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Achill Island House ©2016 Janet Maher

In Connemara and Mayo the sheep and lambs roam where they will and foxglove grows wild. There are Burren-like places, but with spongy, shrubby plants crawling over the stones. Here they include reds and tans that are mainly sandstone and quartz. A furry-looking green in all its range covers stupendous hills that surround every kind of waterway. I’ve thought at times of Georgia O’Keefe’s New Mexico in another palette or of upstate New York or New Hampshire, but nothing really compares to this. There was not enough time to go into Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden, but the scenery around it was among the most memorable to me in Connemara. According to E. Charles Nelson, when Ireland was underwater the tips of what are known as its Twelve Bens would have been visible as islands.

Mayo is where pirate queen, chieftain Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ni Mhaille) ruled and the survivors of the Spanish Armada were killed. It is another place, too, where Saints Patrick and Columcille (Cholm Cille) left their marks. I trudged through the south cemetery of Aughaval Graveyard looking for Saint Patrick’s Knee, a legendary stone where a small indentation reportedly never goes dry. The grounds were completely overgrown, however, and their small ruin within has been almost entirely reclaimed by Nature. The magic stone named for Columcille that once existed in the south cemetery on the other side of the street was destroyed centuries ago when a priest decided to put a stop to people’s wishing ill toward each other, which had succeeded with the stone’s assistance.

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Interior, Abandoned House, Achill Island ©2016 Janet Maher

Enroute to this area, the road to Clifden had been covered over from a landslide and I needed to take an unexpected bypass through the back of Killary that was very Burren-beautiful, quite different looking from the rest of the land this far north. It was full of sheep decorated with multicolored markings designating ownership. The person who guided me at the detour explained that when bogland is on top of a base of stone, extremely wet weather can completely soak the ground to the degree that the water simply sweeps the layers apart. My host of the (very cool) airbnb in which I am staying added that a movement is underway urging farmers not to let their sheep graze on the mountains (which are common areas and should actually not be used by them at all). Between the vegetation being eaten away and those in the business of selling wood removing the trees, the subterranean webbing of so many kinds of roots that used to keep the ground anchored is being eroded. Sheep, he said, are also getting too heavy, which, in turn, translates to people also putting on too much weight. Everything, as always, being interrelated.

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Detail, National Famine Museum Sculpture at Croagh Patrick ©2016 Janet Maher

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

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