Day five on a Wild Westie live blogging adventure – a day about town, and so much more.
The Wild West Irish Tours group set out to the nearby town of Sligo; settled in the heart of various mountains flowing to the coast in its county of the same name – Sligeach, “the shelly place” is its name in Gaelic. The town itself is a colorful; quaint little central point of interest for those who invest time and energy in Yeats country. And who wouldn’t? Between the attraction of a poetic nature, the town hosts a bright and bustling art and music scene, as well as a great many historical sites that make much more sense when you did what we did: get a local guide!
Adrian was our guide for the beginning of the day – a young man local to the area who not only knew it well, but was full of incredible little facts that showed just how passionate he was about it. Places we would’ve normally passed without a second thought [or picture] were put into new light – we got to stand and experience the history of the village as it grew (and burned down, and grew, and burned down – an official burn down number of about seven, Adrian said) whilst observing the details of the area.
A keen example is the hand that is etched onto the bank the Yeats statue stands in front of. It’s got an interesting legend tied to it – any guesses why a hand would be used here? I certainly wasn’t prepared for the story Adrian told – and it was a grand one, too. The point is though that one might wander by the bank, admire the statue, and move on without even noticing the hand or even wonder about its origin.
Adrian’s enthusiasm for the area really resonated with our walking tour – I learned so much in about two hours time that I’m still [pleasantly] processing it – anything from the town’s history with brewing to what stones came from where to build which buildings, to other famous figures that emerged influenced from the Wild West of Ireland – particularly, Sligo town.
And you can’t visit the area without seeing a local craftsman of great renown – Michael Quirke is known and beloved, and we were fortunate enough to get some time with him today. An expert woodcarver, Michael brought out of beech the beauty of local myths and legends – happily lecturing on them as he whittled away; drawing life from within the wood. He’d also chat with his visitors; asking favorite animals, names, all sorts of things to uniquely design something off the cuff if inspired. If he wasn’t telling a myth or legend relating to whatever he was doing, he was sharing stories of his own life – how he’s been carving since the 1960’s, things he’s heard from his neighbors, or things relating to family names. And it’s worth noting he never slowed down or paused in what he was doing – no, Mr. Quirke kept up the pace in quick wit and quick hands alike, dazzling all who came to see him.
Then it was a lovely day to ourselves out on the town – at free range, I swung into a café and had a nice soup, then strolled around looking for little things to bring home, a few small things for myself, but most of all, new experiences [and of course, photo opportunities]. There wasn’t a place I felt unwelcome and at every corner, something new and interesting would catch my eye. Musicians kept to the street corners and overhangs – I caught a fiddle and a guitar on my way around town, but I’m sure there were even more in different parts. I spent time in a shop chatting with a local artist who makes wonderful jewelry – and instead of just leaving it at that, she wanted to know what I was up to. When she heard I was into photography and art, she delightedly showed me upstairs to a gallery with an amazing exhibit! What I liked best about the whole experience is that Sligo is a constantly moving little town that teems with energy, but never feels overly busy or crowded. A really nice visit, with beautiful weather to enjoy it in, no less.
It was history and nature after that – we stopped by a historical site of sobering importance that deserves its own moment in time and silent reflection. It felt rather like paying respect to the country’s history; acknowledging that the Ireland we know today was not the Ireland of yesterday – of occupation and destitution. There’s a real sense of thankfulness upon exiting this particular area – walking back out into nature on a hike Senan guided us on. Just up to a fairy circle in the sunshine; more grateful and humbler than before, I’d wager.
It was not my only hike of the night, however – no, we got to experience something my good friend Geraldine had been suggesting the Wild Westies experience for a good while now: the Fairy Glen.
Another one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” sites; this particular glen takes a bit of a walk out to – along a narrow path through the woods whose trees twine and twist in the most impish of ways. Tunnels of emerald and lime spiral around whoever dares travel up to the glen, and golden light filters through the dense leaves above to shower the ground with sparkling rays.
Entering a perfectly-even chasm of stone cloaked in ivy; looking up at stacked ferns surrounding a fresh, open space of damp and cool twinkling in the fading afternoon sun was…unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was the utterly peaceful moment of silence that comes before diving into a swimming pool meets the adrenaline of the start of a race…and yet, it was tranquil. There was nothing but the wind to breathe life into the limbs of trees and sunlight to shift the shadows on the ground. It’s easy to imagine being watched by elfin faces between the boughs – the burbling of streams is silvery laughter and the rustling of leaves is an ethereal being passing by on a wisp of mist. A surreal renaissance painting come to life – or rococo, considering.
There was a swing there, too – you might be familiar with Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing” painting? The one with the girl in the fancy dress whose shoe is flying off as she swings back and forth? It was a bit like that, albeit I was less fancy, my shoe did not fly off, and I looked a bit less graceful, no doubt. But it felt incredible to simply sway and become a part of the swaying of the forest.
For Geraldine to go out of her way to take us somewhere she said we simply had to see (she was right, of course) is something I’ll always be grateful for. To simply sit, be, and chat when we felt like it was enough – the glen in all its glistening beauty was the perfect end to an extraordinary day of learning, feeling, thinking, and reflecting. Most of all, simply allowing oneself to be – in a busy day and age like ours, time to just exist is now considered a valuable luxury.
Also, I continue to be amazed by the way the entire country seems to open its arms and show people around – the towns local people love and take pride in, history lovingly preserved, and nature respected & accepted as a part of life worth knowing. Today was a day worth experiencing fully – and I am so very happy I did so as a Wild Westie.
Until next time, see you on the other side of the rainbow.
– Sam Fishkind.