West Coast

 

The Burren, County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, near Galway Bay: rumoured to be inclement and cold yet today is the third day of bright sunshine and clear skies. The Burren hills are vast bald mounds of limestone rock that change hue from grey to purple as the light shifts, creating a sense of impermanence in the Neolithic environment.

I look from my studio towards a round tower-house settled on a square buttress: the 16th century Newton Castle. It’s designed so that if rocks were dropped from above they would bounce off the flat walls: a defence strategy contingent on getting rocks up a steep flight of stairs in the first place. Along the staircase are “murder holes” for dropping hot metal onto intruders below. The tower has four “rooms”, stacked one above the other, each of them round with small windows looking north, south, east and west and with low timber doorways that can catch you unawares as you enter.  The ceilings of the rooms are rough: wattle and daub, whitewashed with limestone, except for the top room which has a ceiling that’s a majestic wooden cone re-built twenty years ago from architectural guesswork. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering. The beams soar towards a central point that from the outside looks like a teetering ball and inside, a delicate web.

I’m improvising in each room, beginning with the ground floor. It’s cold in there so I wear an extra coat. Sometimes a swallow or martin chatters at the doorway.

North East towards West

Belfast. Hooray! When I arrive here today from the Dublin airport by car, I’m met by an icy wind, rain, hail. The girl in the café where I shelter until it passes says: “Oh! that’s Belfast. The sun will be shining in a moment.” And she’s right. Blue sky jostles the clouds briefly but the wind is still chilling.

The city has a hybrid quality, perhaps because I’m projecting the sectarian and political past onto my experience of it.  There are many skin colours, languages and accents here. It’s not just a Presbyterian//Catholic village. I’m bemused and confused by the chaotic inner city road junctions as I try to find my hotel. I spin around the CBD for over an hour, occasionally pulling into illegal parking spots to try and get my bearings. Even with the GPS I’m lost, until I stop and ask a woman for directions. In what is such typical Irish fashion, she goes to great lengths to make sure I know where it is I’m heading. “Over there, Dunagall Rd. Near that rusty-looking building. Keep to the left mind as you go around the round-about.”

But I didn’t and had to circle again to get it right. Finally, the hotel emerges in a road I’ve travelled down at least twice already. It was there all the time. The adrenaline subsides. I’ll have a bed for the night, which, with all things jet lag considered, is saying something to be sure.

Leaning west and on to...

What is West? I lean into (or onto) something that summons while it connotes: a paradigm. Can I remain within (or without) those frames? Am I too sensitive to connotation? I am travelling west to experience places so why be caught in the net of cultural and political artefact? Because everything is cultural and political. Even landscape?

The land/scapes of western Tasmania and western Ireland are geographical positions, lands that pause at edges creased by the sea. Rivers flow into the sea, across ecosystems that merge and diverge. Diversity is always present...

Leaning West

Soon I will travel to Ireland’s west coast, to the Burren, to its escarpments, castles, and narrow winding roads. I will enter a landscape unprepared for what it may offer my senses and imagination. For four weeks I will look, listen, smell, taste, and move within its physical and emotional borders.

What is this imaginal space? From here, in south east Tasmania, I imagine a grey sky, a steady cold wind and rain. The grass will be green along the roadsides and in the fields. Rocks will persist, broken by gulfs of gorse and blackberry. I base these assumptions on my experience of Connemara, a short distance north, across Galway Bay, where, in Leitir Mealláin (Lettermullen) last year, I walked on narrow roads between flat grey rocks that rose like over-inflated cushions in neglected fields of weeds. And hearsay: oh only rocks there in the Burren, but unique.

I’m preparing myself for something harsh and damp. Nothing like the dryness of Provence with its limestone cliffs, terracotta homes, heat haze and dominant blue skies. The Burren will be green and grey. Before I muster my energy for the long flight and driving I will head to Tasmania’s west coast, to the Tarkine, a space too of rock, cold winds and green but with forests and sand and very few houses. There I will reflect, revive my senses and take my memories, in my body, to the Burren.