The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Ireland’s rare and secret beauties - communing nature and the family
Posted on Sunday, September 02, 2012 at 09:30 AM
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I'm taking a brief break from midsummer meanderings around the country to sit in the cottage garden and write this piece.
By the time you read it I will be either on the silvery face of the Shannon or already drinking a smooth pint in some good pub in Tipperary. A group of friends have planned to cross the Shannon by sailing boat for weeks now, but bad weather got in the way.
However, there is a window of better weather this week, and I'm now sitting under a sun-drenched gazebo in the garden. A gorgeous Red Admiral butterfly, the first I've seen this year, perched on the "F" letter of the keyboard seconds ago, a sight to delight the eye, and then whorled away into the blue spaces above us.
The cat is sitting on my shoe and Anika the dog is sleeping at the gate. The Dutch Nation is due home shortly from Killaloe.
Meanderings last week were special in that they took my brothers and I north of the border to Rostrevor in Co. Down to receive a Hall of Fame award at the International Fiddlers Green folk festival there. We had a mighty night.
The very rare sight of the four of us on stage together, all in our sixties, grizzled, wizened, quite crazy, but still remarkably healthy despite hard lifestyles along the way, will probably never be repeated again. We enjoyed ourselves to the limit and beyond.
I have to confess the full back story behind the show. We had a brief rehearsal before going onstage.
My siblings bluntly informed me that, since I was the only one among them who could not play any instrument, even a bodhran, and since I am the worst singer, that I could act as emcee as long as I kept the introductions very brief.
On no account would I sing a solo. My contributions to choral elements would be so low as to be virtually sotto voce. The red jeans I was wearing were a disgrace to the family, so I was to remain sitting down at all times to conceal them as far as possible!
Cowed totally, deeply hurt within, I obeyed all my orders and just about survived the show. That's the honest back story.
Infinitely more important, though, for any of you about to visit Ireland soon, is the impact of the peace process on the scenic borderlands of Louth in the Republic, and Down in the six counties.
I could not believe the change for the dramatic better since I last spent time in the North covering some of the worst of the Troubles. There is now a peace bonus and reality to warm the cockles of every visiting heart. Amazing.
Through the entire weekend in Warrenpoint and Rostrevor I did not see a single policeman or soldier on duty. There was a relaxed and extremely welcoming atmosphere everywhere, especially in Rostrevor. No noisy and threatening choppers hung in the sky.
The street signage in Rostrevor, for heaven's sake, is bilingual, in both Irish and English, and the bunting-laden GAA club was the center of the festival action. It's been a long time, even in the west, since I've seen so many smiling and welcoming faces.
And the scenery is to die for in these Mournelands. There is a peace bonus indeed, and prices for accommodation, food and drink are most reasonable.
And something else very important indeed which I discovered on the slowly meandering road home via Dublin with my brother Sean and his wife Patricia. Carlingford, on the shores of Carlingford Lough, in the significant shadow of Sliabh Foye and the etched Mournes, is the secret Utopia which the canny Louth people and their Down cousins try very hard to keep secret from the rest of us. They want it all for themselves, and it is easy to see why.
"Don't tell anybody about us," is a synopsis of the message I received loud and clear during a day spent dining and wandering through the historic village.
It is one of the best preserved walled towns in Ireland, garnished with medieval little streets wandering at their ease past a string of fine bars, restaurants and shops, the lough lapping up to its stone toes.
The Vikings invaded it in the eighth century and maybe behaved so badly during their stay that the locals still wish to preserve the treasure for themselves.
I can well understand why, but I strongly advise you, if in the Newry area during your stay, to invade them again anyway. It will be well worth your while. Disregard in the meantime any advice from any Louth man to stay away!
I can still taste the succulence of the plate of oysters and brown bread I enjoyed at a table outside a seafood cafe in the heart of Carlingford. Oysters are special in that they are always flavored by the place in which they are eaten. These tasted splendid. Get there to Carlingford and enjoy your own as soon as possible.
I'd write more but the Red Admiral butterfly has returned, and dammit if he hasn’t found a beautiful wife on his meanderings.
He has perched on the "F" key again and she is atop the "0" so I will leave them be and simply type "ENDS.”