Connemara Memories

By | August 27, 2023

This story is a memory I have of an unusual Irish man, and of a time now long gone, and I hope it will be of interest to u3a readers.

The poems attached at the end are by my husband, Francis Loughlin, and also relate to Connemara.  We both fell in love with this special place on our first visit there in 1986 and spend as much time as possible there.

Adrienne Loughlin

The Dancer

When I was a little girl, my mother filled my head with stories of fairies, goblins and any other mythical creatures she could think of, so I spent quite a long time searching under the bushes in our back garden for a sight of one of the Little People.  With no luck, I asked her just where were they.  She smiled a half smile, scrunched my cheek and said, ‘Aah child, you have to go to Ireland to see the fairies.  That’s where they live’.  She was on a safe bet there as the chances of our family visiting Ireland in the 1950s were as remote as us flying to the moon.

But I did visit Ireland in 1986 and have visited every year and several times a year since then.  I still haven’t seen a fairy or leprechaun but I have met quite a few other weird and wonderful characters.

I was walking along a narrow country road in Connemara, which is in the far west of Ireland, on a fine day in June and admiring the thick banks of wild dog daisies each side.  The only sounds were the droning of bees in the fuchsia hedges and the occasional mellow call of a cuckoo.  Very few people owned cars then in that part of Ireland and the only traffic you might have seen in the early mornings would be farmers driving their cattle from one field to another.  I had a bit of a surprise then when the figure of an old man appeared, looming over the rise in the road.  He was the thinnest and tallest man I had ever seen.  He wore a crumpled suit which had long since seen better days and as he walked towards me, gave the impression of being a puppet on strings so loosely did he move.  He passed me by with a, ‘ How are ye?” and went on his way.

A few days later I came across this tall and thin, old man again when I was listening to a traditional music session in a local pub.  Towards midnight, when the pub was packed and the air thick with pipe and tobacco smoke, in he came.  Bending his long frame he entered through the door, and then stretched to his full height. With  a wide smile on his face, he began to dance.  He still wore the same suit I’d seen him in previously and a pipe dangled comfortably from his mouth in a space where his teeth had once been.  The musicians, who consisted of an accordion player, and several others playing  tin whistles, fiddles, and a bodhran were  playing fast reels and jigs.  Someone found a pair of spoons and added to the rhythm.  The old man’s dancing was of a style I’d never seen before.  First he shrugged one shoulder, then the other, then both.  Sometimes he held out a hand to anyone who might dance with him.  Some did but most cheered him on.  His heavy boots made a pleasing, thumping sound on the wooden floor of the pub and every so often he raised an arm and punched the air in his enjoyment.  He was mesmerising to watch, his long, lean body bending forwards and backwards, whilst his audience clapped him on.  But even the best dancers need to rest and soon  he wandered over to the bar where he sat and nursed a pint of Guinness in his bony hands.

I found out later that the old man had been born and bred on one of Connemara’s small offshore islands.  His island had to be evacuated in the 1970’s due to the extremely harsh living conditions, often being cut off for weeks during the frequent Atlantic storms in winter,  and the lack of any help in an emergency.  He and the rest of the islanders, along with their cattle, hens, dogs, cats and everything they owned, were then ferried over to Connemara’s mainland, and settled there, in view of their old island homes.

That man has long since passed, taking with him old traditions, customs and his very own island way of dance.

Adrienne Loughlin

Connemara Sea

I must rest awhile where wild orchids dream
And Sea Pinks sway to the tune of the Skylark
Where mistress rocks await the homeward tides
Where land meets sea and sea meets sky
And rainbows swoon on a western breeze

Connemara Land

Today I watched a cloud fall from the sky,
It slipped and slithered down the grey black mountain
Towards the head bowed tip-toeing sheep
That grazed by a water’s edge
And raced and rippled over shining rocks
Towards a hungry sea

Francis Loughlin 

Last Updated on August 27, 2023