Paddy Reilly-Ballyjamesduff is calling you!
Who was he, and did he ever come back?
The Garden of Eden has vanished they say
But I know the lie of it still
Just turn to the left at thebridgeofFinea
And stop when halfway to Cootehill
‘Tis there I will find it I know sure enough
When fortune has come to my call
Oh the grass it is green around Ballyjamesduff
And the blue sky is over it all
And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff
Are whispering over the sea
Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly to me
Recent travels inIrelandbrought me to Ballyjamesduff, a pleasant bustling town in theCountyCavan, not too distant from the town from which that county derives it name.
This is the town immortalised in that wistful song “Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff”, the words and tune for which were composed by Percy French, renowned and best remembered, amongst his many other talents, as a writer of humorous Irish songs.
Ballyjamesduff – it is thought that the name derived from the Irish “Beal atha a’ seiscinn duibh”, or the “mouth of the black marsh” – grew up as a mail coach stop on the old Cavan toDublinroad, its long, wide, main street dating from that time.
Travelling the N15 national trunk road skirting the coast between the “gateway”city of Sligo and the busy seaside resort of Bundoran in CountyDonegal, one is treated to the sight of a spectacular rock formation, comprised of limestone and shale, which completely dominates the landscape in this area of County Sligo known as “Yeats Country”.
This large outcrop, and with an elevation of over 1700 feet, is Ben Bulben or, in Irish, Binn Ghulbain, meaning “Gulban’s peak” or “jaw-shaped peak”. It is a “ben”, a name inIrelandfor a large, glacier-carved, rock. During Earth’s “Ice Age”, when large areas of the planet were covered by glaciers, enormous moving masses of ice shaped from accumulated snow, Ben Bulben was formed. Originally, it would have been a large ridge of rock, but with the action of glaciers on the move cutting into the earth a large “ben” was left in their wake, thus fashioning the feature now known as Ben Bulben.
It has been characterised as a “brooding” mountain, rising steeply from the ground below, and “conjuring up tales of enchanted maidens, warriers and spells”!
In fact, one might possibly describe what is easily Ireland’s most distinctive mountain as being the nearest that Ireland gets to having its own version of Ayres Rock, in central Australia, or Table Mountain near Cape Town, South Africa!
Travelling the main road through this part of County Sligo enables one to view, virtually, three sides of the loaf-shaped Ben Bulben and, in particular, its “nose” proudly facing out to the Atlantic Ocean .
It is possible to climb Ben Bulben, ideally, during the summer months, however, ascent by its north face it can be a perilous climb and not one for the faint-hearted. This side can get the full force of the high winds and storms coming in from theAtlantic Ocean. The south face of Ben Bulben offers an easier climb in that this side has gentler slopes.
Upon reaching the flat top summit of Ben Bulben, from whatever side, the intrepid climber is rewarded with magnificent views of “Yeats Country”, the surrounding counties, the city ofSligoand theAtlantic Ocean.
On previous occasions, I have turned off the main road, near the County Sligo village of Cashelgarran, to take the lane running up to the foot of the slopes lying immediately below the “nose” of Ben Bulben, just to view this geological phenomenon ”up close and personal”. It is a daunting sight indeed. One concedes that man with all his great ingenuity could never create something like this and, once again, nature triumphs.
Ben Bulben did gain some unlooked for notoriety at the height of the “troubles” in “the North”, locals awakening one morning to discover that under cover of darkness someone had affixed to the “nose”, in prominent white letters and visible to all for miles around, indeed for some time after, the words “Brits Out”. A popular slogan of the time north of the Border, and with resonance in “the South”, it essentially gave expression of a wish on behalf of those who had adorned Ben Bulben in this way to see an end to British rule in “the North”, and with some immediacy at that, and it remained in situ for some time.
Eventually removed, they were later replaced, just as clandestinely, with the lettering “H Bloc”, a reference to prisoner “dirty” protests taking place at the time in the Maze Prison, based at a former RAF station at Long Kesh, near Lisburn in Northern Ireland.
“Yeats Country”, over which Ben Bulben presides so majestically, of course, takes its name from that great poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), born inCountySligoand one of its greatest sons. He described his birthplace as the “land of heart’s desire” and is also quoted as saying “that the place that has really influenced my life most isSligo”.
His famous poem “Under Ben Bulben”, and one of the last written by him, in 1939, is basically a description of the sights that he saw in that area ofSligothat was to become “Yeats Country”. The final part of this poem reads:
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman pass by!
