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Title: Mearing Stones - Leaves from my Note-Book on Tramp in Donegal
Author: Campbell, Joseph
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  [ Transcriber's Notes:

    Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
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  Leaves from my Note-Book on Tramp
  in Donegal, by JOSEPH CAMPBELL
  (Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil), with Sixteen
  Pencil Drawings by the Author.


  Printed by Maunsel & Co., Ltd., Dublin.



  In the Mountains                                      1

  The Wander-Lust                                       2

  The Dark Woman                                        2

  By Lochros Beag                                       3

  Coaching by the Stars                                 3

  A Rainbow                                             3

  Change                                                4

  Prophet's Food                                        4

  The Transient                                         5

  Women and Hares                                       5

  The Smell of the Town                                 5

  Glengesh                                              5

  Clog-Seed                                             6

  Herbs and Flowers                                     6

  A Young Girl                                          7

  The General Light and Dark                            7

  Soul and Body                                         8

  A Man on Shelty-Back                                  9

  The Fairies                                           9

  Stranorlar Station                                    9

  Stones                                               10

  The Strand-Bird                                      10

  Space                                                10

  Rabbits and Cats                                     11

  The Glas Gaibhlinn                                   11

  A House in the Road's Mouth                          11

  The Quest                                            12

  Muckish                                              12

  The May-Fire                                         12

  Bloody Foreland                                      13

  Twilight and Silence                                 13

  The Poor Herd                                        14

  A Mountain Tramp                                     14

  The Festival of Death                                19

  In Glen-Columcille                                   19

  The Brink of Water                                   20

  A Dark Morning                                       21

  The Swallow-Mark                                     21

  Women Beetling Clothes                               21

  The Sea                                              22

  A Ballad-Singer                                      22

  Sunlight                                             24

  Turf-Cutting                                         24

  His Old Mother                                       25

  A Day of Wind and Light, Blown Rain                  25

  Lying and Walking                                    26

  Glen-Columcille to Carrick                           26

  Ora et Labora                                        29

  Two Things that won't go Grey                        29

  Rundal                                               29

  Púca-Piles                                           30

  The Rosses                                           30

  A Country Funeral                                    30

  Youth and Age                                        31

  Summer Dusk                                          32

  A Note                                               32

  The Peasant in Literature                            32

  An Insleep                                           33

  Water and Slán-Lus                                   33

  By Lochros Mór                                       33

  Rival Fiddlers                                       34

  Nature                                               35

  Sunday under Slieve League                           35

  The Night he was Born                                36

  The Lusmór                                           37

  Derry People                                         37

  A Clock                                              38

  Carrick Glen                                         38

  A Shuiler                                            39

  Turkeys in the Trees                                 39

  A Party of Tinkers                                   39

  Teelin, Bunglass, and Slieve League                  40

  The Shooting Star                                    45

  Sunday on the Road between Carrick and Glengesh      45

  A Roany Bush                                         46

  August Evening                                       46

  Near Inver                                           47

  All Subtle, Secret Things                            47

  A Madman                                             47

  Laguna                                               48

  Near Letterkenny                                     48

  Shan Mac Ananty                                      48

  A Poor Cabin                                         51

  The Flax-Stone                                       51

  After Sunset                                         52

  The Darkness and the Tide                            53

  Errigal                                              54

  The Sore Foot                                        54

  Asherancally                                         54

  Orange Gallases                                      55

  The Human Voice                                      55

  Loch Aluinn                                          56

  The Open Road                                        56


  The Wall of Slieve League          Frontispiece

  Clady River, near Gweedore        Facing Page 2

  Pass of Glengesh                        "     6

  Lochros Beag                            "     8

  Muckish, with a 'Cap' on                "    12

  On the Road to Doon Well                "    16

  Near Alton Loch                         "    20

  A Street in Ardara                      "    22

  Falling Water                           "    26

  Bog and Sky                             "    30

  Mountainy Folk                          "    34

  A Wayfarer                              "    38

  The Horn                                "    42

  A Clachan of Houses                     "    48

  A Gap between the Hills                 "    50

  Loch Nacung--Moonrise                   "    54



"In the mountains," says Nietzsche, "the shortest way is from summit to
summit." That is the way I covered Donegal. Instead of descending into
the valleys (a tedious and destroying process at all times), I crossed,
like the king of the fairies, on a bridge of wonder:

    With a bridge of white mist
    Columcille he crosses,
    On his stately journeys
    From Slieve League to Rosses.

What seems in places in this book a fathomless _madhm_ is in reality
bridged over with wonder--dark to the senses here and there, I grant
you, but steady and treadable in proportion to the amount of vision
one brings to the passage of it. All, I know, will not follow me (the
fairies withhold knowledge from the many and bestow it on the few),
but if blame is to be given let the fairies get it, and not me. And
I may as well warn the reader here that it is unlucky to curse the
fairies. Rosses is but a storm's cry, and--the curse always comes home
to roost!

With regard to the pictures illustrating the book, several people
who have seen them in the original have criticised their darkness,
as if they were all drawn "in twilight and eclipse." But the darkness
of Donegal was the first thing that struck me when I crossed the
frontier at Lifford, and the forty miles' journey through the hills
to Ardara bit the impression still more deeply into me. And if I were
asked now after a year's exile what I remember most vividly of the
county, I should say its gloom. I can see nothing now but a wilderness
of black hills, with black shadows chasing one another over them,
a gleam of water here and there, and just the tiniest little patch
of sunlight--extraordinarily brilliant by contrast with the general
darkness--on half a field, say, with its mearing-stones, to relieve the
sense of tragedy that one feels on looking at the landscape.


Sea-ribbons have I cut, and gathered ling; talked with fairies; heard
Lia Fail moaning in the centre, and seen Tonn Tuaidh white in the
north; slept on hearth-flags odd times, and under bushes other times;
passed the mill with the scoop-wheels and the house with the golden
door; following the roads--the heart always hot in me, the lights on
the hills always beckoning me on!


We were talking together the other morning--the publican and
myself--outside the inn door at Barra, when a dark woman passed. "God
look to that poor creature," says he; "she hasn't as much on her as
would stuff a crutch." "Stuff a what?" says I, for I didn't quite
understand him. "The bolster of a crutch," says he. "And she knows
nobody. Her eye-strings is broke."



A waste of blown sand. The Atlantic breakers white upon its
extremest verge. A patch of sea-bog before, exhaling its own peculiar
fragrance--part fibre, part earth, part salt. Ricks of black turf
stacked over it here and there, ready to be creeled inland against
the winter firing. The dark green bulk of Slieve a-Tooey rising
like a wall behind, a wisp of cloud lying lightly upon its carn. The
village of Maghery, a mere clachan of unmortared stone and rain-beaten
straw, huddling at its foot. A shepherd's whistle, a cry in torrential
Gaelic, or the bleat of a sheep coming from it now and again, only to
accentuate the elemental quiet and wonder of the place. The defile of
Maum opening beyond, scarped and precipitous, barely wide enough to
hold the road and bog-stream that tumble through it to the sea. The
rainbow air of our western seaboard enfolding all, heavy with rain and
the fragrance of salt and peat fires.


Coaching by the stars, night-walking--all my best thoughts, I find,
come to me that way. Poetry, like devilry, loves darkness.


I was watching a rainbow this afternoon--a shimmering ring in the
sky between the fort at the mouth of the Owentocker river and Slieve
a-Tooey beyond. "That's a beautiful sight, now," said a beggar,
stopping on the road to have a word with me--the sort of person one
meets everywhere in Ireland, friendly, garrulous, inquisitive, very
proud of his knowledge of half-secret or hidden things, and anxious
at all times to air it before strangers. "We do have a power of them
this speckled weather." He looked into the sky with a queer look, then
started humming over the names of the colours to himself in Irish. "And
they say, sir, it's unlucky to pass through a rainbow. Did you ever
hear that?"


My heart goes out to the playing and singing folk, the folk who are
forever on the roads. Life is change; and to be seeing new wonders
every day--the thrown sea, the silver rush of the meadow, the lights
in distant towns--is to be living, and not merely existing. I pity the
man who is content to stay always in the place where his mother dropped
him; that is, unless his thoughts wander. For one might sit on a midden
and dream stars!


A man hailed me on the road, and we were talking. . . . "If
one had nothing but fraochans to eat and water to drink, sure one
would have to be satisfied. And remember," says he, "that a prophet
lived on as little." "Who was that?" says I. "John the Baptist," says
he. "You'll read that in the books."


Only the transient is beautiful, said Schiller; and Nature, in the
incessant play of her rising, vanishing forms, is not averse to
beauty. Beauty, said Turgenev, needs not to live for ever to be
eternal--one instant is enough for her.


It's curious in Donegal sometimes, when going along the road, or
crossing a footpath through the fields, to see a shawled woman, a
perch or so off, dropping over the edge of a hill, and then when you
get up to the edge there is no sign of her at all. And, maybe, a pace
further on you will start a hare out of the hollow where you think the
woman should have been, and you begin to wonder is there any truth in
the story about women--that have to do with magic and charms and old
freets, and the like--changing into hares, after all! I have had many
experiences like that in my travels through the county, and in not a
few instances have I been puzzled how a figure--silhouetted sharply
against the skyline, and only a few yards off--could disappear so
quickly out of view.


