Rain. At Last.

Friday, April 24th. I was starting to worry that I had landed in the wrong Ireland and that there was another one, in the Mediterranean, on which I had mistakenly landed, but which had not yet been accounted for in Googlemaps.


Michael deposited us in Bweeng at the spot at which he had collected us yesterday and Stella, delighted to finally be in her natural element of cold wet and wind, pranced around in untrammelled joy at the prospect of a day in the mud and the driving sleet. The route from Bweeng to Mallow is both not particularly far (about 13 kms) and not particularly attractive to walk on, as at least 65% is on metalled roads, probably more like 80%. This was a section that I was busy filing under “get it done” as the IMG_3026views were miserable, the going uncomfortable and Stella permamently on her leash, as the roads were not really quiet enough to give her her freedom. The only sight that caught my attention was a ruined abbey or fortification perched in a field above the Valley to the south of Mallow, which I am assuming is Mourneabbey, a place sadly in the news these days as the home of Karin Buckley, the young student horribly assaulted and murdered in Glasgow some ten days ago. The rain had settled in for what appeared to be a long haul as we approached Mallow, having been averaging well over 5km/h, at around 12:00 noon. A spur of the moment decision and a quick consultation with Stella, decided us for an extension of the days tour, giving Mallow a pass and heading on through the hills ahead of us to Killavullen on the Blackwater River. The only episode of note that morning, which I will mention before we head off to Killavullen, was a co-incidental meeting with a very attractive lady who stopped me just as I was disappearing off the main road onto a small track above Mallow and the Abbey.

I had joined the main road, from which I was disembarking, approximately 60 seconds beforehand from a tributary road, so the window of opportunity for Joan (as I discovered she was called) to see me and react was under a minute. But react she did, honking furiously as she passed and pulled over. I assumed she was going to ask me for directions, but no, she asked if IIMG_3029 was Steven and if my dog was Stella, as she had heard all about me from Michael, whom she had just bumped into in a coffe shop in Mallow. I was a little confused, as I had assumed Michael had gone back to Millstreet, but there it was and no, she didn’t know Michael either, but her husband and Michael had played GAA football with each years before and, she had two 7-year old Red Setter bitches who she would love to breed from, but they were difficult to mate and was I thinking of having Stella covered and wasn’t it a wonderful thing to be out in this beautiful countryside on such a day. All of this took about 2 minutes as I leant into the car window trying not to drip all over her shopping. Wishing me well, she sped off into the rain and that was that.

Later Pam commented wryly that Ireland, indeed the world, was a very small place, if you talk a lot.

I was mighty glad to have taken the decision to crack on to Killavullen, inspite of the rain as the route became much more varied with delightful passages over hills and through woods IMG_3028with far more glimpses of the valley below and the rolling hills of northern Cork in the distance. The sun rewarded us at around 1430 by winning the battle against the rain clouds at least for a few hours. I had guessed that we would need to make an extra 13kms to Killavullen giving us a respectable days walk of 23 kms (we had saved a few kms by missing Mallow), but the road was twistier and with more loops than I had calculated and we ended up covering almost twenty extra kms before we finally arrived, feet pounding, in the picturesque village of Killavullen, on the Blackwater. Michael had again offered to pick me up and we spent a delightful time on the magnificent bridge over the river, where he told me that the Celts had considered the Avondhu a goddess and worshipped her. Standing on the ancient bridge looking in to the fleetly flowing treacle black broad snake of water, held in by green banks with oaks and willows on the north side and a dramatic cliff-like rock formation overhanging the river underneath the town on the south side with a cave  formed where the water had eaten the limestone away, it was not difficult to imagine the awe in which ancient civilisations held the river and to be persuaded of its power and mystery.


The End of the Duhallow Way

Thursday, April 23rd. My first day alone on the Trail for some time and exactly one week since I shouldered my pack and stomped off across the boggy uplands of the Kerry Way at Waterville. Kerstin dropped me off early at the point at which we had left the trail the previous day and, trusting her iPhone navigation assistant entirely, disappeared in the vague direction of IMG_3022Cork, the aim of arriving at Dublin airport in time to catch her lunchtime plane back to Germany. And off we stomped, head full of the conversations and inspirations from the last days.

