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Rambles Along Irish Country Lanes
Irish Country Lanes
It has been two years since my last visit to Ireland, and now we're back for our 50th wedding anniversary in 2013. We take a ramble of about four miles starting in Tullyraghan at my wife's childhood home where the view is magnificent--miles on end of rolling farm fields with the distant high ridge of Mulleyash Mountain rising a thousand feet above with its dense spruce and fir forest.
We proceed down a wee brae lined with hedgerows coated with wild Irish roses. But hedgerows are more than hedges of an American suburban town--they rise ten feet high and consist of a rich variety of vegetation including hawthorn trees that bloom with white flowers in May, shrubby ash trees, blackberry and raspberry briars, stinging nettle plants, foxglove stalks, and a very thorny, yellow-flowered whinbush. Don't try to push your way through an Irish hedgerow or you'll be in for a surprise. Deep within the hedge is a "shook" or watery ditch lined with rocks and a second layer of hedgerow on the other side of the shook with an equal amount of briars and nettles. Surely they do well in preventing cows from wandering into the next field.
We continue down the brae and listen to bellowing cows and baahing sheep just on the other side of the hedgerow. Magpies flutter from hawthorn bush to whin bush to show us how easily it can be done. After climbing up a high brae we take a sharp right down a side road called the "Moile lane " (we would say mile lane). that crosses a bridge over a good trout stream called the Black River flowing down from Northern Ireland to Lough Mucknoe outside of Castleblayney. We climb up a steep hill to what I call the "Celtic Dragon Trail" which actually is the remains of an old stagecoach road that once thundered with the thud of horses' hooves drawing a stagecoach from Crossmaglen in County Armagh to Castleblayney in County Monaghan (the county of ten thousand hills). It has its own hedgerows and is overgrown with nettles and briar. You would have to use a machete to hack your way through it today.
We return to our original lane all the way to a set of crossroads and old peat bogs with fields rising above. My wife Maura who is my wild Irish rose recalls how her grand dad and father used to come to dig peat in the bog as fuel for the open hearth fire. When Maura was a young girl riding her bike back from the town of Castleblayney during a dark winter's eve, she always encountered a wee elf of a man who allegedly swang on his swing between two tall chestnut trees and would sometimes, allegedly, ride his tricycle across the lane to frighten Maura out of her wits. He was living proof that leprechauns exist in Ireland.
In fact, even to this day, farmers will plow around a lone tree in their fields because to cut it down would offend the wee folk (who love its leafy shelter) and would bring bad luck. We continue down this country lane going westward past those tall horse chestnut trees full of songbirds singing away the cares of the world. Song sparrows, willow warblers and thrushes help create an incomparable rural symphony, a far cry from the busy streets of Dublin town. Before long we come to another set of crossroads to swing north past newly built farm houses surrounded by fields of hay, oats and barley, so typical of Ireland. We hear the horsey cooing of wood pigeons roosting the the eaves of barns.
At last, our final set of crossroads appears, and we turn south toward Tullyraghan with hedgerows full of blackbirds and swallows. The Irish government, to help restore earlier environmental habitats, has wisely created an law that prohibits the trimming of hedgerows until after the nesting season is over. In older times, you could smell the sweet scent of peat smoke rising from the chimneys. But, in a way, the olden days have returned with fuel and energy shortages. My brother-in-law Hughie planted hundreds of sitka spruce saplings some twenty-five years ago. Now, he thins out the forest by cutting down mature trees for firewood. He also has a green house (tunnel) where he grows cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. And he has planted a small field of potatoes that will provide food through the winter.
Our ramble along Irish country lanes is completed by walking up to Maura's old homestead for a nice hot cup of tea and a slice of Irish soda bread to tide us over until our anniversary party dinner when Mulleyash Mountain will darken in the setting sun.