This land dreams Horse. Of the Seven Sisters mountains who stand like a semi-circle of elders around this valley where we live, two are horses. An Eachla Bheag, the Little Horse, and An Eachla Mhór, the Big Horse. Look carefully at the image above, and perhaps you’ll see them: two horses, lying down. The body of An Eachla Bheag is on the left of the image, and her long nose (a paler shade of grey) is sloping down to the left, facing towards us. Curled up next to her, tail end to An Eachla Bheag’s head, and facing in the opposite direction, is An Eachla Mhór. Her neck curves away from us to the right, her nose pointing left, dipping down behind her own strong back.If this land dreams Horse, then I cannot help but dream Horse too. An Eachla Mhór towers over our little cottage deep in the hollow of the river valley, and it is along the boreens towards the foot of An Eachla Bheag that I walk each morning. Horse, a guardian spirit of this land. Ulster is Horse country, for sure, and Donegal’s mythology is Ulster mythology – no less so after Partition. The wounds left behind by such amputations take a long time to heal, but the myths and stories belong to the land, and do not reshape themselves to the tyranny of human maps. Way out to the east of us lies green Armagh: Ard Mhacha, the heights of Macha. Macha gave her name to that place: Macha, the woman from the Otherworld who was forced to race against a king’s horses while heavily pregnant, so that even though she won the race, she died, giving birth to her twins. Macha, the horse goddess. She rides in the hills of Ulster still. This land dreams Horse; these horse-mountains dream Macha.
This river dreams Heron. Flying high along the winding thread of her; standing still in the bubbling rush of her. Nesting in the heronry in the woods to the side of her. Always here, somewhere, there is a heron.
If this river at the bottom of my garden dreams Heron, then I cannot help but dream Heron too. Old Crane Woman emerged from that mutual dreaming; she is as real to me as anyone else I know. If Horse is the guardian spirit of the high bog, Heron is the guardian spirit of the river.
This land dreams Horse and Heron; she also dreams Fox and Crow, Badger and Hare. The myths and stories of this land come from that long dreaming: from the conversations of stones and the crows who come to rest on them for a while; from the tall tales that the magpie tells to the old ash tree where he thinks of building a nest. From the quicksilver slinking of salmon and trout, to the pathways made through the soft bog by red deer. From all these threads and more, the land weaves her dreaming. The myths and stories of this place are the echoes of her dreams.
The land welcomes other dreamers; beckons them to her. Enfolds them into her own dreaming; bleeds out into theirs. This land dreams Horse and Heron; has dreamed them through the long ages of the world. Took them in; dreamed them back out as mountain-spirit and river-song. Now, this land also dreams me. What am I, in her dream? A fleeting visitor, for sure, playing the tiniest of bit-parts in the long ages of her life – but I will be there still in her dreaming, even when my physical body has gone. I am stored – and storied – in her, and she will remember me: the woman who walked the paths of myth through the bog each morning, whose sloughed-off skin and body fluids and breath have been incorporated, atom by atom, into her physical structure. The woman who brought bee-life to her river again; who brought hens to scratch up her old, dead growth, and a man to plant new trees for her, and dream his own river-dreams into her. The woman who loved her as a lover should: who fell headlong, eyes closed, arms outstretched, into the long dreaming of the land.
There, I am willingly caught. There, I will linger on. Not quite forever; I have no stories to tell of forever. But perhaps for long enough.