Thursday, August 02, 2012
Ballynamona to Nadd
Ballynamona to Nadd 8.1.12 What is left at Ballynamona is the negative evidence of progress. A few years ago a major highway cut through the middle of the once tiny village. Now all that remains are a few houses and a long ago closed decaying church building. There was a sign just outside the gate of the church cemetery warning potential gravediggers to be aware of the dangers of such activity. The fresh mound of dirt over Granny’s grave made me wonder if her family had permission to dig the grave that rested among other three-hundred year old inhabitants. Only recently has grave digging been regulated in Ireland. From the beginning of memory, it has been the custom for friends of the family to dig the grave the day before the funeral during the wake. Once the grave was completed a member of the family would bring a bottle of Jameson to the diggers and there they share the bottle and remember the cherished community member. A mile past the church were the collapsing ruins of a castle standing tall on top of a hill now occupied by grazing cattle. Ireland is a country where the ancient and the postmodern are intertwined as if centuries past were simply yesterday. Not long past the castle a red Mini Cooper pulled up beside me as I walked down a small country lane. A neighboring husband and wife headed out to take a walk along the river. She asked all the now expected questions, “Where was I headed, where did I start from, was I enjoying Ireland, how did I find the countryside?” They were members of the local hiking club and she was especially curious about my experience of the Blackwater Way. A few weeks prior, she told me, they hosted three hikers from Germany who had found the local countryside to be lacking in excitement. The driver of the red Mini was very pleased that I found the pastoral farmlands to be soothing and healing to my soul. “A good story my club will want to hear,” she said. Six miles southwest took me through the village of Bweeng, the official end of the Avondu Way and the beginning of the Duhallow Way, the two trails that form the Blackwater Way. The slow climb out of the village took me through the Boggeragh Mountains. These mountains are an interesting mixture of strips of untouched dark forest, forest thinning, complete forest harvesting, and re-forest planting. I imagine what I saw was the result of a hundred years of somewhat planned forestry efforts. How easy it would be of me to be critical of the mile square raw harvested land. Yet, the very next mile square was lush with trees that must have been planted years ago. While the next several miles has been left untouched. Just before leaving the forest I met a very large and probably old Raven. He flew overhead and then landed in the tree I approached. He had much to say with his booming voice. His word to me was, “observe.” I thanked him and as I was walked away he laughed the laugh of wisdom watching a pilgrim about to face a test. Indeed, the forest road ended into the dark forest itself, where I would have to muck my way under low hanging branches through moss covered rocks and down a tiny path flowing with rain water. Somewhere during the half-mile slow going slog I took my first spill of my eighteen-day walk. I had to step off one level of forest floor down onto another four foot below. The trail was obscured by grass. I took my first step carefully as my next step slipped landing me squarely on my backpack. No harm, no foul, clean tackle, I bounced up, well for an exhausted fifty-eight year old man, I bounced. The Raven’s laughter was ringing in my ears. The forest trail opened out onto a sweeping hillside known as the Mossey Bog. Cut across the bald hillside was a road six below the surface of the bogged landscape. As I walked down the water filled trail, I wondered why anyone would build a road through this massive mound of prehistoric pile. After a mile of walking down the road cut through the bog it dumped me out onto the country road leading to Nadd. There I was met with a road placard memorializing the hundreds of Irish soldiers who had cut 270,000 tons of bog that was used for fuel during World War II. The ancient and postmodern, woven together as if centuries past were simply yesterday. Ah, my wise friend the Raven, I hear you.