Imagine if someone told you they were from the village of Abundance In Fish.
Wouldn’t you want to go to see such a place?.
Even if you didn’t like fish wouldn’t you be curious? for surely such a name conjures up the magical imagery of the rivers, lakes and seas that Ireland is famous for? Especially the west of Ireland.
The Irish word for Easkey is Iascaigh, meaning just that! an abundance in fish and it’s a small village situated on both river and sea in Co sligo. A village renowned not only for its salmon but for its good surfing too.
Campers and vans park along its scenic drive, sporting surfboards and wetsuits and if you cycle along no matter what the weather or the season you will see people standing gripping cups of coffee and staring at the sea as if, by doing so, they will be able to summons up the ideal wave.
You will also see a rocky shore line whose flat slabs bear fossils of siphonophyllia coral and others dating back millions of years.
Looking to your left (if you are heading west)the hazy mauve silhouette of sliabh Gamh (the Ox mountains) will stand low and undulation, And though Ox is a misnomer (GAMH is the irish word for storm, DAMH is the irish word for Ox) it is near enough in sound but far from its true meaning, as are many irish place names that have got lost in translation over the centuries .
Across the bay is Knocknarea (Cnoc na Ré …hill of the moon), On top of which a large cairn, supposedly the place of Queen Maeve’s burial, can be seen. They say she was buried, standing upright, in full battle dress, facing north.
(Again this is a much disputed translation, some saying the name is Cnoc na Riabh? or Cnoc na riogha or even Cnoc na riaghadh? which would have totally different meanings).
But I’ll hurry along as that is not what this post is about.
PART 1 THE WAY
These days it’s all about ‘THE WAY’.
Every country seems to boast of them. The Camino, St Francis’s way, St Paul’s Way and that’s only a tip of the iceberg.
Here in Ireland, The wild atlantic way and The green way trip easily off our tongues.
So this morning I am going to offer a pictorial account of a cycle along a way that, though short, I think includes everything ‘a way’ should.
I might even find a story on my journey .
Now I could call it ‘Small boreens with descriptive irish names and their meanings way’ but that’s a bit too long.
So instead I’ve decided to name it ‘The meandering way’ or maybe ‘Bhealach na Iascaigh (The way of abundance in fish)’
The Old Workhouse in dromore west. (Droim mór meaning big hill). Built during the famine, burnt down during the troubles, it is now the home of my sister and her husband, both artists, and despite its sad history, a warmer more creative and colorful place I couldn’t wish to stay in and it is thanks to their hospitality that I can make my start from there.
I head out the door.
down the avenue and through the gates of the workhouse on a dull morning.
After passing three or four houses, gables to the road, I am out into open country.
In front of me, across a bog dotted with yellow gorse and swathes of bog cotton, is the sea, behind the mauve of the ox mountains (Sliabh gamh)
The road, a boreen really, has grass growing down its center and its low hedges are filled with goat willow, ox eyed daisies, purple vetch and orchids.
It weaves along in a meandering fashion, not in any hurry to reach its destination and carries me with it. The song of the skylarks and swallows accompanying.
I love these virtually car free roads. They allow for slowness and mulling of thoughts and the letting go of any sorrow or worry. I cannot feel anger or depression or loneliness on such roads, only peace and contentment.
I feel the stress of my recent days at work flow off my shoulders as I watch the breeze pick up the tresses of the bog cotton heads and blow them about, like one hundred bog nymphs dancing and tossing their hair in delight.
All too quickly (despite my slow bicycling) we reach the junction where this small boreen meets the coast road and we turn left in the direction of Easkey.
Its easy going for the yellow bicycle now with perhaps the hint of a downhill.
Being sunday morning and too early for the church goers the road is empty.
The sun comes out as I coast along picking up speed and I am so enjoying its warmth on my back and the wind in my hair that I almost miss the split rock at Killeenduff (Cillín dubh meaning Small black church or even Small dark wood)
I had promised My brother in law I would take a photo of it and the yellow bicycle
The legend goes that Fionn mac Cumail and other members of the Fianna were traipsing around the ox mountains hunting when they spotted two giant boulders. One of group challenged Fionn to a rock throwing competition to see who could throw the stone as far as the sea. Normally it would be no problem to Fionn but his heart wasn’t in it as Grainne whom he loved was about to marry Diarmuid. When his boulder did not reach the sea he flew into a rage and struck it in anger with his sword and split the rock in two.
