Two friends sit on a wall, sipping their coffees in the silent, grey morning, watching the sea.
It’s early. Before the others stir, I’m walking the flower-draped hills of Ballydavid, or is it Feothanach, or maybe more precisely, it is the space in between these two named points, a place that remains unmarked.
Aside from the wild beauty of this place, it is the forgottenness of it I think I love the most.
I pass a tiny shell-strewn beach where gulls dance and shriek, then follow the road, not much more than a narrow track, as it climbs steeply up, past waterfalls hidden by exotic, garish blossoms — orange and purple — past farms, abandoned holiday homes, and the odd cluster of sheep. Songbirds sing and chirp from every bush.
I’m trying to find a path I’ve been assured will take me up to the peak, to a cliff-top that sweeps up to the sky only to drop off, plummeting to the sea hundreds of feet below.
I can imagine the view – nothing but waves stretching into forever; I remember everything from when I lived here one summer 19 years ago. The memories are crystal clear, but the path remains elusive.
Behind me, Mount Brandon is cloaked in heavy clouds, as always. I smile as I recall laughing with a friend all those years ago, betting each other we’d never get a picture of its crest. I still have the postcard she sent me later that year, triumphantly displaying a Brandon without cloud.
Stretching between the hill I’m climbing and Brandon are the emerald fields of a million songs and tourist brochures, rivers, more sheep, the distant dots of cottages and stone houses, the black winding road with its Irish language signposts. I keep turning to look – this is my heaven, my favourite place on earth. I still can’t believe I’m back here.
The landforms feel deeply familiar, soothing in a way that suggests a connection, a belonging I can’t quite explain by simply saying I lived here once, briefly. Ancestral perhaps, though my ancestors came from somewhere else.
Looking at the peaks of the Three Sisters further down the coast, the slumbering giant of the Blaskets, Sybil Head, Brandon, I feel finally calm, finally at home. As though in the intervening years since I was last here I was just stumbling from place to place, task to task, lost.
I stand for a while looking down the coast as it tumbles, rock-strewn and jagged, until it turns inward and jags out of sight. I smell the briny salt of the cold sea, the dampness of the low clouds, the earthiness and sweet grass of this land. I breathe it in, trying to hold on to it, knowing a time will come when this all feels like a dream.
I never do find the path, but I do find something I had lost, something I hope I can carry with me now forever. That missing piece of me.
I pass the two people on the wall again as I pick my way back toward breakfast. They are still sitting on there, looking out to sea, talking. I wonder what they are talking about, and I think of the friends I have here, in Ireland, friends I could sit on a wall with and talk to until our own coffees went cold. And I wonder, what if I’d never left? What would my life be like now if I’d stayed? Can I ever come back?
I will always live with this tension, the pull of this place, the pull of my other home.
I’m not sure where I will end up, whether I will ever move back to Ireland, if it would be the right choice, or if I will stay put for the million reasons I can drum up in a pinch. I dream of living in so many places, and I fear never living in any of them.
But I think no matter where I am, I will always feel torn, I will always wonder about this place, the place of my dreams, this quiet, tucked away corner at the Western tip of Ireland.