A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 46
I’m crossing and re-crossing county boundaries and slowly getting a clearer picture of how Ireland is divided. I’d been confused between counties and provinces, and, in fact, countries. I’d always believed that the terms Ulster and Northern Ireland were interchangeable. In fact they are not. Ulster is one of four provinces of Ireland and these will be well known to any keen followers of rugby union; the other three are Leinster, Munster and Connaught. All of Northern Ireland is in Ulster but the province extends to include the Irish Republic’s counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.
I spend the entire day in Connaught. First in County Sligo, and then dancing from one side of the Roscommon/Leitrim border to the other almost as fancy took me. I’m delighted by this. Ireland, in the summer of 2012, is a country of flags and every county has it’s own distinctive, and proudly displayed, flag. I feel a part of every county I cycle through for as long as I’m inside the boundaries, and the county stays with me and has remained so. It’s partly that the counties have such good names, and that the names and the symbolism of the flags represents a history that seems to go back seamlessly through history into the time of myth and fable. There seems less of a clear edge between recorded history and folk history on this side of the Irish Sea.
Leitrim is one of the smaller counties geographically and the smallest in terms of population. There are more people living in Exmouth than in the whole of County Leitrim. I was heading for the village that gave the county its name and my first look at the longest and grandest river in the British Isles; the Shannon. I have an old school friend who lives in Leitrim Village. She moved out to be among fellow artists, musicians and people who generally wanted something a little more peaceful and thoughtful in there existence.
The village still holds this but it has rather boomed in recent years. Various Acts of the Irish Government in the nineties encouraged the building of hotels and holiday homes in rural areas. The village is situated at the point where the Shannon and Lough Erne waterways meet and a big new marina houses boats of all sizes. The marina has become a centre, around which there has been a lot of building. It’s brought money and jobs and new people into the area but the rural idyll they have come for has been pushed a little further out of town.
In this part of Ireland, indeed in the whole of the western half of the island, there is an awful lot of water. Much of it ends up in the Shannon.
I’ve taken to enjoying coffee in the mid morning. The taste keeps your head clear and there is no doubt that it gets the pedals going round a little faster. I enjoy a cup and watch the river flow. One river can look a lot like another but this one has the majestic and powerful name. This one not only has its own folklore but also an international airport and a whole shipping forecast area named after it. It doesn’t look or feel like any other river as I enjoy the coffee and prepare to follow it south.
Carrick-on-Shannon is an altogether bigger place in comparison but actually has an official population of under 4,000. The main street is busy and I have a choice for a late lunch. A chip shop catches my eye. As a cyclist I can often find myself living from chip shop to chip shop. I hadn’t indulged since landing at Larne. I was ready for my fix.
“Would you like it to go or to sit in?” asks the personable young man behind the counter.
“Sit in please.” I say before adding a question, “Is there a price difference?”
“No, sure. You just get them on a plate with a knife and a fork. I’ll have to do them fresh. Would you mind waiting?”
I was pleased to. He chatted away amiably. I’m a moderately friendly, reasonably approachable sort of a chap, but I’m not altogether sure a cyclist would be as well received in my own country as I have been in each town I’ve stopped in since crossing the water.
A family join me and look the sort who use the chippy quite often and don’t always catch up with the exercise. Two youths come in and play the slot machines for half an hour without talking and then leave. They are replaced by a concerned couple who stick up some flyers without asking if this is ok. The young man in charge doesn’t mind in the slightest. He idly picks one up and flicks through it. “Ban Fracking in Ireland.” He pauses and re-reads it. “What’s that then?”
He addresses the question to me. The family are engrossed in conversation about some pregnancy. “It’s extracting oil and gas from shales and sands.”
“How does that work then?”
“You have to blast it out with high pressure. You end up with enough oil and gas for everyone, they say, but it sets off little earthquakes.”
“Now, there’s a dilemma to be sure.”
I’d hoped to find a supermarket to buy a bag of new t shirts and boxers. The only one I could find was a Tesco and I’m a little off that particular retailer. It also seems a pity to pedal all this distance to go to a shop I can easily avoid in my own village. I do buy a small bottle of washing detergent in a Londis Store and continue on my way south. I’m on the road to Elphin and there’s no turning back.