There was an Island in the Great North Sea that was called the Black Island or the Green Island depending on who was speaking. Those from the mainland called it the Green Island, because it seemed to rise out of the Morning Sea, with its high cliffs and blue heather shining through the mists. The people of the Island called it the Black Island because its harbor was a long channel of rock, hard and black, as black as the sorrows that followed the many who went out in the boats and never returned.
One tale, however, was told for many years at the cottage hearth, where peat fires brought a scent of wildflowers from the fens, and memories of the wind that moaned over the high cliffs and seethed around black rock. It was the story of a Widow and a girl named Dawn, Camhaoir, in the old tongue. Now no girl on the Island had ever been named Camhaoir, and the people still thought there was something strange that waited and wondered in that name.
And so, it was, that long ago, under the cloudy mists of breaking waves and bracken-green cliffs, there lived a woman and her husband on the High Land overlooking the harbor. It was here that the first light of dawn broke upon the Island with its beams of hope and goodness while the harbor was still hidden in the shadows of night. Their cottage was small and poor and had but one room, its clay floor strewn with heather to hold back the cold of the Great Sea that seeped up through cliff and rock.
Every morning at dawn, the woman would stand tall and silent, watching her husband on the long path down to Black Rock Harbor, and then pray while his boat disappeared past the headlands, out into the reaches of the Great Sea. One day, his boat did not return with the evening mists, nor with the long shadows of night that ran on the crest of wave and wind. The woman returned to her cottage and closed its heavy door. It was then she cursed the dawn and from that day, the door was never opened to the light.
At first the people worried about her. She was no longer seen at the market, but there was light in the cottage window from sundown through the night. The people wondered and whispered. Why did the Widow wake throughout the night and stay hidden and silent during the day?
Then one night, deep in the night’s deepest hours, the Widow heard a faint crying near the door. Taking the candle, she looked cautiously outside. There she found a basket of woven bark, and a little baby girl bundled in sheepskin. A note pinned to the blanket said- Camhaoir. Love her with all your heart and all your strength. The woman looked up and down the path but there was no one to be seen. She took the baby up and closed the door. ‘Camhaoir, I should never have taken you in,’ was all she said.
As time passed, the girl grew bright and beautiful, and called the Widow mother. People knew her as Dawn, running in the heather and laughing at the waves that fell in brilliant cascades of sparkling green on the black rocks of the harbor. Still, the Widow opened her door only to night, and the windows stayed shuttered throughout the day.
Then one Morning, when the Sea sang its endless song and dew sought the heather’s roots, Dawn gave the woman a shawl she had woven in the hours that are given to the lost who are found. The shawl was wonderfully made, the color of the morning clouds, and the scent of wild blooms flowing on the tide’s soft mist. In its warp and weave, the widow could feel the warmth of the sun rising over the crest of the Great Sea, and when she wrapped the shawl around her, she could feel the earth being born of stone and early morning rain.
One day, as winter approached, and the sun blazed and died in the Western Lands of the Great Sea, Camhaoir felt Time reaching for her, and took to bed. The widow knew that Time cared for neither the old nor the young, but only for itself, and she feared greatly being alone. As icy rains lashed at the Island’s black rock and Seas broke against its cliffs like hammer on iron, the widow realized that Dawn was hope in fear and darkness, and that Dawn’s promise was born in the deep of the night. She remembered the many years of darkness before she opened her door to Camhaoir, and she knew that darkness reigned in many of the houses of Black Rock Harbor when and the Sea returned alone with memories that had no voice.
That night, the widow wrapped Dawn’s shawl around her and sought the long path down to the Sea. From then until now, in every house in which no light burned and every tongue was deaf, the widow watched through the night awake with the dead, soothing hearts, comforting grief, and singing the silent words of hope. The people remembered the color of the morning clouds, and the scent of heather flowing on the blue mists of the tide- and said that Camhaoir had been there. Like a Promise in the night.
David Russell OFS Fyn