Old Crane Woman is walking up that track. Walking, walking. You’d smile to see her walk, all knees and bony elbows. Watch her carefully, as she goes. Is that a beak or a nose? Is she woman, or bird? Old Crane Woman shrieks her laugh into the night sky. Both at once, Old Crane Woman says. That’s the whole point. Haven’t you got it yet, girl?
Old Crane Woman is walking, on past the fairy hill. The síd, the mound; the entrance to the Otherworld. The Otherworld? Old Crane Woman snorts. I’ll tell you about the Otherworld. The Otherworld is all around you. The Otherworld is just a different way of seeing this one. Listen quietly, now, and I’ll tell you a story.
Listen quietly, now; Old Crane Woman is speaking.
Once upon a time, Old Crane Woman says, there lived a man called Bran Mac Febail. Bran was the ruler of all Ireland. One day, as he was coming home from a trip away, he began to hear music at the back of him. Although he kept looking round to find the source, it never made itself known to him. The music was always elusive, always behind. The music was so sweet and soothing that Bran sank to the ground and fell asleep. When he woke, he found himself lying beside a silver branch which bore beautiful white blossoms. He took up the branch and carried it into his fort, where his warriors were gathered — and all at once, a strangely dressed woman appeared before them. She sang a song about her home, the Otherworldly realm of Emain, from where she had brought the silver branch. And then she vanished, as fairy women will.
So haunting was her song and her description of Emain that Bran longed to see it for himself. With a group of his men, he set sail at once into the western ocean. So it was, in the midst of the sea, that Bran met Manannán Mac Lir. Manannán, who everyone imagines was the god of the sea. Manannán, who tore away the veil from Bran’s eyes, and showed him the world which shimmered behind the world and the land which shimmered behind the sea. Here is what Mannanán said to Bran:
An extraordinary beauty is the clear sea
For Bran in his coracle;
but to me in my chariot
It is a flowery plain on which he rides about.
What is clear sea
For the prowed skiff in which Bran is,
Is a delightful plain full of flowers
To me in my chariot of two wheels.
A multitude of waves beating across the clear sea;
I myself see Mag Mon,
Red-headed flowers without blemish.
Sea-horses glisten in summer
As far as Bran’s eye can see;
Blossoms pour forth a stream of honey
In the land of Manannán, son of Lir.
Along the top of a wood has floated
Your coracle, across ridges;
There is a beautiful wood with fruit
Under the prow of your little boat …
Old Crane Woman throws back her head and laughs. Manannán, Old Crane Woman says, was no god of the sea. The Otherworld is just a different way of seeing this one, Old Crane Woman says. Will you tear away the veil from your eyes? If I show you the veil, will you tear it aside? Will you tear it aside, and see?
Old Crane Woman raises her arms — or are they wings? — and dives into a sky that is full of the colours of the sea. A red-headed flower without blemish goes with her, for her nest. Old Crane Woman is building a nest. The nest straddles two worlds. Will you tear aside the veil, and see?