‘So Much More Than We Can See’
This morning I had an email containing a link to the Irish RTE website to hear the Irish writer Joseph O’Connor talk about spending childhood summers in the west of Ireland in Connemara. I was reminded of the idea that prompted me to travel abroad in the first place, a desire to get beneath the main tourist attractions and the popular shopping street to the living culture. Before I began making plans for the Grand Tour, my original idea was to set up shop somewhere, rent an apartment in Italy or Iceland and find my favorite corner market, a quiet cafe to write in and locals to discuss culture long into the evenings over a bottle of wine.
Joseph O’Connor concluded his broadcast with, ‘We have inherited so much more than we can see.’ This was the place I wanted to delve into, to understand, to study over time. My Grand Tour of Europe allowed me to pinpoint where I wanted to make these discoveries. One of them was Ireland, the mysterious island, known for its production of many literary giants. This dream was fulfilled when I moved to Dublin last October.
In the beginning of May, I found myself in County Sligo and County Donegal for the weekend. On my first trip to Ireland I had been blown away by the Cliffs of Moher, the famous marine cliffs outside Galway that attract many visitors. On the day of my visit, one clear November day in 2007, I was lucky to have the cliffs completely to myself. Dark rain clouds had come and gone in the morning, leaving a bright sky and damp ground. No tour buses had yet arrived and the quiet of the cliffs, the atlantic waves crashing down below, were all mine for one hour of that day.
I had learned that the highest marine cliffs in Europe were in County Donegal, and that they were supposed to be twice as high as the impressive Cliffs of Moher. Again, on a rainy morning, we set out for the cliffs called Slieve League. The rain was torrential in parts, the car filled with the harsh noise of large droplets bouncing off the windshield. We could see patches of blue in the distance, and as the road curved we hoped the change in direction would put the clouds behind us. As the road become narrower and more windy, we steadily climbed a slope through hilltop villages, approaching the cliffs.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle as we reached the lower parking lot. Adventurous travelers with backpacks and rain jackets were preparing to hike the final 2km to the cliffs. We followed the last patch of steep road up to a small parking lot, where only 3 other vehicles were parked. Sheep grazed nearby and lamb playfully chased each other through the grass. The skies didn’t clear upon our arrival, but the rain did stop. Just as I’d read, the waves crashing below were so far, they appeared almost silent.
A stone path ascended up one side of the cliffs for further views. On this cloudy day, we could see across to Sligo, but just barely. I had read that on a clear day, it was possible to see as much as 1/3 of the island from our perch. Besides everything I saw, I was in this place on the northwest corner of Ireland with 5 Irish people. That day, only a few days away from returning to America for a while, I realized there was so much more going on than I could see. The mannerisms, the use of language, the history of the island was being portrayed to me through its people.
Getting on the plane back to America, I realized I had accomplished something of my goal of understanding. I had reached a point just beneath the surface, Ireland had entered my psyche.
To listen to Joseph O’Connor talk about Connemara, click here.