Enjoy a free short story from "The People's Friend" set along Northern Ireland's stunning coastline

Watch Your Step

The rocks were dangerous, but luckily for Lucy, someone was looking out for her . . .

There was a stiff breeze that morning but not a soul in sight as Lucy headed down the rough track to the sea. In an hour or two, the first tourist coaches would arrive and the sound of Atlantic breakers would be blotted out by the clicking of cameras and chatter in a dozen languages.

Just now, she had the Giant’s Causeway to herself and intended to make the most of it. Behind her were jagged green cliffs. Ahead, thousands of interlocking basalt columns reached far out to sea.

She’d dreamed of seeing them for herself ever since her Irish grandfather read her the story of the mighty Finn McCool. So mighty, in fact, that the clod of earth the giant picked up and hurled into the sea had simultaneously created the Isle of Man and Lough Neagh.


Granda would have no truck with scientific explanations, even when Lucy’s big brother brought a geography textbook home from school and tried to convince him that the columns were a natural phenomenon left by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

He was wasting his breath. Born and brought up in the Glens of Antrim with their woodland glades and waterfalls, his grandfather knew what he knew and wouldn’t be budged. Fionn mac Cumhaill, he insisted, not content with ruling Ireland, had set his sights on Scotland, just visible across the water on clear days. Grabbing huge chunks of Antrim rock, he’d flung them into the sea to form a causeway so as not to get his boots wet.

“Why didn’t he just build himself a boat?” her brother asked.

“Because, young fella, he was too heavy for any boat to hold him.” “Couldn’t he have swum?” “Look, just go and do your homework and let your little sister enjoy the story! “You can travel there yourself one day and try out your theories on the local people. “They’ll soon put you right, so they will.” Lucy smiled as she remembered that conversation.

Who knew? Maybe her sceptical brother and his young family would visit Northern Ireland one day from their home in Australia. In the meantime, she’d be e-mailing them pictures. There were plenty of rock formations to choose from, including the Boot, lost as Finn McCool ran from an even bigger Scottish giant. Just like in Cinderella, she thought, although Benandonner was no Prince Charming. Finn’s resourceful wife Oonagh had saved the day by swaddling him and hiding him in a cradle.

Having taken one look at the enormous baby, the Scot decided not to stay around to meet its father!

“Nothing to worry about, Miss Donovan. Or may I call you Lucy? Don’t worry.  “You’ve got a few bruises and given your ankle a nasty wrench, but we’ll soon have you out of here.”

Leaning over her was a smiling woman in a white coat. “The young chap who sent for the ambulance – one of our porters, actually – told me that the tide was out, but the rocks were still wet and slippery.

“No wonder you didn’t make it. A selfie on the Boot, was it?” “Something like that.” “Well, it’s lucky that he was walking his dog on the cliff top before his shift this morning and saw you fall.

“If you’d banged your head on one of the rocks it would have been a great deal worse. I think you’ve got away quite lightly.” Lucy tried to sit up and winced. The doctor had been right about the bruises. “It’s not like me to fall,” she said. “I’m usually quite sure-footed and it’s not as though I was wearing daft shoes.”

“I know that,” the doctor said. “Your walking boots are under the bed. “You’d be amazed, though, how many visitors limp in here in flip-flops!” Lucy wrinkled her brow.

“I think something happened just before I fell,” she said. “But I can’t remember what.” “Well, I dare say it will come back to you. “I’m going to send you down for a scan. “If it’s clear, I’ll discharge you, but you must take it easy for a few days and see a doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms.”

Leaving Lucy to study the leaflet she’d been handed, the doctor hurried off. It wasn’t long before a dark, curly-haired head appeared round the door. “Off we go now!” he called in a cheery voice. “Do I really need a wheelchair?” Lucy protested. “Sure you do. That’s doctor’s orders. She’s not after taking any chances.”

“Was it you who saw me fall this morning?” “Me? No, no. That was one of my colleagues, but he told me about it.” “Well, please thank him for me. It’s lucky that he was passing. Do you live around here, too?” “I do so. Just outside Bushmills with my family.” “You’re married?” Lucy could have kicked herself. Why on earth had she asked him something so personal?

True, the young man was good looking in a rugged sort of way, but they’d only just met. She tried not to catch his eye as he helped her into the wheelchair before setting her little backpack on her lap. “Best take this with you,” he said. “And me, married? No, indeed.

There’s plenty of time for all that. “Da’s just retired from the whiskey distillery and I’ll be staying with him and Mammy and Nana for a while longer yet. “How about yourself? I’m Connor, by the way.”

