Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Thursday--->Derrybrien To Kilnadeema
I, at least, began the day tiredly after a long day’s walking. After two thwarted journeys back to Egan’s for milk, we packed up and headed on our way again. We’d hit the most northern parts of Aughty during the day’s walk, and intended to camp in Killenadeema after a sojourn through the Derrybrien windfarm.
I had noted at the pub the previous night that the majority of the people who we’d meet were elderly local men. We hadn’t reached the end of Derrybrien before that presumption was debunked. We met a German woman named Katy. She came out to meet us as I was redoing my rucksack. She had an old dog with a wheezy cough. The story of her time in Ireland was fascinating and ultimately quite sad. Her and her husband had moved to Derrybrien 20 years ago and bought an old farm house with no running water. They had used a nearby spring for water, which had been ruined by the mudslide caused by the windfarm. Her husband was a carpenter and had gutted most of the house and installed brand new wood furnishings. She invited us into the house. It was like going into some Bavarian country house from the turn of the century, and it might have been the cleanest house I’ve ever been in There were barrels outside that collected rainwater and a well-kept garden in the back. Katy spoke a funny English-German hybrid and described her profession as “housewife”. She told us that her husband now suffered from Alzheimer’s and gone from nursing home to nursing home. Katy took us from room to room, showing us the work her husband had done to the place. Her one luxury was a beautiful couch where she liked to read. Katy said the people in the village had been very helpful to her once her husband had got sick. They even insisted that she get a television. She gave us water, which felt a genuine gift, and we kept going.
It was an 8km walk to the wind farm, up to a mountainy peak surrounded on all sides by Coilte forest. We had spent the week looking at the windfarms, so it was strange to actually be passing through them. As we got closer, a driver stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift. We said no, but asked him the best way to get into the windfarm. He said to the next left, which would save us a two-mile trek backwards that came with going through the official entrance to the windfarm. He was almost right. The first left we passed took us right into an infernal bog, full of sinking earth. Tiny pine trees had been planted in rows onto the messy bog itself. They were like weird alien clones. This was no way to raise a forest.
We turned back rather than trek over the bog, and the following left turn took us right into the wind farm. There was a high road that led us right up to and beneath those mammoth, surprisingly quiet white windmills. I thought of Cervantes and Quixote and Sancho Panza. We thought of having lunch beneath a windmill, but I found the sight of the rotating blade too jarring and we moved away a bit. Entering the windfarm was a bit like entering a vortex. A bottle of water we’d been relying on disappeared. The tuna we’d planned on eating for lunch required a can opener, which we didn’t have. It was windy and hot up there and without water, I feared getting trapped in that maze of windmills.
We stopped the first person we saw, a Dutch guy employed by the Danish company who ran the windfarm to service the windmills and “check their warranty”. He had bungee cords on him, but said he was going up the windmill’s stairs to do the work. He pointed out a guy hanging from a blade from a nearby windmill. He didn’t know the windfarm very well, but let us have a long look at the map of the windfarm so that we could devise an escape route. We marched about a quarter of mile before we passed signs saying “No Unauthorised Access” and “Danger Voltage”. The views were spectacular from up there. Across to the 12 Bens and Erris to the Northwest and down across Lough Derg and Tipperary to the south east. At the entrance of the wind farm itself, we found a quarry and more signs telling us we were trespassing.
Then a pick-up truck pulled up beside us. The driver, who was giggling at the sight of us, was inquiring about our business in the windfarm. He said that somebody doing maintenance on one of the windmill blades had seen two people walk by, one with a flag, and rang him up telling him to investigate. He was the site manager, a local guy. He could tell immediately we were no protestors. He did explain, though, that the farm was built by the ESB and the electricity it generated serviced their network. He added that there were 70 windmills in all. Laughing even more at the encounter, he left us.
The walk to the entrance of the windfarm was long. There are few lonelier walking experiences than trekking through Coilte wood. We were both pretty dehydrated at this stage and reliant on finding a house to ask for running water. Coming down the mountain, the first place we saw was an empty two-story house, owned by Larry Byrnes. Nearly everybody we’d asked about trekking through the windfarm in Derrybrien had noted Larry Byrnes’s place. There were signs for an upcoming rally and a fork in the road. I could see a green two-story house in the distance and got a good feeling from it. The dog of the house came to the road to bark at us. It’s always a great way to meet a house owner. We approached him and asked for water. He was tremendously obliging. His name was Aidy. He was English and had settled in the region six or seven years ago with his wife. He worked all of the festivals and was prepping for Electric Picnic. He and a few others ran a marquee where they sold fairy paraphernalia. He made us tea and gave us water. It turned out we vaguely knew some New Age travelers from Bowie in Leitrim that he also knew. He talked about the terrible winter, how he had to abandon his van in a ditch on St. Stephen’s Day and eventually move his whole family up into a neighbour’s house for a week or so. Aidy lives in massive Coilte planting blocking the view from his front garden, but he said that there was new attitude within Coilte and that the new manager had visited his house and pledged to remove the conifers from beside the river so as to alleviate the water quality. Aidy also talked about the Coilte's plan to plant more sustainable and native trees in the area. He offered us vegetables from his glasshouse. We took one green chili and kept walking towards Kileenadeema.
We descended down the mountain, first through bog, and then through new housing developments. Somewhere we crossed an invisible line, leaving behind the wilderness of Aughty and entering a suburb of Loughrea, which was New Ireland with all of the obvious trappings and oversized abodes. We were aiming roughly for a particular crossroads near St. Dymphna’s well, but overshot it a bit. All we were looking for was a field to camp in, but the farther along we went, fields became gardens. We knocked on a few doors but no one answered. Maybe there was a hurling match on somewhere.
Finally we passed a large two-story farm house on a hill with a lock on its front gate. Even in the dusk, we knew it was clearly uninhabited. We wanted permission to slept outside it, though. We knocked on the door of the house next-door and asked the woman who answered if she knew who owned the house.
“I wouldn’t know that,” she said quite dismissively. We said we just need a field for the night to camp in and she said she doubted it would have the proper toilet facilities. We said we’d ask someone else, and in the end, we snuck up behind the house and set up camp. We used some of Aidy’s chili in our pasta. We were both paranoid for an hour or two and the night was full of noise and teenagers on quad bikes. We whispered and felt like proper highwayman. Intrigued by the some guests, a frog passed by and tried to join in our conversation, as did some aggressive cattle in an adjacent field. The house itself was eerie – an electric Mass candle still burned in the front room. But it’s back garden, despite the layer of cement beneath the soil, was a calm and peaceful place – enclosed on all four sides – to camp. We put on An Taobh Tuathail on the pocket radio and slept soundly. Officially there was only one day’s hiking to go.
Above: The Newry Highwaymen by The Johnstons via Youtube.com