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 that lines nearly all of one of the narrow dark 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.
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 and often it seems that if you have seen one Waterfall you have seen them all.
But 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…
Glencar features in the Yeats poem The Stolen Child which is one of my favourite poems.
…Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star…
I stood at the top of the wet steps a while 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. I don’t know if it was an ancient site but it is not surprising to find it here where the rush of water makes you dizzy and 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 felt the same rush of emotion I had 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 that wild woman of the Táin Bó Cúailnge(The Cattle Raid of Cooley) 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 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 to end up chasing an ancient Irish heroine so fierce and bloody as to be still visible through the mists of time.
When I arrived back I was pleased to see that a spotlessly clean ice-cream van had appeared in the car park for I was in bad need of a cup of tea. 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.