A woman said to me to-day: "You'll get the smell o' the town blowed off
you in the Donegal hills!"


Darkness and austerity--those are the notes I carry away from this
wild glen. Its lines have something of the splendid bareness of early
architecture; its colour suggests time-stained walls, with quiet
aisles and mouldering altars where one might kneel and dream away an
existence. When you meet a stranger going the road that winds through
it, like a coil of incense suspended in mid-air, you expect him to look
at you out of eyes full of wonder, and to speak to you in half-chanted
and serious words, stopping not, turning neither to left nor to right,
but faring on, a symbol of pilgrimage:

    _Le solus a chroidhe,_
    _Fann agus tuirseach_
    _Go deireadh a shlighe._


"What are you sowing?" "Oh, clog-seed, clog-seed. The childer about
here is all running barefoot, and I thought I might help them against
the winter day!"


_Lusmór_, _lus-na-méarachán_, _sian sléibhe_, foxglove, or
fairy-thimble--whatever you like best to call it--it, I think, is the
commonest herb of all. One sees it everywhere with its tall carmine
spray, growing on ditches in the sun, in dark, shady places by the side
of rivers, and under arches. Then the king-fern, the splendid _osmunda
regalis_; the delicate maidenhair and hart's-tongue, rooted in the
crannies of walls; bog-mint and bog-myrtle, deliciously fragrant after
rain, and the white tossing _ceanabhán_; brier-roses and woodbine; the
drooping convolvulus; blue-bough; Fairies' cabbage, or London Pride;
pignuts and anemones; amber water-lilies, curiously scented; orchises,
purple and white; wild daffodils and marigolds, gilding the wet meadows
between hills; crotal, a moss rather than a herb, but beautiful to
look at and most serviceable to the dyer; eyebright and purple mountain
saxifrage; crested ling; tufts of sea-holly, with their green, fleshy,
spiked leaves; and lake-sedge and sand-grass, blown through by soft
winds and murmurous with the hum of bees. Donegal, wild though it be in
other respects, is surely a paradise of herbs and flowers.

[Illustration: PASS OF GLENGESH.]


A young girl, in the purr and swell of youth. Her shawl is thrown
loosely back, showing a neck and breast beautifully modelled. She is
barefooted, and jumps from point to point on the wet road. At a stream
which crosses the road near the _gallán_ she lifts her dress to her
knees and leaps over. She does not see me where I am perched sunning
myself, so I can watch her to my heart's content.


"The words of the maker of poems are the general light and dark." One
feels the truth of this saying of Walt Whitman's in a place like the
Pass of Glengesh, or the White Strand outside Maghery. Chanting a
fragment of the "Leaves" one night in the Pass, when everything was
quiet and the smells were beginning to rise out of the wet meadows
below, I felt how supremely true it was, and how much it belonged to
the time and place--the darkness, the silence, the vibrant stars, the
earth smells, the bat that came out of the shadow of a fuchsia-bush and
fluttered across a white streak in the sky beyond. And I have tried
Wordsworth's sonnet beginning, "The world is too much with us," by a
criterion no less than that of the Atlantic itself, tumbling in foam
on the foreshore of Maghery when daylight was deepening into twilight,
and the moon was low over the hills, touching the rock-pools and the
sand-pools with flakes of carmine light. When I said the sonnet aloud
to myself it seemed to rise out of the landscape and to incorporate
itself with it again as my voice rose and fell in the wandering
cadences of the verse. Nature, after all, is the final touchstone
of art. Tried by it, the counterfeit fails and the unmixed gold is


"It's a strange world," said a tramp to me to-day. I agreed. "And would
you answer me this, gaffer?" said he. "Why is it when a man's soul is
in his body, and he lusty and well, you think nothing of kicking him
about as you would an old cast shoe? And the minute the soul goes,
and the body is stiffening in death, you draw back from him, hardly
daring to touch him for the dread that is on you. Would you answer
me that, gaffer?" I was silent. "It's a strange world, sure enough,"
said the tramp. He rose from the gripe where he lay making rings in
the grass with his stick. "Good-day, gaffer," said he. "God speed your
journey." And he took the road, laughing.

[Illustration: LOCHROS BEAG.]


A man on shelty-back. He has come in from the mountains to the cloth
fair at Ardara. He is about sixty-five, black on the turn, clean
shaven, but for side whiskers. He wears the soft wide-awake favoured by
the older generation of peasants, open shirt, and stock rolled several
times round his throat and knotted loosely in front. His legs dangle
down on either side of his mount, tied at the knees with sugans. His
brogues are brown with bog mud, very thick in the sole, and laced only
half-way up. He has a bundle of homespun stuff under his left arm. A
pipe is in his teeth, and as I approach he withdraws it to bid me the
time of day. "_Lá maith_," he says in a strong, hearty voice. I return
the greeting, and pass on.


I was in a house one night late up in the Gap of Maum, a very
lonely place, yarning with two brothers--shepherds--who live there
by themselves. I had sat a long time over the _griosach_, and was
preparing to go, when the elder of them said to me: "Don't stir yet a
bit. Sit the fire out. A body's loath to leave such a purty wee fire to
the fairies."


In a quiet corner, seated, I see a woman come in from the mountainy
country beyond Convoy. She is waiting for the up-train. She is
dark. Her hair and eyes are _very_ dark. Her lips are threads of
scarlet. Her skin is colourless, except for a slight tanning due
to exposure to sun and weather. She has a black shawl about her
shoulders, and a smaller one of lighter colour over her head. She
moves seldom. Her hands are folded on her knees. She looks into space
with an air of quiet ecstasy, like a Madonna in an old picture. Her
beauty is the beauty of one apart from the ruck and commonness of
things. . . . . She spits out now and again. I cannot help
watching her.


"Donegal is a terrible place for stones." "Heth, is it, sir--boulders
as big as a house. And skipping-stones? Man dear, I could give you a
field full, myself!"


I could sit for hours listening to the "bubbling" of the strand-bird;
but that's because I am melancholy. If I weren't melancholy I'd hardly
like it, I think. The tide's at ebb and the bollans and rock-pools
are full of water. Beyond is space--the yellow of the sand and the
grey of the sky--and the pipe-note "bubbling" between. A strange,
yearning sound, like nothing one hears in towns; bringing one into
touch with the Infinite, and deep with the melancholy that is Ireland's
. . . and mine.


In towns the furthest we see is the other side of the street; but
here there is no limit to one's prospect--Perseus is as visible as
Boötes--and one's thought grows as space increases.


Donegal is over-run with rabbits; and sometimes on your journeys
you will see a common house-cat--miles from anywhere--stalking them
up the side of a mountain, creeping stealthily through the heather
and pouncing on them with the savagery of a wild thing. The cats,
a stonebreaker told me, come from the neighbouring farm-houses and
cabins, "but they are devils for strolling," says he, and in addition
to what food they get from their owners "they prog a bit on their own!"


"That's a very green field," I said to a man to-day, pointing to a
field, about two furrow-lengths away, on which the sun seemed to pour
all its light at once. "Is there water near it?" "There's a stream,"
says he. "And the Glas Gaibhlinn sleeps there, anyway." "And what's
that?" "It's a magic cow the old people'll tell you of," says he, "that
could never be milked at one milking, or at seven milkings, for that,"
says he. "Any field that's greener than another field, or any bit of
land that's richer than another bit, they say the Glas Gaibhlinn sleeps
in it," says he. "It's a freet, but it's true!"


A house in the road's mouth--it is no roundabout to visit, but a short
cut. Often I go up there of an evening, when my day's wandering is
done, to meet the people and to hear the old Fenian stories told--or,
maybe, a tune played on the fiddle, if Donal O'Gallagher, the dark
man from Falcarragh, should happen to be present. It is as good as
the sight of day to see the dancers, the boys and the girls out on
the floor, the old people looking on from the shadow of the walls, and
Donal himself, for all his blindness, shaking his head and beating time
with his foot, as proud as a quilt of nine hundred threads!


Where am I going? Looking for the dew-snail? No, but going till I find
the verge of the sky.


"When you see Muckish with a cap on," said a man to me one day, "you
may lay your hand on your heart and say: 'We'll have a wet spell before
long.'" This mountain, like Errigal, has a knack of drawing a hood of
grey vapour round its head when the rest of the landscape is perfectly
cloudless--like the peaks of the Kaatskills in _Rip Van Winkle_.


The May-Fire is still kindled in some parts of Donegal. It is a
survival of a pagan rite of our forefathers.

"And at it (the great national convention at Uisneach in Meath)
they were wont to make a sacrifice to the arch-god, whom they adored,
whose name was Bél. It was likewise their usage to light two fires to
Bél in every district in Ireland at this season, and to drive a pair
of each herd of cattle that the district contained between these two
fires, as a preservative, to guard them against all the diseases of
that year. It is from that fire thus made that the day on which the
noble feast of the apostles Peter and James is held has been called
Bealteine (in Scotch Beltane), _i.e._, Bél's fire."

[Illustration: MUCKISH, WITH A 'CAP' ON.]

The boys and girls of a whole countryside repair to these fires,
which are usually lit upon a high, commanding hill, and they spend
the night out telling stories, reciting poems, singing, and dancing to
the accompaniment of pipes and fiddles. The May-Fire is not quite so
generally observed as the John's-Fire, which is kindled on the night of
the 23rd of June, St. John's Eve.