Yeats is indeed buried in Drumcliff churchyard, under Ben Bulben’s head. Poignantly, the last three lines of the above poem are engraved on his gravestone.
And where do the “culchies” come from, anyway?
Issue was taken recently with a long established and respected weekly newspaper circulating widely in the Irish communities inBritain, and on sale throughoutIrelandincluding here in the west ofIreland, over an unfortunate and less than flattering article which appeared in its pages.
I will not reveal the name of the journal concerned, or that of the offending columnist, so as to spare both any further embarrassment over the gratuitous nature of the article concerned.
Inisturk – A Splendid Isolation – Part 1
By Michael Fox
A blustery Saturday evening mid-May this year found me standing on Roonagh Quay, some 8 kilometres to the west ofLouisburgin theCountyMayo. Roonagh Quay, facing out into the choppy waters ofClewBay, is the jumping off point forClareIslandand theislandofInisturk, the former inCountyMayo, the latter in the neighbouringCountyGalway.
My destination on that occasion was Inisturk, an island some 4 kilometres by 2 kilometres, where I was to undertake a “gig” in the Community Centre. I duly discovered that this was the only place on the island where alcoholic beverages could be had, and the successor to a couple of pubs which had existed on the island in earlier times. These had long since closed through lack of patronage in the wake of a diminishing resident population. In fact, it was suggested to me that for those who might have the misfortune to be “barred” from that “oasis” for some misdemeanour or other, and with there being no other available “watering hole” on the island, they might as well “take the pledge”!
Go West This Year – To Clare Island
By Michael Fox
I was very pleased recently to be invited to visitClareIsland, a small island off the coast ofCountyMayo. The invitation was extended by John Moran, manager of the social club on the island, housed in a new Community Centre there, and his wife Mary
I readily accepted and, having visited the island and enjoyed its hospitality, I can honestly describe it as not only idyllic but also, truly, as one of the “friendly little places on the coastline of Mayo” (as the Brendan Shine song goes). I would commend anyone travelling toIrelandthis year and withCountyMayoincluded in their itinerary, and if they have not previously visited there, to take some time out to travel out toClareIslandwhere they will certainly be assured of, as I can testify, a warm welcome and an invitation to come back again.
THE STATION MASS
“He’d bless the house and give us all a sermon”
No, this story does not relate, as the above heading might suggest, to that major act of worship at the centre of the Catholic faith being conducted within the confines of a railway terminal building (albeit a number of the great station edifices constructed in the early days of railways may have challenged, in architectural and inspirational terms, the magnificence of many of the great cathedrals and churches of the time!).
Dialogue amongst the “faithful” in parishes inIrelandtoday embraces, with regularity, appeals to save the tradition of the Station Mass. The “Stations” have been a unique and integral part of the life of parishes down through the decades, with the Spring and Autumn seasons generally being the time when such masses were celebrated in “selected” dwellings out in the rural community.
THE PARISH MISSION
“We’ve no chance of getting to Heaven after listening to that!”
“We’re going to have some fun this week”, announced the visiting Redemptorist Fathers to those of us gathered in my local church in Callow, near Foxford, Co Mayo in an atmosphere of expectancy, for the first night of a week long “Mission”. This was to be conducted by two members of that Order in pursuit of the saving of as many of our souls as possible, in the short time at their disposal.
Fun? Did my ears deceive me? Did they really say that? What about the anticipated admonishments of looming “hellfire, brimstone and damnation” for those straying from the path of righteousness, so long staple ingredients of the “Mission”, a tradition at the core of Irish Catholic parish life?
Was I in the right place? Yes, I was, and “fun” we did have as the week progressed. Indeed, this undoubtedly helped to reinforce the “message” they had come to impart to the gathered faithful seeking a spiritual “top up”.
CONEYISLAND,COUNTYSLIGO– TheIslandof the Rabbits
Since relocating toCountyMayofromBirmingham, I have taken an interest in the inhabited islands lying of the west coast ofIrelandand, indeed, in “island life” generally.
I have made a number of visits toClareIsland, Inisturk andAchillIsland, and I have made many friends on these islands. Spending time with them, and in enjoying their hospitality, one very quickly becomes aware of the strong sense of community that exists amongst island people. On the one hand, islanders can if they so wish enjoy what I might describe as “splendid isolation”, and on the other, with all the benefits of modern day communication and transportation, they can still tap into “mainland” life, at least, to the extent to which they may wish or need to.