Today we drove a lot: 250 miles, no less. First we set out for Clifden, 100 miles away, for textile shopping and so as to see the Connemara scenery along the way, which Stas and I both agreed is Ireland's best yet. At Clifden also I made my first attempt at uploading this journal from a cyber-cafe, with mixed success. My allotted hour all went into the struggle, without my having time to do more than glance at incoming e-mail. I shall try again tomorrow at Portumna, about ten miles south of here, as we are otherwise taking the day "off" again. The next day we shall remove to Maynooth, in County Kildare, where internet access will be a great deal closer to hand, so I can better attend to e-mail.
After Clifden, as long as we were already so far north and west of Eyrecourt--and so as to avoid going back through the nightmarish traffic that attends even the outskirts of Galway--we returned by way of Medb's (and Connacht's) ancient capital at Cruachan, in the fertile plain of Ai. I felt a little shy about dragging everybody off to see yet another site relating to the Táin Bó Cuailnge, but everyone seems to relish these mythological pilgrimages almost as much as I.
It helps, of course, that I tell the children the stories as I drive (while Stas, fortunately, minds the road signs and the map). Yesterday I briefly summarized the Táin itself, and read aloud the wonderful passage (not while driving!--pp. 150ff) that describes the hero Cúchulainn's "warp-spasm." (It makes comic-book hero David Banner's tranformation into The Incredible Hulk seem tame by comparison!) Also I told the tale, from the remscela or prequelae to the Táin, of Derdriu and the sons of Uisliu. Today I told how Finn mac Cumhail and the harp came to Tara (from the Ossianic or Fenian cycle of Irish myth), and also of Cúchulainn's training in arms, his tragic slaying of his own son Connla, and his death fighting the waves immediately after--the story so finely dramatized by Yeats in On Baile's Strand, and also the subject of his poem "The Death of Cuchulain". Then I varied the repertoire, by request, with a Greek tale (Alcestis) and an English one (Robin Hood).
One of my favorite passages from the Táin (pp. 60-63 in Kinsella's version) has for its setting today's site, Cruachan Ai. Queen Medb has mustered her forces here from all the five provinces of Ireland; it includes Fergus mac Roich and other Ulster exiles, disaffected with King Conchobor over the episode of the sons of Uisliu. They are all ready to begin the great cattle-raid against Ulster, when a young woman or "grown girl" suddenly and mysteriously appears, and identifies herself as a prophetess, with the imbas forasnai, the light of foresight. Medb is confident in the knowledge that the men of Ulster are currently incapacitated by the curse of Macha, but still asks her to regard the great army in that light of foresight; and the prophetess Fedelm declares again and again, despite Medb's incredulity, "I see it crimson; I see it red." Then, breaking into verse, she prophecies the dreadful destruction awaiting them at the hands of one single Ulster warrior, the Warped Man, Cúchulainn, who alone is immune from the curse.
He towers on the battlefield
in breastplate and red cloak.
Across the sinister chariot-wheel
the Warped Man deals death
--that fair form I first beheld
melted to a mis-shape.
I see him moving to the fray:
take warning, watch him well,
Cúchulainn, Sualdam's son!
Now I see him in pursuit.
Whole hosts he will destroy,
making dense massacre.
In thousands you will yield your heads.
I am Fedelm, I hide nothing.
Cruachan, like most of these mythological sites, is utterly deserted, and only signed once you have found it (Gáirech and Slemain Midi are not signed at all, even on the spot). We found three mounds in succession, each bigger than the last; each time we figured it was the one, and when we found the next we had less time for it, especially as dinner was overdue. The last I only photographed from a distance, one exposure. Dinner was at a B&B's restaurant in Roscommon, and Stas and I each had the grilled salmon for which western Ireland is justly famed.
P.S.: I just got back from a very brief break round the corner at Horan's pub, where along with my pint I caught the tail end (just before one o'clock closing) of a 50th birthday party for one of the locals, complete with very loud live music and intense cigarette smoke. The music was mostly Irish traditional or "trad" but closed with a medley of 1950s American Rock'n'Roll, and the electric guitar was the only instrument in evidence throughout. I am up so late because I took two large mugs of coffee with my dinner, anticipating a trip to Portumna for the cyber cafe tonight; but then I thought better of trying to find my way there and back in the dark among the back roads.