Bloody Foreland. An old woman comes out of the ditch to talk to
me. . . . "It's a wild place, sir, God help us! none wilder. And
myself, sir----sure I've nothing in the world but the bones of one


Some places in Donegal seem to me to brood under a perpetual twilight
and silence--Glen-Columcille, for instance, and the valley running into
it. And mixed up with the twilight and silence is a profound melancholy
that rises out of the landscape itself, or is read into it by the
greyness of one's own experience. Those dark hills with the rack over
them and the sun looking through on one little patch of tilled land,
and the stone mearings about it, figure forth the sorrow that is the
heritage of every Irishman; the darkness the sorrow, the sunshine
the hope, iridescent and beautiful, but a thing of moments only and
soon to fade away. I stand on the bridge here where the road forks,
Slieve League to the left of me, a dim lowering bulk, and the road to
Glen reaching away into the skyline beyond. The water of a hillstream
murmurs continually at my feet. A duck splashes, and flaps dripping
into the greyness overhead. Not a soul is in sight--only a blue
feather of turf-smoke here and there to show that human hearts _do_
beat in this wilderness; that there are feet to follow the plough-tail
and hands to tend the hearth. The sense of wonder over-masters me--the
wonder that comes of silence and closeness to the elemental forces of
nature. Then the mood changes, and I feel rising up in me the sorrow
that is the dominating passion of my life. Do many people go mad
here? I have heard tell that they do, and no wonder, for one would
need to be a saint or a philosopher to resist the awful austerity of
the place.


There is a poor herd at Maghery--a half-witted character--who lives
all his days in the open, with nothing between him and the sky. He
was herding his cows one evening in a quiet place by the caves when I
happened on him. "What time o' day is it?" says he. "Just gone four,"
says I, looking at my watch. "What time is that?" says he, in a dull
sort of way. "Is it near dark?"


Bearing south by the Owenwee river from Maghery, we strike up through
Maum gorge. Outside Maghery we come on two men--one of them a thin,
wizened old fellow with no teeth; the other a youngish man, very
raggedly dressed, with dark hair and features like an Italian. The old
man tells us in Irish (which we don't follow very clearly) to keep up
by the river-bed, and we can't possibly lose our direction. A quarter
of a mile further on we meet another man. He bids us the time of day
in passably good English. I answer in Irish, telling him that we are
on the road for Glen-Columcille, and asking him the easiest way over
the hills. He repeats what the old man told us, viz., to keep to the
river-bottom, and to cut up then by the fall at the head of Maum to
Laguna, a cluster of poor houses in the mountain under Crockuna. "When
you get there," he says, "you cannot lose your road." He comes a bit
of the way with us, and then we leave him at a point where the track
ends in the heather, and where a squad of navvies is engaged laying
down a foundation of brushwood and stones to carry it further into
the hills. It gives us a shock, in a way, to come on this squad of
wild-looking men in so lonely and desolate a place.

We are now well into the gorge, and a wild place it is! Half-way up
we come on a house--if one could call it such--with a reek of blue
smoke threading out of a hole in the thatch. No other sign of life
is visible. The walls of the gorge close in darkly on every side
except the north. On that side is the sea, white on Maghery strand,
and stretching away, a dull copper-green colour, into the sailless
horizon beyond. Hearing the voices, a young man comes out from between
two boulders serving as a sort of gateway to the house. His face is
tanned with sun and exposure, and he is in his bare feet. We greet him
in Irish and he answers--a little surprised, no doubt, at hearing the
language from strangers. Then another man comes forward--a brother,
if his looks don't belie him. He is in his bare feet also, and hatless,
with a great glibbe of black hair falling over his eyes. "You have the
Irish?" he says. "It's newance to hear it from townsfolk." We talk for
a while, enquiring further as to our direction over the hill, and then
we push on. Near the head of the gorge we sit down to have a rest,
sitting on a rock over the stream, and bathing our hands and faces
in the brown, flooded water. All the rivers of Donegal are brownish
in colour, and the Owenwee (_recte Abhainnbhuidhe_, "yellow river")
is no exception. The water stains everything it touches, and I have no
doubt but that the dark colour of the people's skin is due, partly,
to their washing themselves in it. Coming through one's boots, even,
it will stain the soles of the feet.

[Illustration: ON THE ROAD TO DOON WELL.]

We resume our journey, and after some rough and steep climbing reach
the plateau head. Loch Nalughraman, a deep pool of mountain water, lies
to the east of us, shimmering in the grey morning light. All around is
bogland, of a dull red colour, and soaking with rain. We make through
this, jumping from tuft to tuft, and from hummock to hummock, as best
we can, going over the shoe-mouth occasionally in slush. In an hour
or so we come on a bridle-path of white limestones, set on their flat
in the spongy turf. We follow this for a while, and in time reach the
poor village of Laguna. Entering into one of the houses I greet the
bean-a'-tighe in Irish. She rises quickly from her seat by the hearth
where she has been spinning--a crowd of very young children clinging to
her skirts. She is a dark woman, with mellow breasts, and fine eyes and
teeth. She is barefooted, as usual, and wears the coloured head-dress
of her kind, curtseying to me modestly as I approach. She answers me
in Irish--the only language she knows--and bids me come in. "_Beir
isteach_," she says. A young man of five-and-twenty or thereabouts
is weaving in the room beyond. (I recognised the heavy click-clack,
click-clack, click-clack of the loom as I entered.) Hearing my enquiry
he rises up from his seat, drops his setting-stick, and offers to guide
us as far as the southern edge of the hill. "You will see the Glen road
below you," he says, coming out in his bare feet into the open, and
speaking volubly, like one used to good speech. "Look at it beyond," he
says, "winding from the Carrick side. Keep south, and you will strike
it after two miles of a descent." The woman brings a bowl of goat's
milk to my sister. She drinks it readily, for she is thirsty after her
climb. Then, thanking the poor people for their hospitality, we say,
"_Slán agaibh_," and press forward on our journey to Glen-Columcille.

We reach the high-road in about half-an-hour, near a school-house,
shining white in the sun, and busy with the hum of children singing
over their lessons. Things look more familiar now. We pass many houses,
with fleeces of dyed wool--green and blue and madder--drying on bushes
outside the doors, and men busy stacking turf and thatching. Here
and there on the road flocks of geese lie sunning themselves,
head-under-wing. As we draw near they get up and face us with
protruding necks, hissing viciously. Dogs bark at us occasionally,
but not often. (I had heard ill accounts of the Donegal dogs from
travellers, but on the whole, my experience of them has not been
quite so bad as I had been led to expect.) Slieve League rises on
our left, a dark, shadowy bulk of mountain, shutting off the view
to the south. All around is moorland, with a stream in spate foaming
through a depression in it, and little patches of tilled land here and
there, and the inevitable brown-thatched cabin and the peat-reek over
it. After some miles' travelling we come on a little folk-shop by the
road--a shop where one might buy anything from a clay-pipe or a lemon
to Napoleon's Book of Fate. The window looks tempting, so we go in. The
shopkeeper is a quiet-mannered little man, not very old, I would think,
but with greyish hair, and eyes that look as if they were bound round
with red tape--burnt out of his head with snuff and peat-smoke. We ask
him has he any buttermilk to sell. He hasn't any, unfortunately--he
is just run out of it--so we content ourselves with Derry biscuits,
made up in penny cartons, and half a dozen hen-eggs to suck on the
way. Some people may shiver at the idea of it, but raw eggs are as
sustaining a thing as one could take on a journey! We pay our score,
and get under way again. At a bridge where the road forks we sit down
and eat our simple repast. A bridge has always a peculiar fascination
for me--especially in an open country like this where one's horizon
is not limited by trees and hedges--and I could spend hours dawdling
over it, watching the play of sun and shadow on the water as it foams
away under the arches. Here there is a delightful sense of space and
quietness. The heather-ale is in our hearts, the water sings and the
wind blows, and one ceases to trouble about time and the multitude of
petty vexations that worry the townsman out of happiness. Did I say one
ceases to trouble about time? Even here it comes, starting one like
a guilty thing. We reach Meenacross Post-office at four-thirty, and
an hour later see the Atlantic tumbling through rain on the age-worn
strand of Glen-Columcille.


I met an old man on the road, and his face as yellow as dyer's
rocket. "Walk easy past that little house beyond," says he in
a whisper, turning round and pointing with his staff into the
valley. "There's a young girl in it, and she celebrating the festival
of death."


Through blown rain and darkness I see the Atlantic tumble in white,
ghost-like masses on the strand. Beevna is a shadow, the crosses
shadows. Only one friendly light burns in the valley. The patter of
rain and the dull boom of the surf ring ceaselessly in my ears. The
hills brood: my thoughts brood with them. I stare into the sunset--a
far-drawn, scarlet trail--with mute, wondering eyes. Remoteness
grips me, and is become a reality in this ultimate mearing of a grey,
ultimate land.


