The next morning it was raining heavily as I headed inland, intending to circle around past Glencar and Ben Bulben and on to Drumcliffe. I passed through Manorhamilton, a non-descript little town whose only feature is a large dusty, small windowed building, an old priests house or school, that lines nearly all of one of the narrow main streets. It is painted all along with die(dice) to designate its use as a casino, one of the least glamorous in existence I imagine.
Glencar waterfall features in Yeats’ poem The Stolen Child..
Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car…
I am not going to pretend that I am knowledgeable poetry-wise, though I would like to be. I have favourite poems, a few of which are, by dint of an Irish education and The Waterboys, by Yeats. But more of that later…
I turned off into the valley of Glencar Lake and though it was overcast and wet, the steep corrugated slopes that flare out from square cliffs were steaming in the warmth under marching pines.
The car park opposite the falls overlooks the lake and was clean and well-ordered. Across the road, through a gate, a path wound past trees and benches on well-cut grass, across a bridge to lead up steps to the waterfall. Going across the bridge I felt my heart quicken, maybe the rush of the water beneath was causing my heart to race in unison with it, maybe some other emotion.
Waterfalls are beautiful, it’s a given and, somehow, this knowledge makes them seem dull as a prospect.
“I have seen one waterfall, I’ve seen them all.”
(That’s my head works anyway 🙂 )
But, as with many things, it’s something else again to experience them in reality. The thundering noise that shoves your heart into a gallop to catch up, the delicately misted air, the rush of white, trimmed at bottom with ragged lace…
It’s not reality but here’s a video…( it took three hours to convert, rotate and upload the bloody thing, during which time the falls got somehow shortened-they are 50ft…NOTE TO SELF:Improve video editing skills)
I stood at the top of the wet steps awhile and then I wandered down the looping path, past a fence and a tree that was tied with offerings. On closer look these offerings were less than sacred:a packet of Rennies, an old plastic pill packet and numerous sodden tissues suggesting that it was some sort of healing tree. If it was an ancient site or not, I don’t know, but not surprising to find it here, where the rush of water makes you dizzy, where the power of it all pushes you to the edge, makes you feel the gap open up beneath your feet.
Passing back over the bridge, thinking of other things, I got the same rush of emotion I had on passing before. Physiological or something else?With or without poetic leanings it is not hard to understand why Yeats was drawn here.
I left the small well-kept park of the waterfall and, on checking the map at the entrance, I followed the road for 500 yards or so and came to a track that rose through the arrow straight trees, switching back and forth up the steep incline to emerge over the waterfall on what must be the flanks of Ben Bulben.
It was quieter up there, though I could dimly hear the waterfall as I passed far above it. Through the mist I could see the bottom of the valley glowing a bright yellow-green in the occasional sun. I followed the rocky path, muddy puddles and heather roots into thicker mist determined to find Meabhs Cairn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meabh, that wild woman of the Táin Bó Cúailnge(The Cattle Raid of Cooley or just The Táin) that was advertised as part of the walk, but when I came to the end of it I realised the cairn was on a far hill and merely visible from here in good weather.
I didn’t feel disappointed though, as I walked back through the ragged fog. It suited my human need for narrative and meaning to be drawn here to mysterious heights by a poet who revived the Spirit of our Nation, only to end up chasing an ancient Irish heroine, so fierce and bloody as to be still visible through the mists of time.
SUPPORT YOUR ICE CREAM VAN MAN:
When I arrived back I got a cup of tea at the spotlessly clean ice-cream van that had appeared in the car park. There were no prices on display so I prepared to pay tourist prices. I was pleasantly surprised when, not only was it a good cup of tea, it was only €1.50. A modern Irish conversation ensued about rip-off merchants and the like. Drop by if you’re there, for a cone or a cuppa and a chat. We need more of this sort of thing 🙂