I’m harbouring some kind of vague hope that last year’s drama will depart with last year’s departure; that the suspension of reality during the festivities together with celebration, ritualistic appreciation, farewell and release will bring in the new. But it’s mostly all still there, isn’t it? Domestic, emotional, political, financial and environmental upheaval, personally and collectively; the pressing need to make one’s way in a world bled ever drier…
But I write to you because your responses remind me that it’s ok, even beautiful: my taste of homelessness before Christmas alarmed me and some of you, but the silver lining was in learning that next time I can put word out and the magic carpets will be woven in an instant – thank you. You have to line them up as best you can, and learn to surf!
Christmas was, after all, a family occasion, and lovely. An Indian, a German, several Brits, several Irishmen and an Italo-Celt prepared and enjoyed a delicious meal together.
Then I headed back up to Connemara for plans made last month.
The route through mountains that touches the weed-dressed backs of the bays in Cork is stunning – I missed it in the dark on my way down earlier.
Descending into Kerry lowlands a disturbed character by the side of the road flashes his bits at me, and later I follow a hearse for ten minutes. The two incidents are not related except that a Kerryman I meet on a Connemara mountain a few days later confirms that Things Happen in Kerry – the rest of my journey is uneventful, and enjoyable enough.
I meet the first of my friends in welcoming Galway City, and after five years, it is lovely to catch up. The next night at the coast we discover an incredible tonsil of three or four beaches, welcome the twilit wind in our hair and tidy a tangled lifebuoy rope. In a pub we find an excellent young duo making trad music on guitar and banjo. The following day, New Year’s Eve, we meet the other two of our party, and take them to my favourite beach – which is always the first beach, where I land in wonder – before preparing and eating another good meal together.
On New Year’s Day I clock about 20km with a dogwalk followed by a group walk: country lanes and mountain tracks are great settings for a natter.
At a mass rock (where Catholics worshipped in secret when ousted from their churches) on a low mountain pass a group of young Irish folk say their prayers aloud and then chatter, friendly, as we climb back down the hill together. I apologise for the Brits, as I often feel myself compelled to do, though they show no grudge.
The following day Murph and I take advantage of the incredible sun. Every time I get into the van to go anywhere it feels like an adventure, and today is no exception: the corner of Connemara I’ve not yet seen is the north west and its convoluted coastline is littered with islands and inlets. With little information as usual I just follow my nose and hit gold: the road turns into a lane and the lane turns into a beach, only this is a beach with a difference: the signs direct drivers straight across the sand to a two-mile island that’s accessible for twelve hours a day according to the tides. I scowl at those over-enjoying the novelty and driving around the whole beach as if it were a car park, and leave the van on the near shore, walking to the island instead. I wonder how fast the tide will race over this flat strand and whether it catches people off guard. I meet an interesting young couple (and my radar for new friends says they’re definitely good contenders, but they’re in a hurry) who’ve actually read the tide tables. They reassure me I’ve quite a few hours, and keeping an eye out for the time of slackwater I calculate that they’re right.
The rural Irish, like the rural Scottish, tend to bury their dead in wildy places with stunning sea views. I pass a large graveyard on the island’s shore as I head north for an anti-clockwise circuit. I wonder whether I will be walking on white sand all the way, but the western shore is rockier, and so we traverse the machair (which must be full of meadowflowers in summer). I’m told, though have not yet been able to verify, that Connemara detached itself from Scotland, and so the accumulating number of parallels I identify between the landscape and culture of here and the Hebrides/West Highlands ceases to surprise me. I am in love with them both.
I eat my picnic on the farthest north west point of the island, gazing on the glittering blue and green and black and white of the Atlantic and its other islands. The wind is cold but the sun warm and Murphy quite patient. Behind us the Twelve Bens and Maumturks of Connemara have white peaks. Walking down the outer shore we pass rock formations and a shrine, one of which may be a ruined church I’ve been told about. There’s a lough in the middle of the island with swans and cignets, and I’m reminded of Heaney’s Flaggey Shore again.
We’ve been out for five hours and as the sun slants even more I worry a little about the tide as we skirt farmland and follow the lane back through the few houses on the island, but we are fine.
As I leave the peninsular I see a patch of land for sale that captures my imagination. My heart is still in Connemara.
Returning to Cork offers comfort though: it’s full of alternative types and I am not weird here. By the time I’m back in the Kerry mountains I’m rocking through the tunnels to American Pie and even the furniture crashes around in the back as I sweep too fast around 180º bends. (Back on the hillfarm the frost is heavy and an hour after I’ve gone to bed I recall my host’s warnings of icy roads and shudder at how I might have killed myself with excessive jubilance rolling the van on the trickiest mountain passes. But it was fun and I didn’t.) I meet an interesting woman on the most southerly point who has read about me, and she offers me a parking place at her rural home. I’ve also been offered an isolated bothy on a rocky shore if a hermitage is what I need, which it might well be if I can cope with only a woodburner, no electricity and an earth floor in winter.
I’m still feeling disoriented and in limbo, and where I thought I could write myself back into focus I have not, so the only therapy left is to set up the loom. Thank god for that.