I missed him so,” he said slightly disappointed, but yet with the air of a man who has learned to take life’s disappointments in his stride, when maybe he hadn’t in earlier years. I took a few steps to show I was moving on, continuing my walk home.

“Sure I’ll walk back along with you,” he said.

Was he making an excuse just to start a conversation so he could then walk with me? Was he someone who doesn’t know his social boundaries? I tend to attract all sorts and I love talking to anyone, hearing their story, but when they volunteer to walk with me it becomes something different, possibly a situation when I may need to come up with an excuse to get away from some poor troubled soul, which in turn will make me feel bad. Most times all is okay and a few minutes of chat is all that is wanted by both sides, but a stranger who wants to walk with you isn’t always welcome, as it can lead those awkward moments.

“Who were you looking for?” I asked, as often making the person come up with a name can often tell if they are genuine.

“Oh a neighbour of mine who walks his terriers here most days, Francie Murphy, from Stacks Villas. I like walking with him.”

“I know Francie,” I say, relieved that my man knew one of the regulars, “he’s definitely not down there as I would have stopped to say hello.”

Francie is a big man, probably in his sixties who walks his two terriers along the canal everyday and often has a few other men with him. He usually has a heavy raincoat on, with a high-viz jacket over it, for when he’s on the road. His long walking pole suits the look, as do the heavy-duty boots and he has one of those kind faces that you know has seen a few things in life.

“Oh, Francie’s a gentleman, I could listen to him all day, known him all my life.”

I reckon Francie must be at least 20 years older than my new companion and he may be a bit of an anchor in life for him. Like an alcoholic who seeks out a sponsor when in need, a troubled soul can also get great solace from a familiar face, from someone who can be just a friend to spend time with when needed.

“Where are you off to?” I asked, now that he had turned away from the canal walk I wondered what he was planning on doing.

“Just doing some shopping for the dinner,” he answered, “get a few things in town.”

“Did you have a nice Christmas?” I kept the conversation going.

“Yes, I watched a lot of documentaries of the television, ones about Jesus and Noah’s Ark and the search for places in the Holy Land and other stories from the bible.”

“Sounds good,” I say.

“Ah they were excellent really, I’d watch them all again.”

Now I didn’t want to get taken down the road of Jesus stories, so I didn’t follow him on any of the topics raised. Maybe he was a man who found a lot of comfort in religion, with great reasons too, as many others do, but I didn’t want a religious conversation to start.

“They’re great company, aren’t they?” he said, nodding towards Daisy.

“Oh, the best,” I said, “she goes everywhere with me, keeps me going out, even in the bad weather.”

“I had one for 14 years, she died a few months back, I loved taking him out with Francie and his dogs.”

“Will you get another one?”

“I will, I will,” he sounded sad, as if thinking of his lost friend, “what do you feed her, she’s got a great coat.”

“The dried food, a bowl a day keeps her going.”

“They love yoghurt, love it.”


“Yeah, just a spoon a day but it’s very good for them, my old one would go mad for it, you should try her on it.”

“I will,” I laughed.

We came to the junction where the road into town branched off to the left and where my own home was off to the right.

“I’m going this way,” I said, pointing to the right.

“Ah sure I’ll walk a bit more with you,” he said without stopping, “I can still cut back along to the road to town up by the roundabout.”

So we walked the ten minutes to the roundabout. I was beginning to feel uncertain that he would head off into town. There was a sadness, a loneliness, about him, which can sometimes turn into wanting to make you into a new friend. I didn’t live too far away and wondered if I would be taking him home for tea. We talked about dogs and life in general and how Christmas is a special time for kids and that’s what it is all about. At the roundabout I stopped at the crossover, to wait for traffic to pass.

“This is me here,” I said, apprehensive that he may choose to keep walking with me. To his left was the road into town, if he followed me there was nothing except houses, where he didn’t have an excuse to come.

“Oh okay,” he sounded a bit sad, as if he wanted the chat to continue, “I’ll go off and get the butter I suppose.”

He put out his hand

“See you again,” I said, exchanging a firm handshake.

“Nice meeting you.”

I crossed the road, looking over my shoulder when I got to the other side, to see him walking up the empty street under the amber lights, hands in his jacket pockets, alone and maybe would be for the night. The long evenings of the winter can be the worst when people are on their own, with nothing to look forward to except the company of the TV and going to bed. I hoped he would be okay and that he wasn’t heading for a bar somewhere.

I headed for home, thankful more than ever for the family waiting there and the warmth of their company on a dark cold evening.




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