‘Have we died and gone to heaven?’ David asks, after our first dinner here in Connemara, cosied up around the old pine table which has sat in two other kitchens and seen many dramas unfold. It is the first dinner I have cooked on the old green reconditioned Rayburn; the first dinner in our big bright ochre-yellow kitchen, looking out of the back windows at the bee hives and chicken house. Yes, the bees came here first: the Blackthorn Beeing and its offspring from last year’s swarming season.
The hens came next — the two which survived a stealthy mink attack back in Donegal, unusually in broad daylight. The old sheep trailer from our crofting days has made a good few trips up and down the four-and-a-half-hour sequence of roads between Connemara and Donegal.
We came later with the dogs, exhausted after a move which seems to have dragged on forever, and with the very necessary renovations to this much-neglected house inevitably running a week or two late, in spite of the finest of tradesmen doing their best to get it ready for us all. Stage one of the renovations, that is: work on the huge but unfinished church-like extension to the side of the house begins this coming week.
And so here I am, back in Connemara. Back home — there’s no doubt in my mind about that. And this beautiful, tranquil little lochside village nestled into the stone-clad hills does indeed feel like heaven on earth. Look: let me share with you our new morning walk.
We open the front door and startle a snipe; it flies off in characteristic roller-coaster fashion, offering up an eerie drum-roll* to announce the beginning of our day. Off we go, through the still-ramshackle gates (so much still to do) and across the stream which borders our property — a miniature version of our Donegal river, tumbling across rock and stone to hurl itself into the loch beyond.
I nod to the elderly blackthorn in our front hedge, and to the enormous old hawthorn which has survived the incursions of a row of tall conifers which provide us with welcome shelter to the north and east. On each side of the lane are green fields bordered by archetypal Connemara stone walls, teeming now with ewes and their new-born lambs. Hopeful crows circle overhead, their caws punctuated by the chatter of magpies. There are so many trees in this village, so many hedges and small pockets of woodland. It is holly country for sure; I have never seen so many hollies in one place. Holly and ivy all tangled together, with an occasional hawthorn peeping through.
Right at the junction, creeping past the shed where the cockerel crows a welcome, and on down the boreen to say good morning to our beautiful and friendly neighbours.
Across the loch and a few miles to the north, up in the Maamturks the intermittent morning sun shines on Corcóg Mór. Jessie thinks it’s all very fine. (‘That’s our house, there in the trees to the right,” I tell her. She looks appropriately impressed. But then Jessie is a dog who loves everyone and everything.)
A little further up the boreen, and there’s another wee loch just to the south:
This old track crosses the bog and meets the main road a few kilometres to the south. It emerges near the old school-house, and this is the path that the children of this village used to walk each day to school.
Everywhere I look, I see hollies which have inserted themselves into the most unlikely cracks in the heaps of giant Connemara boulders, and seem, surprisingly, to thrive.
Back we go, following the line of another stream, its banks, like our back lawn, coated with primroses.
Back home to coffee and porridge. Home to Connemara — siar go Conamara. It’s been a long time coming — twenty years now since I left. But it’s come around again. And suddenly the world makes complete sense.
* Produced by the vibration of stiff feathers which stick out at its tail sides.