My goal today was Bweeng, final stop on the Duhallow Way and the start (or finish, depending on which way you are travelling) of the much longer Avondhu Way. The walk was gentle, starting on a muddy track that led me between peat fields and scrubby, straggy copses until it turned on to a very quiet lane that in turn led me past the usual semi-delapidated houses all of which have at least one dog yapping in excitement in the front garden or yard, but never a sign of any human life. A strange, or least noticeable feature of the Irish landscape to the novice eye is the marked difference between new houses belonging presumably to better situated owners and older shabbier ones. The new houses – almost without IMG_3023exception – are displayed (and I can’t think of a better word to describe their appearance) on a large square of concrete which is sometimes framed by a perfect square of gravel or of lawn. On the concrete slab there is nothing: no flower pots, not ornaments, no colour, nothing at all to break the sterile monotony of the grey frame in whose centre the house is displayed. This is is marked contrast to the garish pinks, yellows, mauves and light blues in which the houses are painted (monochrome, not all of those colours at once, of course). I assume that these obviously newer and more expensive houses are lived in, but you wouldn’t know it. There are no curtains, no colours or decorations visible through the windows, no backs of photograph frames which you might expect to break the line of sight of a cursory observer. Nothing. Just clinical cleanliness, no sign of human life, except, the yapping dogs – usually small, always running around outside and visible behind a low wall, usually ungated and generally quite depressing. This almost obsessive reduction of any decorative elements and clinical, antisceptic presentation of the home is such a prevalent and uniquely irish feature, that it must be an expression of a cultural value that I have yet to uncover.

I am going to hazard a guess though: I am reminded of an aspect of italian middle class culture that I learned of in the days about three decades ago when I regularly spent time in Florence. I remember being irritated by the fact that many italian IMG_3017diners in the restaurants we visited left half or more of their bottles of wine on the table and half or more of their food on their plates. Having being brought up to finish what was on my plate, under the admonition “waste not, want not” (does anybody still say that?), I could not help, but notice (judgementally, it has to be said) this systematic waste. My friend explained to me that in Italy (or was it just Florence?) leaving food on your plate and wine in your bottle was a sign to your contemporaries that you were well-off and able to afford not to scrape every last carbohydrate and protein off your plate, as poor people would have to.

Applying the same logic to the superclean, objectless concrete arrangements around the houses of the more affluent, I could imagine that, not having your yard and the space around your dwelling full of junk, was sign of prosperity, especially when I contrast that with the piles of rubber tyres, broken farming equipment, heaps of flagging stones, plastic buckets, sheep dips and coils of fence wiring that take up the majority of the yards and spacing around the older, usually agricultural dwellings.IMG_3019 Poor people have their yards full of stuff, the affluent middle class deliberately clear their houses of every last vestige of moveable objects to demonstrate their wealth. That of course changes as you move up the social ladder, where the houses and gardens of the very wealthy and land owning squirearchy are again to be found filled to the brim with decorative paraphenalia, assembled over centuries from trips around the world. Society is not a pyramid, it’s a horseshoe. If anyone has a better explanation (like: All these houses were built before 2009 and nobody had any money left to decorate the outside of the house after the Tiger died; Or: Nobody wants to put any signs of life outside the house, so the bailliffs will think there is nobody living there), I’ld love to hear it.
My route took me through a forest, on what should have been a good track and therefore should have been a pleasant IMG_3018enough walk, but it wasn’t because for the next 5 or 6 kilometers, as I have written previously, there was an incessant, thundering procession of trucks and roadmaking vehicles, hammering their path through the woods. Michael came to pick me up at the pub in Bweeng, where I was engaged in various conversations with the small, but multi-faceted crowd of locals who were gathering at the oasis on that sunny lunchtime.