Thursday, May 27, 2010

You never realize quite how high a mountain is til you climb it

So one day I saw the second highest mountain in Ireland, the imposingly epic Mt. Brandon (Cnoc Bhreandáin in Irish), and wonder how it might be to stand at the top.
The walking club seemed to like me so much that they invited me on a Wednesday evening walk up Mt. Brandon. We started up the mountain at about 6:45 pm (keep in mind that Ireland has sunlight until about 10:30 pm this time of year). The first leg of the climb was the hardest. We clambered up a steep grade on soggy pastureland. The sheep seemed much better suited for the terrain than us. Most of the other walkers were huffing and puffing after five minutes. I thanked God for my young lungs. I guess all this farm work has me in pretty good shape. The sun was still shining brilliantly behind the ridge as we struggled through the hummocks of turf and bracken. Most people were too winded to talk, but I managed to find a couple middle-aged ladies who were keeping up a good pace. I struck up a conversation with one of them and she ended up asking me why I picked Ireland for my vacation. I replied that I loved the culture, the food, the landscape, and it helped that I spoke the language. From behind me, I heard someone say something incomprehensible in Irish. I gave her a blank look. "I meant English, I speak English" I said. She laughed.
And that's how I met Sórache: mother of three, B&B proprietor, and fluent Gaelophone. I ended up spending most of the walk with her, since we seemed to be going at the same pace. Her name (pronounced SOR-uh-khuh) means "brightness" in Old Irish. She gave me a couple tips on Irish pronunciation. The consonent "mh" is somewhere between a "v" and a "w" so Ireland's Eurovision representative is Niamh (NEEV) Kavanagh. "Bh" as in "Siobhán Magnus" is a harder "v." She gave me this theory that if Ireland had banned Irish when they got their independence, everyone would speak it. Seems to make sense.
After the steep pastureland, the landscape got flatter and rockier as we entered a dark misty valley cradled in one of the arms of the mountain. There are some glacial lakes in the valley, fed by springs that are crystal clear and pristine. Very few sheep made it up this far; the most abundant animal was hordes of black slugs thriving on the dewy grass. Next, we ascended up a steep switchback ladder on the far side of the valley. At this point, we had climbed into a cloud, so we could barely see the lowlands and Tralee Bay beyond it. A few people seemed ready to give up at this point but in the end, we all made it up. After that it was a short walk alond the spine of the mountain to the summit. Regrettably, we couldn't see the south coast from the top due to the cloud cover. It was very windy on the summit and there was swirling mist everywhere. The ancient cross and ruined rectory which marked the summit appeared suddenly out of the mist, as if they had materialized by magic. There were plenty of cheers when we got there. Everyone sat down in the ruined church, ate sandwiches, pissed on the summit (it was foggy, so we had privacy) and generally seemed relieved to no longer struggle against gravity.
I challenge anyone who comes to Ireland to climb that mountain and not be overwhelmed by its stark beauty. The inhumane landscape, the black rock, white mist and green grass will transport you beyond your present, beyond your senses. This is the Emerald Isle at its finest.
Check my facebook for Mt. Brandon photos
Slán for now. Gotta go milk cows again.

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