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June 2019
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2005-04-12 Jack Russel rolls again at Union Wood

The meandering path was littered with conifer branches, layered with a thick carpet of fresh golden straw. It was Good Friday.


My mother passed away on Good Friday 2002, and it seemed relevant on several levels that I was climbing a palm-covered walkway - my own Palm Sunday/Good Friday pilgrimage - the entry into Jerusalem and ascent of Calvary, all rolled into one. I had heard of a special Easter Sunday mass to be celebrated on top of Union Rock, and guessed that the approach to the crest had been meticulously prepared for the adventurous congregation two days later.


Congratulations to the Sligo churches over the Easter period, on their inventive new ways of attracting people to worship - an uplifting Union Rock mass, an inspirational Easter morning service at Half-Moon Bay, and an alive, well-thought-out Holy Week in the Church of Ireland parishes. Has the arrival of alternative faiths made the Christian Church work a little harder to prove its relevance?


Possibly. And it's working.


It had been a few years since I had been on top of Union Rock - once or twice it had eluded me. Left at the Carraroe roundabout, immediatley left and right again at Tonaforte behind Carraroe Church, out past the new Drumaskibbole by-pass, I parked as always at the Union Wood gate, just before Ballygawley lake. If you make the short trip, bring a well-charged mobile in case you get lost, and some walking boots for the at times uneven and muddy terrain.


Trust me, my creamy Armani jeans and deck shoes have just about lived to tell the tale.There are several possible approaches to the top - just keep heading for the highest point in the wood, over to the right from the Ballygawley gate, towards the sound of the N4 traffic. Even if you never make it to Union Rock, Union Wood is a beautiful forest walk/run. The face of the forest constantly changes. As trees are cleared, new ones are planted. The deeper in you go, the more rewarding the walk becomes. Swallow the scent of the pines; experience the surround-sound bird-song counterpoint.


The view from the top of Union Rock on Good Friday was perfect. The 360º vista stretched from Markree demesne, past Ocean's `perfect music mix', stretching back to the Bricklieaves and the Curlews, to Collooney and the Teeling monument, the majestic Ox, Ballisodare village and bay, Portavaud, Dromard, across to a thin distant strip of gold at Culleenamore and Strandhill, Knocknarea, Sligo, to a hazy Slieve League across Donegal Bay, Benbulben and the Dartry Range, Glencar, Castlegal, and Slieves Dargan and Daeane. Union's igneous outcrop glinted in the Good Friday sun. Around the rock rested an expansive wreath of heathers and rhododendrons.


I sat for a few moments with the dogs, inhaling the fresh forest air. An alien odour began to pervade my nasal cavities. I looked down onto my lap - a grateful Jack Russell had snuggled in. Straight away, the source of the disagreeable stench became apparent. As always, a brown mark on the side of her snow-white neck gave the game away - she had rolled, again. What is it with terriers and rolling?


I believe that if a Jack Russell was to spend two minutes in a pristine minimalist city-centre show apartment, or perhaps an empty metal crate, they would sniff out something offensive, and come out smelling of deceased seagull or putrid mackerel. In a sanitised operating theatre, they would head straight for the recycle bin. This leads me to my theory, that terriers hide tiny perfume bottles in their snugglers at nightime, bottles acquired from an undercover `Terrier-scent factory'. When they hear the magical word "Walk", they quickly conceal a scent bottle in a hidden pouch on their underbelly, and jump into the car playfully.


On the way home, when their owners are least expecting it, they whip out the bottle. The innocent muddy stain in an instant whiffs of perhaps the fragrant "Odeur de mouton expire", or the sensual "Parfum de la mouette morte", or for the more mature terrier, the sophisticated "Caca Renard", or the provocative, alluring and somewhat inescapable scent of "Merde humain". (I knew my French degree would come in handy sometime).Anyway, before long, she was once again smelling of Bergamot Bodywash, and any brown patches she had on her pristine white coat had been there from birth.