Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A week in the wild (Irish) west

The coastline of Mayo is beautiful and desolate, broken by the brute power of Atlantic waves and stripped of trees by the unceasing westerly wind. This is the famine country and the spirits of that time are all around; that worn out history told to Irish school children seems present and hunger still lingers in this empty place. In winter it must be bleak and depressing in driving grey rain; in summer, when the wind is merely strong and the sun pierces the clouds, it is quite enchanting and uplifting for the soul.

We've come to spend a week here, my family and I, in the company of my Mam. I believe that if my children learn to love a place like this they'll understand something more of what it is to be Irish.

We've rented a house by the sea, a short drive from Westport. The arrival of each high tide outside our door is greeted by us by cries of wonder as it makes islands of much of the surrounding land and lifts the boats and our hearts. We're such townies, romanticising the commonplace! Apart from the wind the sound-scape consists of the bleating of sheep, now joined by the shouts of our three boys chasing each other in the freedom of this place.

For the restless kids there's plenty to see in the area and we spend a few hours each day exploring.

  • We see Achill Island in the rain but the kids enjoy themselves immensely on the beach at Keel; On our way there we stop at the Beehive restuarant in Keem and have an excellent lunch of locally caught crab and salmon.

  • Westport House is a restored 18th century aristocratic home; the kids are patient on the tour of the house because they're being entertained too in the pirate theme park on the grounds of the house.

  • Killary Fjord is majestic on our boat trip with Killary Cruises. It's also easy to imagine how desolate it must have been in the famine era when there was a large population here.

  • The Ceide Fields close to Ballina, a pre-historic site,  is well worth the visit, but only because our guide is excellent. Without a guided tour it'd be hard to appreciate the significance of a pile of stones on a barren hillside.

I'd like to think we'll return when the boys are all old enough to climb Croagh Patrick.

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