I have often heard it said that what passes for folk-lore is in reality
book-lore, or what began as book-lore got into the oral tradition
and handed down through the generations by word of mouth. A young
Ardara man, a poet and dreamer in his way, told me that poetry most
frequently came to him when he was near water; wandering, say, by the
edge of Lochros, or looking down from Bracky Bridge at the stream as
it forced its way through impeding boulders to the sea. I asked him
had he ever read "The Colloquy of the Two Sages(1)"? He said that
he had not. I told him that in that MS. occurred the passage: _ar bá
baile fallsigthe éicsi dogrés lasna filedu for brú uisci_, _i.e._,
"for the poets thought that the place where poetry was revealed always
was upon the brink of water." Nettled somewhat, he confessed that he
got the idea from his father, a _seanchaidhe_, since dead, who knew
something of Irish MSS., and who perhaps had read the "Colloquy," or
at all events, had heard of it. But apart from the fact of the thing
having been given him by his father, he felt that it was true in his
own experience--that poetry always came to him more readily when he was
near water.

  (1) Book of Leinster.

[Illustration: NEAR ALTON LOCH.]


A dark, wet morning, with the mist driving in swaths over the hills. I
met an old man on the road. "There's somebody a-hanging this morning,"
says he. "It's fearful dark!"


There is a lot of the wanderer in me, and no wonder, I suppose;
for I have the swallow-mark--a wise man once showed it to me on my
hand--and that means that I must always be going journeys, whether
in the flesh or in the spirit, or both. "The swallow-mark is on you,"
says he. "You will go wandering with the airs of the world. You will
cheat the Adversary himself, even that he drops his corroding-drop on
you!" And as I am a wanderer, so the heart in me opens to its kind. I
love a brown face, a clear eye, and an honest walk more than anything;
if in a man, good; if in a woman, better. And why people look for the
cover of a roof, and the sun shining, I never can make out. Sunshine
and the open, the wind blowing, travelling betimes and resting betimes,
with my back to the field and my knees to the sky, a copy of Raftery
or Borrow in my pocket to dip into when the mood is on me--and I am
supremely happy!


I see three women by a river: they are so close to me that I can hear
them talking and laughing. One of them is an oldish creature, the other
two are young and dark. They are on their knees on the bank, beetling
clothes. One of them gets up--a fine, white-skinned girl--and tucking
her petticoats about her thighs, goes into the stream and swishes the
clothes several times to and fro in the brown-clear water. Then she
throws them out to her companions on the bank, and the beetling process
is repeated--each garment being laid on a flat stone and pounded
vigorously until clean. The women do not see me (I am standing on a
bridge, with a rowan-bush partly between them and me), so I can watch
them to my heart's content.


The sea is one of those things you cannot argue with. You must accept
it on its own terms, or leave it alone. And I like a man to be that
way: calm at times, rough at times, kind at times, treacherous
at times, but at heart unchanging: _not to be argued with, but
accepted_. Is not the comparison apter than one thinks? Is not a man
and his passions as divine and turbulent as anything under the sun?


A ballad-singer has come into Ardara. It is late afternoon. He stands
in the middle of the Diamond--a sunburnt, dusty figure, a typical
Ishmael and stroller of the roads. The women have come to their doors
to hear him, and a benchful of police, for lack of something better
to do, are laughing at him from the barrack front. The ballad he is
singing is about Bonaparte and the Poor Old Woman. Then he changes his
tune to "The Spanish Lady"--a Dublin street-song:

    As I walked down thro' Dublin city
    At the hour of twelve in the night,
    Who should I spy but a Spanish lady,
    Washing her feet by candlelight.

    First she washed them, and then she dried them
    Over a fire of amber coal:
    Never in all my life did I see
    A maid so neat about the sole!

[Illustration: A STREET IN ARDARA.]

Finally he gives "I'm a Good Old Rebel," a ballad of the type that
became so popular in the Southern States of America after the Civil

    I'm a good old rebel--that's what I am,
    And for this fair land of freedom I don't care a damn;
    I'm glad I fought agin it, I only wish we'd won,
    And I don't want no one-horse pardon for anything I done.

    I followed old Marse Robert for four years nigh about,
    Got wounded in three places and starved at Point Look-Out:
    I cotched the rheumatism a-campin' in the snow,
    But I killed a chance of Yankees, and I'd like to kill some moe.

    Two hundred thousand Yankees is stiff in Southern dust,
    We got two hundred thousand before they conquered us:
    They died of Southern fever and Southern steel and shot--
    I wish it was two millions instead of what we got!

    And now the war is over and I can't fight them any more,
    But I ain't a-goin' to love them--that's sartin shor';
    And I don't want no one-horse pardon for what I was and am,
    And I won't be reconstructed, and I don't care a damn!

He howls out the verses in disjointed, unmusical bursts. He acts with
head and arms, and at places where he is worked up to a particular
frenzy he takes a run and gives a buck-jump in the air, blissfully
unconscious, I suppose, that he is imitating the manner in which the
_ballistea_, or ancient dancing-songs, were sung by the Romans. At
the end of each verse he breaks into a curious chanted refrain like:
"Yum tilly-yum-yum-yum-yum-yum"--and then there are more sidlings and
buck-jumps. Some of the women throw him money, which he acknowledges
by lifting his hat grandiosely. Others of them pass remarks, quite the
reverse of complimentary, about his voice and ragged appearance. "Isn't
it terrible he is!" says one woman. "Look at him with the seat out
of his trousers, and he lepping like a good one. I could choke him,
I could!" Another woman comes out of a shop with a crying child in
her arms, and shouts at him: "Will you go away, then? You're wakening
the childer." "Well, ma'am," says he, stopping in the middle of a
verse, "you may thank the Lord for His mercy that you have childer to
waken!" The ducks quack, the dogs howl, the poor ballad-singer roars
louder than ever. I listen for a while, amused and interested. Then I
get tired of it, and pass on towards Bracky Bridge.


Unless you have seen the sun you cannot know anything. Sunlight is
better than wisdom, and the red of the fairy-thimble more than painted


In the Lochros district, when the weather begins to take up, about the
middle of May, the farmers repair to the moss on the north side of the
Point, and start cutting the banks. The turf is then footed (sometimes
by girls) along the causeway ditches, and when properly seasoned--say
about the middle of July--is piled in stacks on high ground
convenient to the moss, and covered on top with a lot of old mouldering
"winter-stales," to keep the rain off it. "Winter-stales" are sods that
have been left over from the previous season's cutting--the wet setting
in and leaving the bog-roads in such a state that no slipe or wheeled
car could get into them. Of course, most of the carrying in Donegal is
done by creel or ass-cart; but in the Lochros district turf is scarce,
and the farmers on the Point are obliged to keep horses to draw the
turf in from the moss on the north side of the Owenea river, some miles
off, and over roads that are none too good for wheeled traffic. In
some cases I have noticed the "winter-stales" built up in little
beehive-shaped heaps on dry ground, to be carted or creeled away as
soon as the weather begins to mend. But it is only the more provident
farmers who do this.


"My old mother's ailing this twelvemonth back," said a man to me
to-day. "I'm afeard she'll go wi' the leaves."


A day of wind and light, blown rain, with the sun shining through it in
spells. Aighe river below me, brown and clear, foaming through mossed
stones to the sea. Trout rising from it now and again to the gnats that
skim its surface. Glengesh mountain in the middle distance--a black,
splendid bulk--dropping to the Nick of the Bealach on the left. Meadows
in foreground bright with marigolds, with here and there by the
mearings tufts of king-fern, wild iris and fairy-thimble.


To lie on one's loin in the sun is all very well, but walking is
better. It is over the hill the wonders are.

[Illustration: FALLING WATER.]


Saturday. It is about half-past seven o'clock in the evening. The rain,
which kept at it pitilessly all the afternoon, has cleared off, and we
have left the little whitewashed inn at Glen-Columcille refreshed, and
in high fettle, for the further six miles that has to be done before
we reach Carrick, where we mean to spend the night. We had arrived at
Glen two hours before in a weary enough condition physically after
our tramp over the hills from Ardara, and we had almost resolved on
the advice of the hostess of the inn--a slow, deliberate, slatternly
sort of woman--to put up with her for the night; but it is wonderful
what a rest and a meal and, incidentally, a slatternly hostess does,
and so we finally decided to go on to Carrick. We follow the road up
by the telegraph posts, and after a stiffish climb of half a mile or
more, reach the plateau head. We are now about five hundred feet over
sea level. Turning round to have a last look at the place, we see
the chapel--a plain white cruciform building, with a queer detached
belfry--the little grey, straggling village street (some of the houses
with slate roofs, some with thatch), the crosses standing up like
gallan-stones on every side of it, the deep valley-bottom green as
an emerald, Ballard mountain silhouetted against the sunset, and the
vast Atlantic tumbling through mist on the yellow strand beyond. The
air smells deliciously of peat. In Donegal one notices the smell of
peat everywhere; in fact, if I were asked to give an impression of the
county in half a dozen words I should say: "Black hills, brown rivers,
and peat." The road is fairly level now, and we continue our course
in a south-easterly direction. A wild waste of moorland stretches on
every side of us, brightened here and there by little freshwater lakes,
out of which we see the trout jumping in hundreds--Loch Unshagh,
Loch Unna, Loch Divna, and another quite near the road, where we
got, at the expense of wet feet and knees, some lovely specimens
of the _lilium aureum_, or golden lily, which grows, I think, on
every little shallow and flat and bywater in South Donegal. After
an hour of pleasant walking the road begins to drop and the rain to
fall again. Slieve League is on our right, but we can only see the
lower slopes of it, for the cairn is completely covered with driving
mist. The wind has risen, and the rain beats coolingly on our cheeks,
and exasperatingly, at times, down our necks. We pass a shepherd on
the road making for Malin Mór, a shawled figure with a lantern, and
several groups of boys and asses with creels bringing turf into the
stackers; and farther on a side-car zig-zagging up hill on its way to
the Glen. There are two occupants, a priest--presumably the curate of
Glen parish going over for Sunday's Mass--and the driver. It is quite
dark now, and the rain increases in intensity. Tramping in a mountainy
country is a delightful sport--none better! But it is on such a night
and at the end of such a journey as this that one begins to see that
it has a bad as well as a good side to it. The rain is coming down
in sheets, our clothes are soaked through, the darkness is intense,
the roads are shockingly muddy, we are tired out walking, and still
we have another stiff mile to go before we see the friendly lights of
the inn at Carrick. Two of us--R. M. and myself--stop at a bridge
to have a look at the ordnance sheet which has stood us in such good
stead all through our journey. Torrential rain beating on a map--even a
"cloth-mounted, water-proofed" one like ours--doesn't improve it; but
we have qualms about our direction. We think we should have arrived at
Carrick ere this, and we just want to make sure that our direction is
right, and that we haven't taken a wrong turning in the darkness. After
some trouble we manage to get a match lighted. The first misfires on
the damp emery, the second blows out, the third is swallowed up in
rain pouring like a spout through the branches overhead, the fourth
. . . . "Carrick! Carrick! Carrick!" The frenzied cries of the
advance guard tell us that the town is in view. We put up our map
resignedly, shaking great blabs of water out of it, and push ahead. In
five minutes we have passed the chapel, with its square tower looming
up darkly in the fog, and in another two we are safe in the inn
parlour, enjoying a supper of hot coffee, muffins, and poached eggs.


