As the first place I had booked to stay in Ireland was in Connemara it would be a good 3-4 hours drive from Dublin to reach the cottage. The ferry from Liverpool takes about eight hours so I would arrive in Dublin at about 6.00pm, I would not relish the drive to the west coast, in the dark after such a long sail over. I could always get a B&B in Dublin and set off early the next morning but I decided against it. I chose instead to sail from Holyhead in Anglesey to Dublin which is a mere three and a half hour sailing time getting me into Dublin just after twelve, plenty of time to then drive to Connemara in the daylight.
I drove aboard the ferry, Stena Estrid and quickly found a comfortable place to sit overlooking the bow. The whole journey was a comfortable delight. One thing did puzzle and intrigue me, and I do like a bit of intrigue. When I visited the toilets I noticed, playing quietly in the background, four notes ascending a tone at a time, followed by a short period of relative silence, then the sequence repeated. At first I thought it may be a musical coincidence of plumbing but the sounds kept on playing regularly, rhythmically. One of the stewards when asked said he did not really know but had heard it may be to help people overcome seasickness. I am in touch with Stena about this, they have promised to get back in touch once they have asked staff aboard the ship.
You just can’t beat a bit of intrigue.
Laura from the Stena twitter page has responded to my question with this
The ship replied to your request for information with this. “We play these musical notes as a number of studies have shown music therapy can lessen anxiety, easing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, relieving pain after surgery and yes, for reducing seasickness..”
A motorway journey is not very interesting I did promise myself after this one to plan a route that does not include Tolls if I can possibly help it. I’m not in a rush on this adventure. Connemara is as gorgeous as you can imagine. I met my host then got myself settled in the 200 year old cottage I was to live in for the next six days.
It took a while, being out of practice, but I manage to get the log fire lit and throwing out plenty of heat as the evening closed in. Out here in the hills of Connemara it gets very dark, being free from light pollution. I was reminded of times living with my grandparents in Bootle, Liverpool when I was a young boy, about eight or nine years old. I used to love watching my grandmother prepare and light the fire. It was one of those huge black cast iron ranges with compartments either side of the fireplace used for keeping and drying wood kindling, a set of cast iron clothes irons and any other things that may need warming. Quite often this would be bread “prooving”.
The nearest town to my cottage was Clifden which, to me appeared to be just starting to gear up for the tourist trade so was nice and quiet while I was there.
Most of my stay here I have spent going on walks and drive/walks. I heard my first Skylark of the season on one such walk. I stopped in my tracks straining to hear above the wind, but there he was, singing like the whole world belonged to him. I don’t often see many other people on my walks the occasional jogger or perhaps a dog-walker, but I always have the urge to stop them, point skyward and say, have you heard that? Isn’t it wonderful? I’ve learned to temper my enthusiasm over time, some people are just not ready for that degree of gorgeousness.
Every year, as the year progresses, I find myself noticing particular annual events that mark out the changing of the seasons and cycles of nature. The snowdrops, crocus, daffodils and primroses are always such a heart-lifting joy to find poking their heads up from the earth, with flowers, like smiles saying hey, stop, look, admire. The robin and the blackbird, the blackbird especially, begin their seasonal cycle of song. I love the song of the blackbird, The Blackbird Sings.
There has also been a wonderful confluence of chance, a symmetry of heart and landscape. I have been reading about Irish Myth and Legend, about and from storytellers, Seanchaí, like Eddie Lenihan and John Moriarty. One of a couple of books I brought with me on my journey is A Hut At The Edge Of The Village. (I know the link goes to Amazon, I bought my copy in a local bookshop, News From Nowhere). As I read the book during the evening I discover that the lanes and countryside I have been walking through, and the mountains I have been gazing at during the day are the lanes and mountains and countryside that John Moriarty so loved and wrote about, sometimes obliquely but always with great love.
My next stop for a few days is in Kinvarra, Co Galway, a beautiful little fishing port town. However the accommodation I stayed at was very modern, high specification an absolute gem. I celebrated with my first pint of Guinness of the trip so far, that was fabulous also served in the traditional Irish manner in a pub that looked more like a corner shop. A great conversation ensued, myself, two other regulars and the barman. The world was straightened up.
Before I go any further I have to mention the Corvids (Not the COVID). There are hundreds of them everywhere I’ve been. Rook, Raven, Jackdaw. Then there’s the Chough, mostly around the coast, and the Hooded Crow I’ve not seen anywhere else other than Ireland. I’ve only caught a glimpse of one or two Jays in parkland but they tend to be rather secretive so there’s probably a good number of them, hiding. I nearly forgot, there are the usual gangs of Magpies just as I see them in England.
But really, Ireland is to me a mystical place anyway, this profusion of the mystical corvid only adds to the mythic.
One of the reasons I chose to stay in Kinvarra was it’s proximity to the Cliffs Of Mohar, The Flaggy Shore and where John O’Donohue lived, was baptised and buried in January 2008. Both John O’Donohue and John Moriarty celebrated the land they were born into and lived in as huge influences on their lives. How the land actively shaped them, mind, body and soul. I can understand that and so wanted to walk through their formative landscapes, physically and literally, by reading the work the landscapes inspired and walking the land.
Postscript Seamus Heaney And some time make the time to drive out west Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore, In September or October, when the wind And the light are working off each other So that the ocean on one side is wild With foam and glitter, and inland among stones The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit By the earthed lightening of flock of swans, Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white, Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads Tucked or cresting or busy underwater. Useless to think you’ll park or capture it More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
This is the opening paragraph in John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara. I had to re-read it several times as I felt each line impact on my heart. As if John had read my soul’s plea, these words gave comfort and inspiration.
This is a strange place we find ourselves in.
It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world. Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, in rooms, on streets, on television, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us. We take each other’s sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions, and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the world together. Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.
Portumna County Galway
I had the urge to travel inland. I don’t really know why but Lough Derg sounded like a place I should visit. I love spending time by a river so finding the river Shannon was feeding Lough Derg convinced me to go there. The first place I stayed in was charming, an old recently converted Post Office.