As they bowled along a series of corridors, Lucy found herself telling him about her decision not to apply for a job in estate management straight after graduation. Rather, she’d decided to use part of the money her grandfather had left her to buy a camper van and see something of the country of his birth. Then her face clouded. “Oh, dear! It’s probably been towed away by now.” “Where did you leave it?”

“On the roadside about three miles from where you found me. “There was no-one around when I parked last night and I set off for a long walk as soon as I woke up this morning. The sunrise was glorious, but . . .”

Her bottom lip quivered as she thought of the confrontation with officialdom that might lie ahead. That was the last thing she needed as soon as she left the hospital. Connor gave her a sympathetic look and reached into a pocket for his phone.

“Don’t upset yourself,” he said, summoning up a map of the area. “Just show me where it is. Or was. My shift’s nearly over and I’ll do my best to sort it out. “Will you trust me with your keys now?” Lucy hesitated, but what did she have to lose by accepting his offer? It wasn’t as though she didn’t know who Connor Cleary was or where he worked. “Thank you,” she said, reaching for the phone. “That’s very kind of you.” Peering into the little screen, she did her best to pinpoint the right location. “Right, so.”

A couple of hours later, Lucy was back in her van, with Connor at the wheel. “Where are we going?” she asked as he drove.

He turned to her, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “Trust me. I’ve made a phone call and I’m taking you to a place that’s perfectly safe for you to park for a few days.” They were travelling along a road with a fine view of the sea when Connor pointed out a low white-painted building in the distance.

“That’s it,” he said. “But what . . .?” “No buts. You’ll be very welcome.” He had taken her to his family home, where a small lady with the same dark hair and blue eyes as her lanky son was waiting on the doorstep to receive them, an eager Labrador by her side.

“Down, Max!” she ordered to little effect as it turned its attention to Lucy. “It’s fine, Mrs Cleary. Really. I love dogs.”

“Well, then. Come in, my dear, and I’ll show you to your bedroom.” “My bedroom? But I can sleep in my van.” “I wouldn’t hear of it,” was Mrs Cleary’s reply.

“With only Connor still at home with us, we’ve plenty of room to spare. “Might even think of opening a B and B if he ever moves out. “Not that we’re in any hurry to lose our wee late one.”

The affectionate look she gave her son made that very clear. “Nana’s laid an extra place for you. Tea will be ready in twenty minutes.” Lucy soon felt thoroughly at home with the Clearys and their exuberant pet. While Connor was at work, the ladies kept a motherly eye on her for any symptoms of concussion and Mr Cleary, softly spoken like his son, told her stories to rival those of Granda Donovan.

The cosy sitting-room was lined with books, many of them about Irish folklore, and there was also a well-stuffed album of family photographs. Nana Cleary was very happy to take her through that and sing the praises of her grandchildren, particularly the youngest.

“He’s a kindly and responsible lad,” she said, “and will be a good catch for some lucky girl.” Blushing, because she’d been thinking the same thing, Lucy could only shake her head when the old lady asked her: “Are you attached yourself?”

Connor’s shift pattern allowed him one morning a week off and he suggested returning to the Boot so that Lucy could get the photograph she wanted for her brother.

It had rained earlier and he held her arm firmly as they walked across the slippery rocks, only letting go to pick up the odd piece of rubbish. “It’s a crying shame,” he remarked, reaching for a plastic bottle and stowing it away in a canvas bag. “National Trust rangers and volunteers picked up well over a thousand of these wretched things during the last litter pick.”

“You seem to know a lot about it,” Lucy said, pointing out another one floating in a rock pool. Connor sighed. “Yes, well, I volunteer myself in my spare time and I’m working towards becoming a ranger eventually. The hospital job is only temporary.” “Good for you!” They were still chatting when they reached the Boot.

As Connor was helping her up on to it, Lucy suddenly stiffened. “I know what happened now!” she said. “It’s just come back to me. “I was doing fine until a loud voice came out of nowhere. I must have spun round to see who the man was and lost my footing.”

“You’re sure it was a man?” “Yes. And I’d love to give him a piece of my mind, making me jump like that!” “Maybe he was just warning you to be careful.” “Well, that worked out well, didn’t it?” Connor offered to get a good shot for her brother and then he and Lucy posed for a selfie. The clouds had parted and they basked for a few moments in the warm sunshine.

Watch Your Step

There’s definitely chemistry here, Lucy thought, wondering whether Connor felt it, too. It seemed that he did, because he grasped her hand as they set off back for lunch. Then it all went wrong.

