A Writer's Ireland
Kindly contributed by Julie Christine Johnson, the author of The Crows of Beara, a novel about a woman who happily embarks on a work trip to Ireland's Beara Peninsula, eager to escape her failing marriage and her troubled past. She is tasked with promoting a new copper mine and comes head-to-head with a local artist, who is working to block the mine. Despite their opposing motivations, the two find themselves drawn to each other. Johnson is very familiar with the Beara Peninsula-- this is her ode to the beautiful region.
May 2002. My first trip to Ireland. Alone, I join a small group of strangers to hike the Beara peninsula, West Cork. I fall deeply in love with a land of impossible greens, of peaches-and-cream sunrises and salmon-flesh sunsets, of lashing rain and wind, always wind.
On the flight home two weeks later, I turn my face to the window and sob. I am as if torn from a lover, forever. Ireland has changed me. Beara has given me a sense of peace and wholeness I have never before experienced.
The years pass and I return to Ireland several times, hiking the Wicklow Way, Connemara, the Dingle and Kerry peninsulas; exploring Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Kenmare, Tralee. But Beara remains a dream crystallized in photographs and memories.
I dream of a land of poetry and legends, of An Cailleach, Clan Ó Súilleabháin, St. Caitighearn; a land of sky and water where battles were fought on gorse-cloaked mountains and warriors marked their Ogham runes on tall pillars. Where the ruined shadows of a British Coast Guard station destroyed by the IRA in 1920 pale against the shadows of history cast by circles of ancient altars—these slabs of stone sculpted by Bronze Age hands now scratching posts for the russet and inky-black flanks of Angus and Friesian.
I dream of villages where rows of Crayon-bright houses march up narrow streets, lace curtains fluttering in open windows. Where breath-stealing laughter falls from open pub doors, chased by heart-stealing songs.
I dream of a humped, ragged block of stone perched on hill overlooking Ballycrovane Harbor. One edge resembles the profile of a woman, her furrowed brow arched over a proud nose, her gaze fixed on the Atlantic Ocean. She is An Cailleach Bheara, the Hag of Beara, mother of Ireland. Her story is Ireland's story, her survival the enduring drama of a tortured land of legendary beauty.
I dream of a hiker high on the Slieve Miskish, peering into the green and blue infinity, boots soaked through with bog, fingers wrapped around a trekking pole, pack cinched around her waist like a lover's arms. She is so happy she could explode from the very fullness of her heart.
Thirteen years after that first trip to the Beara peninsula, I'm in a blue room at an artist’s retreat center outside Eyeries. Bookshelves line the walls, bursting with novels and poetry collections. Tucked in bed, I watch the sun sink behind distant hills until suddenly it is morning.And I set forth to revisit the land of my dreams, discovering it anew.
Fifteen years after that first trip to the Beara peninsula, I celebrate the release of my second novel, The Crows of Beara, a work shaped by this place of incomparable beauty and spirit.
Author selfie with sheep.