Noon of a summer's day. I see a man in the fields--a wild, solitary
figure--the only living thing in sight for miles. He is thinning
turnips. Slowly a bell rings out from the chapel on the hill beyond. It
is the Angelus. The man stands up, takes off his hat and bows his
head in the ancient prayer of his faith. . . . The bell ceases
tolling, and he bends to labour again.


I met a woman up Glengesh going in the direction of the
danger-post. She seemed an old woman by her look, but she more
than beat me at the walking. When we got to the top of the hill I
complimented her on her powers. "'Deed," says she, with a deprecating
little laugh, "and I'm getting old now. I'm fair enough yet at the
walking, but I'm going grey--going fast. A year ago my hair was
as black as that stack there"--pointing to a turf-stack out in the
bog--"but now it's on the turn. And I tell you there's only two things
in the world that won't go grey some time--and that's salt and iron."


I see a green island. It is hardly an island now, for the tide is
out, and one might walk across to it by the neck of yellow-grey sand
that connects it with the mainland. It is held in rundal by a score
of tenants living in the mountains in-by. Little patches of oats,
potatoes, turnips, and "cow's grass" diversify its otherwise barren
surface. There are no mearings, but each man's patch is marked by a
cairn of loose stones, thrown aside in the process of reclamation. The
stones, I see, are used also as seaweed beds. They are spitted in the
sand about, like a _cheval de frise_, and in the course of time the
seaweed carried in by successive tides gathers on them, and is used by
the tenants for manure.


"What are these?" I asked an old woman in the fields this morning,
pointing to a cluster of what we in the north-east corner call
paddock-stools, and sometimes fairy-stools. "Well," said she, "they're
not mushrooms, anyway. They're what you call Púca-piles. They say the
Púca lays them!"


Bog and sky: a boulder-strewn waste, with salt lochs and freshwater
lochs innumerable, and a trail running up to a huddle of white clouds.

[Illustration: BOG AND SKY.]


Death, as they say, has taken somebody away under his oxter! I was
coming into Ardara this morning from the Lochros side, and as I came
up to the chapel on the hill I heard the bell tolling. That, I knew,
was for a burying: it was only about ten o'clock, and the Angelus does
not ring until midday. Farther on I met the funeral procession. It was
just coming out of the village. The coffin, a plain deal one covered
with rugs, was carried over the well of a side-car, and the relatives
and country people walked behind. The road was thick with them--old men
in their Sunday homespuns and wide-awakes, their brogues very dusty,
as if they had come a long way; younger men with bronzed faces, and
ash-plants in their hands; old women in the white frilled caps and
coloured shawls peculiar to western Ireland; young married women, girls
and children. Most of them walked, but several rode in ass-carts, and
three men, I noticed, were on horseback. The tramping of so many feet,
the rattle of the wheels and the talk made a great stir on the road,
and the movement and colour suggested anything but a funeral. Still
one could see that underneath all was a deep and beautiful feeling of
sorrow, so different to the black-coated, slow-footed, solemn-faced
thing of the towns. As the coffin approached I stood into the side
of the road, saluted, and turned back with it the _tri céimeanna na
trocaire_ (three steps of mercy) as far as the chapel yard.


An old man came dawdling out of a gap by the road, and he stopped
to have a word with me. We were talking for some time when he said:
"You're a young man, by the looks of you?" I laughed and nodded. "Och,"
says he, "but it's a poor thing to be old, and all your colt-tricks
over," says he, "and you with nothing to do but to be watching the
courses of the wind!"


Summer dusk. A fiddle is playing in a house by the sea. "Maggie
Pickens" is the tune. The fun and devilment of it sets my heart
dancing. Then the mood changes. It is "The Fanaid Grove" now, full of
melancholy and yearning, full of the spirit of the landscape--the soft
lapping tide, the dove-grey sands, the blue rhythmic line of hill and
sky beyond. The player repeats it. . . . I feel as if I could
listen to that tune forever.


Darkness, freshness, fragrance. Donegal fascinates one like a beautiful


It has been said before that there is "too much peasant" in
contemporary Irish literature, especially in the plays. The phenomenon
is easily explained. Ireland is an agricultural country, a country of
small farms, and therefore a nation of peasants; so that a literature
which pretends to reflect the life of Ireland must deal in the main
with peasants and the thoughts that peasants think. And peasants'
thoughts are not such dead and commonplace things that I, who have
learnt practically all I know from them, can afford to ignore them
now. The king himself is served by the field. Where there is contact
with the unseen in this book, with the mysteries which we feel rather
than understand, it is because of some strange thought dropped in
strange words from a peasant's mouth and caught by me here, as in a
snare of leaves, for everyone to ponder. Impressions, with something of
the roughness of peasant speech in them and something of the beauty,
phases of a moment breathless and fluttering, the mystery of the sea,
the thresh of rain, the sun on a bird's wing, a wayfarer passing--those
are the things I sought to capture in this book.


We were talking together the other evening--an old woman and myself--on
a path which leads through the fields from Glengesh mountain to Ardara
wood. We had got as far as the stream which crosses the path near the
wood when she stopped suddenly. She looked west, and scratched her
eyebrow. "I've an insleep," says she. "I hadn't one this long time!"


What is more beautiful than water falling, or a spray of _slán-lus_
with its flowers?


The heat increases. The osmunda droops on the wall. The tide is at full
ebb. A waste of sea-wrack and sand stretches out to Dawros, a day's
journey beyond. I see two figures, a boy and a girl, searching for
bait--the boy digging and the girl gathering into a creel. The deep,
purring note of a sandpiper comes to me over the bar. It is like the
sound that air makes bubbling through water. I listen to it in infinite
space and quietness.


I was talking with a fiddler the other evening in a house where there
was a dance, up by Portnoo. I happened to mention the name of another
fiddler I had heard playing a night or two before in Ardara. "Him,
is it?" put in my friend. "Why, he's no fiddler at all. He's only an
old stroller. He doesn't know the differs between 'Kyrie Eleison' and
'The Devil's Dreams'!" He became very indignant. I interrupted once or
twice, trying to turn the conversation, but all to no purpose; he still
went on. Finally, to quiet him, I asked him could he play "The Sally
Gardens." He stopped to think for a while, fondling the strings of his
instrument lovingly with his rough hands; then he said that he didn't
know the tune by that name, but that if I'd lilt or whistle the first
few bars of it, it might come to him. I whistled them. "Oh," says he,
"that's 'The Maids of Mourne Shore.' That's the name we give it in
these parts." He played the tune for me quite beautifully. Then there
was a call from the man of the house for "The Fairy Reel," and the
dancers took the floor again. The fiddlers in Donegal are "all sorts,"
as they say--farmers, blacksmiths, fisher boys, who play for the love
of the thing, and strollers (usually blind men) who wander about from
house to house and from fair to fair playing for money. When they are
playing I notice they catch the bow in a curious way with their thumbs
between the horsehair and the stick. At a dance it is no uncommon thing
to see a "bench" of seven or eight of them. They join in the applause
at the end of each item, rasping their bows together on the strings and
stamping vigorously with their feet.

[Illustration: MOUNTAINY FOLK.]


A poor woman praying by a cross; a mountain shadowed in still water; a
tern crying; the road ribboning away into the darkness that looks like
hills beyond. Can we live every day with these aspiring things, and not
love beauty? Can we look out on our broad view--as someone has said of
the friars of the monastery of San Pietro in Perugia--and not note the
play of sun and shadow? Nature is the "Time-vesture of God." If we but
touch it, we are made holier.


