Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mamean, Magic Walks and Nancy Sinatra's Boots in Galway

I have to say that global warming is most likely to blame and especially this unseasonal sunny warm weather that has bathed Galway in continuous bright sunshine for over a week now. It is a simple fact that we are unused to such seasonal largesse from our normally ‘changeable’ climate at this time of year and this has lead some people to act a bit like lemmings and head off in a mad rush into the wild countryside of Connemara to take advantage of these ‘fair’ days.

Perhaps this is why without any particular rhyme or reason that I myself headed into the wild and lovely Maamturk Mountains yesterday to capitalise on the beauty of the wonderful scenery. My special destination was Mamean, or the ‘Pass of the Birds’, which is an ancient pilgrimage site associated with St. Patrick in the centre of this mountain scenery. It can be reached via a small side road from the main Clifden Road near Recess in County Galway. It is indeed a wild and wonderful place of unspoilt beauty with a view of the twelve Bens of Connemara behind you and the Maam and Inagh Valleys in the foreground. It is a landscape of wild rugged hills, glinting quartzite rocky outcrops and pebble pilgrimage paths with only a few sheep and cows to disturb the silence. It is said that St. Patrick preached here and it was a holy site for centuries. However, during the 19th century the pilgrimage ‘faithful’ became more associated with raucous dancing, fist fights and drunkenness linked to the consumption of Poitin (illicit homebrew whiskey) than any religious fervour and the pilgrimage was abandoned for many years. However, at the end of the last century it was renewed and although its main celebration coincides with the more famous event on Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, some 30 miles away, it is now very popular. The extent of the local attachment to it is manifested in the little Chapel built to honour St Patrick with its fine stained glass windows beside the cave where St Patrick is said to have slept and also by the Stone Statue of the saint with a sheep at his feet. I must confess that I was enthralled by the beauty of the landscape and only saw three other people there during my visit. Indeed the only traffic jam on the nearby minor road was provided by the lovely local sheep. It is worth noting though that when I stopped on the way to Lough Inagh later in the day to take a photo of a small donkey in the wild setting, he put his head in through the front window of the car and refused to remove it. I had to get out the other side and literally push him away. Heehaw!

Despite the marvellous setting of the Pilgrimage path it is an arduous trek for those of weak limb or general fragile health disposition, and I was pleased to find an old timber ‘staff’ in the bog which assisted my descent. In fact, because of my lack of experience of such walks, I was wearing heavy shoes which I had considered suitable for the climb but proved like heavy weights on my feet in the hot weather. Thus, as I trudged back I was reminded of the words of the old Nancy Sinatra song:

“These boots are made for walking and that is what they’ll do,
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”

Finally I remembered walking to Mamean with my wife some years ago and I think that I may inadvertently have lost a small part of my soul while climbing there. Thankfully, yesterday after the wonderful sun baked exhilarating walk I think I found it again.
For those who would like to experience this Walk or indeed others in a similar striking landscape, may I recommend that you consult ‘The Western Way’ and ‘Strolling Connemara sites' on the web.