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2003-05-20 Glencar: A mystery place

Glencar is one of the most perfect picture-postcard beauty spots on this island of ours.

 

This fertile valley is protected on either side by steep cliffs, and a series of spectacular waterfalls topple down (or up) the rockface. When the southwest wind blows, and there has been a heavy fall of rain, the water gets blown back up the mountainside at Sruth-in-aghaidh-an- aird - sometimes called "Shrew-shrine-ore". "The cataract smokes up the mountainside" (Yeats).

 

As a boy, Glencar was for me the local place of mystery. If there was `faery life', it would have been here. Not only did waterfalls fall uphill, but further round the valley towards Benbulben if you parked your car facing up a particular slope and left the handbrake off, it would roll uphill.

 

It never seemed to work for me, I only ever succeeded in worrying the cars behind me. There was the fate of the Protestants who leaped to their deaths from Copes' mountain, and the eery atmosphere of the abandoned barytes mines - an avant-garde symphony of inexplicable creaks and ghostly moans.

The well-known Yeatsian reference to Glencar conjured up in my impressionable mind an entire world of little people - "Where the wandering water gushes from the hills above Glencar - come away o human child to the waters and the wild, with a faery hand in hand.", and as if that wasn't enough, this `human child' carried with him the vision of someone "whispering in the ears of slumbering trout, giving them unquiet dreams".

 

Glencar was one of my grandparents' favourite spots to fish, walk and picnic. On several occasions, in or beside the old boathouse, we scoffed copious amounts of home-made scones, dripping with home-made lemon curd. When I was about four, we were driving out past Doonally, under Lugnagall and Castlegal in Granny's beige Austin.

 

We had been treated as always to choc-ices. Linda and myself danced on the back seat with ours, Granny slurped hers as she tried to manoeuvre the acute bends, steering with her elbows. Then she pointed her dripping lolly stick in the direction of a rather treacherous looking scree slope and said "that's where your Granny lost her nerve".

 

For years after, I had it as my mission to go back up Castlegal and track down Granny's missing nerve, but I suppose there's not much point now really. We turned left beneath Protestant's leap, across `Glencar bump' (no longer there it's been flattened, how could they?), past the Virgin Mary and `the Barytes' down along the lake.

 

We often ventured up the spectacular mountain road wending its' way up to the top of Glencar mountain, offering some of the finest views in the county. A little tributary path half-way up took us to the Swiss Valley, a valley within a valley, formed by a giant landslip from above. I know - I have the school geography project to prove it.

 

We always visited the waterfall, Glencar's most famous feature, technically in County Leitrim. The once slippy and rather treacherous path and steps around the fall has now been made perfectly safe, while losing none of its' awe-inspiring drama. I love being almost part of this powerful torrent as it cascades to the deep plunge-pool below, the spray lightly moistening my skin.

 

I remember calling in with my grandparents to old Mr Siberry in his thatched cottage nextdoor, but even I am not old enough to remember when they used to serve teas beside the waterfall, though seemingly this was moved indoors sometimes to avoid the rain and the midge. Crannogs are in abundance on Irish lakes and in particular in South Sligo, but Glencar also has a crannog, purported to have been constructed by Diarmuid to hide his lovely Graínne. In the early 11th century the Glencar cra¡nnog was the scene of a tragic burning of some local clansmen.

 

I remember having several tranquil sylvan strolls on the far side of the lake, opposite the boathouse, though I have heard sadly it is no longer a public right-of-way. I am not sure it was then. On the way back home, the upper high road, the N16, offers splendid views of the valley, the Dartry range, Drumcliffe and Sligo bay. This `human child' (artistic licence), as he writes this, is longing once again for `the waters and the wild' of lovely Glencar.