Wednesday 22 September 2021

1990 Western Ireland

5.5.90  Claddaghduff, County Galway

5.15pm, the sun beginning to sink over the Atlantic.  Utterly idyllic, I'm afraid.  Crunchy seaweed like a Chinese meal; the smell of Cornwall; hard, flat beach, a causeway across to an island; low tide, worm casts; impossible turquoise  and jet-black-blue waters.  No one but me and Sister Anne around.  The sea a distant murmur.  The wind keen, refreshing.  Was I really in London 12 hours ago?

Everything like the last reel of a sad but profound film.  My little white Fiesta tucked away by the sand's margin.

Now in Renvyle House Hotel. Backtracking… Up at 4am, to Heathrow – huge red globe of the sun like a fruit.  Hour flight to Shannon – surprisingly big airport.  Met Sister Anne (who stayed nearby overnight), picked up car, onto N18, to Galway.

Overcast (London was totally clear), coldish.  Anne is optimistic; but I am not.  Stop off in Galway for morning elevenses.  Pleasant – bustling market town – looks like something out of the 1930s.

The coast road (R336) to Costelloe.  Weather beginning to clear.  The sea to our left, all very like Kerry of two years ago.  A detour to Cornamona, then up to Gortmore.  We see the 12 Pins (Bens) in the distance.  Beautiful as we come into Cashel.  Sun brilliant, a few fluffy clouds.  Lunch (a rip-off) in Cashel, then up to the T71, through the Kylemore Pass – very Lake District.

We stop off at the Victorian Kylemore Abbey.  A school for girls with a stunning view of the hills and Kylemore Lough.  A case full of podgy blotchy hockey teams.  The stars and their Cantab PhD.  Tea and tea-cake (like Xmas cake) in their tea shop, then to Letterfrack (great name), up to Cleggan.  Wind very strong now, the bay a huge ruffled turquoise pool, the 12 Pins behind, a hill opposite.  We sit on straw bales – the smell of tortoises.  Then round to the amazing, beautiful  Claddaghduff, and its low tide causeway to Omey Island.  Driving down to the N59/T71, the sea full of island – you can see why Irish mythology is full of Land of Youth and such-like – it's all obviously true.

Back to Letterfrack and then to here.  £30 each for a decent room and brekkies.  Fair number of sports facilities – including boating, which obviously Anne wanted to try.  But the wind by now very strong – waves rising.  We/I can't get the boat out.  I sulk, we flounder – then I/we give up.  Hmph.  Anne going to mass soon.  Earlier, we saw in the distance the amazing cliffs of Achill Island, where we hope to go tomorrow.  Today – despite my deeply mature tantrum etc. - has been glorious.  Who could believe that three weeks ago I was in Sonoma?

After dropping Anne off, down to Renvyle Point.  To my left, the ruined tower and the slightly dusky sun falling towards it; in front, the bay, and the distant mountains gradually receding into the mist.  Sheep graze, the wind roars and thunders – but quietly.  The sea is a pewter pool, and looks infinite.  Kelp lies in huge bundles like old rope.  Hobbled sheep.  A yearling lamb.  A ram like a ball of wool. The lambs are eating the seaweed (and why not?).  A ewe's bloated udder bounces between her legs.  The beach a huge swatch of babbled, starry cloth, pebbles gleaming, pools white.  Apart from the wind, such silence…  A shepherd appears, timeless.  Sicilian, weather-beaten, garbed in trousers and a cap.  

Memories of other Irelands…  Although unintentional and non-systematic, Anne's and my journeys in Eire are pretty comprehensive.  A gibbous moon.  The driftwood piece I gave as a gift.  I could sit here for centuries (the Land of Youth again…).  A cloud rests on a smooth peak like a disembodied gloved hand resting on a bronzed breast.  A curtain of cloud rolling in from the West; and tomorrow…?

6.5.90 Renvyle House

Up late after superb dinner (6.45am).  Overcast, but hope for sun.  I sit on my bed, looking at the 12 Pins.  Through a chasm in the clouds an extraordinary sight: a falling of white light like a silver shower.  Very physical.  Reading Peig Sayers' "An Old Woman's Reflections" – very strong sense of the ancient heroic age and its passing.

Last night, I gave Anne her various prezzies – Holy oil and tapes and a book from St Makarias – and "Glanglish".  I was struck by the pleasure I gained watching her read a few essays – her expressions, her concurrence.  I can see how this might prove addictive…

Along to Achill Island, to Keel – one of the most westerly points in Europe.  Then the beach at the end of the road.  Brilliant white beach, feathered with black.  A stream to the sea, ox-bowing before our eyes.  Anne is drawing the gothic arched bridge over the stream.

