Most days we go for a walk along the lanes near our house. We pull on our Wellies and at our gate we ask, “Which way?” Right takes us through Mullenaglemig and then up the hill to Caherboshina and back down the Ventry road to our gate. Left leads us to Burnham and Lord Ventry’s former estate. Each journey is about four miles. Today we chose right.
In Santa Fe we could cover four miles in a little over an hour. Here it takes longer as you stop and chat with the neighbors or see how the spring lambs are getting on or if the bullocks are adding weight or if the horses would like an apple. All the while you have to check what is blooming in the hedgerows and step lightly around the manure in the road. Thus the Wellies.
As we pass the wall of the middle bungalow just below us, a head pops up from the other side. We say the customary “How are ye? Fine day” as we pass. (Yes, we’ve unconsciously started to say “ye” rather than “you”). He practically begs us to stop, saying, “Please talk to me. This hole is almost killing me.” He’s digging a hole on the other side of the wall so his son can plant a shrub. We pass the time for a while until he has the strength to go back to work.
Down the lane a bit an old Irish bachelor farmer wearing his Sunday suit, jacket and jumper buttoned up tightly, cap tight on his head, has pulled a kitchen chair out of the house, planted it on the walk just in front of the gate, and is enjoying the rare sun and the nearly sixty degree day. We exchange “How’r ye” with him but the conversation ends there since he “doesn’t have much English.” We live in a Gaeltacht area where much of day-to-day life is conducted in Irish. Forty years ago, when I first came to Ireland, the old farmer would have had an ass and cart for his transportation. Now he drives a Volkswagen Golf, circa late 1980s, with a trailer hitch on the back so he can get his sheep to market. I think of the Tomas O’Crohan line from his book The Islandman, “the like of us will never be again.” The farmer in the cap and suit is the old Ireland and when he is gone we will all feel the loss.
Near the top of the hill, the big farmer stops his tractor to say hello. He is both big in stature, standing well over six feet, and in cattle, raising nearly forty-eight bullocks in his expansive pastures. He is also the man who knows a man who can find you a man, if you know what I mean. Thomas is the future of agriculture in Ireland, well educated and fluent in modern farming methods. He can raise bullocks or heifers and plants timber to hedge against bad times in the cattle market. And he’ll monitor all of it with computer programs. And the old man down the road will still haul his sheep to market in a small trailer behind the Golf.
As we turn left at the top of the hill the road narrows considerably so that Sara and I are almost shoulder to shoulder as we walk between the hedgerows. Lucy darts from one berm to the other chasing new smells and occasionally being chased herself by the sheepdogs at every farm. The lambs are about six weeks old now and getting more self confident though they rush back to mom as we approach. The horses readily accept the apples from Sara and graciously allow us to pet them, though Lucy remains unimpressed.
Gorse shows off yellow blooms that hurt your eyes and thorns that hurt your hands. Buttercups are seeking the sun and the tiny Easter lilies are preparing to greet the Risen Christ in just over a week. Holly is turning glossy and the fuchsia is just starting to bud. By June there will be miles of red and purple blooms lining the lane.
One last turn to the East on the Ventry Road that will lead us home We walk in the footsteps of Peig and Tomas and the other Blasket Islanders. This is the road they followed when they ventured into the “English town” of Dingle from their homes some twenty kilometers away. We’ll soon have a cup of tea and Lucy will take a well deserved nap.
We’ve started a collection of Wellies in a variety of sizes for our visitors this year if they decide to join us on a walk. The only question is “left or right.”