An Irish Odyssey

Wednesday 27th September

After a quiet night in Pencraig campsite Anglesey, I made my way to Holyhead to board the Stena ferry Estrid. It took longer than I had anticipated to wake, get dressed, put away the bedding and get the van in shape to drive. I didn’t have time for breakfast or coffee and only made it just in time to the ferry terminal. Last time I was out in the van I got the packing away time down to about ten minutes and another ten minutes for breakfast, I’m sure this will come with time and the sports commentary in my head speculating wether I’ll beat my PB this time will subside.
They name storms alphabetically during each season, the approaching storm Agnes, is predicted to hit while I’m crossing the Irish Sea. The news media’s coverage seems to be expecting an Armageddon of sorts with hourly dire updates accompanied by angry coloured charts and photographs of plucky folks in sou’westers riding bicycles through hurricanes and stock images of huge waves crashing over lighthouses. I have no doubt there is a storm approaching but this disaster hyperbole is counter productive. Mind you, I’m writing this in the middle of the Irish Sea, I hope I’m not tempting fate, that fickle-finger of fate hanging over me like the sword of Damocles.

As it turns out that particular mixed metaphor did tempt fate because as we were approaching Dublin Port the Pier Master instructed the ferry not to attempt coming into port till the wind had eased and changed direction. Instead we sploshed about the Irish Sea for another four hours until it was safe to come into port which also meant I had to drive out of Dublin at peak time for traffic. McGinity doesn’t like slow moving traffic.
I should mention here that I received a “confirmation” call from Kilbroney Camp Site (where I had planned to spend a few days) first thing in the morning confirming that they are having to close the park all day but will probably reopen again on Thursday, Post Apocalyptic Agnes. So although my SatNav had virtually paid for itself getting out of Dublin the best way avoiding Tolls, it now needed pointing in the right direction. It’s getting dark rapidly and raining so I pull over to fill the tank up and get my bearings. Now, I’m planning to see Lisa O’Neill play at Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inniskeen on Sunday so that’s already in my “GoTo” places so I type that into the SatNav and follow the directions. I usually like to preview routes given me by SatNavs as they sometimes throw up some funky results, I didn’t on this occasion but decided to press on regardless. The night was getting darker, the rain heavier, the roads narrower until they were lanes rather than roads. And the estimated time of arrival I swear hadn’t changed in an age. Just as I was expecting the increasingly nonchalant SatNat voice to announce “Funky Stuff ahead” I saw the sign for Inniskeen and recognised the carpark from “Street View” so I parked up there for the night.

Patrick Kavanagh Centre
Patrick Kavanagh Centre

This proved to be a great place to park up, quiet during the night and a cafe across the road in the morning. I had a little walk around this beautiful village before setting off, more of that later. As promised Kilbroney campsite got in touch to say they are open as usual from today so I could make my way there. On the way I stopped off at Jonesborough which is where my Great-Grandmother Susan McGinity was born in 1864. My Mam was named Susan after her, as is my van, McGinity. Jonesborough was not quite what I expected, I had vague ideas of a quaint old village frozen in time with a church or post office I could nip into to discover old records or photographs or anecdotes of a time passed perhaps even an introduction to a distant relative. There are remnants of the old village but mostly there are newer houses and churches and the post office like many others no longer there.
Still, I’ll have three days in Rostrevor by the Kilbroney river to ponder over what to do next.
Kilbroney campsite is wonderful and they have Red Squirrels which made it even more wonderfuller!

Saturday 30th September

My last day at Kilbroney Campsite, tomorrow I’ll set up camp back at Inniskeen to see Lisa O’Neill play at the Patrick Kavanagh Centre. As it happens The Blindboy Podcast is being recorded there today, I did consider going to see it but as I’ll be seeing him in Liverpool in November I decided not. If you haven’t already heard the Blindboy podcast it is highly recommended, even if you’re not in Ireland or Irish or a wannabe like myself.
The red squirrels in Kilbroney are, like any sensible red squirrel anywhere, cautious of humans and far too quick for me to get a photograph. It is all part of a rewinding and conservation project that also includes pine martins apparently.
I love rivers of all shapes and sizes, I spend a fair bit of time walking or cycling along our river, the Mersey and love how every day it can look so different. Some days it is placid almost mirror like and on others it has large white crested waves crashing on the promenade.
I’ve spent a few hours walking along the Kilbroney river here, for some inexplicable reason I find, perusing my phone photo gallery, that I haven’t taken a single photograph of it (I may have to liberate one off the web) it’s such a lovely rapidly flowing river with trees overhanging and lining the adjacent pathway and a well worn bench or two upon which to ponder.