A group of children had gathered round their teachers, who seemed oblivious to the fact that two boys were intent on scaling the steep embankment behind them.

“Get down from there at once!” Connor roared. Lucy, her lips set in a firm line, didn’t say a word as they resumed their walk. She shook off his hand and stalked ahead when he asked her what was wrong. “It was you!” she said, turning round. “Don’t try to deny it. I recognised your voice when you shouted at those children.”

“All right. It was so,” he confessed. “But why didn’t you say? And why take me to your home? Guilt?” His back stiffened. “I wouldn’t call it that.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter now.” She fished out her purse. “Please thank your parents for me and give them this to cover my stay.” Connor looked outraged.

“They wouldn’t dream of taking your money,” he spluttered. “Especially not after I told Nana . . .” “Told her what?” “Nothing. As you said, it doesn’t matter now. Do what you like and good luck to you!” He’d scarcely disappeared up the road before Lucy regretted her angry words.

If her keys had not been inside the Clearys’ house, she would have jumped straight into the camper van and put as much distance between herself and Bushmills as she could. As it was, she had no option but to knock on the door. A surprised Nana Cleary opened it.

“Where’s Connor?” she asked. “He usually sits down to eat before he goes off to work.” “Making do with a snack in the staff canteen,” Lucy lied. Well, it might be true. “And I’ll have to be on my way, too. I’ve trespassed on your hospitality long enough.” “Trespassed?

It’s been a delight, my dear. Especially with my grandson so fond of you.” “Fond?” “Of course. Didn’t you know? Now come inside and sit yourself down.” As she spoke, she grasped Lucy firmly by the elbow and steered her into the cosy kitchen.

“Connor told me only yesterday that he might have finally found a girl he thought he could settle down with. “I’ve been nagging him about it for a long time, you see. “I’m not getting any younger, but I’m determined to dance at his wedding.

“You won’t be leaving me to eat all on my own, now will you?” Lucy could hardly gather her thoughts. “Sit down, my dear. I can tell by your face that you’re upset and I think I might know what it is. Connor should have come clean from the beginning.”

“So it really was guilt that made him invite me to stay?” Lucy said. Nana Cleary chuckled. “Oh, bless me, no. “People fall on the rocks all the time, whether or not they’re warned about the danger. “He was only doing what he thought was right when he called out to you.

“Why do you think it was Connor, out of all the porters at the hospital, who arranged to take you down for the scan? “He told you a little white lie out of embarrassment and then didn’t know how to take it back. “I expect we’ve all done that at times, haven’t we?” Lucy’s cheeks were crimson. A snack in the staff canteen, indeed!

“Well, we shouldn’t let Molly’s good soup and potato scones go to waste, should we?” Nana Cleary said. “While we eat, I’ll tell you about another part of Finn McCool’s legacy that you really should see before you leave. “That’s if you really can’t forgive Connor, of course. “It‘s going to be a fine afternoon and it would be a crying shame for you to miss it.”

Her last conversation with the old lady was still ringing in Lucy’s ears as she gazed up at a set of shiny basalt columns formed like a throne.

“It was made for Finn when he was a child,” Nana Cleary had said. “And any wish you make here is sure to come true.” “You really believe that?” “Oh, yes, Lucy. Well, it worked for me when I was sweet on Patrick’s father and the both of us still at school, so we were. “You had to wiggle four times before you sat down and then rub the stone to your left with your left hand.

“I did it and then what did I see but himself standing in front of me, laughing. We never looked back after that.” What am I even doing here instead of being well on my way south by now, Lucy wondered. Her head was in a muddle and she didn’t even know what to wish for, but Nana Cleary’s advice had been to take her time and wait for it to come to her.

“Nothing to lose,” she said out loud. Looking around to make sure that there were no prying eyes or, even worse, smartphones pointing in her direction, Lucy gave an experimental wiggle. The rocks were surprisingly smooth. She closed her eyes. A panorama of the last few days was soon dominated by the memory of curly black hair and merry blue eyes.

What harm had Connor’s little white lie done? Surely he’d more than made up for it and she should have forgiven him. Well, it was too late now. She’d burned her boats and would never see him again. Then, as if by magic, a giant shadow seemed to fall across the Wishing Chair and Lucy’s eyes flew open.

Of course it wasn’t anything to do with Finn McCool, she told herself. A cloud had drifted across the sun. That was all it was. And yet, bounding towards her across the rocks, taking as little care for his safety as a child playing hopscotch, came Connor. Catching each other’s eyes, they smiled.

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