Two golden autumn days, exploring old Irish ways.
- An account of our weekend adventure.
Last Friday morning I left Galway (West of Ireland) and headed
towards the midlands. I wasn't fully sure of my destination, but
knew it was in the vicinity of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which
bind together counties Offaly and Laois. There I would meet all the
guys from the Dublin centre: Ambarish, Shane, Gary and Vinnie and
also two friends Rastio and Jan - from Slovakia and the Czech
Republic respectively. (I apologise to them both if I have misspelt
their names!) Rastio had come over to run the Dublin Marathon, in
which he achieved an excellent time of about 3 hours 30 minutes! Jan
had come over for a business meeting, but I think this was just an
excuse to come and explore Ireland! After a quick phone call and
confirmation of a meeting point, I arrived in Birr at half one.
Ambarish had unfortunately appointed my brother Shane (of all
people!!) to navigate, which resulted in them being over an hour
late! I put this time to use and collected Rastio who was staying in
the town of Roscrea only 15 minutes away.
At about three we were all finally united in a cafe in Birr. With
the day pushing on, we scoffed the last of our potato cakes and
marched to our cars with the prospect of squeezing every bit of
opportunity from the daylight before darkness would fall. To
Clonmacnoise, a famous monastery on the banks of the river Shannon,
we drove. We had an hour before it would close for the night, but
this was all we needed. We walked amoungst the many ruins of
churches, high crosses and gravestones with the two round towers
forever keeping a watchful eye on our location. Jan, relentlessly
trying to break the record for the most photos ever taken in two
days, was snap happy. The churches and towers were ancient and
fascinating, but it wasn't until a video presentation in the centre
that you really gained an understanding and true respect for this
Walking outside once more, every aspect of the monastery became more
significant, more special. We walked along the flooded banks of the
Shannon. Land was flooded along the river as far as the eye could
see. We all met back at a sheltered stage that had been built for
the Pope when he had once given a presentation in the 80's.
Outside, and clinging onto daylight, we spotted an adjacent castle.
This is the most amazing castle I have ever seen, because it
appeared to defy the laws of gravity. One of its corners - which was
a huge mass of stone - looked like it would blow over with the wind;
but it refused to give way. After centuries it was still having a
huge argument with time over the possibility of immortality. We
explored the castle, climbing spiralled stairs and openings.
"Football!" Ambarish exclaimed seeing the field around the castle,
but it was rough and full of cow dung. We had a football and all
ready. I looked up, and across the road I noticed a primary school
with a lovely flat pitch... what a gift! We were blessed with a fine
evening. We played until we could barely make out one another. We
played until the only light was the light of the white ball which we
chased. We held onto daylight long after it had passed; it lived on
through us until we could play no longer.
With a welcome meal in Banagher we settled down for the night.
Accommodation came in the form of a hostel and the back of my van,
both equally comfortable!
I woke the next morning and was proud of my roommates for the lack
of snoring, which was unexpected judging by the joking prior to
slumber. After meditation, Ambarish happily left to mark out the
weekly 2-mile run. With everyone slightly warmed up but cheerful, we
lined up and were off. Mist across the unknown landscape with horse
and cattle grazing kept my mind at bay while my heart raced.
Afterwards, cool showers and fresh clothes meant it was time for a
well-deserved breakfast. Large portions of beans, mushrooms and eggs
were placed on a table in a cafe to cater for seven hungry
Our adventure led us to Birr castle. Never could I have conceived
the magic that waited inside the boundary walls of this domain. I
was spellbound. For hours we strolled through an enchanted garden
overwhelmed by the infinite colours of autumn: reds and yellows,
brighter than any flames in any fire. Noblemen, as they were, had
planted many types of exotic plants and trees throughout this giant
garden. A fast flowing river, a gentle waterfall, a large lake,
bridges, tunnels, wells and passageways captivated the landscape.
Every part of this expanse offered something totally unique and
beautiful. The birds sang so loudly because they did not have to
achieve anything to be in heaven. Jan, more frantic than ever, tried
his best to break that world record for snaps.
Amongst this beauty, some of the world's most intellectual minds had
walked. Down through generations these wealthy land owners had
devoted their time to science, engineering and astronomy. To read
all the facts about this family of inventors and scholars would
amaze anyone. To see all of their inventions and innovations was
incredible - the most notable invention being the massive 72 inch
telescope with huge supporting walls which could be seen from almost
anywhere in the garden.
With a lot of exploration done and more to do, we set off for the
Slieve Bloom Mountains. Tired as we all were, we didn't intend on
doing any major hiking, but instead went for a nice walk through the
forested hills of the Slieve Blooms. Evergreen plantations
disregarded the nature of autumn, spreading a dark green across the
hills, while clumps of deciduous trees wept tears of gold at such
resilience. The air was fresh and in turn we were fresh as we walked
along chatting and joking. Reaching the top of a hill, we admired a
valley below. An army of deciduous trees were coming down the far
hill marching towards the evergreens and leaving behind a trail of
orange, brown and yellow.
We set off again, but did not know what the day had left for us. At
one stage I stopped the van at the summit of a large hill, and Shane
and I got out to watch the mesmerising sunset. We could see the
entire midlands from where we were, and the setting sun shone like a
glorious torch from left to right.
We found Ambarish parked outside another primary school. These small
pitches were perfect for only seven of us. We played a bit of Gaelic
football so as to give the guys a taste of our national sport. They
were definitely equally as good as us as we tried to kick points
over the bar. We then played soccer, and at one stage I landed
badly. I thought I had broken my leg or badly hurt my knee. The pain
was intense. The guys gathered round me to help me. Rastio
straightened my leg and as soon as he touched my knee the pain
dissipated. It was as if the collective concern and care of everyone
had expelled the pain. I was lucky!
We all sat on the hill behind the goals and looked at Jan's photos.
At the same time, we took in the beauty of the sunset which lit the
sky. It softly touched the landscape and our hearts.
We stopped for a meal just before setting off for home. Sitting at a
large round table, seven men sat with seven big smiles on their
faces, telling jokes and laughing loudly. Each one of us is grateful
to God for our little adventure.
Thanks lads, Colm.