Little Miss Bling is now fully functional – and after the rocky start, we are now best of friends. Yes, like any diva, she took her time getting dressed. But once she was ready, there was no stopping her. She is smooth and lithe, the extra slim keys on the keyboard an absolute pleasure to write on. She’ll be fun to have around.
After the sneak peek from yesterday, I took to the computer today to put the photos into a smooth slide show and spent all morning tweaking the soundtrack, the sequence and the transitions. The result is now ready, but I want to add a few words for context.
My little break took me to the bit of Ireland that is “teddy bear’s arms”. This is an area of Ireland on the West coast, comprised of counties Galway and Mayo. Much of the filming for Pilgrimage was done in the area which I have circled in the map of Ireland to the right. Getting to the West coast from Dublin takes about 2.5 hours when you are staying on the motorway. Up slightly further North, Co. Mayo, is more remote and has less comfortable roads, so a trip to the Irish West coast is a half-day enterprise.
We were headed for the Belmullet peninsula, the little hook you can see jutting down from the top of the circled area in the Ireland map. Co. Mayo was one of the worst affected areas during the mid-19th century famines, and it is easy to see why. The landscape is scraggy and barren, not easy to make a living off it. A third of the population either died or was forced into emigration, the ships to America sailing straight from little harbours off the Mayo coast. A later emigration drive in the 1880s took 3,500 people from Mayo to the US, and it is estimated that about 2 million Americans descend from them alone.
They left behind an area of stunning natural beauty, with a craggy coastline of high cliffs and deep inlets, endless bogs and rock-strewn hills. Our accommodation for the short break was on a tiny island in Blacksod Bay, connected to the mainland via a natural causeway. The only access was by car over the beach, which you will see in the slide show. We stayed in the grounds of the old Belmullet Coastguard Station, in a cosy pod that looked like an upturned boat. It slept four and had its own toilet/basin in there. Best of all, it came with extremely friendly hosts – the young farmer and his retired dad who both had grown up on Claggan and in typical Irish fashion stopped for a friendly chat every time we bumped into them on the premises. And they supplied us with fresh duck eggs every morning for our breakfast.
From our base on Claggan Island, we explored the area, drove all the way down to the Northern tip of the Belmullet peninsula and went on hikes along the rock headlands of Northern Mayo. We took the opportunity to visit the Céide Fields, remains of neolithic settlements which are supposedly the most extensive such anywhere in the world, containing the oldest known field systems in the world. Not much of it can be seen – it is only fields after all, identifiable by piles of rocks. But it is staggering to think that they were deliberately placed there by humans, 5,500 years ago! The fields are on an exposed hillside on the sea, and the view from up there is beautiful.
A little further North is Downpatrick Head, a headland jutting out into the Atlantic. It boasts a massive blow-hole and a sea stack, called Dun Briste. The headland is named after Ireland’s patron saint, S Patrick, who built a church on the headland. Legend has it that the sea stack broke away from the mainland because Patrick had banished all snakes onto it – that was his way of ridding Ireland of the reptiles.
All along the Irish coast line, hiking paths are maintained, sign-posted and well-worth walking. The views are stunning; you can sit and watch the gulls nest in the sheer cliff faces, and spot seals in the gushing surf below. If you look hard at the image above, you may even spot the Guylty Family sketching the view from the top of the grassy rock in the foreground. We took the Ben Wee Loop walk, and the Erris Head Loop walk, coming across the ubiquitous look-out stations from WWII that are now bare shells. Erris Head also sports one of the aviation signs that were spelled into the Irish coast line, a kind of analogue GPS, if you want.
It is not quite the right time of year for a trip around Ireland. While temperatures are not chilly, the wind can be, and the grass of the Emerald Isle is not as juicy and green as it is in late spring and all through summer. But in many ways the hibernating winter look is very fitting for this part of Hibernia; it is characterised by a rough beauty, depicting the awe-inspiring proximity of the elements on life on the Western fringe. It is not charming but of a dark, precarious beauty. More in the slide show below. Start the video and click on the enlargement symbol to see it in optimised size.
Hope you have enjoyed that little trip to Belmullet. Ireland, meanwhile, is getting ready for the big celebrations this weekend. Easter Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, an armed insurrection against British rule in Ireland which was essentially a quickly suppressed suicide mission – but set the path for later independence from the UK. Within Europe, it was the first of a string of revolutions that ended monarchism. And it was a huge step forward for women, too, as the proclamation of independence penned by the Easter rebels granted equal rights to women:
“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”
Happy Easter, everyone! 🐰