This is the third part of the story of the time I spent as a cowherd on a dysfunctional farm in western Ireland in 1998. The first part is here, the second, "in which Dutch conquers the Irish countryside riding on the shoulders of a gentleman who has just consumed 23 pints of Guinness" is here.

After I had been living in Aideen's barn for a few months, one morning she told me I would be getting a roommate. I already considered Christopher the Bull, who slept in his own filth on the other side of a plywood wall, to be my roommate. There was another bed in the barn, a low, lumpy thing that made my own duvet-covered pile of hay look like a King-sized canopy bed at the Waldorf-Astoria.

"He's Swiss," Aideen told me, which gave me the shivers. All summer, old Swiss men wandering around Ireland wearing funny little feathered caps and biker shorts while yodeling had been stopping by the farm to ask if they could exchange a day's work for a meal and a warm bed. Aideen, who was thankfully as repulsed as I was by these creepy European hobos, always shooed them to the end of the driveway with her broom. Apparently, though, today she'd broken down and accepted such an offer. Aideen, after all, wouldn't have to sleep in the same room as him. This was all I needed: some pie-faced Helvetian on walkabout lecturing me about human rights while unpacking his alphorn every night.

A few hours later, I saw a vigorous-looking couple hugging a teenage boy in blue camouflage parachute pants near a rental car parked between the bed and breakfast and the barn. The slim mother had tears in her eyes, and the boy clutched a simple duffel bag. "That's him," Aideen said to me in the kitchen. "Thomas is his name. He's fifteen."

I went off to the fields to do that day's work, and when I came back later in the afternoon Thomas was sitting in the barn, unpacking his small bag. I shook his hand while he unfolded a pair of electric pink camouflage parachute pants. I looked at the rest of his clothes. In addition to a few t-shirts and a sweatshirt, all he had were four more pairs of camouflage pants in neon green, purple, yellow, and orange. It looked as though he were returning from a recon mission to the late 1980s. I tried to make small talk with him while he unpacked the rest of his things: an entire library of books by or about Bruce Lee: Bruce Lee's Fighting Method 1-5; Chinese Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense; The Tao of Jeet Kune Do; Jeet Kune Do: The Principles of a Complete Fighter. He pulled out a small framed portrait of Bruce Lee and hung it on the wall where he had leaned his martial arts library, creating a small shrine where during the next few weeks he would spend many hours each day performing various karate chops and poorly-balanced kicks.

"I come here to learn English," he said apologetically. "I stay five months."

I responded to him in German: "Oh, Thomas, you can't learn English from these bog Irish. I don't even understand what they're saying 90 percent of the time."

Thomas pulled out his last possession, a dog-eared soft core porn magazine filled with a number of sturdy-looking Teutonic women in various stages of undress. "Nice pussy, right?" he said to me in English. "Titties!" It quickly became apparent that his limited grasp of the English language came from pornos and dubbed-English kung-fu movies. Now he was going to fill in the gaps with what he could glean from Aideen's filthy farm talk and Tessie's ancient Gaelic-infused Cancer-obsessed dialect?

I wished I could fast forward five months just to have a conversation with him.

But I quickly grew to hate Thomas. Aside from his virginal pestering about sex ("I bet pussy feel so good around the penis, does it?"---he pronounced penis like "pen is") , he was a really good worker, and this made me look bad. He could clean a room in half the time it took me. Further, he was Catholic. He went to mass with them every week while I nursed hangovers. This meant Tessie and Aideen loved him far more than this heathen. Around the dinner table, all talk of sex stopped, and he would turn on the charm. "In four years," he would say, "I join the
Schweizergarde," looking to me to translate. "The Swiss soldiers in the Vatican who protect the Pope," I sighed as Aideen and Tessie made the sign of the cross and blessed him. I looked across the table at the little kiss ass and chortled at the thought of him in those uniforms (the Swiss, it seems, feel compelled to issue their only military regiment carrying blades longer than 3.5 inches the uniforms of a medieval court jester).

Luckily, there was only one bike on the farm, so if Thomas wanted to come to the pub with me he had to run. I told him Bruce Lee ran ten miles a day and he would try to keep up with me as I coasted on the ancient, rusty Raleigh down to Doolin or Lisdoonvarna, past scarps and clints and grykes and the ruins of cottages set back in limestone-strewn fields. Sometimes I took the scenic route along the sea, making the excuse that I needed to check on the lame heifer in one of Aideen's distant fields. On the way back the bike tire was always deflated so we both walked, our pockets empty of coin.

The Swiss boy's efficiency in the bed and breakfast meant I could focus more on the farming tasks, which is why I had come to Ireland in the first place. I had wanted to learn how to tend crops and make cheese; instead I was set to counting cows and building walls. "I need a wall rebuilt in the field down by the Spa," Aideen said to me one Sunday in late July before she and Tessie and Thomas left for mass. I'm going to send to Paddy Nieland and have him show you what to do."

"Where's Davey?" I asked. Davey O'Dwyer usually showed me what I needed to do on the farm.

"He's off at Croagh Patrick." Every July, she told me, Davey climbed the mountain barefoot with thousands of others. "He's never missed a pilgrimage," Aideen said. More than fifteen centuries ago, St. Patrick was supposed to have spent 40 days and 40 nights in penance on its peak. The feet of the pilgrims have left a white gash in the mountain side that can be seen for miles. "But don't you worry. Paddy is the master wall-builder in these parts." I was thrilled. I was going to learn from a master wall-builder! What an authentic experience!

Patrick Nieland silently drove me out to the small field protected by three sturdy walls of stone and one that was crumbling. He was a young farmer who wore an AC/DC t-shirt and smoked constantly. He didn't say a word to me, even after we'd gotten out of the car and walked over to the wall that had collapsed outward into a neighboring field. He started rebuilding the wall like he was some kind of fucking stone whisperer. He held the stone up to his face as if to smell it, his eyes closed, then gaging the stone against the rest of the wall, settling it on the previous layer of limestone as if it were a Fabergé egg. I noticed that the new wall he was building was three or four feet deeper into the neighboring field. Then Patrick Nieland grunted at me, letting me know it was my turn to try. I fitted four or five stones into the wall as he had done, ensuring the balance of each was supported by those next to and below it.

"Not like that, yeh fuckin' spaz," he said to me, and proceeded to place a few more in a manner indiscernible from what I had just done, aside from the chanting and holding each stone up like a golfer using his club to measure the angle to the hole. He grunted again for me to copy him, pretending there was some kind of majestic poetry in placing stones. "All right," he said finally, then went up and down the wall, kicking what remained standing into the neighboring field.

"I would have come out here and kicked down the rest of this wall myself," he said, "but I was piss drunk last night."

I didn't know what to say. I wanted to know why he was knocking down a wall only to have me rebuild it. The Irish seem mad for building walls, as if they had no better use for their energy. The limestone of the burren is great for building walls: large stones flake off the earth and fit and balance easily without any mortar and stand for many years. Besides the lingering feeling that this was a futile and pointless effort, I felt very proud of the wall I was building.

"If you see a car on that road over there, hunker down behind the wall," Paddy said as he continued to work alongside me.

"Why are you knocking down the wall?" I finally asked him.

"I knock down this wall every year," he answered.

"Why? Why are we rebuilding three feet into this other field?"

"Look: he said. Don't tell anyone of this. This field over there is owned by an American. He never comes around."

He didn't need to say another word. He just handed me a 20-pound note. I took it, and built a beautiful wall that would not stand longer than a year.