DAY 1- HEANEY COUNTRY
Early morning pick-up at the Cinema in Naas for the trip to Magherafelt. Great to see so many faces from the past both INTO and teaching colleagues – even people I’d interviewed for various jobs (their smiles and warm greetings implied they had been successful!). Sas, the driver, seemingly a regular driver of the retired teachers of Kildare kept us amused with odd stories of where we passed through. His stories of trips to Jonesboro in the days of the border brought memories of Jimmy O’Loughlins hitting off with his family to that same market, ever a man for bargains, and my poor mother wondering where on earth all the toilet rolls and boxes of washing powder would be stored in our small house!!!! It was strange to be stopping for breakfast at 9.30 but after the early start the Carrickdale Hotel was a pleasant break – tea and gorgeous scones. Back on the bus promptly at 10.15 – I wonder will we all be as prompt as the trip progresses?
Just after noon, and right on time we arrived at Laurel Villa in Magherafelt, owned by the Kielt family -an award winning guesthouse and a reported haven for Seamus Heaney fans.
Eugene Kielt’s welcome included halting the traffic for us to cross the road where his wife, Gerardine ushered us into her dining room. There we were treated to home made soup and wheaten bread (we have all come away with the recipe) and tea/coffee with a choice of apple tart or pavlova (the pavlova was a replica of my mother’s in appearance and taste and that’s a true compliment!). To say that this is a centre for Heaney fans does not do justice to the memorabilia that is around the house, not to mention the private collection of books and leaflets and information that Eugene can show and talk about.
We bid farewell to Gerardine as Eugene joined us on the bus for a trip around Heaney country, highlighting many of the people and places that featured in his work, including the poet’s birthplace at Mossbawn and his final resting place in Bellaghy Graveyard.
The highlight for me had to be our stop on the Hillhead Road:
“The Hillhead Road links Knockloughrim and Toomebridge” Eugene told us. “It is not a speeding dual carriageway, just an ordinary rural link road of no great consequence. It was here, in February 1953, that two of Heaney’s younger brothers, 3½-year-old Christopher and an older sibling, walked from Mossbawn with a letter to post. Something distracted Christopher and he darted into the road. The driver could do nothing”.
Eugene tapped on his smartphone and instantly the bus was filled with that familiar voice, rich and mellow, reading his own memory of that awful day when he was called home from boarding school in Derry for the return of Christopher’s body to Mossbawn Farm.
“Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.”
Eugene left us to self-guide our way around an amazing exhibition on the poet and his work when we arrived at the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy. We had plenty of time to view the artifacts, listen to commentaries and view videos (and even have a peek in the shop) before the signal came to return to the bus for the final leg of the journey into Derry. Sas demonstrated his driving skills as he reversed down the narrow Butcher Street in Derry to drop us right outside the Maldron Hotel. Check-in was speedy – an envelope for each of us, up to the room for a quick tidy up and down for dinner at 7.30. Lovely food, friendly service and lots of chatting about past and present, and of course the odd glass of vino!
DAY 2 – TOUR OF DERRY
Hands across the Walls on the entry road to the city – note the GAA jersey on one of the lads!
My room/suite!!! is on the corner of Butcher St overlooking the Butcher Gate and the walls ….what a view over the walls/Bogside at night!
Leisurely breakfast before meeting with guide to walk the walls. He looked quite energetic (and later reports confirmed that he was indeed a fast mover with little patience for dawdling! Wasn’t I wise to let them away and do the wall touring myself?
There were plenty of information plaques giving relevant information.
Apprentice Boys Hall and Plaque.
and I was able to stroll at my ease and take some photos.
Windswept on the Walls!!!!
Met up with some of the returned walkers for lunch before hitting off on bus tour of Derry with Martin McCrossan.
The Peace Garden with the Eternal Flame
And boy did he know and love “his” Derry. Some of the crowd had asked about Martin McGuinness’s grave and so that was added to our tour and was our first port of call. Flowers still fresh, it was hard to comprehend that had we travelled a week earlier the funeral may nor have allowed a tour of Derry at all. The Bloody Sunday grave was adjacent.
Sas’ skills at manoeuvring the narrow street were award winning – although we had an encounter with police and ambulance services all worked out well (another story for another day).
The Road of the Bloody Sunday March
“The shirt factory horn (just up behind the trees) Called the women from the Creggan, the Moor and the Bog”
I gave the “Walking Tour of the Bogside” a miss and accompanied SAS back to the hotel – between Sas’ stories and the book I bought about the Bogside Murals, I had lots of information!!!!
Sas told about an old guy who used to sit opposite this corner day after day, in all weathers – he was the father of this girl, one of the first children to be killed during The Troubles.
Many of the Murals represents marches, the hunger strikers, etc. but there are modern murals also that celebrate PEACE and people who stand for Peace. The FREE DERRY CORNER is repainted regularly to celebrate even the different seasons, so it may not always be white!
DAY 3- HOME VIA KAVANAGH COUNTRY
After breakfast we had a free morning to catch up on some missed sights or to shop before boarding the bus for Monaghan and home.
Sas had returned to Tipperary the night before to pick up a crowd going to Wales and our new driver was a quieter guy. However, there were some on the bus who knew that part of the country and so the journey was peppered with tales of their childhoods and happenings at various locations. Reminded me of travelling with Mam and Dad – a story for every bush and stone!
We were ready for eating when we pulled into the Shirley Arms in Carrickmacross for lunch accompanied by the usual vino! Isn’t it great to be driven around????
Back to the bus for the drive to Monaghan and the Patrick Kavanagh Centre. The Centre is located in Inniskeen and was set up to commemorate the poet Patrick Kavanagh who is regarded as one of the foremost Irish poets of the 20th century. He was born in Mucker townland Inniskeen. (You can imagine some of the rhyming slang attached to that!!!! especially in his associations with Brendan Behan!!!!) We listened to some lovely stories from the guide about the exhibition – not only did she know her stuff, she knew how to entertain. Two of our own gave a rendition of “Raglan Road” before we went out to see the grave.
The guide was excellent – after all our travels and info gathering, he was still able to hold our interest as we drove through the narrow roads of Kavanagh country.
“The bicycles went by in twos and threes, There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight.”
(from Inishkeen Road by P Kavanagh)
Lots of sleeping as we headed back to Naas (and Newbridge). What a great tour, due entirely to the excellence of the organiser – she had accounted for everything – I’m a definite for next trip!!!