A longer winter break6th January 2010
We have had the cold winter mixture of snow and ice for so long now that it almost is no longer newsworthy. It was there before I set off on a winter airborne crossing of the Irish Sea and remained to welcome me back on my return. That’s not to say that it isn’t causing disruption, with travel being a casualty from time to time. It also explains why I was out on Christmas Day and the day after (Boxing Day to some, St. Stephen’s Day to others) breaking ice to clear tracks so that those with older bones than mine didn’t go breaking them. There was a useful thaw thereafter that allowed things to dry up before the next round of frosts and I took my chance on an afternoon stroll around by Springfield Castle in the winter sun. Traffic, thankfully, was light on the roads that conveyed me much of the way and most of the ice had gone. In fact, I found more of that on the back avenue of Springfield Castle than anywhere else, including the front avenue. The latter allowed me to escape from a sizeable bunch who were engaged in pucking sliotars (hitting hurling balls with hurling sticks to the uninitiated) along the road from Broadford to Dromcollogher. Apart from that collective, places were otherwise quiet with only the occasional soul encountered along the way. It was a useful escape from worrying about the effects of slips on those who really could do without a knock.
The only other trot of note was an afternoon jaunt around by Kilmeedy on an increasingly foggy New Year’s Day. Though I gained some height, the lack of visibility meant that wide-ranging views were out of the question so I contented myself with decent progress along largely ice-free and dry roads with little or no traffic on them. It was, but an unremarkable few hours out in the cold air apart from the sight of a pair of swans in the River Deel near Belville. Even so, it was a good way to let the mind loose to lose any stresses and strains that had been collecting.
Apart from those bursts of road walking, the countryside journeying was largely virtual with some books capturing my attention. The first of these was found around my parents’ house and caught my eye. Tales of canal boating do not normally attract my interest, but Gerald Potterton’s In the Wake of Giants kept me occupied for a few hours with its mix of modern-day anecdotes and historical interjections. Ostensibly, it is a tale of someone fulfilling an interest in journeying along the Grand Canal and the River Barrow with its numerous canal cuttings for the avoidance of weirs. Naturally, this took me around by locales that wouldn’t have crept too high up my list of places to visit and told me a little about them too, adding to my knowledge of the “Old Country”. The tale may have stuttered to life like a marinised old Ford diesel engine that is used as a power unit for a canal boat, but the narrative soon got going in its own inimitable manner and went to show that there can be more to tillage farmers than meets the eye.
The second occupier of any free moments was a volume that I picked up a while back and lay on my reading list before I got around to it. Joseph Murphy’s At the Edge does fit in rather better on a blog full of walking trip reports than a tome on canal boating and it has its own soul too. The backbone of the thing is a walk along the coasts of Ireland and Scotland from Kerry to Lewis made by someone who feels that he has lost a little something of his Irish heritage. Along the way, he gets to pondering Gaelic culture and the differences between Ireland become apparent with the emptiness of Scotland contrasting with an Ireland peopled with obliging folk; interlopers who fail to engage with their Scottish surroundings stick out like sore thumbs later on in the narrative. While I may have developed a beady eye with all my online scribblings, there were times when perceived typographical errors intruded on any sense of reverie (I know that I’m only human, so please let me know privately about any failings of my own making). Clearly, a spot of improvement on the proofreading side is needed on the part of the publishers and the author. Even with intrusions, the explorations of exile and connectedness drew me in as the journey continued; I suppose that my being an Irishman living and working in England had something to do with this, though my affinity for the places visited along the way may have helped too.
Just as there are Irishmen in England, there are Englishmen in Ireland and Tim Robinson has been one of the latter since 1972. On the return trip to Cheshire, I felt the need for a book and his Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage became my accompaniment as I left the branch of Easons on Dublin’s O’ Connell Street. It’s an intense piece of writing that needs to be savoured away from the vacant prattling of drunken folk on trains. Quite how he can make so much of coastal explorations with only the occasional diversion inland is surprising. Until a few years ago, it was out of print but Faber & Faber brought out a new edition with a forward by Robert Macfarlane. There is a companion volume called Stones of Aran: Labyrinth that also was out of print until the New York Review of Books addressed that situation last year. More recently, he wrote a counterpart pair on Connemara with titles such as Connemara: Listening to the Wind and Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness, both published by Penguin Ireland. The latter of these is in my possession and remains unfinished but it very typically was on the wrong side of the Irish Sea when it would have been continued. Of course, that’s a human failing with my not thinking that I’d not be reading that much while ensconced in West Limerick. It’s also an unusual one for me, but carriage of paper items is sure to add weight that can prove expensive if indiscipline is allowed to reign. In that light, the extra purchase can be seen as a comparative bargain.
With all this reading about a country to which I haven’t done justice in walking terms, you might think that 2010 is set to be a year when Ireland might see more of me. That, however, is not mine to see. The start of any year usually is like beginning with a blank slate, but 2010 seems more wide open than other years. While grand designs are not my style, I am more inclined to avoid them this year than I otherwise might do. It will be a case of meeting the future one day at a time and seeing where things take me from here.
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