Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Wednesday--->Lough Graney To Derrybrien
There was a real feeling of warmth from up in the woods. Our mission today was to cross the border back into Galway and be in Egan’s pub in Derrybrien for roughly 7pm. We rejoined the East Clare Way which left Lough Graney and headed north.
It was a spectacularly sunny day and unlike, say, our first day’s walking, where we met no one, we had problems getting places all day because we kept encountering people. The first person we met was John Connors, a farmer who was cutting overgrown hedges in the area. He said he had a niece in the area who sometimes visited him and he didn’t want her driving blind down these narrow roads. It was, of course, the county council’s job to maintain the hedges, but John had taken it upon himself. We told him we were heading up to Derrybrien and he told us about the old traditions of walking in the area, that there were once mass roads that reached all the way up to Derrybrien, but were all gone now since the advent of forestry. He said he had been walking up in the area one night years ago when some fog rolled in and he lost his way entirely. He had to take refuge in Egan’s for the night. John was an older man, but his arms were strong and the hedges were no match for him.
Above: John Conners, Donny and Emma
Just after meeting John, a van stopped as it passed us. It was driven by a farmer in black sunglasses. He was heading to Canny’s in Kilanena. He was curious about our journey and said he had copies of a book full of Aughty history (this turned out to be Ger Madden’s Aughty Ramble). He told us he lived in the first house in Connaught, or the last, depending on which way we were coming from. He said he’d retrieve the book for us, though we were slightly unsure if we’d meet him again. We were wrong.
Above: Ned 'Border Fox' Fathy discussing the Aughty route with Emma
We hit a crossroads further on. Conscious of time and the heat, I suggested taking the short way. Emma pulled for the longer route. She told me towards the end of the trek that her horoscope for the week told her always to take the difficult route. I think this was in her mind here. It was the right choice. We collected water at a just-built house owned by a guy wearin a nightgown (he said he was just in from work) and then followed The East Clare Way cut back towards Lough Graney. The road took us to the locked back gates of the massive white house that emerged eerily out of the woods and was visible from our camping spot the previous night, as well as a Coillte tree depository. We hopped a fence to view the hundreds of trees, shorn of their branches and twenty-five feet high stacked on their side. They looked like giant sculptures. There were lots of signs warning against climbing the tree stacks, as well as a massive shed that was used for god knows what.
Above: Coilte Depot
We decided we’d have our lunch on Bleach Bridge, and on our way there, two farmers in the distance spotted the green flag and started shouting what sounded like nationalist slogans at us. I shouted something about Bleach Bridge and they shouted back that the bridge had been blown up around the time the Black and Tans were around. Explosion or not, the bridge seemed ageless. During lunch, the wind blew one of our empty plastic bags into the river. One of Emma’s camping phrases for the week was “Leave No Trace”. I felt guilty at the thought of the plastic lapping up in Lough Graney, and when I saw it lap up on the river banks, I headed down, climbing over dense briars, thorns, broken-down trees and rocks to fish it out. I cut up my legs, but retrieved the bag. It was a small victory.
Back on the road, we met one of the farmers who had been shouting to us about Briar Bridge. He too was cutting the hedges. He told his name was Ned Elvis Fahy. He had the longest eyebrows I had ever seen. He said that Bleach Bridge had been blown up, and then rebuilt stone for stone after the British left. We told him we’d met the man with first (or last) house in Connaught. He said that was the Border Fox, also known as Ned Fahy. He seemed to be the living history book of the area. The Border Fox would later tell us that Elvis Fahy was a bachelor with fourteen cats, one dogs and four badgers.
Above: Ned 'Elvis' Fathy
The route turned north. We picked up more water and news on the large white house from two older men near Scalp (it was built by a German man and mostly unoccupied now) and headed for the border. We had about 7 miles to cover in three hours. Our urgency was delayed when the Border Fox drove past us.
“I went and got that book for you. You weren’t back on that road at all.”
We told him we’d taken the other route.
“Come up to my place for a cup of tea and I’ll show it to you,” he said.
We agreed. Near an ugly-looking bridge, there’s was a vague change in the material of the road that seemed to indicate that we’d passed to Galway from Clare. We knew Ned’s house, of course, because it was the first one. Technically, his home place, which still stood but was no longer lived in, was the first (or last) house in Connaught. Ned’s house was just after it.
Meeting Ned was one of the more memorable encounters of the trip, though I’m not exactly sure why. Part of it was the stories he told- a story about Elvis Fahy’s badgers, a story about Clare farmers who would occasionally stay at his house if the adjacent river was overflowing on their way back from the Gort fair, and a story about a Clare farmer who literally lost his hat in that river are three that I vividly remember. Part of it was his hospitality. He made tea for us and had a cup of organic pomegranate juice for himself. Thrown by my accent, he began speaking Irish to me. I had no response but "bearla". After awhile, he asked if he could play a song. He produced a tin whistle and played the “Carraroe Jig”. He said he had met a musician in Gort, who had a completely different version of the tune that had come from Johnny O’Halloran. I was sitting nearest to him, and while I can remember the tune, I can also remember big breaths he took every so often. There were photos of all of his four children above the cupboard, some of whom had built houses just across the road, and he said he would try to make it to Egan’s later to meet us.
Above: A version of the Carraroe Jig from youtube.com
Time was against us and we had to cover a lot of ground to be at Egan’s on time. We reached the Gort to Derrybrien road at 6pm and the road sign said we had 6km to go. We were tired and sweaty, but we were determined to be there for 7. We passed the sign for Derrybrien in no time, but the pub was at least another two miles on. My feet were killing me. There was a real sense of victory when we finally reached Egan’s around 7:15. We must have covered 12 or 13 miles that day. Jane, Aine and Tom Varley were there and we shared the stories we had acquired and talked about all of the things we had seen. Tom is hugely involved in Aughty.org and had a lot to say about building an Aughty identity.
Above: The road to Derrybrien
Along with the sense of accomplishment from covering big distances, we were starting to feel a connection to the landscape itself. We got permission from a guy named David to sleep in a field 100 metres from the pub. The moon was up again and we across the valley at where we had slept that first night. This place was no longer alien.
Above: Discussions with Tom Varley on Rural Futures in Egans Pub, Derrybrien, Co. Galway