Sunday, 26 November 2017

If home is where the heart is, mine is split in three!

Hoo yeah, that's a mighty fine pint.

I’m in the only pub for miles around. Outside the wind, rain and cloud are merged as one, while I sit staring at a head over an inch deep, floating on top of a settling pint.

By the time the black is separated from the creamy bubble-free head, this baby’s going to look, taste and feel like a true country pint.

What is it about Guinness and rural pubs? The country pint is alive, well and sitting on the bar in front of me, but for some reason it cannot be replicated in the city. All you need for good Guinness is a line that pours often throughout the day, and a cellar that’s not too cold.

Maybe that’s it: the cellars of urban bars are chilled to levels that might make penguins think twice, to satisfy the tastes of the young lager drinker. Or is it more about the average age of the rural drinker, the majority of whom still favour the stout over the continental cousins of the Harpic family?

Whatever the answer, I don’t care, as there's one right in front of me now.

I breathe out and give thanks.

It wonderful to be back in Mayo once more. As I watch the gold and brown liquids tumble and unfurl in the glass before my eyes, my thoughts wax lyrical in an unashamedly self-indulgent way.

Well really, if a man cannot indulge himself in his own head, as he sits after a long day’s work, staring at his pint, when can he?

Stretching this metaphor way beyond any reasonable bounds of poetry, I privately wonder whether, geographically speaking, my heart is not just like that pint.

If home is where the heart is, mine is split in three, you see.

I’m a Londoner, born and bred, and that honour will never leave me, but a couple of years ago I suffered a major crisis of identity as far as my roots go. 

Crossing London by tube from south east to north west, I became a little confused about where some of the new lines started and finished. Stopping on a platform, I stared at the Underground map, and then I crumpled inside.

Oh please no, don’t let it be so.

The pain that accompanied the sudden realisation that I’m a stranger in the city of my birth was followed by a tidal wave of loss and confusion.

Only a tourist looks at the tube map. Londoners never look. Not only do they have that map imprinted on their DNA, they also have etched on their cerebella detailed knowledge of where to stand on the platform at each station, to both maximise their chances of a seat while minimising their walk to the exit at the other end.

Even with this new-found ignorance, a part of me will always be a Londoner. I love that wonderful and unique city, but these days it represents only the misty condensed frosting on the outside of my glass.

Galway on the other hand is the whole black body of my pint. City and County, my love for both is immense and inseparable, but the black is nothing without the white, and County Mayo is my head; my haven; my lucky county.

 No light compares to Co. Mayo light...

Driving over the bridge past Leenane I’m awestruck as I pass the Party mountains, towering vast, cracked and caramel, beyond Maumtrasna.

I’ll drive through Westport, but it’s nothing personal. A pretty town that many claim is today what Galway once was. I’ll beg to differ: Galway today is the only Galway I want, whatever it might have been. If I want hordes of tourists and stags and hens on the rampage, I’ll watch them from the safe familiarity of Quay Street, thanks all the same.

Newport however is a different proposition, with its jaw-dropping bridge and aura of calm married to craic. Many a good night I’ve enjoyed in this town, and more to come, doubtless, but today I have far to go, so I drive on.

Through Mulranny where I turn right, heading away from Achill and into the glorious wilderness of Ballycroy, where I drive underneath skies of a size that’d put Montana to shame.

The winter boglands glow Trump orange, their endless miles picked out by the mirrored tops of turloughs, rising from the depths to greet the dark season. On three sides the mountains rise, black, majestic and reassuringly permanent, while over the ocean the hills of Achill glow a magnificent gunmetal grey in the midday sunshine.

On another day I’d take the left turn at Bangor and head past Belmullet, to the astonishing views afforded around Pollatomish and Benwee Head, and then drive on a wild backroad all the way to Belderrig. For 20 minutes I’d see not one sign of human life, save for a few bags of turf. It’s an excursion of astonishing beauty.

Indeed, whenever I’ve done that particular drive in the past I’ve allowed myself a whole day, as I need to step out of the car and walk in the raw splendour of true wilderness.

Such a rare and precious experience to enjoy these days in western Europe, it’s essential to have the time to fully appreciate it.

Today I’m not aiming for barren lands, but the hearth of some fantastic friends who I met when I lived up in Killala.


With mile upon mile of footprint-free white sand beaches; ocean stacks and stone circles; ogham stones, a round tower and ruined abbeys aplenty; with people as pleased to see you as you are to greet them, Killala remains Ireland’s best kept secret: the jewel in the crown of my lucky county.

Whoops, lost myself in thought there.
That pint’s more than ready for the supping.

Ah, that’s bloomin’ lovely, as they don't say in Mayo.

©Charlie Adley

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