Sunday 1st October
On my way to Inniskeen I visited Jonesborough again thinking that perhaps it being Sunday there would be more activity in the church and parochial centre than there was on my last visit. My first call was to an old derelict church propped up by scaffolding and wild vines. I had a look around the graveyard and found a few graves engraved with the name McGinnity, my great grandmother’s name is McGinity, one “n” but I recon there are probably spelling variations within the same family. There was no notice board to say what the church was called, a passerby told me that they think it is up for sale. Further up the road is The Church of the Sacred Heart which looks modern but there was no-one about to chat with, the door to the hallway was open so I went in for a look around.
I realise now that I was being more than a little optimistic thinking I could just turn up to a village, ask a question or three and be guided to the Clan McGinity who have all gathered in the village green celebrating the return of a long lost son with much music and dancing… Well one can dream. Much more research is need to get any further I feel.

Inniskeen is busy on a Sunday, especially this Sunday of a weekend celebrating the poet Patrick Kavanagh. I think I had already heard of the poet probably through the poem and later song Raglan Road but it was a fairly recent event, a concert given by Lisa O’Neill in the Music Room of the Liverpool Philharmonic that brought him back into view. Lisa has been on tour promoting her new album All Of This Is Chance, while introducing the title song she explained how she has been inspired by the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and had included a few lines from the poem The Great Hunger into the song.
Her performance was mesmerising, I find her music hard to categorise, in fact I don’t like to “categorise” any music so I wont. But it is vital, pared back to the elemental, there is something of the wild, of the animal in her music, lyrics and performance. She talks of the essential connection we need with nature to be truly whole.

“Feathered friend, dig up and resurrect me
I long to live among the song of birdies
A lawless league of lonesome, lonesome beauty
Skies and skies and skies above duty”

I’ve decided to travel over to the west coast for a while. I find myself looking at the map for inspiration and luckily, inspiration finds me. I can’t emphasise enough how stunning the landscape is in Ireland, as often as I can I travel by the minor roads as I find I you can miss so much hurtling along the motorways. I say “hurtling along” but even on motorways I travel at a steady top speed of 50-55 mph, McGinity sings along at this rate and I can often be heard joining in.
I set up camp in Killybegs Co. Donegal overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A rather wild setting but still providing water and electricity. Within hours of arriving the weather arrived too, wind and rain, not quite the apocalyptic Agnes storm but enough to keep me from wandering for a few days, I did manage to get into Killybegs which is a lovely fishing town but no further.
My days here were spent mostly reading and looking out of the window, which I’m rather good at fortunately, a fact my secondary school teachers would verify.
On my way to the next camping site I did manage to get a distant photograph of a mountain I wanted to get closer to, perhaps walk up. Benbulbin looks magnificent, in this photo the mists and clouds had lifted just enough to get a glimpse of its beauty.

Benbulbin In The Mists

The planning starts with a map and a cup of coffee.

I know generally the direction I’ll be travelling in and the places I’d like to visit, now the task of weaving together roads and desirous destinations  tempered by practicalities interspersed with the absolute delight of place names like Gloshpatrick, Cloondahamper, Skibbereen and MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.

I can spend hours staring down from the imagined skies of the maps terrain, gliding in the big blue before swooping down to Street View to check for parking.

At this time of the year some camp sites have closed down so my choice of stays is limited by about 70% from what it would be in the summertime.

It can sometimes take a while for me to get into a journey, mentally I mean, I can be so immersed in the practicalities of the trip, the mechanics the logistics, food, fuel, clothing, that it’s easy to forget to stop, and just be, to look around breathe in the place.  John O’Donohue, John Moriarty, Seamus Heaney, all had a sense of place, indeed they would say that we are shaped by our landscape.

Autumn seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Poem in October

It’s strange to be here, The. Mystery never leaves you alone.

Lisa O’Neill Singing Raglan Road

I’ve tumbled down the west coast somewhat so this is the map of the journey over a week or so from Killybegs to Glengarriff. I’ll fill in the blanks later..

Killybegs to Glangarriff

I’m living an enchanted life in an enchanted land.