I turn right at the next crossroads and speed down the hill to the scenic drive.
Ahead of me the commonage is alight with yellow bird’s foot trefoil . A brilliant contrast to the blue of the sea and the even bluer of the sky. The road levels out and I pedal along more slowly
The road winds along the coast and I stop now and again to take in deep breaths of fresh salty air and gaze out to sea knowing there is nothing between here and America.
As I reach the end of the scenic drive I hear a car coming up behind me and move over to let it past. But it stops and my sister, a fair weather cyclist, hops out and takes her bike off the rack on the back.
We are going to have a coffee stop at Pudding Row in the village of An abundance in fish.
At the end of the scenic drive looking out to sea, stands O Dowds castle (Caislean Ó Dubhda) but my eye is distracted by the new rusty (can there be such a thing) sign.
As myself and my sister discuss the merits and demerits of this sign (Apparently the plan is to place one at every beach along the wild atlantic way) a woman passes by.
‘Isn’t this wild atlantic way thing just wonderful.’ she enthuses, as though it had just recently been invented.
‘It is, but then it HAS always been there’ my sister replies dryly
The woman appears puzzled but we have turned our attention back to the rusty sign.
‘It looks as though something flew into the end of it and crumpled it’ I remark.
‘It looks like a medieval means for hanging the raiders of the castle’ my sister says cheerfully.
‘It looks like a flag pole’ I say loudly, in case anyone overhears her
(Or an instrument to ensure the castle isn’t tilting? this input comes from my niece later)
Just then a small bird alights on the crumpled end of the sign and looks as though it is letting us know what is missing.
‘What a pity they didn’t put a metal cutout of a seagull or better still a jumping salmon. A sort of windvane effect at the end of each sign. They could use whatever animal/bird /fish is common to the area.’ I am thinking out loud.
But my sister has had enough talk about the sign. After all she has to live with it.
We cycle on along the path by the river to the village.
And over the bridge under which flows the Easkey river (An Abhainn Iascaigh).
And I always find if I cycle for long enough I will come upon a story.
PART 2 THE STORY
We are coming out of Pudding Row following what started off as a coffee but ended up as a hearty breakfast. (If ever you visit pudding row, which I strongly recommend you do, prepare to abandon any ideas of just coffee) and are about to mount our bicycles when a man sails in between us on his.
He throws himself off his bike and onto the seat behind the two sculptures that my brother in law Cillian Rogers made all those years ago and yanks off his bicycle helmet impatiently.
His hair is stuck to his head. His face is a serious shade of red and being of ‘that age’ I am hoping he won’t suddenly put his hand to his chest.
He doesn’t! Instead he asks us the question that is on the mind of every middle aged cycling man.
‘ladies, how far have you come’?
‘Not far’ is my sister’s reply.
‘and how far are you going?
‘Not far’ my sister repeats.
She isn’t giving much away.
It doesn’t seem to perturb him for without even acknowledging her answer he launches into his own travels.
He tells us where he has come from (Ballina), Beal an atha…mouth of the ford . Where he is going to (Trabhui)Trá Bhui …the yellow strand. How many kilometers it will be. How long it has taken him so far.
He continues by informing us how cycling is the best way to get rid of rich food.
(He doesn’t seem to hear my sister’s suggestion that it might be easier just to give up rich food) He alerts us to the danger of sugars. How it causes cancer and did we know that weed killer causes cancer of the liver.
At this point my sister throws her eyes up to heaven and makes her get away but I am left standing, nodding and clutching the handlebars of the yellow bike, not wishing to appear rude by leaving too. (The story of my life when it comes to men)
He pauses for a breath.
‘Are you a nurse?’ He enquires.
I am taken aback at his accuracy.
‘How did you know?’
‘Oh it’s the way you speak’ he nods sagely managing to look smug as well.
I don’t like to remind him that I hadn’t, up to that moment, spoken a single word. (again not confronting men is another of my life’s stories).
So with my story finished and my sister gone back to her car and home to make dinner, the last part of my cycle is up the ballinahown road (Baile na habhann… the mouth of the river)
Another few kms along and more bog with far off stands of trees sheltering small cottages.
From here it’s back onto the main ballina road where the sight of the workhouse is welcome…
I haven’t a clue how many kilometres I’ve covered, nor how many hours the Bhealach na Iascaigh has taken me. But I do know that I have a hunger on me that could only be satisfied with a large amount of rich food.