I like maps. The thing about Ordnance Survey maps (in Ireland) is that when you see red lettering, you know there’s something interesting to see. It could be a megalithic tomb or a stone circle or an ancient monastic settlement or whatever – so I always look out for the red lettering.
I was staying in Cill Rialaigh, in Co. Kerry recently and I was studying the map. I noticed this particular road (see below). It had red lettering all over it. “That’s where I want to go”, arsa mise.
Now, the thing about maps (in Ireland) is: you can see it clearly on the map but, go down that little roadeen and it’s a different story entirely. So I was driving carefully down this little winding road, and I was looking all around for an Ogham stone. Ogham is an ancient form of Irish lettering, a series of straight lines carved into the edge of a standing stone. The bulk of these Ogham stones are to be found in the southern-most counties of Ireland (and three of them beside this very road) but could I find them? Needles and haystacks come to mind.
As I stopped the car in some confusion, an ancient figure pushing an ancient bicycle appeared out of nowhere. “Yes, well I was looking for a standing stone”, I confessed vaguely. “Musha”, says he, “isn’t there’s great big ones back there, above the road, and one in Letter and – have you got wellies?” As we were talking, a car pulled up behind us, a woman and her daughter. “Are ’ou alright, Dan?”, she asked. “Standing stones”, says he. “Ogham” says I. I showed them my map. “The thing about maps”, says she, “shur they have everything upside down. Now, we have an ancient monastic settlement on our land and an Ogham stone too and – have you got wellies? Well anyways, my husband is following on behind in a tractor. You follow him and he’ll show you where it is”.
Sure enough, a tractor came trundelling along the road, a lot more talk about standing stones, maps and wellies and… but then I did get to see the Ogham stone, standing tall in a clearing. But what class of an eejit would go looking for a standing stone without wearing an auld pair of wellington boots?
Yes, well I like seeing these ancient things, from bygone days. What is that draws me to them, I’m not sure. Certainly where I was in Kerry has an abundance of ancient artefacts. Interesting to think of people living and working there long ago. It must’ve been an important area once; now it is wild sheep farming territory. But it’s places like this that we artists like to frequent – like Cill Rialaigh, situated on the edge of a cliff, looking out over the western ocean. I’ll tell you more about that another time.