It is Sunday. The dawn has broken clear after a night's rain. The
sunlight glitters in the soft morning air. The fragrance of
peat, marjoram, and wild-mint hangs like a benediction over the
countryside. A lark is singing; the swallows are out in hundreds. The
road turns and twists--past a cabin, over a bridge--between fringes
of wet grass. It dips suddenly, then rises sheer against a wisp
of cloud into the dark bulk of Slieve League behind. I see the
mountainy people wending in from all parts to Mass. I am standing
on high ground, and can see the hiving roads--the men with their
black coats and wide-awakes, and the women with their bright-coloured
kerchiefs and shawls. Some of them have trudged in for miles on bare
feet. They carry their brogues, neatly greased and cleaned, over their
shoulders. As they come near the chapel they stop by the roadside or
go into a field and put them on. The young girls--grey-eyed, limber
slips from the hills--are fixing themselves before they go in of the
chapel door. They stand in their ribboned heads and shawls pluming
themselves, and telling each other how they look. The boys are watching
them. I hear the fresh, nonchalant laugh and the kindly greeting in
Irish--"_Maidin bhreagh, a Phaid_," and the "_Goidé mar tá tú,
a Chait?_" The men--early-comers--sit in groups on the chapel wall,
discussing affairs--the weather, the crops, the new potato spray,
the prospects of a war with Germany, the marrying and the giving in
marriage, the letters from friends in America, the death and month's
mind of friends. The bell has ceased ringing. The men drop from their
perch on the wall, and the last of them has gone in. The road is quiet
again, and only the sonorous chant of the priest comes through the open
windows--"_Introibo ad altare Dei_," and the shriller response of the
clerk, "_Ad Deum, qui laetificat juventutem meam_."


We were talking together, an old man and myself, on the hill between
Laguna and Glen. The conversation turned on ages--a favourite topic
with old men(2)--and on the degeneracy that one noticed all over
Ireland, especially among the young. "And what age would you take _me_
for?" said he, throwing his staff from him and straightening himself
up. "Well, I'm a bad hand at guessing," said I, "but you're eighty if
you're a day." "I'm that," said he, "and more. And would you believe
it," said he, "the night I was born my mother was making a cake!"

  (2) He had the Old Age Pension.


The _lusmór_, or "great herb"--foxglove,

    That stars the green skirt of the meadow,

is known to the peasantry by a variety of other names, as for example,
_sian sléibhe_, "sian of the hills" (it grows plentifully on the high,
rough places); _méarachán_, "fairy-thimble"; _rós gréine_, "little
rose of the sun"; and _lus na mban-sidhe_, "herb of the elf-women, or
witch-doctors," etc., etc. It is bell-shaped, and has a purplish-red
colour. As Dr. Joyce observes, it is a most potent herb, for it is a
great fairy plant; and those who seek the aid of the _Daoine Maithe_,
or Good People, in the cure of diseases or in incantations of any kind,
often make use of

                  Drowsy store,
    Gathered from the bright _lusmór_,

to add to the power of their spells. It is a favourite flower in
Highland, otherwise Gaelic Scotland; and the clan Farquhar, "hither
Gaels," have assumed it for their badge.


Donegal is what I call "county-proud." Speaking of Derry--the marching
county--an old woman said to me the other day: "Och, there's no
gentility about the Derry people. They go at a thing like a day's


I was going along the road this evening when I came on a clock
(some would call it a black beetle), travelling in the direction of
Narin. The poor thing seemed to have its mind set on getting there
before dark--a matter of three miles, and half an hour to do it in! The
sense of tears in me was touched for the clock, and I stooped down
to watch it crawling laboriously along in the dust, over a very rough
road, tired and travel-stained, as if it had already come a long way;
climbing stones (miniature Errigals) twenty times as high as itself;
circumventing others, falling into ruts headlong, and rising again none
the worse for its awful experience; keeping on, on, on, "with a mind
fixed and a heart unconquered." I couldn't help laughing at first,
but after five minutes I felt a sort of strange kinship with the
clock--it was a wayfarer like myself, "a poor earth-born companion
and fellow-mortal"--and I stood watching it, hat in hand, until it
disappeared out of view. The last I saw of it was on the top of a stone
on rising ground, silhouetted against the sunset. Then it dropped over
. . . and I resumed my journey, thinking.


Here there is quiet; quiet to think, quiet to read, quiet to listen,
quiet to do nothing but lie still in the grass and vegetate. The water
falls (to me there is no music more beautiful); a wayfarer passes now
and again along the road on his way into Carrick; the sea-savour is
in my nostrils; the clouds sail northward, white and luminous, far up
in the sky; their shadows checker the hills. If the Blue Bird is to be
found this side of heaven, surely it must be here!

[Illustration: A WAYFARER.]


I was talking to a stonebreaker on the road between Carrick and Glen
when a shuiler passed, walking very fast. "A supple lad, that," says
the stonebreaker. "The top o' the road's no ditch-shough to him. Look
at him--he's lucky far down the hill already." He dropped his hammer,
and burst into a fit of laughing. "He's as many feet as a cat!" says


One of the gruesomest sights I ever saw in my life--turkeys roosting
among the branches of the trees at a house above Lochros. You would
think they were birds with evil spirits in them, they kept so quiet in
the half-darkness, and looked so solemn.


A party of tinkers on the high road--man, wife, children, ass and
cart. A poor, back-gone lot they are surely. The man trails behind
carrying one of the children in a bag over his back. The woman pushes
on in front, smiling broadly out of her fat, drunken face. "Oh,
God love ye for a gentleman," she whines in an up-country _barróg_
which proclaims her a stranger to the place. "Give us the lucky hand,
gentleman, and may the Golden Doors never be shut against ye. Spare a
decent poor body a copper, and I'll say seven 'Hail Mary's' and seven
'Glory be to the Father's' for ye every night for a week. Give us the
lucky hand, gentleman." I throw her a penny, not so much out of charity
as to get rid of her, and the cavalcade moves on. Over the hill I hear
her voice raised in splendid imprecation on the husband. Such coloured
speech one only hears from peasants and strolling folk, who are in
touch with the elemental things--the wonders and beauties and cruelties
of life.


It is a lovely summer's day, warm and fragrant and sunny. We have just
come from Mass at Carrick chapel, and are following the road that leads
south by the harbour up to Teelin village. Numbers of people are on
the road with us--mostly women and girls, for the men have remained
behind to smoke and to talk over the week's happenings in the different
ends of the parish. The groups go in ages--the old women with the old
women, the marriageable girls with the marriageable girls, the younger
girls with the girls of their own age. There is a crowd of little boys,
too--active as goats, dressed in corduroys or homespuns, and discussing
in Irish what they will do with themselves in the afternoon. Some
will go bathing in the harbour, others will go up to the warren by
Loch O'Mulligan to hunt rabbits, others will remain in the village
to watch the men and bigger boys play at skittles in a cleared space
by the high road. I pick up with a quiet-eyed lad--the makings of a
priest or a scholar, by his look--and in a short time I am friends with
the crowd. If one could see me behind I must look like the Pied Piper
of Hamelin, so many children have I following alongside me and at my
heels. They come to know by my talk that I am interested in Irish--an
enthusiast, in fact--and they all want to tell me at once about the
Feis at Teelin, and about the great prizes that were offered, and how
one out of their own school, a little fellow of eight years, won first
prize for the best telling of a wonder-tale in the vernacular. The
quiet-eyed lad asks me would I like to see Bunglass and the great view
to be had of Slieve League from the cliff-head. I tell him that I am
going there, and in an instant the crowd is running out in front of us,
shouting and throwing their caps in the air--delighted, I suppose,
at the prospect of a scramble for coppers on the grass when we get
to the end of our journey. For boys are boys the world over, let the
propagandists carp as they will! and when I was young myself I would
wrestle a ghost under a bed for a halfpenny--so my grandmother used to
tell me, and she was a very wise and observant woman. We have come to
Teelin village--a clean, whitewashed little place on a hill, built "all
to one side like Clogher"--and from there we strike up to the right by
a sort of rocky, grass-covered loaning which leads to the cliffs. We
pass numbers of houses on the way, each with a group of gaily-dressed
peasants sunning themselves at the door. The ascent is gradual at
first, but as we go on it gets steeper, and after a while's climbing
we begin to feel the sense of elevation and detachment. The air is
delightfully warm, and the fragrance of sea and bracken and ling is in
our hearts. In time we reach Carrigan Head, with its martello tower,
seven hundred feet odd over the Atlantic. Southwards the blue waters of
Donegal Bay spread themselves, with just the slightest ripple on their
surface, glinting in the warm sunlight. In the distance the heights of
Nephin Beag and Croagh Patrick in Mayo are faintly discernible, and
westwards the illimitable ocean stretches to the void. From Carrigan
Head we follow a rough mountain trail, and in a short time reach
Loch O'Mulligan, a lonely freshwater tarn, lying under the shadow of
Slieve League. Back of the loch a grassy hill rises. We climb this,
the younger boys leading about fifty yards in front, jumping along the
short grass and over the stones like goats. Arrived at a point called
in Irish _Amharc Mór_, or "Great View," a scene of extraordinary
beauty bursts on us. We are standing on Scregeighter, the highest of
the cliffs of Bunglass. A thousand and twenty-four feet below us, in a
sheer drop, the blue waters of Bunglass advance and recede--blue as a
sapphire, shading into emerald and white where they break on the spit
of grass-covered rock rising like a _sceilg-draoidheachta_, or "horn of
wizardy," out of the narrow bay. Right opposite us is Slieve League,
its carn a thousand feet higher than the point on which we stand. In
the precipitous rock-face, half-way up, is a scarped streak called
_Nead an Iolair_, or the Eagle's Nest. The colouring is wonderfully
rich and varied--black, grey, violet, brown, red, green--due, one
would think, to the complex stratification and to the stains oozing
from the soft ores, clays, and mosses impinging between the layers. We
step back from the cliff-edge, and sit down on a flat slab of stone,
the better to enjoy the view, and the boys spread themselves out in
various attitudes over the short grass before and behind us. They
are conversing among themselves in Irish, speaking very rapidly, and
with an intonation that is as un-English as it can possibly be. The
thickened l's and thrilled r's are especially noticeable. To hear these
children speak Irish the way they do makes one feel that the language
of Niall Naoi Giallach is not dead yet, and has, indeed, no signs of

[Illustration: THE HORN.]

