This place I live in I call ”The Navel of the Universe”. One of the reasons is that everyone for miles around here likes to trace their ancestors to this place.
”Oh, my people came out of the Bellavalley Gap…”, they say, as if their people were thus the descendants of Manannan Mac Lír, the great Sea God.
”Ahhhh, you’re living up there on the way to Glan—”, they say, and their eyes get a faraway look.
Here is beside the Source of the longest river in Ireland. It rises in a deep brown pool across the fields, a place that is called The Shannon Pot. Here was supposed have lived the Salmon of Knowledge. Finnegas the Wise had caught the Salmon of Knowledge in the days before time, and he set his young fostered servant to cook it, telling him to take care that he did not eat any. While the fish cooked, a blister rose on its skin, and the young Fionn Mac Cumhaill reached out to burst it. But his thumb was burned and immediately he put his thumb in his mouth. Finnegas ate the Salmon after it was cooked, but realised that its power had gone elsewhere. He asked young Fionn had he touched it, and Fionn told him about the blister. Finnegas discharged young Fionn from his service and said there was nothing left in this world or the next for him to be taught. Fionn went on the lead the magical band of warriors called the Fianna.
Before I came ever here I had heard of this place. A Buddhist friend of mine told me that the first westerner to be initiated as a Tibetan Buddhist in Tibet came from here. He had apparently been a bus driver with a private company that worked long ago in India and had wandered on up over the Himalayas. I don’t know how much truth there is to that tale, but it is another reason why I call it, jokingly, ”The Navel of the Universe.”
There was an old man who lived down the road, and he could change your fortune by dealing a deck of cards. He gave them to you to shuffle, and then he dealt out the top half, which he was ”dealing away from you”. All of them would be Spades and Clubs, leaving you with only the Aces and Diamonds.
But it’s not all benign nostalgia. In the decades gone past the women left in their droves, to be secretaries and bank clerks and teachers, leaving behind poor, rugged farms to be cared for by their brothers. These men rarely married and they dwindle now in their 60’s and 70’s and 80’s, many of them hardly bothering to wash their faces anymore, so feral are their lives. They putter the back roads on clapped out Honda 50 motorbikes, following cows from one rushy field to the next, and too nervous of women to raise their eyes in greeting.
It is also a place that is rife with depression. Some say that such melancholia is in the ley-lines of the earth, a sort of electro-magnetic recording of the horrors of the past. For indeed this place has known terrors.
But is there a square inch upon the earth that has not seen sorrow?
For now, the snow has come back to lie on the mountains, warning us not to getting ahead of ourselves as regards to the Spring. It always takes another fall of snow, they say around here, to take the lying snow away.