Already I am a little bit behind schedule. Just a few kilometres. No good: I will have to re-double my efforts this fortnight.
My walk has taken me south to Rossaveal, where I could have turned off towards the harbour and boarded a fast ferry to the Aran Islands. Soon I can see glimpses of Galway Bay ahead, and I arrive at the crossroads at Ballynahown where there used to stand a big tourist shop selling (naturally green) Connemara Marble, Aran sweaters and other Oirish tat for the Yanks to take home. I know this part of the world very well: I spent a couple of summers down here in the Gaeltacht as a young teenager.
My first bean a’ tí (the lady whose house I stayed in)was a local woman who’d spent quite a few years in the US, so she spoke Irish with a hint of an American accent. The following year, the bean a’ tí was a Londoner who’d married a local man and now took in Irish-language students in the summer. She spoke Irish with no hint of an accent, presumably having absorbed the correct local pronunciation when learning the language.
I know if I walk straight ahead down that boreen instead of following the main road east, there is a big lake in to the right hand side, and if I keep going a mile or so I will find a little harbour with a few currachs turned upside down and a few more moored alongside. Across the bay will be the Cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands will be away to the west of me.
The road turns east along the coast road. This part of Connemara is simply called Cois Fharraige, or “beside the sea”. The Gaeltacht school where I went is in the centre of the tiny village of Minna, and the rock nearby where the boys always met the girls in the evening. Down another boreen is a graveyard where we stopped the car one night as grown-ups, and Orlando caught his first glimpse of the Milky Way.
Past Inverin or Indreabháin, I pass the Poitín Stil pub where I remember going with the family on summer holidays with my parents. Later, when I was at the Gaeltacht, my parents came to visit and took me and a neighbour’s child out for the evening, back to this old haunt.
Soon I arrive in Spiddal or An Spidéal, a little fishing village and more recently a tourist destination.
I remember my father and brother fishing off this harbour pier when I was very small. They didn’t catch anything but we bought some fresh mackerel from a local fisherman. My mum took the ribbon from my hair to thread through the mackerels’ gills so we had some way of carrying them. It was a red and white ribbon, and naturally it was ruined after that day. But the biggest memory is the smell of those mackerel cooking, and how amazing they tasted.
In two weeks, hopefully I will be the far side of Galway, somewhere past Oranmore and well on the way to Athenry. And yes, when I get there, we will sing.