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  THE IRISH TIMES

Monday, Aug 22, 05

The bog is a place for losing and finding yourself, writes poet Rita Ann Higgins on her first year living in Spiddal, Co Galway

Finding a new world in the west

Wakening up in Spiddal and seeing the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren from the bed is a pleasant enough start to any day. A little to my right I can see the Aran Islands. My father once told me that he had never been to the Aran Islands even though he had grown up in Léitir Móir in south Conamara.

I don't believe that the lack of travel limits the imagination. When you settle the journey doesn't stop there. I knew a woman who lived in Prospect Hill, about two minutes from the centre of Galway city and she used to say, I'm going to Galway today. Since I moved to Spiddal this year I have become the woman from Prospect Hill.

When I'm in Spiddal a nicer me sneaks out. The first thing Spiddal gives me is a deep contentment and it's often carried over from day to day. After I've been away giving a workshop or a reading I like nothing better than to fantasise about heading back to Spiddal. I usually ring my co-conspirator and find out what time he'll be arriving and we decide what I might to cook.

I love to cook here. At home himself did the cooking for years while I was acting out the role of poet without a roadmap or a song. In Spiddal there is something illicit about cooking a huge dinner for the one who arrives with more plants and news from the city all of 12 miles away. I bake like the woman from The Butcher Boy. Buns everywhere.

I would have taken that Spiddal road many times as a child accompanying my father on his visits to relations in Léitír Móir. I don't remember much about the landscape only that you could always see the sea. I do remember the language they used was different and more passionate to the one we used at home. My relations spoke as if they were singing, the rhythms rising and falling, sometimes I wondered if a big argument was going on, then with the next breath they would burst out laughing and start all over again.

Spiddal was not yet in the frame, it was still in that out-there place, the place without roads or birds and little or no links to my imagination.

Later I attended several Irish language courses in Carraroe, after the courses I didn't practise using the language enough, with the result that my spoken Irish was always fairly poor. So, for as long as I can remember I knew that I would have to go back on the Connemara journey, back to where those mesmerising sounds came from. The Irish language was always going to be a pivotal force in me coming to Spiddal.

When I got here the first thing I did was ring the Údaras and find out what classes were available. That first week I joined in that ciorcal cómhrá in the Cruíscán Lán. It wasn't just an Irish circle, it was a social occasion that I have come to cherish. Tuesday nights were something to look forward to. They start up again in the autumn.

The Spiddal birds sing every morning, regardless of the weather. They never sing out of tune. They always sing out of season. They do weekends and bank holidays. They make holy days holier with their heart-warming chorus. When the birds sing I believe in God. My heart melts and I swear I'll be a better person. I lie. By the end of that day I might have clocked up a few resentments or a few negative thoughts about some unsuspecting soul who may have crossed me 20 years ago in a bus queue or at a Donovan concert.

One day towards the end of February I was in the box room taking a short break from throwing the Impac books at the cat. I saw this tiny ad in a local paper that read, "house for rent in Spiddal".

I didn't discuss it with anyone I just rang the number and the woman at the other end of the line was warm and not at all greedy and the rest is history.

It's easy to be more interested in nature here because it's all around you.

The other day I was walking down toward the pier and I saw two pheasants pottering about the field totally oblivious to my prying.

Another time I saw a fox, a beautiful fox with no look of slyness about him, he was right across from the cottage. I blinked and he was gone. I find myself thinking about the fox, wondering when I'll see him again.

I rang himself and told him I saw the fox. Congratulations, he said, give yourself a big hug and spin the wheel.

I hope the fox doesn't find out about the pheasant sisters down by the pier.

The growth here is phenomenal, the lushness and the colour gives Spiddal a tropical island quality. You see nothing but purples and blues and velvety foliage, blackberries and raspberries, and buckets of blooming heather.

Máire in the library helped me find the Máirtín Ó Cadhain short stories in Irish and English. I go to the cottage and spend three hours reading one of his stories crossing back and forth from the Eoghan Ó Tuarisc translations.

Joyce is the other Ó Cadhain. Ó Cadhain is such a complex and hugely challenging writer. An Gaelacadamh put on a series of lectures in Spiddal about his life and writing earlier this year and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend some of them. Of course you could read Ó Cadhain anywhere, but reading him in Spiddal somehow fits for me because of his links with Cois Farraige and the fact that I'm a cross between a tourist and a townie.

The library costs so little a year and you can also access the internet.

Visiting the library is another social occasion that gives me an opportunity to speak Irish.

Another thing about Spiddal is, I like to overhear children speak Irish to their parents on the street and in the supermarket.

I love the stillness that falls over the place at around seven in the evening when I'm walking down to the pier. The hubbub that bruised the serenity barrier earlier has melted and the place has a surreal quality again.

Here I have good neighbours who leave organic vegetables at my door.

I like that the pubs are all within walking distance from the cottage. Tigh Hughes has that "something is about to happen" feeling about it and when Johnny Connolly, King of the Melodeon, starts coaxing that button box of his, something magical always happens. Music is the first language here.

Johnny Connolly is like Francs Thomson's hound of heaven chasing the hare of your soul across the bridge of eternity.

In the bog we walk and talk and sometimes we walk and don't talk. At first sight the bog has little going for it in terms of paint and powder. It has a T-junction that leads nowhere in particular but you always hang a right and follow the emptiness. The backdrop is of Quixote's giants offering signs of trespass and woe. You come to love the starkness. Out of that emptiness comes a stillness that is not inhabited with emotion or memory; no dash of pain. The stillness falls over the place and it falls all over you. The bog is the place for losing and finding yourself.

Rita Ann Higgins

rahiggins@eircom.net

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