One could spend a day in this place sunning oneself on the cliff-head,
or loafing about on the grass, enjoying the panorama of mountain and
sea and sky spread in such magnificence on all sides. But we have
promised to be back in Carrick for lunch, and already the best part
of the forenoon is gone. "_Cad a-chlog é anois?_" I ask one of the
boys. He looks into the sky, calculates for a while, and answers: "_Tá
sé suas le h-aon anois. Féach an ghrían_." (It is upwards of one
o'clock now. Look at the sun.) In a remote, open country like this the
children are wonderfully astute, and well up in the science of natural
things. Coming up the hill I had noticed a number of strange birds, and
when I asked the crowd the names of them in Irish they told me without
once having to stop to think. We are ready to go now, but before
setting out we decide on having a scramble. My friend, R. M., takes
a sixpence from his pocket, puts it edge down on the turf, and digs it
in with his heel, covering it up so that no sign of it is visible. He
then brings the boys back over the grass about a hundred yards,
handicapping them according to age and size. One boy, the youngest, has
boots on, and he is put in front. At a given signal--the dropping of
a handkerchief--the race is started, and in the winking of an eye the
crowd is mixed up on the grass, one boy's head here, another's heels
there, over the spot where the sixpence is hidden. Five minutes and
more does the scramble last, the boys pushing and shoving for all they
are worth, and screaming at the top of their voices. Then the lad who
reached the spot first crawls out from underneath the struggling mass,
puffing and blowing, his hair dishevelled, the coat off him, and the
sixpence in his hand!

We have got back to Carrick, an hour late for lunch, and with the
appetites of giants. We met many people on the road as we returned,
all remarkably well-dressed--young men in the blue serge favoured by
sailors, and girls in white; a clerical student, home on holidays from
Maynooth, discussing the clauses of Mr. Birrell's latest Land Bill
with a group of elderly folk; big hulking fellows with bronzed faces,
in a uniform that I hadn't seen before, but which a local man told me
was that of the Congested Districts Board; and pinafored children. One
young man we noticed sitting on a rock over the water with his boots
off, washing his feet, and several boys sailing miniature boats made
out of the leaves of flaggers.


I was out the other evening on the shore to the northward of Lochros,
watching the men taking in the turf from the banks where it had been
footed and dried. The wind was quiet, and there was a great stir of
traffic on the road--men with creels, horses and carts, asses and
children driving them. An old woman (a respectable beggar by her look)
came by, and we started to talk. We were talking of various things--the
beauty of the evening, the plentifulness of the turf harvest, the
sorrows of the poor, and such like--when she stopped suddenly, and
looked up into the sky. She gripped my arm. "Look, look," she said, "a
shooting star!" She blessed herself. There was a trail of silver light
in the air--a luminous moment--then darkness. "That's a soul going up
out of purgatory," she said.


Sunday on the road between Carrick and Glengesh. It is drawing
near sunset. We pass a group of country boys playing skittles in
the middle of the road--quite a crowd of them, big, dark fellows,
of all ages between twenty and thirty-five. Some are lolling on the
ditch behind, and one has a flute. Farther on we come on a string
of boys and girls paired off in twos with their arms about each
other's waists, like a procession on Bride's Sunday. The front pair
are somewhat ill-matched. The man is old and awkward in his walk,
yet cavalierly withal; the girl is young and pretty, with a charming
white laundered dress and flowers in her hair. As our car passes they
wave their hands to us as a sign that they are enjoying the fun quite
as much as we are. We are rising gradually towards the Pass. Below us
the road ribbons away through miles of bog to Slieve League. There is
a delightful warmth and quietness in the air. The smoke of the cabin
chimneys, as far as one can see, rises up in straight grey lines,
"pillaring the skies of God." The whole landscape is suffused with
colour--browns and ambers and blues--melting into infinity.


"Do you see that bush over there?" said an old man to me one day on the
road near Leckconnell--a poor village half-way between Ardara and Gull
Island. "It's what they call a roany bush. Well, it's green now, but in
a month's time it'll be as red as a fox's diddy, and you wouldn't know
it for berries growing all over it."


August evening, moonrise. A drift of ponies on the road. I heard the
neighing of them half an hour ago as I came down the glen, and now I
can see them, a red, ragged cavalcade, and a cloud of dust about their
heels. There are some fourteen ponies in the drift, and three young
fellows with long whips are driving them. They give me the time of
day as I pass. One of them turns back and shouts after me: "Would you
happen to have a match on you, gaffer?" He is a stout-built lad, with
a red face, and a mat of black hair falling over his eyes. I feel in my
pocket for a box, and give him share of what I have. He thanks me, and
I pass on. The air is damp and fragrant, and wisps of fog lie along the
ditches and in the hollow places under the hills. The newly-risen moon
touches them with wonder and colour.


A yellow day in harvest. A young girl with a piece of drawn-thread work
in her lap, sunning herself in the under wisp of her father's thatch. I
come on her suddenly round a bend in the road. She is taken by surprise
(almost as completely as _I_ am) . . . draws her legs in, settles
her clothing, half smiles, then hangs her head, blushing with all the
_pudor_ of abashed femininity. I pass on.


All subtle, secret things--the smell of bees, twilight on water, a
woman's presence, the humming of a lime-tree in full leaf, a bracken
stalk cut through to show the "eagle" in it--all speak to me as to an
intimate. I know and feel them all.


I passed an old fellow to-day between Ardara and Narin, doubled up in
the ditch with his chin on his knees, and staring at me out of two red
eyes that burned in his head like candles.

"Who's that old fellow?" I asked of a stonebreaker, a perch further
down the road.

"Oh, never heed him," says he--"he's mad. This is the sixth. There's a
full moon the-night, and he ever goes off at the full o' the moon. Was
he coughing at you? God, you'd think he was giving his last 'keeks,'
to hear him sometimes!"


Under Crockuna; a thousand feet up. Interminable red bog. A
cluster of hovels on the tableland; one set this way, another that,
huddling together for company sake, it seems, in this abomination of
desolation. A drift of young children play about on a green cleared
space between the holdings. (In Donegal one sees young children
everywhere.) They run off like wild-cats at our approach, screaming
loudly and chattering in Irish as they run. A rick of turf, thatched
with winter-stales; a goat tethered; a flock of geese; tufts of dyed
wool--red and green and indigo--spread on stones to dry; the clack of a
loom from the house nearest us; a dog working sheep beyond.


A sheepdog with a flock of geese (a most unusual charge, I'm sure)
halted by a bridge on their way to market. The owner squats smoking
under the parapet--a darkavis'd man, with the slouch hat, slow eye, and
wide, mobile mouth of Donegal. I greet him, and pass on.

[Illustration: A CLACHAN OF HOUSES.]


Up Glengesh. The hills of the Pass close in darkly on either side of
me. The brown road rises between them in devious loops and twists to
the sky beyond. There is the smell of bog-myrtle and ling in the air,
and the sound of running water. The silence is awful. I am going along
quiet and easy-like, with hardly a thought in my head, when near a
sodded shelter, almost hidden from view in a cluster of fuchsia bushes,
I come on a little lad of about three years of age. He can't be older,
I fancy, he is so small. He runs out in front of me, scared somewhat at
my approach, as quaint a figure as ever I looked at. I shout at him and
he stops, pulling the hat which he wears--and it is big enough to be
his father's--over his face, and laughing shyly at me out of one corner
of it. His hands are wet, I notice, a blae-red colour, and sticking
with grass--as if he had been "feeling" for minnows in the stream which
runs alongside the road. He has a pair of homespun jumpers on, very
thick, and dyed a crude indigo colour, a shirt and vest, and his legs
are bare and wet up to the knees. I ask him in English "where he comes
from," "who is his father," "who is his mother," "where he lives?" He
doesn't answer, only pulls the hat deeper over his head, and laughs
into it. I put the question to him then in Irish. . . . . The
words were hardly out of my mouth when he gave a leap in the air. I
felt as if something had struck me in the face--something soft and
smothering, like a bag of feathers--and I was momentarily blinded. When
I looked again who should I see but Shan Mac Ananty, my _leaprachán_
friend from Scrabo in Down, running out in front of me, in a whirl of
dust, it seemed--a white, blinding cloud--giving buck-jumps in the air,
and dancing and capering about in the most outlandish fashion possible.

