As I write this, I am sitting in a tour bus traveling through the Irish countryside.
My 13 companions are all from the US - and a pleasant, relaxed bunch they are, too. Our driver is an Irishman who married a Spaniard and lives in Portugal. He returns to Ireland to do his tours. He is a font of information and capable of talking – providing interesting details – non-stop for hours at a time. He is currently telling us about music traditions in Ireland. He is being disrespectful about the ‘Scottish bagpipes’ (Oscar Wilde apparently said “The definition of a gentleman is a man who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn’t” or “The bagpipes mimic the sound of a pig being carried underarm by a man but fails to achieve the purity of the sound of a pig squealing”).
Last night, we were astonished to be taken to stay the night in a castle. It was luxurious and the grounds were incredible – with wonderful garden sculptures, and the food served in the evening sublime. We were greeted when we arrived by members of the staff waving to us at the front steps, then a man loaded our luggage into one of those old-fashioned luggage movers with highly polished brass handles. In our rooms were two double beds and still enough room to move around comfortably. The attached bathroom was big enough to fit two bathrooms within. Definitely luxury we are not accustomed to - but don’t mind! To be sure. To be sure.
Most interesting to me – in my capacity as author - is the feeling that the landscape begs for stories to be told - whether fictional or non-fictional. As I stood on Tara Hill, the ancient site where Celtic kings were inaugurated and burial mounds undulate over the landscape, I practically heard men and women play out their lives and adventures. Through the townships, the crumbling walls of towers and disintegrating battlement walls jutting out of the landscape at regular intervals rebuild themselves in my imagination with romance and tragedy playing equal parts.
Hedgerows that boarder the roads and stretch over green fields dotted by sheep and cattle create the backdrop for the conversations of hares, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, rooks, jackdaws and the like. I must admit that less prevalent in my imagination are stories that could be told of the short lives of people because of disease and discomfort, infection and poverty – these are the cries of the ruins that we pass and explore.
On this tour, we have travelled from Dublin, where we drove past many Edwardian buildings, along the banks of the river Liffey (I was particularly entranced by the difference in street-light posts; ornate on one side of the river and plain on the other side) and then out into Phoenix Park. The park instantly sparked my interest. A huge expanse of grasslands and forest, sporting fields and a cafe surrounded by food gardens that supplies the cafe and the near-by President’s residence.
From Dublin we travelled through the countryside to our first ruins (Rective Abbey) where Hugh de Lacey - sent to Ireland by the Queen to subdue the recalcitrant locals – was buried after his death in a disagreement with another property developer. We then travelled to Trim, where Hugh de Lacey first decided to use property development (a castle) to show the locals he was boss. The story of Hugh de Lacey’s body is almost more interesting than his life - initially buried at Durrow Abbey, disinterred and reinterred at Bective Abbey, though his head was buried in St Thomas's Abbey, Dublin, then dug up again and reburied in St Thomas's Abbey (presumably together with the head).
I picked up a book in Cambridge (where I was before travelling to Ireland) called “The Long Journey of the English Language” by Peter Trudgill (I’m a bit of a sucker for such books). The book is the history of the making of the English language and its many quirks. His first few chapters weave through the influence of the Celts on the Gaelic language - originating probably from the language spoken by those who came from the lands north of Black and Caspian Seas (Proto-Celtic). Having just read this part of the book, my ears pricked up when, yesterday, in a tour of the O’Donnel’s castle (ruins), I learnt of the “Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland” (Foras Feasa ar Éireann), which tells of the coming of the original settlers to Ireland. The story parallels what Trudgill’s book explains. I found a simplified English translation of the ancient book (written in 1630s and reproduced below).