I awoke this morning to heavy snow fall and announcements that the Garda were recommending that no one should drive along the road from Westport to Sligo. I just wish they had told me that last night. I left it to around 1100am and there was no let up so I booked in for another night and will hope that tomorrow I can get to my Belfast meeting in reasonable time, or at least Belfast International for a 1700 flight home. My plans for photography on the Donegal coast having been shattered as a result of which I am in a very Eeyore type mood; not helped by discovering the truly awful Disney cartoon alternatives to E.H Shepard’s wonderful original illustrations. The hotel heating briefly broke down this afternoon but is now restored and I will shortly seek refuge in the bar for Fish, Chips and Guinness which is about the limits of the winter menu. Tomorrow will be another day.
I gave the basics of the trip yesterday but I didn’t add in any of the memories. I first came to the west of Ireland as the 60s drew to a close, taking the Swansea-Cork ferry across in a storm to spend two weeks moving between youth hostels, discovering the lax attitude of Irish landlords to requests for alcohol by a 15 year old. Two days of that trip were wiped from my memory due to a first encounter with pocheen. I was offered a drink by a lorry driver after twenty dusty miles without one and mistook the clear liquid for water; I woke up the next day in a hospital where the driver had deposited me without leaving contact details. For the rest of the period I walked through high mountain passes, dropped down to spend evenings with other hostelers of various ages and finally made it back to Wales with a host of stories. I have always loved that combination of solitary walking with evening conviviality, especially with strangers.
I returned in the 70s when a good friend and colleague organised a weekend in a rented cottage near Galway for a group of like minded people. That was a wonderful weekend with conversation ranging through religion and politics to literature & feminism with the odd side trip to the Cliffs of Mohr. We cooked roasted lamb as I remember it on one rainy day. My memory of that weekend is always brought back with the smell of a peat fire, something that was hanging on the air of Limerick on Saturday night.
The third visit was a wild two week tour of Dublin, Cork, Galway Limerick & Belfast at the height of the troubles. I say wild for many reasons. I was President of the Student Christian Movement of Britain and Ireland at the time and was on a tour of institutions. I gave my first lecture on catholic marxism at the University of Galway on that trip in 1977. The car had its bottom torn out on a ramshackle road that Michael (then Irish Secretary and son of an Athlone Dentist) promised me was suitable for motor vehicles. In Eniskillen we came back from a meal to discover the car surrounded by RUC land rovers. It turned out we had parked in a banned space. I think my life was saved that night by an experienced sergeant who realised we were not terrorists, but the memory of young (18 or less) RUC officers carrying machine guns and obviously as scared as we were will never leave me. Leaving Belfast some idiot turning right into the car without signaling in the heart of Belfast and I drove on fearing a ramming. Fortunately I reported it after crossing the border or life would have been difficult when the police picked up the car at Liverpool docks the next day. People forget what life was like in the 70s. That said it was a riotous (in the sense of the company and humour) trip as well, but we never ever used that hire car company again.
Years later the West Coast of Ireland became a favored holiday location, both before and after the arrival of children. I remember Eleanor being kept quite with a constant supply of breadsticks and being tethered with reins on the ferry crossing; a nightmare journey as she seemed to think the ferry was a diving board. A few years later and older with a younger brother Huw I recall their mutual delight in Bunratty, and Eleanor proudly riding a pony up the Black Valley while the rest of the family were jumbled up in a jaunting car. Donegal and Connemara belong to the period before children and mainly consisted of hill walking and scrambling with some tourism thrown in for good measure.
The Irish hills will always be among my best memories. A wonderful walk over Mount Brandon to the sea; sensational scrambles on the McGillycuddy Reeks ending in the Climbers bar. One year in Connemarra the Twelve Pins presented a major challenge, a full summer day over quartz and bog with multiple ascents and descents. The circuit of the Poisoned Glen in Donegal and many others. Driving through Connemarra yesterday, before the sun set and the nightmare began I was able to relive those memories.
I had planned to circuit the Donegal coast today, but I am confined to a hotel on the outskirts by the weather, and my only view is of a dismal courtyard of a modern building, maybe the trip to Belfast tomorrow will be more interesting, and hopefully safer.
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