Travel book review: Wandering Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Wandering Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, from Banba’s Crown to World’s End.
Paul Clements
Published by The Collins Press £11.99/€12.99

It was obviously a joy for this prolific writer to delve into the facts and fantasies of the beautiful West of Ireland and the rich myths hidden along the coast line. And every now and again a modern legend like Pascal Whelan pops up, the last man living on the tiny island of Omey Co. Galway; he lives alone with a corncrake in the garden and his dog Rex in a somewhat battered mobile home in the townland of Gooreenatinny at the tip of the island. Over a glass or two of red wine his story unfolds and the author heard how Pascal had travelled the world as a professional wrestler and a film and theatre stuntman, films like Live and Let Die, Butch Cassidy and Crocodile Dundee. A character with a fascinating if solitary lifestyle.

Clements writing is very visual, you can see what he’s talking about, the pyramids of fresh hay, shimmering lakes, Connemara bogs and the rain. His story sweeps you round the Wild Atlantic Way and his journey takes him to find the original Wild Atlantic Woman, the sixteenth-century chieftain Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connacht. In Westport he meets the queen’s fourteenth great granddaughter Lady Sheelyn Browne who gives him a history lesson of the time and place. Sitting in Westport House built in 1730, surrounded by statues and engravings, portraits of aristocratic family members, Paul writes that he feels he’s wandered onto the set of a television period drama recreating a scene from 150 years ago.

This contrasts well with his meeting with Gaelic scholar Monsignor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, former Professor of Irish and head of the faculty of Celtic Studies at NUI Maynooth for 34 years. Now, at 89 years of age and having translated the Bible into Irish, he has just embarked, via his computer keyboard, on translating Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on global warming.

This is a travel book you’d do well to have in your back pocket next time you visit the West coast of Ireland, from Malin Head to Skibbereen it uncovers a lot of little secrets. It’s also a history book as he has teased out so much information from those he meets, everyone it seems has a story to tell, whether some are embellished or not doesn’t matter, they are entertaining and surely have a modicum of truth.

But one man towers over all others and his story fascinated Clements. The Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir stands tall over looking the north coast of County Derry, a six foot steel statue that was cut down it appeared by angle grinding Christian fundamentalists, people who couldn’t bear to see this powerful mythical Celtic god of the sea, arms outstretched calming the waves.

 

The Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir
The Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir
 
From November 2014 Paul Clements walked, drove and cycled the west coast meeting people for nine months and in all seasons. He even walked the 2.2 miles of the Leitrim coast line and at one stage a horse called Guinness carried him along the peaceful byways. When Paul returned home to Belfast last August it was straight to the computer and, from numerous notebooks, he began writing this excellent book.

By Anne Hailes

Details of other books by Paul Clements at www.collinspress.ie

Post Author: Jeff

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