Real Irish Country Living:
You are now entering our Townland
“I’m heading back to rurality,”my first Irish boss Prin would say when he took his leave from my workplace in the town. The town had a thousand souls. It had banks, a few shops and other amenities – a library, a theatre/arts centre, cottage hospital, a sculpture studios and ‘resource centre.’ It was a friendly place where you would hear the familiar Leitrim “How ya?” as you walked down the main street about your business.
It was hardly the heaving metropolis we’d left behind when we moved to Ireland. And that was exactly what we needed.
Of course, when Prin was leaving ‘town’ he was announcing his imminent departure for his ‘townland.’ For anyone who has Irish heritage and does a ‘roots trip’ to Ireland, knowing your family townland is really important information. Towns may have administrative or economic significance, but if your ancestors were uprooted from the Irish countryside then that elusive piece of information may be the deal breaker on your ancestor hunt.
Let’s get this straight. A townland is NOT a town. It’s more like a hamlet, or a cluster of neighbouring dwellings that is in the Irish countryside that fringes the towns with their shops, banks, schools and other points of local focus. Towns have an administrative and economic function. Townlands are where Irish country living actually happens!
Townlands are uniquely Irish. In the townland were Tony and I settled there are four houses and a barn on one side of Lough Moneen and four houses, a cottage and another barn on the other. Before the mass immigration of the 1940s and 1950s there were scores of people living in the townlands surrounding our home village.
To add to the confusion our townland has an anglicized spelling on the house deeds but an Irish spelling on the Ordinance Survey maps! For folks who are on an Irish heritage trail this can compound the problems when they are trying to find an ancestral grave or the church where they may find the vital record to confirm family anecdote. This is where genealogical hunts in Ireland can get frustrating.
But it is in the Irish place names that you discern the beauty and personality of these remote places. Place names are so rich that they have a whole genre in Irish poetry, dindshenchas, that includes that particular Irish place’s folklore, sometimes right back to medieval times.
Just translating our townland underlines it’s unique ecology. We live in ‘the briary place’; it certainly applies to our acre! But those blackberries attest to the soil fertility, which we have benefited from as we developed our organic garden and cultivated our vegetables in a polytunnel.
There is a term in Irish literature that refers to women as ‘wildish.’ Our bit of Irish country life has that wildish element – from the south-westerly winds that sometimes rampage in from the Atlantic over Knocknarea, the drama of the aurora borealis reflected in the water of Lough Allen, the constant shifting of cloud and light and precipitation over Arigna or Cuilcagh mountains.
I could no more go back to city living – the traffic, the constant background noise, the crowds and hasty pace – then I could turn back the years. We have lived for ten years now and I am still learning new things, still having my eyes opened and heart moved by this magical sacred landscape. Irish country living – where Irish folklore comes alive in the very stones – is where my heart has truly come home.
In the first few years here I tried to do a ‘biodiversity survey’ just of the species I spotted along our lane. We have rare red squirrel as well as long eared bats, badgers, deer and pygmy shrew. That’s just the fauna. When I started on the flora I gave up when I passed eighty!
My partner has written elsewhere describing our little parcel of Ireland as an ‘acre of diamonds.’ In this blog I’m going to share some of that precious quality – the beauty, the peace, the inspiration both raw and rarefied – with you.