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Going west the long way

December 29, 2017

For my last weekend in Ireland, I took a long bus-and-train trip to Dingle out on the west coast.  As I got closer, the landscape shifted; I started to see mountains, and more sheep, and fog replaced some of the cold but also some of the people.

I underestimated the travel time to Dingle and, worse, the distance from the bus stop in Annascaul to my hostel in Inch.

I also underestimated the number of angry farm dogs along the road. To my surprise, though,  I avoided getting mauled. The light was fading, though. And Google Maps on my phone didn’t know the terrain well. It counted a dirt farm road the same as a paved one, and I thought it’d be quicker. It was downhill too.

There’s something I forgot about downhill: it gets muddier as you move forward. I texted a friend a photo and “this is how I get taken by fairies tbh,” and tried to call the hostel, right before my phone died.

About 5k later with a suitcase covered in muck, I showed up at the front door out of the darkness and didn’t do much besides eat and fall asleep exhausted. My shoulders and legs ached for days and I got to relate much more, on the front of ‘interactions with dogs’ to Cuchulain. Thankfully it didn’t come down to hurling like it did for him, because I like dogs and I’m hopeless with a hurley stick anyway. Only kind of hurling I could have done was throwing up from fear. Moving cautiously and quietly is more my lane.

One of the hostel hosts gave me a ride to Dingle the next morning, after I found a previously-unnoticed open place to stay there. We missed the bus from Annascaul so closely that I had a view of it the rest of the way while I was told by the host driving me about the time he was homeless in Canada and the other time he was, at least by his narration, a detective in America. Unlikely routes to hostel ownership that those might be, the world’s wide enough that it’s possible.

Dingle itself was nice and quiet. I wandered around by the harbor, met a scruffy-looking but friendly cat, and talked to a shopkeeper about literary history, i.e. how everyone who read Peig in school hated it. (The cat looked like they'd worn mascara overnight, or Winter Soldier-esque eyeblack. Their fur stuck up at all angles. But they stopped patrolling the harbor in favor of headbutting me to insist I pet them, which I took for an honor). 

I spent a while at the public library. The genre signs were in Irish and English, and I stared at them trying in vain to memorize the matches. There was a music history section, and it was only two shelves. Maybe a couple dozen books. But the one I picked up had history and music theory several layers deeper than I’d known. I hadn’t really registered how much of a shift there was a few centuries back, or the importance of solely verbal, unaccompanied sean-nos and the West where I was. The older Irish harping tradition is, apparently, so far gone that we don’t have the same kind of harps, and we don’t know at all how that court music sounded. And despite that, the music that people play in their homes among neighbors, and that’s carried only from voice to voice, has in some form survived. It’s not just scraps - it’s been growing again in new ways.

After sitting among the shelves for hours trying to memorize some of what I saw, the fading light sent me back to the hostel. It was almost as quiet there compared to the sound of the harbor, I thought. But over the radio from the kitchen I heard someone singing in Irish upstairs, quiet enough that I didn’t feel obligated to try and understand the words this time.

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