National Geographic : 1951 May
I Walked Some Irish Miles BY DOROTHEA SHEATS With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author IN COUNTY CORK, where I came ashore, the accent is soft and the wind is strong, though it rides in on the main branch of the temperate Gulf Stream. Listen and you hear cattle lowing. This is the sound of Ireland's countryside. Time? Nobody seems to care. "Clocks stop ticking here. Nobody hurries. Any Irishman will stop for a chat or a pint," said a little fat man in a Glengariff doorway. "Sure, we're easygoin', praise be to God!" I had just eight weeks for "going back" to an Ireland I knew only in song and story; my grandparents sailed from there to America be fore I was born. Alas, no weeks in my life passed so fast. I walked 250 miles, rode in carts, cars, buses, and trains, slept over "pubs" and under cot tage roofs, ate in Irish kitchens, stayed on a farm, worked in a store, danced, talked, and went to church with these friendly and gener ous people. I explored a fairy fort in County Kerry, stubbed my toe on an Ogham stone, and climbed into damp, ivy-covered castle ruins in County Cork. Often I met the old and the new, like the humble thatched cottage near Galway where daughter Peggy-shooing her chickens out of the door-was soon to enter University Col lege at Dublin (Baile Atha Cliath). Friendliness greeted me everywhere, and curiosity too. "Where are you from, kind lady? What brings you to Ireland?" About the size of the State of Maine, the island has 32,000 square miles. Six of its 32 Counties make up Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. The "Border," sub ject of dispute in and out of politics, separates Northern Ireland from the remain ing 26 Counties-the new Republic of Ireland (map, page 656). Ulster cannot be used as a synonym for Northern Ireland, for the name covers both Northern Ireland and three Coun ties of the Republic. Most of my eight precious weeks were spent in three Counties of the Irish-speaking West Cork, Kerry and Galway.* Irish Mile-"a Mile and a Bit" In the southwest I started, in an off-the beaten-track peninsula, locally known as "Bere," in County Cork. You leave resort town Glengariff behind and suddenly you are alone in craggy, wild country, with the bleak Caha Mountains to the right and Bantry Bay, gray and misty, to the left. The ten miles to Adrigole, where I hoped to get "bed and breakfast," seemed endless. I knew no one, had no reservations. Cameras and pack with supplies for a week dragged at my shoulders. Each time I inquired for Adrigole, it was still "a mile or two." "Don't you know an Irish mile is a mile and a bit-and the bit is as long as the mile?" asked a tall, grinning Irishman I met when at last I reached the elusive town. "You mean they're longer than other miles?" "By about 500 yards!" Adrigole is just what its name implies, "A Place Between Two Forks," with a small har bor. Looming darkly near by is 2,251-foot Hungry Hill. For three days I lingered here, at a big friendly stone guesthouse. Floors were cement, walls white. Seat of O'Sullivan Clan As evening fell, a waitress spread a blue and-white cloth on the table and brought "tea"-ham, tomatoes, loaves of dark and white bread shaped like small cartwheels, and a knife to cut all I wanted; creamy butter, black currant jam, tea. The girl came back with an armful of turf peat, we call it-traditional Irish fuel. She upended the brownish-black oblongs on the hearth. Soon I sniffed the sweet, almost but tery fragrance of my first turf fire. "How quickly it lights," I said. "Black is best." She spoke so fast in musi cal Cork cadence I could hardly understand, but I did learn that her mother once emi grated to America, only to return to marry a childhood friend. Her name was Margaret O'Sullivan. (Here, if you forget the name of the man you met yesterday, you can guess it's O'Sullivan and you'll probably be right! Bere peninsula is an ancient seat of that clan.) I picked up a bit of turf. It was neither soft coal nor hard soil, but like a solid mix ture of both, with grass clinging to it. That morning I had passed it stacked in desolate bogs (pages 668, 674, 677). A young Government clerk from Dublin, *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Ireland: The Rock Whence I Was Hewn," by Donn Byrne, March, 1927; and "Old Ireland, Mother of New Eire," by Harrison Howell Walker, May, 1940.