I can’t ever forgive myself for missing out on days with good weather here in Galway. The plan was for me to wake up early and hike with the university’s group out in Connemara. But at 7:30, the downpour wasn’t all too inviting, especially with a minor cold that I want gone before Madrid this upcoming weekend. The weather had a sudden change of plans, though. So by noon it was nothing but blue skies, puffy clouds, and green grass. I had to get out. But with the day seemingly halfway gone, I couldn’t bus anywhere.
While here studying abroad, I’ve had a strong interest in getting lost. So I got the backpack and photo equipment together and headed east with no destination in mind. No cellphone service is a godsend, especially with an urban area as your point of departure. (Doesn’t matter for a foreigner, though. No internet + no Irish phone = I’m cut off!) Walking beyond the docks for the first time, I got to see the innermost part of the bay. A residential area lay on the other side of the water, something that “center city” living has deprived me from, even though it was only a 20 minute walk to get there. As I kept walking, one trail led to another, seamlessly. When you wander aimlessly, it’s ironic that a path becomes more clear to you. (Or maybe there’s something existentially more to that that I pondered over and don’t feel like sharing).
Passing some sort of military base led me to a high vantage point where I could see a sand beach. Well-gated train tracks kept me from descending directly to that foreseeable destination. So I meandered some more until I found a car tunnel to cross underneath, opening up to this beautiful recreational area. Lots of off-leash dogs and several mounted horses took advantage of the low tide. Three dogs anxiously pulled their leashes, anticipating the freedom that lay ahead. A gravel path led me out to a peninsula. From there, I could see up and down the coast; low hanging clouds were rolling in at their freakish pace. I don’t know why, but I considered it better to remain by the water as the potential storm chased after me. Every time it rains, if you’re not surrounded by buildings, you can see distant sheets of rain and figure if you’re in their path or not. I guessed right and received only a drizzle’s worth of dampness as I stumbled along the beach’s pebbles, departing from the locals and their park.
I could tell my coastline was running out and that I would need to cut inland. By chance, I found a muddy driveway leading me to the same pair of tracks I crossed underneath earlier. But for some reason, the Irish have gates at the majority of their crossings. I’m not sure what purpose that serves, maybe these intersections weren’t used regularly. Yet there was no way I could get around the gates to hop the tracks. This run down structure lay to my left with NO TRESPASSING, a field to my right. A black cat eyed me as I leaned over some barbed wire to snap a shot that I thought would look good for some heavy HDR editing. The three dogs that passed me earlier by the beach came up the muddy path with two men, one close to my age, the other nearing 50. I said, “Howdy. Where do y’all reckon I go from here?” (Southern accent goes a long way outside of Galway-don’t ask why, it just does).
Before coming here, I was told about the Irish people’s forwardness, friendliness, and wanting to share stories. And to varying degrees thus far, I’ve experienced those attributes separately. But in this instance, I had no idea that I’d be getting all three for the next five hours. Just when I thought I was getting comfortable with the generic Irish accent, I was taken aback by the older man’s response. From a distance, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. But his forwardness led to his welcoming me on his walk with his adopted son. Apparently, there was no direction to head but through the fields. What I could understand from this man’s face-paced talking was that the six or seven horses in the field were wild. The other option was going through some psychopath’s property; there was a camera that I had not seen that my new acquaintances pointed out to me. So that wasn’t much of an option at all. Wild horses it was.
We leashed up the pit-bull, mid-sized black lab, and larger puppy that just had surgery on its hind leg. Pathetically, there was some fourth dog, a Jack Russel mix, that wasn’t anyone’s dog. No one had a leash for it; so if it made the mistake of following us, it was on its own. I didn’t fully realize what the term “wild” meant for the wild horses until all of them charged us as soon as we hopped the fence into their field. People think I’m ridiculous for having some sort of fear/respect for domestic horses. Yes, I know they’re trained, but those animals are massive and muscular. It’s no different (in my mind) than a tame lion at the circus. All of these thoughts came rushing into my head as our little party edged around the pack. The dogs were instinctively smarter than I was; their herd mentality versus the horses’ herd mentality meant everything as one wrong step could’ve had me left behind my herd of humans. They kept bucking at us, to which my new friend threw his hands up, yelled, and bucked back at them! The fences we kept close to were technically working against us, covered from overgrowth and barbed wire. On the other side of them, elevated on gravel, were the train tracks. The only direction we could head was forward as the horses’ front line took up our rear. I had to walk backwards to keep them from chasing us, one of the dog’s leashes in my hand.
Midway through the field, I looked back to see the crazed property owner come to the gate. His camera must’ve picked me up. I couldn’t tell what he had in his hand, but at present, the horses posed a more immediate concern. We descended further away from the cleared portion of the field, which slowed the horses until they judged that we were no longer encroaching on their land. Badgers and foxes were the next thing we might encounter, according to my friends, but we didn’t see any of those. We had to hop a low point in the fence, making sure that the dogs didn’t get cut. Just then, a train zipped by overhead. “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least that means there won’t be another one for a few minutes.”
The terrain changed significantly once we crossed the tracks. Another path picked up, winding through a forest. Those renowned Irish stonewalls even exist in the woods, creating that fairytale-esque feel which could not be accompanied by a story of the little people. As Eamonn (the older man) talked about the tricky nature of these little people, I couldn’t help think how such a fable continues for so long. But that light-hearted talk ended abruptly as we came upon a glen. On the other side of this field lay Old Dublin Road. Here, the IRA executed two men. I began to realize that I was hearing an Irishman’s opinion about a topic that seems to have many sides. To me, there doesn’t appear to be any unilateral understanding of the violence that occurred on the Emerald Isle. To hear this man’s point of view was rare, even considering how open the Irish can be with their stories. Plainly put, violence was never a valued entity. But foreign control truly resulted in the maltreatment of the people, something that doesn’t seem forgiveable, regardless of the current legal status of the Northern Counties.
To be continued. And yes, I will do a part 2. I just have to be somewhere now…