The bus rattled along the road that skirted Clew Bay and I drew breath at the sight of a scene I never grow tired of. Islands like a string of green emeralds strung out before me, beneath Ireland’s holy mountain referred to by locals as ‘the reek’ and which some scale barefoot in reverence. Here on this far western edge of Ireland in county Mayo lies an island 14km offshore that reminds some of what once was. Where locals live lives the rest of us it seems, have forgotten how to live.
In 2013 the Irish government announced the designation of the country's first wilderness area in County Mayo in the Nephin hills and in July this year I made my first visit.
For the simple reason that it takes hours to get from A to B on winding roads I'd still be hard pressed to think I'm back on a tiny island on the wind ravaged fringes of western Europe. When compared with the vast distances of the American landscape that I've been used to for most of my adult life the travel times don't make sense. I look at a map. Perhaps I'm still moving at the speed of California and this place is putting the brakes on. A spec of land floating on the waters of the Atlantic in the 'upper left hand corner of Europe' as I heard someone recently speak of it. A few rain showers to welcome me back and wet my head. Ireland.
It was St Patrick's day the day after I arrived. Brass bands and tractors. Sashes and shamrock and Guinness. The colour green and redheads.
My quest to leave the concrete jungle and pandemonium of city life back in San Francisco has lead me quite happily for the time being seeking refuge and calmness in boggy, craggy wilderness, age old pilgrim paths and the isolation of islands off this island. I spend time reunited with family that has a burgeoning new generation. I listen to storytellers of the Connemara speak talking of plain clothed nuns and bottles of 'poitín'. I stand on mountain tops and I look out on the Atlantic. It's a long way from the Pacific and it has a wildness that the latter doesn't. Yet sometimes the similarities are undeniable. Perhaps it's only that these two places will always be linked in the comforting spaces of my imaginings and the friends and loved ones that draw me back to either side.
Age old controversies and injustices of church linger. It's institution still trying to yield influence while it's patriarchs cling stubbornly to power despite the sufferings of it's victims. Still a land with religion ingrained in it's rock and the cloud of it's past hovering.
At the tops of pilgrim paths I meet those kindred spirits who climb the mountain because it is there and quite simply part of who we are. Down country roads I speak with older generations who remember what it was like before the multinational came to town and poisoned the salmon runs.
On the bogs we sink knee deep in the land laid down like a deep carpet over eons. A land we've only been part of for the blink of an eye. So much history around me in the places that I ramble that I can't help feel intrinsically linked with it and all who have gone before. Perhaps that is to know you are home.
The rain which can be a daily occurrence has come hard until today when it turned into a softness so often heard described by the poets of this place. I watched it come across the mountain tops and allowed it fall gently on me. I sat looking over the wilds of Connemara. A land as majestic as it is mysterious. As healing as it is haunting. A stranger beside me, a common bond. For all the rain brings countless rainbows, more than I've seen for a long time.