My gorgeous friend Chantal and me, on the cliffs near Garinish
Looking back out the Hag’s Glen
My gorgeous friend Chantal and me, on the cliffs near Garinish
Looking back out the Hag’s Glen
My father used to spend a lot of time in the mountains, but hadn’t done any serious climbing since he had his second hip replaced this time last year. On the top of Carrauntoohil and Cumín na Péiste, I got wistful text messages from him asking me what it was like and to pelt rocks at tourists for him.
There is nothing wrong with Dad’s fitness and he is particularly steady with a walking stick, so I worked on him to try something a bit more challenging. He seemed reluctant; at least, he came up with any number of reasons to put it off. Really: he says a few prayers every now and then – it’s not as if he’s tied to a desk.
I was thrilled when Dad said he’d like to walk up to Curraghmore Lake, just underneath Carrauntoohil, and suggested the following Monday.
The drive the Bridha Valley is stunning: a single-track road winds its way up a gorge and tops out at Bealach Béama with sheer rocks on either side. Unfortunately, halfway up we got stuck behind a Bentley, which in turn got stuck behind a herd of cows. After a while, it became evident that the cows were fugitives; there was nobody driving them.
Half an hour later, I was fed up with the Bentley jamming on the brakes every time a cow chewed cud aggressively. He was obviously nervous about having his gleaming car licked by a cow, or lashed with a tail. When we came to a narrow(er) stretch of track, I applied the handbrake and dashed up to the Bentley. I knocked on the window.
“Hi, ah- oh, how are you? Nice weather we’re having. Where you off to today? Just here for a holiday, eh? Oh, Glenbeigh is lovely, yes. Listen, I was wondering, would you mind pulling in when you have a chance and letting me go ahead? My husband’s an expert on passing cows.”
“Oh, no problem,” said the driver. “I wanted to do that myself, but missus wouldn’t let me.”
The Bentley pulled over and I nudged through the cows, instructed by Andrew: “Ok, zoom up behind them really fast and then swerve to the left.”
We eventually reached the head of the Bridha Valley and got ready to go. Dad did a couple of creaky squat-thrusts.
I was terribly nervous for Dad, but he set off strongly. Every few hundred metres I checked to see if he was ok, but it seemed superfluous when I had to catch him up to pose the question. The man leaped from rock to rock and forded streams in single bounds. I was tremendously proud.
“This is my dad. He has two false hips,” I said to everyone we met.
“Er Niamhie, maybe your father doesn’t want you telling everyone,” said Andrew.
It took us shortly over an hour to reach the lake. As we ate our lunch it started to drizzle, but we had waterproofs and a flask of coffee, and Dad wouldn’t have considered it a Walk if he hadn’t battled headwinds.
We were back at the car, when a man pulled up and wandered over. He was waiting for three people who had set off from the other side of the saddle two hours before. Andrew managed to pick out the group as they passed the bottom of a rock face.
“Why don’t you go and meet them?” I asked the man. “There’s a clear track.”
“Oh no, I don’t do that kinda stuff,” he said. “Ah have a false hip.”
“Well, I have TWO false hips,” said my father, and maybe only I could hear the ‘na na nana na’ hanging unspoken in the air.
I considered The American’s size more an impediment than the false hip, but inspired by my father’s restraint, I resisted saying so
Although Husband looks deep in thought, he’s actually working up to laugh at one of my father’s jokes. This is my favourite photo of Andrew of all time
Andrew on Cumeen na Péiste
Top of Ireland
I had resolved to get out in the mountains again, but the last time I walked the Kerry hills was thirteen years ago. On one of my father’s Wednesday Walks last month, my walking boots circa 1988 disintegrated after a one-sided tussle with a puddle.
At the start of October, Dan arrived in Ireland with his father for a climbing holiday and I was appointed official walking guide. I treated myself to a new pair of boots when I was summoned to tackle Mt Brandon.
As I drove towards the west-most tip of the Dingle Peninsula, I could see the peak was clear. However, we had barely set off before we were in cloud. Visibility was poor and we were lashed with rain as we approached the summit. A German took our photo beside the shrine at the top, and you can just about make out the three of us in the mist, standing at an angle against the wind, hair plastered against our skulls.
Four hours later, we dropped below the cloud 100 metres from the car. Gorgeous day: blue skies, 360° views for miles around, not a whisper of wind. You could hear sheep bleating from the next county. I’m not sure which of us attracted the Cartoon Cloud – probably Dan.
The following day, I could only negotiate the stairs by pulling myself up the banisters, legs dangling uselessly behind me. Never mind coming back down: pure agony.
The day after that, Danny and Philip were keen to do the Coumloughra Horseshoe, 14 kilometres covering the three highest mountains in Ireland. When they arrived to collect me, I found the journey to the car arduous. I could just about walk without whimpering, but my knees weren’t working and my quads were present only in a vocal capacity.
Completing the walk had less to do with physical ability than willpower and the promise of Irish Coffee. After that day, I had no further problems with the pins.
I persuaded Danny to stay on longer than planned, since Husband was threatening arrival at the end of the week. We were sitting in the kitchen one day, when Eoin sloped in.
