Thursday 2 June 2016

Connemara's hills love me back!

...veiled by the finest of mists, they hid and glowed like a coy bride...

After they discovered at A&E that my chest and arm pains were not the result of a heart attack, but a common yet fiendish cocktail of stress, exhaustion and anxiety, I decided to get some counselling. 

All of us seek help when our bodies break down, snap or become infected, yet still so many think that their minds are beyond cure; nobody’s business but their own.

Don't know about you, but I wouldn't fancy driving a car without a steering wheel. Looking after my mind is way up my list of priorities.

As luck would have it I’d already made an appointment weeks before with a counsellor in Clifden. My intention had originally been to seek a little help for myself and glean advice from someone who knows their stuff about how to best help the Snapper. As it turned out, helping anybody but myself was a concept far from my brainbox by the time that Friday came around.

The Thursday evening before, I was teaching my Craft of Writing Course at the Westside Community Resource Centre. I absolutely love delivering those lessons, but when I return home after them, I’m a hyperactive bouncing ranting fool. 

It takes me ages to fall asleep so with my session starting at 10:00am, I decided I’d drive to Clifden after class, stay in a B&B and wake refreshed and ready to make the most of any counsel coming my way.

Regular colyoomistas will already be familiar with my love affair with Connemara, but although I used to live out there, and over the years have hitched, walked and driven every road and bohreen to enjoy fresh perspectives of God’s own fruit bowl, the Twelve Pins, I’d never driven through it during a Summer’s twilight.

Oh my God. 

It was both gently and dramatically so beautiful I nearly drove off the road three or four times, as my eyes were drawn to another combination of black granite and soft pink lake; of distant clouds that might have been hills, and hills that could have been clouds. Ethereal, majestic: no words do justice to those blends of stark and subtle, stone and water, light and dark.

I’d forewarned the proprietors of Dun Ri guesthouse that I’d be arriving late, and was met by a smile and told that I had just what I’d asked for. A room on the top floor, with views out the window, and nobody banging on the ceiling above.

Before there was any chance of sleep I needed to work off my excess energy, and although 11 o’clock might be late for checking into a B&B, in Clifden’s pubs the concept does not exist until far into the following day.

Off for gazillionth time in my life to trawl the capital of Connemara’s triangle. I only wanted one or two whiskies, as the whole point of this trip was to benefit from a good night’s sleep, but I couldn’t help wonder if my friend Sean Halpenny might be playing his bodhrán somewhere.

Sure enough, as I looked through the open door of Lowry’s, there was the man, standing as he’s always stood whenever he plays his music, very ably accompanied by Padraic Jack O’Flaharta, son of Tí Joe Watty’s renowned PJ O’Flaharta of Inis Mór.

25 years ago myself and my German girlfriend had pitched a tent in the garden of the defunct Clifden Hostel, close to where the SuperValu is now.

It was my first night in Connemara, my second in Co. Galway, and when we wandered into E.J.Kings (ever after to be known as Terry’s, after its owner Terry Sweeney) our eyes and ears were drawn to Sean’s dynamic performance.

Standing, lost to the world in his musical reverie, beating the hell out of a goatskin with impeccable timing, the once All Ireland Champion had us transfixed. That night he and I formed a friendship that has now lasted a quarter of a century.

It’s impossible for me to write about Sean without mentioning the lovely Sonja. Cruelly taken from us by cancer, she was Sean’s partner when the three of us were neighbours in Bunowen, Ballyconneely. The universe will be forever darker without the light that shone from that wondrous woman’s soul.

Over two decades later Sean was still standing, playing, bringing joy and music to locals and tourists alike. Mind you, that night the atmosphere in Lowry’s lovely family-run pub strayed into the absurd.

A crowd of tourists were yelling the lyrics of The Fields of Athenry as if celebrating a winning goal at the World Cup:

“A prison ship lies waiting in the bay! Cha Cha Cha!” 
they roared with jubilation. 

Then they formed a long jolly conga, dancing around the pub, singing joyfully:

“I shot a man in Reno, just to see him die!”

Sean later explained they were Belgians, for whom the conga is apparently something of a national dance, not to be confused with the Belgian Congo, which is a topic altogether more unpleasant.

I retired to bed at midnight, to wake at 5am, my head brimming with topics to talk about at counselling. After a beautiful breakfast served with charm, I had an hour to spare, so I drove the Sky Road loop on a cloudless gorgeous morning.


I’ve lost count of the times Connemara's mountains, my hills, have brought me solace, peace and calm over the years. That morning, veiled by the finest of mists, they hid and glowed like a coy bride, offering much comfort and love.

Yes, hills can love you back. At least, Connemara’s can.

Finally I was ready to go and sort out my screwed-up head.
©Charlie Adley

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