One of Ireland’s best-kept secrets is that it’s actually MORE beautiful in bad weather. Much as I – and everyone else here – grumbles about it, something about the deep grey of the sky brings out the colours of the landscape, most particularly the many shades of green here in the West. They look like they are illuminated from within when it’s overcast.
I meant to go shooting today, but the forecast showers had turned into incessant, lashing rain by the time I arrived in the North of Mayo. I spent some time with Harry, picking up a few new arrows and bits and bobs, and then decided to do a good-bye tour through my county, although it is a bit silly really – after all I’m not moving to Tibet or Africa next month but only a county away (no, I still don’t have anything definite, but there will be a decision in the next few days). My eyes teared up anyway on a few occasions, and I’m sorry but I didn’t photograph the most breathtaking views along the journey, mostly because I couldn’t stop the car on the small country roads.
Mayo is heart-wrenchingly gorgeous. I love all of the West, but the likes of Clare have a more sweet, “tame” kind of beauty. Mayo is rough and wild with its stark, bare brown hills and windswept coastline. It’s the county of Grace O’Malley (if you don’t know who that was, look her up. Do it. I’ll wait here). Parts of it look like they could be on the moon, like a wide plain of not much of anything, that I drove past today. Others are dramatic, lush, and green. There are loughs so huge they have waves almost like the sea, there are forests and streams, and especially in the North-West, the sea intrudes everywhere.
Something happens to me in Mayo. It happens more in some places than others, for example the stretch of road between Castlebar and Pontoon, which is never as beautiful as it is in August with the heather blooming. It’s where I suddenly hear the wind whispering: “This. This is where you belong.” Every time, without fail, from the first time I set foot here over 27 years ago. Don’t even bother asking, I have nothing resembling a rational explanation, only a bone-deep knowledge:
This is where my soul originates.
I’ve always gone to Mayo to heal. At 21, I was heartbroken by the end of a relationship with someone I’d loved very much. I got sick with bronchitis and the cough settled in my chest and wouldn’t budge even two months later. I knew what I needed to do but I was a broke university student and so I begged life for 1,000 DM (German Marks). The next day, I got a letter about a student job completed two months earlier, that I had forgotten about. It contained the pay: 1,018 DM.
A week later I was on a plane, and then I stayed in a youth hostel on the North coast of Mayo as their only guest (it was March) and walked 4-5 hours every day, in the rain and wind, to the rocky beach in my wellies and wax jacket. I found a small cave which wasn’t flooded when the tide was out, and there I’d sit reading Lord of the Rings. After four days, I forgot to cough. A week later, I had recovered completely, and left to travel the county some more.
You may remember me writing that I was coming here to heal, last year when I moved to Ballinrobe. And did I ever! My life is completely unrecognisable, and so is my health. Therefore, much as it hurts to admit, there might be a reason why I can’t stay now.
I can absolutely see myself living here when I’m old, a weird hag gloriously on her own, wandering amongst the trees and talking to birds. It’ll be brilliant. One day! But, as Aragorn put it, it is not this day. My soul may originate in Mayo, but my tribe (new people I’ve connected with recently, as well as some older friends) are in Galway, Clare, and Tipperary. I have so much life to live yet, people to love, and love some more, songs to sing, swords to swing, dances to dance, and conversations to have. That’s why I’m leaving. I hope I’ll end up not too far away, but in any case I’ll come back to shoot in Massbrook Woods as often as I can.
Not being able to shoot today made me grumpy at first, but then it turned out to be a perfect afternoon surrounded by all this beauty. Eventually I stopped in Newport and fled from the rain into a gorgeous, cosy craft shop / cafe where I met a wise, beautiful soul. We ended up talking for ages, discovering so many things we have in common (Amanda, if you read this: Your shop really IS magic. When I stepped outside, the sun was shining, and my Googlemaps started working again, haha!).
I drove home smiling.
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