Gleann na nGealt, Co. Kerry, and Dingle: First Impressions, “She Wears the Sky”

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Driving into Gleann na nGealt, the first thing I think about is light quality. The landscape here is rolling and unfolding beneath storm clouds, a grey and white-hued sky. Patches of light disrupt cloud and spot-light the green. The sky is stormy, but not dreary. I see the chilled waters and pale sand of the coastline beyond the green, yellow, heather-purple of the hills.

 

Every time I return to New Mexico, I find myself fascinated by the warmth of the light hue and the striated color of the desert sunsets. I find myself thinking of those skies and of the way landscape and climate inform our perception of light. Distinctive colors and horizons instill places with the atmosphere that you remember most clearly when you leave. When I think back and remember West Kerry, I will be thinking of this light, of its bright and chilling grey, the green that gleams in response.

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One of my favorite people in the universe has come to travel with me! E arrives on August 8 and is set to travel with me for three weeks.

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E and I are staying together in Gleann na nGealt valley on a sheep farm run by Brigid O’Connor (listed through AirBNB). Brigid is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable from the beginning, and makes us feel welcome. When we arrive at Brigid’s home, a black-faced lamb is coming down into the valley and waiting at the back gate. His name is Pedro, and he responds when Brigid calls his name. Pedro is wary of us at first, but very affectionate with her.

We leave immediately to hike in the rain, passing a beautifully slanted standing stone on Brigid’s land. We ascend through wet grasses and nettles, lose the trail, find it again, meet more of the sheep as they graze. A heavy mist comes with the rain, and as we reach the nearest summit, the landscape is faded behind the film of water.  This is how we will spend our days here in the Valley of the Mad (so-called because of the legendary healing properties of a local lithium-rich well), on hillsides and coastlines, sunlight, storms. The Mad Well, Tobar na nGealt, is located just around the corner from the house.

For more of the background histories and legends of Gleann na nGealt and the Mad Well, I recommend Brigid’s blog. As a local farmer, writer, and former politician, she was a wonderful resource for us throughout our stay: http://westkerry.com/blog/?page_id=271

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A Day in Dingle

We wake up every morning to a full Irish breakfast (vegan version for me!), complete with homemade banana bread and incredible coffee. One of our first goals is to make it out to Dingle, the town on the peninsula. We catch a bus midday from Camp and as the bus drives through the scenery of West Kerry, I find myself interested in the distinct breeds of cow that I see. One common breed that I have never seen before is all black with a single white strip around the center of the body. Brigid tells me later that these are Galloway cows. The all-black, horned Kerry cow is a very rare breed, so rare that you can hardly find them in Kerry. Throughout our first few days in Gleann na nGealt, we also learn about local sheep farming practices: the breed of sheep Brigid buys, the way they are marked, the lambing cycle, and why Pedro (rejected by his mother) is so attached to people.

I fall asleep on the bus and wake up in Dingle. The town is coastal and tourist-filled; everyone is here for the races. E and I eat some more brown bread ice cream and take a boat out to see Fungi, the friendly local dolphin, who swims alongside our boat. The trip out on the boat, however, is worthwhile just for the scenery. A stone tower out to my left, cliffs to my right, striations of rock hit by a high contrast of light. The weather is sunny, and the wind off the sea is welcome. I feel relaxed. Somehow, I feel like my time in Ireland is really beginning, and am becoming aware of just how wonderful of an opportunity this is.

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Back in the town, I feel taunted by signs everywhere for traditional music in the evening. The last bus back to Gleann na nGealt leaves before any of the music starts. This is one of the moments that makes me wish I had rented a car.

We spend the rest of the day walking and exploring shops. Confession: I really enjoy tourist gift shops, probably more than I enjoy doing touristy things. Shopping time include grocery shopping. E and I eat a lot of white close-capped mushrooms on this trip, and since they have provided me with a lot of sustenance, I thought they deserved their own mention on this blog.

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The poem I want to end with is by Belfast-based poet Medbh McGuckian. My fascination with the hues and movement of the sea began at the seaside in Kerry, where I first saw or noticed the “deep peacock patch of water”. In this poem, McGuckian weaves the signature landscape of Ireland, the hills meeting the sea, with the traditions of religion and family relationships. The movement from the broad landscape of the opening lines to the zoomed-in vision of the “sealed eyes” of the mother seems a natural movement, given a touch of tradition and history with the mention of “Martha-work”. These worlds of landscape, community, and history blend together with particular seamlessness in Ireland, and McGuckian is eloquent in relating it.

SHE  WEARS  THE  SKY

The horizon line embraces the drowsy river docks:

The deep peacock patch of water reaching the dark

Blends with it.

The hills pick up a saintly pallor

From the skin of one doing penitence.

The swallows linger on, as if they forgot.

I gaze into the sealed eyes of my mother,

Seen, not visited, not forgotten,

In the centre of her own picture,

Who wove her own background

With no Martha-work to be done,

As women look when they return to their places

Errorless after Communion.

In her rare low moods

She remembers the next five days as twelve

And compares an unheard of number of things

To be abreast of the incurable

Having no choice but to return

To the end of thought.

In the evenings I can switch the light on from indoors

To illuminate the shroud

Of irises over the urn of jasmine.

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