"So it's you, Shan?" I said, when I had recovered my breath. I wasn't a
bit afraid, only winded.

"Ay," says he. "I didn't know you at first. The English is strange to
me." Then with a quaint grimace: "What are _you_ doing up here?"

"And what are you doing up here yourself, Shan?" says I. "I thought
Scrabo was your playground."

"You're right, son," says he. "The old fort _is_ my playground, but the
smoke--the smoke from the mill chimneys--chases me away at times, and
I come up here for an airing. And, anyway, you mustn't forget that I'm
king of the fairies of Leath-Chuinn," says he.

"And so you are," says I. "I clean forgot that. And do you be in
Donegal often?" I asked.

"Once in a spell," says he. "I travel the townlands in turn from
Uisneach to Malin," says he, "and it takes me a year and a day to do
the round. I saw you at Scrabo in June last," says he, "but you didn't
see me."

"When was that, Shan?" says I, thinking.

"On the night of the twenty-third," says he. "There wasn't a fire
lighting as far as I could see; and I could see from Divis to the Horns
of Boirche, and from that over to Vannin."

[Illustration: A GAP BETWEEN THE HILLS.]

A shadow darkened his queer little face. "Ah," says he, "they're
changed times. I was an old man when Setanta got his hero-name,(3)
and look at me now," says he, "clean past my time. No one knows me,
barring yourself there. No one can talk to me; and at Scrabo it's
worse than here. They're all planters there," says he, "all strange,
dour folk, long in the jaw and seldom-spoken, and with no heart in the
old customs. Never a John's-Fire lighted, never a dance danced, never a
blessing said, never a . . . ."

  (3) Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, a contemporary of Conchubhair
  MacNeassa, who was--so tradition has it--born on the same night as

He stopped, and I turned to answer . . . . but Shan was
gone! Nothing in sight for miles--nothing living--only a magpie walking
the road, and a _toit_ of blue smoke from a cabin away down in the


A poor cabin, built of loose whin rubble; no mortar or limewash; thatch
brown and rotting. Dung oozing out of door in pig-crew to north, and
lying in wet heaps about causey stones. A brier, heavy with June roses,
growing over south gable-end; rare pink bloom, filling the air with


Outside nearly every house in Donegal--at least in the north-western
parts of it--is the _Cloch Lín_, or "Flax-Stone." This is a huge
wheel of granite, half a ton or more in weight, revolving on the end
of a wooden shaft which itself turns horizontally on an iron spike
secured firmly in the ground. The purpose it serves is to "break"
the flax after it has been retted and dried. On the long arm of the
shaft tackling is fixed for the horse supplying the motive power--much
in the same way as it is in a pug-mill or puddling machine used in
the old days by brick-makers. The flax is strewn in swaths under the
wheel, which passes over it repeatedly, disintegrating the fibre. The
scutch-mill, of course, is a more expeditious way of doing the work,
but Donegal folk are conservative and stick to the old method--which
must be as old, indeed, as the culture of flax itself is in the


I was coming through Ardara wood the other evening just after
sunset. There was a delightful smell of wet larch and bracken in the
air. The road was dark--indeed, no more than a shadow in the darkness;
but a streak of silver light glimmered through from the west side
over the mountains and lay on the edge of the wood, and thousands
of stars trembled in the branches, touching them with strangeness
and beauty. As I approached the village I met an old woman--I knew
she was old by her voice--who said to me: "Isn't it a fine evening,
that?" "It is," said I. "And look," said she, "at all the stars hung
up in the trees!" Farther on I came on a number of women and girls,
all laughing and talking through other in the half-darkness. I was out
of the wood now and almost into the village, and there was light enough
to see that they were carrying water--some with one pail, others with
two--from the spring well I passed on my way up. This, I believe, is
a custom in Ardara.(4) The grown girls of the village go out every
evening after dark-fall, if the weather happens to be good. They meet
at the well, spend half an hour or so chatting and talking together,
and then saunter home again in groups through the darkness, carrying
their pails, just as I saw them on this particular evening. When I
got to the village the windows were nearly all lit up. The white and
white-grey houses looked strange and unearthly in the darkness. The
doors were open, and one could see a dark figure here and there out
taking the air. Over the roofs the stars shone and the constellations
swung in their courses--the Dog's Tail, the Dragon, the Plough, the
Rule, and the Tailor's Three Leaps; and although there was no moon one
could see the smoke from the chimneys wavering up into the sky in thin
green lines. The fragrance of peat hung heavily on the senses. There
wasn't a sound--only a confused murmur of voices, like the wind among
aspen-trees, and the faint singing of a fiddle from a house away at
the far end of the street. Even the dogs were quiet. I passed through
the Diamond, down the long main street next the shore, and like Red
Hanrahan of the stories, into "that Celtic twilight, in which heaven
and earth so mingle that each seems to have taken upon itself some
shadow of the other's beauty."

  (4) In fact, a "go of water" is a byword there--"Many a girl met
  her man in a go of water!"


"What time o' day is it?" My interrogator was an old man I met the
other evening in a loaney running down from the back of Lochros to
the sands of Lochros Beag Bay, near where the old fish-pass used to
be. I looked at my watch, and told him it was five-and-twenty past
seven. "Oh," said he, "is it so much as that? The darkness and the
tide'll soon be coming in, then."


The hill of Errigal climbs like a wave to the sky. A pennon of
white cloud tosses on its carn. Its sides are dark. They slope
precipitously. They are streaked and mottled here and there
with patches of loose stone, bleached to a soft violet colour
with rain. Not a leaf of grass, not a frond of fern roots on these
patches. They are altogether bare. Loch Nacung, a cold spread of water,
gleams at the bottom, white as a shield and green at the margin with
sedge. Dunlewy chapel, with its round tower--a black silhouette in the
'tweenlight--and the walls of the Poisoned Glen beyond.


"It's a provident thing," a tramp said to me the other day, "to lay
something by for the sore foot."


A roar, as of breaking seas. We are approaching the open Atlantic,
but though its salt is bitter on our lips, our view is obscured
by sand-dunes. Then, as we round a bend in the road, the Fall of
Asherancally breaks suddenly on us, tumbling through a gut in the
mountainside--almost on to the road it seems. We stand under it. We
watch the brown bulk of water dropping from the gut-head and dancing
in foam on the rocks a hundred feet below. The roar is deafening. One
might shout at the top of one's voice, and yet not be heard. The air is
iridescent with spindrift, which shines in the sun and sprays coolingly
on our cheeks. We lean on the bridge parapet, watching and listening.

[Illustration: LOCH NACUNG--MOONRISE.]


I came across an old man to-day out in Lochros--a shock-headed old
fellow in shirt and trousers, carrying water from a spring well near
the Cross, and a troop of dogs snapping at his heels. "You don't seem
to be popular with the dogs?" says I, laughing. "Oh, let them snap,"
says he. "It's not me they're snapping at, but my orange gallases!"


The human voice--what a wonder and mystery it is! "All power," said
Whitman, "is folded in a great vocalism." I spoke to a man to-day
on the roadside, near Maghery. He was a poor, raggedy fellow, with a
gaunt, unshaven chin and wild eyes, and a couple of barefooted children
played about the mud at his feet. He answered me in a voice that
_thrilled_ me--deep, chestfull, resonant; a voice, that had he been
an educated man, might have won fame for him, as a politician, say, or
a preacher, or an actor. And voices like his are by no means uncommon
along the western seaboard of Ireland. Men address you on the road in
that frank, human, comrade-like way of Irishmen, out of deep lungs and
ringing larynxes that bring one back to the time when men were giants,
and physique was the rule rather than the exception. In such voices
one can imagine the Fenians to have talked one with the other, Fionn
calling to Sgeolan, and Oisin chanting the divine fragments of song he
dreamed in the intervals of war and venery. Will Ireland ever recapture
the heroic qualities--build personality, voice, gesture--or, as Whitman
puts it: "Litheness, majestic faces, clear eyes"--that were hers down
to a comparatively late period, and in places have not quite died out
even yet? I believe she will.


A grey loch, lashed into foam by wind from nor' westward,
lapping unquietly among reeds that fringe its margin. Boulders
everywhere--erratics from the Ice Age--bleached white with rain. Crotal
growing in their interstices, wild-mint, purple orchises and the kingly
osmunda fern. A strip of tilled land beyond--green corn, for the most
part, and potatoes. Slieve a-Tooey in the distance, a blue shadowy
bulk, crossed and recrossed by mist-wreaths chasing one another over it
in rapid succession. A rainbow framing all.


The open road, the sky over it, and the hills beyond. The hills beyond,
those blue, ultimate hills; the clouds that look like hills; the
mystery plucked out of them, and lo, the sea, stretching away into the
vast--white-crested, grey, inscrutable--with a mirage dancing on its
furthest verge!

  [ Transcriber's Note:

    The following changes have been made to the original text. The first
    line presents the text as printed in the original, the second the
    amended text.

  "The words of the maker o poems are the general light and dark." One
  "The words of the maker of poems are the general light and dark." One

  survival of a pagan right of our forefathers.
  survival of a pagan rite of our forefathers.

  better. It is ove the hill the wonders are.
  better. It is over the hill the wonders are.

  'Glory be to the Father's, for ye every night for a week. Give us the
  'Glory be to the Father's' for ye every night for a week. Give us the


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