Emma and I first visited Connemara 11 years ago, staying then in an isolated house with its own natural harbour near Cashel on the edge of Bertraghboy Bay. It generated many photographs and a group of poems and remains one of our most cherished places.
This year we took a house just outside the village of Roundstone. In the foreground were the curving, back-to-back lagoon-style beaches of Dog’s Bay and Gurteen and behind us were the slopes of Errisbeg. Up towards Ballyconeely the extraordinary linked beaches of Mannin stretched deep and wide, silvery white and studded with huge rocky outcrops.
Every morning on rising I’d look out of our gable window at the slopes of Errisbeg. It looked a seductively easy climb with long curving platforms of rock and broad expanses of turf so I gave it a preliminary scramble and soon ended up strung between brambles and thistles and ankle deep in whisky-coloured bog. But I persevered and cleared a bit of a pathway through what had looked so invitingly gentle from the window and late one afternoon Maisie and I set off up the slope.
We managed about two-thirds of Errisbeg, stopping just short of a steep dip at the base of the last collar of rock and shale before the long sloping top. The view was glorious with our two beaches curving out sickle-shaped into the bay, the tiny Mutton Island directly ahead, open sea to the west and to the east the blue triangle of Cashel Hill.
Throughout our two weeks the skies were rich patchworks of cumulonimbus cloud, sometimes coalescing and collapsing downwards in sweeping showers, sometimes fragmenting through the layers to reveal strips and strands of cirrus. The constant interaction between the static drama of the rocky terrain, the slow shifting of the sea and the ever-changing cloudscapes is what gives this coastal region of Western Ireland its majesty. Something of the old world is retained here, both in its primeval wildness and its sense of humanity settled a little precariously across its stony, thorny, boggy expanses.
Cloudbank to the west of the house
A FINE SOFT NIGHT* (A first draft, shared with dVerse).
"No such thing as a tidy sky
in Connemara", says the grocer
glancing through his plate glass
into the largely blue. The sun
stands high and smiling, maybe
a little wanly, up amongst
a lumber of smudges and lumps,
vapour streaks and scratches.
And he makes it through
past dinnertime and slips away
behind the foot of Errisbeg
in a crimson flush.
But into the waning pearly pink,
great rolling-shouldered clouds
are rising, thick and claggy
as limestone clay. Trailing
a ragged hem across the sea
behind us, their steep indifference
shrugging out the last of the light,
they have me shutting windows, locking
a latchless door and bedding down
beneath the eaves against a less
than tidy night. And the rain
sets in with a strafe of shale
across the tiles and all
the dark goes dancing from
Dog's Bay Beach to the top
of Errisbeg. This is, I fear
and hope, the time and place
at which the sea and sky conspire
and water returns to claim
the whole of the world.
*With gentle irony, 12 hours of rain in Connemara is referredto as 'a fine, soft day'.
Maisie on Errisbeg
A rainbow at sunset