[This dates back to a time, in the late 1990s, when I wrote a monthly column for theNewfoundland Telegram about connections between Ireland and Newfoundland, where I had been brought up for a while and visited a number of times since.]
Dingle, County Kerry, in south west Ireland, is most famed these days for a friendly dolphin named Fungie, who ‘performs’ in the harbour for the boat loads of tourists who come from all over to see him or swim with him. I recently spent a long weekend in that part of the country with my in-laws.
Summer homes are not common in Ireland, but my second family has something close. It’s an old stone cottage about 5 miles outside Dingle, tucked away down a small, untended road at the foot of an imposing hill, Mount Eagle. Of course, the weather in Ireland this summer being typically miserable, I never saw Mount Eagle. It rained from Friday right through to Monday. The only time we spent outdoors was going from the house to the car and from the car to the pub. The locals blame me for that, saying that every time I come there’s sure to be rain.
I did catch site of the ‘crích’ or corn-ridges on the slopes of the hill, long covered over by growth, but still visible as ridges because of the grazing sheep keeping the vegetation to a minimum. An Irish saying refers to the longevity of these ridges:
Three horse-lives, a man.
Three man-lives, an eagle.
Three eagle-lives, a yew tree.
Three yew-lives, a corn-ridge.
Three corn-ridge lives, the end of the world.
It’s an Irish-speaking area and only that yours truly was around Gaeilge would have dominated the chats at my in-laws’. The neighbours are very considerate and spoke in English (which they speak perfectly, of course, if less adventurously) just for me.
Farming is the main activity in the area, and so the surrounding fields are not open access. I learned this the first time I visited, when, cabin fever getting to me eventually, I went off for a stroll in the rain on my own. I soon strayed off the road, and next thing I knew a couple of barking dogs were homeing in on me followed by an elderly man weilding high a stick that seemed an extension of his arm. Only that a small but growth-tangled ditch separated me from the angry group I was surely a goner.
In the time it took them to find a crossing point Sinéad, my wife, appeared like an angel out of the mists, having taken pity on me going off on my own. She quickly explained to John O’Connor, in Irish, who I was, and he called off the dogs and lowered the threatening rod.
John O’Connor turned out to be a very friendly fellow altogether, smiling plenty through his cluttered teeth. He was very keen to find family connections. His battered coat was tied with a piece of blue twine around the waist. Before we left on that occasion we had a bag full of his finest eggs, the likes of which I had never comes across anywhere else. The yolks were as yellow as a coward, and likewise the omlette I made for Sinéad back in Dublin was spectacular, and the sponge cake she made just had to be experienced to be believed.
Other famous sites that the Kerry mists obscured from me on this occasion were the Blasket Islands, including the one that from the shore looks exactly like a man lying down; also the Conor pass