O’Gallivan on the Mountain

Materialized by Marina Ramil on Thursday, December 21st 2023.

Bernard O’Gallivan was born in the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland to a fisherman who may or may not have loved his work and a beautiful, sturdy woman whose love and devotion to God was unquestionable. He expatriated across St George’s Channel and then some as soon as he could and studied zoology. He only returned home in his mind’s eye on quiet nights and to bury his parents in plots beside one another behind the church he was baptised in.

Once established as a behavioural zoologist, his research was varied,1 but his primary concern was the plights of cows and elephants. It’s a well-known fact that elephants have good memories and form genuine emotional bonds with each other. When an elephant dies, its herd mourns. They've been known to embalm, bury, cremate, mummify, and anoint the dead.

Bernard O’Gallivan postulated that, perhaps, due to both species having young that are referred to as calves, cows had the same capacity for loss. In 27 years of research, he found only circumstantial evidence to support his hypothesis. Of course, cows made friends. That is well established. However, when a cow’s friend passed on to whatever, if ever, is next, if there is a grieving process to be had, Bernard found it to be near impossible to perceive. In his 28th year of research, he met a cow named Cass. Cass was a Braunvieh and her favourite time of the year was late March, when it wasn’t too cold or too hot and the lilies were blooming. Bernard O’Gallivan and Cass the cow became the best of friends. She was the hooved daughter he’d never had.2

Soon after their meeting, Bernard O’Gallivan, on the eve of his 62nd birthday, announced aloud to no one in particular that he did not care if cows were the most ruthless species on the planet or laughed directly in the faces of their dead, for he had met one singularly remarkable cow named Cass.

Having abandoned his entire life’s work, he also announced to Cass that he planned to climb Vatennailinea Mountain. It featured, at the time, the world’s 110th-highest peak. Cass, of course, thought this all to be a very entertaining manifestation of Bernard’s burgeoning late-life crisis. Despite that, she loved him like the bipedal father she’d never had and resolved to play along.

The first morning of their journey up the Vatennailinea Mountain was cold and lonely due to the mountain guide refusing to climb with a cow.3 Bernard spoke far too much and, due to a lack of ability to speak English, Cass could not let him know that silence would have been fine. He spoke of palaeontology and theology and Chaucer. He spoke briefly of Gráinne and his late wife Barty.4 By nightfall, he had nothing more to say. So, he spoke about that:

"It’s unfortunate, don’t you think, Cass? Spending your best years focused on something so specific for nothing. I think I had known for a while, though. Even before I met you. I think I knew there was no point in it. Maybe that’s why I held on for so long, in anticipation of this feeling. I didn’t want to face the music, but here it is. Blaring at me. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 at the highest volume for the longest time.”

He paused to consider his subsequent thought and, during that pause, Cass began to feel very uneasy.

"On top of that,” continued Bernard, “I’m old. I cannot learn any new tricks. I cannot start any new projects. All I have are those years, but, with the power of hindsight, can we truly say they were mine to begin with? It’s unfortunate.

“There was no point."

With that, he had exhausted his last words. Bernard O’Gallivan was speechless and, unfortunately, so was Cass. Her speechlessness was one riddled with unimaginable pain, for she had not run out of words. She was filled to the brim with words and thoughts and ideas. She could have written some thousand-different books about some thousand-different things and still have words to spare.5 Cass wished above all that she might be given the gift of just three words to share with her best friend in the world, something like, “I love you.” Alas, wishes don’t count for much and cows cannot speak English.

After days of silence, Bernard sat down on a rocky ledge about three-quarters of the way to the peak to admire the view. Silently, peacefully, he passed. A day later, a mountain guide and honeymooning couple found his body with Cass sitting steadfast by his side. She was keening for her loss.

I’d like to say Cass lived out the rest of her days as a miraculous part mountain guide, part grief counsellor. I’d like to say at some point she adopted a sausage dog she named Puddle to accompany her in her efforts. I’d like to say she eventually got to Paris to picnic in a park with Gráinne and the girls. I’d like to say they then made a pilgrimage to Dingle together to raise a banshee song over Barty’s grave and under a tree nourished by Bernard’s ashes. I can’t because, as far as I am aware, she lived out the rest of her days on a dairy farm. I can only hope that the friendships born there were lifelong and, when she passed, the other cows marked it appropriately. Keening for their loss.

1. In fact, I read an incredible essay of his in a marine biology class. It wasn't particularly technical as he mainly used the platform to express his sympathy for starfish, being that they are both bloodless and brainless. I was moved to tears.

2. He did have a human daughter. Her name was Gráinne, she lived in a small Paris apartment with a wife and daughters, and had never really had much in common with her father.

3. This hurt Bernard's feelings far more than it did Cass' (though she did have feelings, including, but not limited to, happiness, unhappiness, disdain, pain, contempt, and content).

4. Elizabeth “Barty” Bainbridge-O'Gallivan died in her late thirties from bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

5. In correspondence with fellow academics at the time of his early acquaintance with Cass, Bernard remarked upon her affinity for the Cassiope flowers she was named for which clung hardily to the peaks of her native Alps. She might have written about those flowers she met along the way, about the lilies of March, about the butter yellow cowslips of Bernard’s native Ireland. I suspect that, in addition to her blooms, if she knew of starfish she would write about them too. They really had so much in common.

Marina Ramil is a student and writer whose work can be found in Stoneboat Literary Journal, OxMag, and South Florida Poetry Journal. They live in Miami with the alligators and strangler figs and you can find them at thesuncomingout.substack.com or on Instagram and Twitter @thesuncomingout.