Lunch in Keel – oysters, lobsters – with what consequences…?  Interesting restaurant – à la Man and Calf: long, aqueous, like a ship's saloon.  Pop and rap incongruously fill the air.  Food good, place nearly deserted.  Achill Seafood Restaurant - £40.

After a stupendous meal, along to the Cathedral Rocks.  Drive to the east end of Keel's beautiful beach.  Looking back West, the headland with its implicit cliffs, the Lake District hills.  The sun breaking through now and again.  Strong smell of wet seaweed – and of Cornwall, 30 years ago.

Rocks like blasted trees, dendrochronology gone mad.  Soft ferns draped like antimacassars – fairy lands again.  The drip of water.  Only the Garden of Fand beyond.  That sound of lapping water – I'm a born Englishman, sea in my veins.  The strand lit by the sun – a slivver crescent of light.  Anne sketching, echoing in images these words.  Software cropped grass – fairy lawnmowers… The sun comes out, hot and beneficent [A fly gets behind my Ray-bans…].   I could eat this seaweed – were I not stuffed.  The cliffs rear up like Balinese rice fields, stepped, luxuriantly green. And yet the Cathedral's themselves are small and unspectacular – nothing compared to Étretat…  The more I see all these places, the more I long to live here for a few months, writing, thinking.  Will I…?

I sit facing the fabulous (fables, indeed) Cliffs of Moher.  It is 8pm, and the curving sun has slipped below the broken cloud cloth, heading towards the burnished sea.  The cliffs stretch away to the right, classic sheer drops, with deep arches – real "Famous Five" stuff.  The polyphonic gulls' cries filter through the air.  Down below they look like swarms of gnats.  The striated cliff walls have green splashes – like stains in baths.  Ink-blue black sea froths at the cliffs' foot.  A tower is behind me, the sun at 45 degrees to my right.  Most of the tourists have gone, leaving me with this majesty.  Anne too has gone.  Moody is alone (ah…).  But a glorious end to a glorious day – and weekend.

This reminds me of Tintagel, and of the dragon watching the sun from his cave.  The long, long shadows lie on the deep green grass.  Behind the cliffs – which form a spur, the coast further south west – nothing for 3000 miles.  The End of Europe.  This place is very different.  On the radio here, a programme about the latest news in Irish folk music.

Moving round north, the Aran Isles bask like happy whales.  Beyond them Galway, Connemara and the 12 Pins.  The cliff to my right like the curtain wall behind Queen Hatshepsut's Temple – sheer and incised.  Then a wall at right angles to it, closing it off, making a kind of proscenium stage and arch.  The rock layers very straight and horizontal – as if laid in courses.  The sun growing golden.  My body really quite chilled – but pleasantly.

Back in Ennis, the Queen's Hotel – not bad.  No din-dins after such a lunch (and alas – I can't remember what I had for dinner last night – which was excellent: mushrooms stuffed with ham and mustard, carrot and ginger soup; but then what?  With the Côte de Beaune?)

So, from Renvyle to Westport, then to Achill – very like Skye.  So many beautiful vistas.  And finishing with Keel.  Lunch: oysters – crisp; lobster; then apple pie.  All excellent and in such an atmospheric café.  The hurtling back for Anne's bus to Cork.  From Leenane to Maum, along Lough Corrib to Headford – then a long, straight road to Galway.  We stop off at Gort to see WB Yeats' shack – idyllic, creeper up one side, fast trout stream with stepping stones.  Then to Ennis.

Me out to Cliffs of Moher.  As I return the sun stains the clouds amazing hues.  A quick turn around the town – very pleasant, quite unspoilt and reminding me very much of Wexford.  And so to bed (soon).  What a day/life…

7.5.90 London at 1000 feet

About 10am – I have just seen my flat, flying over it – the air is so clear, and London laid out like a map.

Well, here's a turn-up for the books: Moody in Chiswick Gardens, just north of the villa.  I have been along to Hogarth's House – finally, having passed it for so many years.  But I never even knew these gardens existed.

The House – though much restored, and filled mostly with prints – is charming.  A mulberry tree in the garden.  The place looked after by a late middle-aged chap – typically friendly.  Told me about Church Street – an idyllic street of Georgian and Elizabethan houses – and only steps from the A4.  Down to the river – the smell of mud, the tiny crepitation of low tide. 

Back to Chiswick.  Past the greenhouse – reminds me of Powerscourt – a broken urn like something out of Greenaway.  Café closed, alas.  Round to the Rotonda (so to speak).  Planes roar overhead, echoes of myself.

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