“Dan, good to see you again,” he said. “By the way, nice shorts.”
Dan was wearing jeans.
“Errr,” he said. “Er- ah-”
“Very comfortable,” said Eoin. “The gusset has a lot of give. And I like the colour.”
At that point, we realised: EOIN WAS WEARING DAN’S SHORTS. Ann told me later that Eoin came around to her house one day and robbed them.
“Er- I wondered where those had got to,” said Dan.
“Would you like them back?”
“Ah- no, no you hold on to them.”
Husband and I spend a lot of time with Danny in Dubai, but he and Andrew like to talk about things like spliced cabling systems and the optimal size of wrenches, while I prefer to pull out my eyelashes one at a time. So although Dan has been part of my life for ten years, I can’t claim to really know him. So it was great spending time with him tramping around the mountains. The ordnance survey maps mark plenty of stone circles, ring forts and grottos. One day we noticed a small red dot on the map, labelled ‘rock art’.
“We’ve got to find it,” said Dan. “It’s probably some ancient, mystical man-art. Let me get my GPS.”
Fifteen minutes later, I said: “What’s taking so long?”
“Em, it’s having problem getting a third location point. Wait – here we go. Oh. Apparently we’re in North Virginia.”
“Hmm, that doesn’t sound right. Ok look, according to the map, it should be on this side of the spur halfway between those two rivers-”
“If you wait a minute I’ll tell you exactly where it is-”
“Very funny,” said Dan.
“Look, it’s at 600 metres; same level as that saddle there. Around . . . about . . . here. Got it.”
“The rock art. This boulder – see the fish shape? That’s it.”
“You are pulling my leg.”
“What were you expecting: the Venus de Milo?”
A few days later, we woke up early to phenomenal weather: fresh and clear blue with glinting sunshine. We were on our way to Killarney to do a low level walk, but it seemed wasteful. We spontaneously decided to go up Cumín na Péiste, the ‘Ridge of the Worms’. We were thoroughly over-excited:
“Oh my god, I can’t believe you just tried to high-five me!”
“I can’t believe you high-fived me back!”
We stopped halfway up the Devil’s Ladder to talk to a couple of gnarly Cork men. The previous day, they were halfway up Carrauntoohil when a member of their party – one of the men’s brothers in law – collapsed on the ground, frothing at the mouth. Ok, I made up the frothing; but he was unconscious for HOURS. Well, at least a few minutes. His companions thought he was having a heart attack and called the Mountain Rescue. A helicopter came out and fired orange flares all over the Hag’s Glen and it was all terribly intrepid.
“Jesus,” I said. “Is he all right?”
“Ara, he’s grand. They took him to Tralee General Hospital.”
“What was the matter with him?”
“He had a Urinary Tract Infection.”
“A what?” said Dan. “Sorry, I thought you said a – heh heh – a ‘Urinary Tract Infection’.”
“Aye, I did.”
“Not some lethal liver eating disease?” I enquired after a pause.
“Urinary Tract Infections can be quite nasty,” said the Cork Man defensively.
“Evidently,” said Dan.
On another day Danny and I met an old friend of mine. The Bridha is a secluded valley just under the Reeks – it was the last place in Ireland to get electricity in the fifties. We used to spend a lot of time there when I was younger, and got to know the Joy family: three brothers who didn’t know which end of a woman was up, and their sister who proved she was well aware which end of a man was up when she produced a daughter out of wedlock.
When I was sixteen I had a mad pash on Jimmy Joy. Tragically, there were a couple of obstacles standing in our path to true love. One was the fact that I was mildly disturbed by his monobrow. The other was that I couldn’t understand a word the man said. Literally not a word, not even the occasional verb. He once said my name, and I thought he was suffering from indigestion.
Dan and I were picking our way back to the car and didn’t want to bump into Cranky Nora, so we went around her place and came to a farmyard barred by a gate. Two dogs tore over barking and snarling.
“Oh feck,” I said to Danny. “Nice doggie, goooood doggie,” I said to the dog that was trying to gnaw through the bars of the gate.
The only way out of it was to throw Dan to the dogs. I was working out the logistics of picking Dan up in order to feck him at them, when a man came striding across the yard.
He said something that sounded like the Spanish dialect of Cantonese, but I presumed he was well-intentioned when he grabbed one of the dogs by the scruff. Looking at him and his bristling monobrow, I realised-
“Are you- are you one of the Joy Boys?” I asked.
“Ara aram issa tomaunday.”
“Ara an ooda awalla aroo?”
“It’s Niamh! Niamh Shaw! You remember, I used to spend time here-”
“Oo ar ablanna nowoo errayta!”
Then we had a discussion wherein I employed a repertoire of five standard responses which, used at random, address every conversational contingency:
“The grandest, but I reckon there’s a nip of rain in the air.”
“Can’t go wrong with sheep.”
“Better than a kick in the eye.”
“It’s a curse, a curse I tell you.”
“That feckin hoor.”
“How the hell did you understand him?” said Dan later.
“You’ve got to have the ear.”