When son, Harry (now 20), suggests an impromtu excursion, I’m never able to resist. There’s always that little voice inside me that says: Make the most of the time that we can share. I also know, from experience, that these outings bring me to wild and wonderful places.
Yesterday, it was a trip up the glaciated Comeragh Mountains here in Co. Waterford to see one of the many lakes that shimmer majestically up there. Our destination, I was informed, was Coumshingaun Lake.
The air grew purer and purer as we climbed and, as my heart pounded, I envied the sure-footed fitness and balance of the curious sheep:
Just as we seemed to be reaching some kind of summit, dark clouds came sweeping round the mountains followed by ‘relief rain’ that hopped out of the mists of boring geography classes in the early 1970s.
There was sublime compensation for the total knicker-through drenching with the magical appearance of a rainbow bridging what seemed like the whole of Co. Waterford:
As we made our way up the mountain, I couldn’t but think of the song ‘The Climb,’ sung by Joe McElderry, which Harry and I often play in the car and which both of us have long found inspirational:
We stood in awe as Coumshingaun Lake came into sight beneath us and, yes, we agreed that we would come back soon and climb higher and higher so that we would get to see its wonder from all angles.
The vast majority of Irish places derive their names from the Irish language. One such place is Clonmel which first entered my consciousness on a dark wintery morning in 1976 when Father came racing up the stairs of the Bank House in my beloved Drogheda and announced to me while I was still half asleep: We’ve been transferred to Clonmel. I looked at him blankly with my heart breaking and said: Where’s that?
I dug out my old school atlas and my eyes and heart went down, down the page ’til I hit South Tipperary and Clommel that was to be ‘home’ for the next ten years.
In hindsight, I think if he had said we’ve been transferred to ‘The Valley of Honey’ which is how Clonmel ~ Cluain Meala translates from its Irish name, I would have been a lot more receptive and geared up for the marvels that were in store.
Clonmel is built on the banks of the River Suir and has immense natural beauty and social history associated with it. The outstanding features, for me, are the mountains that peer down on the bustling town. The Comeraghs, with places like the stunning Nire Valley are just a few short miles away and to the other side is Sliabh na mBan ( Mountain of the Women).
I was in Clonmel just a few days ago and Sliabh na mBan was decorated with snow as if donning her winter clothes for the last time this year. I wondered if this historic mountain knows how much she means to the people of Tipperary and how ‘the anthem’ of the county, that resounds around places like Semple Stadium and Croke Park when Tipperary hurlers and footballers battle it out, is all about her!
The Valley of Honey also conjures up visions of the apple orchards associated with Bulmers, the cider people and the sweet scent of apples that wafts over the town. And, of course, there’s the amazing story of Charles Bianconi who set up Ireland’s historic public transport system, that pre-dated railways, from Clonmel. Achsin scéal eile ~ ( But that’s another story).
Co. Waterford is my native heath and I am immensely proud of the depth of its history, heritage and natural beauty.
Today has been one of those special days in my relationship with this county in the south-east of Ireland. After an early morning swim in Tramore and a walk on the beach, I decided to go to Mahon Falls high up in the Comeragh Mountains. The last time I had been there was on an orienteering trip in the depths of winter and I had vowed that day to go back on a sunny summery day.
The views were magnificent. Sheep and lambs were grazing on the mountainside, the waterfall was gushing down and all the while I could see the blue sea beneath.
On the way back to Tramore, I stopped at a shop tucked away at a little crossroads just down from Mahon Falls. It was called J. Power and Son, an old-fashioned shop that reminded me of the shops my late father used to drop into for ice creams sandwiched between wafers when he would take us kids on mystery tours around Co. Waterford years ago.
The man behind the counter, who was probably in his seventies, greeted me with a warm smile that lit up his kind eyes. He was tall and wearing a grey-green hand-knitted Aran jumper that looked like it totally belonged and had seen a lot of life. Sheer instinct drew me to the ice-cream freezer where I pulled out the first choc-ice that I’ve eaten in about 30 years. We exchanged a few pleasanteries about the weather and then the man looked at me and just said: ‘ It’s hard to beat Co. Waterford on a day like this, isn’t it?’ I agreed and told him I was from Tramore and had just come from visiting Mahon Falls. ‘Ah, so you know the county well, then. Tramore is a fine town. I used to go dancing in the Atlantic Ballroom there years back. Many a good night we had when the showbands would come. Mick Del and …..’
We chatted for quite a few minutes and as I left the shop, I felt like I had glimpsed the very heart of Co. Waterford in those kind eyes at a crossroads between the moutains and the sea. A special moment when past and future met in a what felt like an eternal present.