Rambles in Ireland: Mullyash and Beyond
View from Mullyash
Mullyash and Beyond
On a fine summer day with celtic clouds racing overhead, we drove our car to the northeastern tip of County Monaghan, Ireland at the base of Mullyash mountain. We found a pullover to park our car and my wife Maura and I hopped out to open a cattle fence and re-hook it. We proceeded up a steep dirt road to the edge of a forest plantation of pine and spruce lined with pink fireweed and tall grasses.
We entered the forest as black rooks flew overhead and the sun went behind a thick gray cloud. The road continued its steep incline high above the hedgerow-lined fields lit up with sunlight. As a girl, Maura used to come to Mullyash on her bike to pick billberries (like a blueberry) in the fields below the forest. Finally our road-trail levelled out to a junction at the crest of Mullyash. We turned to the left and walked perhaps a half mile until we approached a large pile of stones, the base of which looked more wall-like. We climbed the rock pile to get a fantastic view of Slieve Gullion and the Mountains of Mourne to the north and the Irish Sea to the East.
Back in 1972, when I was on sabbatical leave to research the influence of Thoreau and Gandhi on the Northern Ireland Civil Disobedience Movement, I took a break to climb Slieve Gullion a good thousand feet higher than Mullyash. I borrowed my brother-in-law's black leather jacket and drove into troubled Northern Ireland past a British barb-wired garrison in Fork Hill (now in 2010 very peaceful town). I continued with caution passed their speed bumps with machinegun turrets high above. My car had "Fee State" plates so I'm sure the British watched me carefully.
At long last I arrived at the trailhead of Slieve Gullion and climbed ever upwards to gain terrific views of the Emerald Isle. But suddenly rat-a-tat-tat of bullets shattered the peaceful mountain views. I looked below at the garrison in Fork Hill to see tracer bullets flashing through the air. Just thirty minutes ago I was down there! The IRA had begun an attack. Rifle fire punctuated the still air and a British chopper from Newry came buzzing right below me. I was in a war zone. Stubbornly I continued my mission of climbing to the summit marked with a rocky cairn to look at the views ever so quickly.
No way in hell was I going to drive my car through Fork Hill to get back to Maura's homestead. I examined the scene quickly and nervously until I saw a dirt road directly south that "jumped" the border into the Irish Republic and the city of Dundalk. By the time I reached my car bullets continued to snap and pop in the valley below. I managed to find the illegal dirt road and quickly jumped the border and drove into Dundalk to get a pint of ale. When I told the bartender my story, he said "You was dahmn looky! With you wearin' a black jacket you could've been plugged!" I asked "How so?" He said, "Don't ya know that black is the color of the IRA?" I swallowed hard, paid him for the ale and left.
But now in the far more peaceful twenty-first century (peaceful in Ireland, that is), Maura and I enjoyed the view from the top of a rock pile. She said that her dad once told here that as recently as 1947 Irish folk climbed Mullyash each summer solstice (around June 22nd) to celebrate an ancient celtic holiday called "lughnasa." They would dance to fiddle music and sing to the rising sun.
When a read a thick book called The Monaghan Story by Peadar Livingstone, I discovered that during the British partitioning of Ireland in 1921, the people of Monaghan had a choice of the lofty heights and rich farmland of Mullyash or the farmland and town of Crossmaglen to become part of the new Irish Republic. To the dismay of the residents of Crossmaglen, Monaghan cose Mullyash. Crossmaglen rebelled from 1921 until the peace accord of the 1990s (negotiated by Clinton, Blair and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahearn). The Irish tri-colors were flown throughout the town instead the the British unionjack. Crossmaglen, Fork Hill and Newry were quite dangerous places when I naievely decided to climb Slieve Gullion.
Maura and I ambled through the forest and down the peaceful fields back to our car and home. We looked forward to Irish lamb stew and lots of soda bread to dip into the gravy.
As of this year (2012), Crossmaglen is still bitter about the 1921 partition that did not include this town in the Irish Republic. You can still see the Irish tricolors flying above the streets.
This year, 2013, I had the occasion to climb up Mulleyash mountain with two climbing buddies of mine, Gordon Fader with whom I had climbed Mount Katahdin, Maine and Mount Evans, Colorado, and Jonny Boucher with whom I had climbed Mount Katahdin, Halla San, South Korea, Mountain Princeton, Colorado and Mount Wheeler, New Mexico. Joining us were our French friends, Jean-Louis Picherit and his wife Brigitte and my son-in-law Robert Foothorap. This time we climbed to the top of an ancient, un-excavated megolithic mound dating back some 6,000 years. From the summit we stared out into an Irish universe of forty shades of green. This was a great event for us as Jonny, Gordon and I had not climbed together as a threesome since 1958.