Tarago Diaries #10 – Irish Lumper

Mark Seymour on his travels to Ireland to catch up with his brother Nick.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 10 June 2019.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/1983108028462193?__tn__=K-R


Article Text

To see the smile on my brother’s face..

30 hours between here and his door with all the hold- overs in between. Hotels, departure gates, the Dubai drop in and a three hour train ride north west into Sligo county.

He lives in Ireland, in an old bluestone schoolhouse near the village of ‘Easkey’ on a narrow stretch of road surrounded by cows. And not much else, ‘cept for a castle on the beach and other stone ruins..

And there’s surf. He’s right on the north coast not far from a gun left-hander. I packed my booties.

It was a spur of the moment decision to see my brother which doesn’t happen much. Squeezed in at the end of a long patch of songwriting. Got sick of pulling teeth.

I’ll miss the election though. Voted a week ago. So there’ll be no boozy night in front of flat screen. No political carnage to witness. I think vaguely about the footy. That’ll be missed too.

1.30 AM. Departure gate closed. There’s no one here.

People arrive in a dribble. Mumbling. Dressed randomly in odd colours. Silver puffer jackets, green jumpers, pink jeans, sensible footware and a distinct lack of branding. Except for English football. Manchester et al.

Is that an Irish thing?

Could be. The end point being Dublin.

There’s a sign at the gate.. ‘Plain clothes police patrol this area’. At this hour?

Last time I went to Ireland the IRA was bombing London. 28 years ago.

The Brits have always found the Irish ‘difficult’. Extraction, eviction, sectarian bastardry, you name it, the Brits have thrown the lot at them, deploying all sorts of contrived legality to justify what was basically a land grab drawn out over several hundred years. And why? Because Ireland was and still is, a bread basket.

But the Irish have always stood up. By whatever means. Not even the Potato famine was enough to quell the sedition.

Under English law, they were progressively squeezed into ever decreasing parcels of land and the potato became their sole source of food.

By the mid 19th century, 80 percent of them were living on it.

The ‘Irish Lumper’.

Enter some random fungal attack, the lumper rotted in the wet earth and a million died over six years.

But even at the height of the carnage, while punters literally fell as they walked the roads looking for food, the British extraction rolled on. Livestock, bacon, ham, peas, onions, beans, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey, tongues, animal skins, shoes, soap, glue, and seed.

No potatoes though..

In the end the bastardy was too outrageous to accept. And it triggered the terminal decline of British authority. There was no way back.

So now to Dublin.

A cheap hotel right in the guts and a pizza stand opposite the post office. I eat walking at dusk along Talbot Street passed charity tables giving out clothing and food, old Victorian shop fronts made of scarred red brick, lonely drinkers spilling out of pub doorways..

then across the river, away from the squalid leaky shop fronts to the grand Victorian buildings of the elite. The Bank Of Ireland, Trinity college. Clearly the Brits were planning on hanging around.

I got lost, crossed the river twice and saw the following inscribed on a brick wall behind a rusty playground:

‘We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be sovereign and indefensible.’

The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.’

Some bloke walks passed and catches me iphoning it, guesses I’m not from around here..

“Yeah laddie…You’ll be right with all of that. Remember it now.”

Next day the train rolls north west into the wet fields, stone farm houses, lichen bound lanes and hedges, sheep and cattle lying on boggy ground.

The bread basket.

All is covered with intense furious growth, leaf and grass, climbing everything. Branches, the sides of houses.

All is soft to the Australian eye. There are no hard edges, no horizon to speak of. Perhaps a glimpse of some far off peak but otherwise the ground swallows the sky.

We pause at stone station houses, where young people climb on and off. They smile and laugh. A lot. And strangely they say hello, out of sheer, well I don’t know what it is. In a friendly, random off-hand way, for no other reason than to acknowledge your existence. Also Un-Australian I think. Or at least the Australia I know..

The driver gets out at ‘Boyle’ for a fag. A thin gaunt face in a blue driver’s cap, glances round, climbs back in and gets on the blower to explain the delay. It’s like a chat over dinner..

“Oooh and by the way, there’s another train coming in the opposite direction,”

Just in case you’re wondering.

Off at Calooney Station. I’m the only one. Another stone house, a bridge and nothing else but oak trees and the sound of cooing pigeons coming from across the line…

My brother said 2.20 but the train’s early, so I’m wandering up and down the lane outside watching for an old white land rover with a rusty roof he said. It begins to drizzle a light misty rain..

The whine of the four-cylinder diesel coming into view ‘round the bend at the bottom of the hill.

Nick’s face though the windscreen.


Next day:

He decides it would be good for me to climb Knocknarea, a bald cruel hill to the east of Nick’s gaff. ‘Round here the hills are like that. They rise up unexpectedly, treeless and hard. Great smooth slopes once covered in ice a kilometre deep.

The north Atlantic is merciless. The blast roars up from far below and cuts right through our aching bodies, wasted from committing the entirely predictable offence of getting hammered on arrival the night before at the village pub. There was a crowd. A lot of yelling and laughter. And Guinness of course. To remind me where I was.

I do not recommend this kind of behavior by the way. It is utterly pointless. To be avoided at all costs.

Remember that.

In the midst of the noise I vaguely wondered how the Australian election was going as we yelled hilarious bullshit at each other. I might even have mentioned it once. Can’t think to whom. Got an “Oh that sounds interesting” and that was it.

We clear a small pine plantation, both of us gasping, then stop to gaze back down at the town below, Strandhill and the surf beyond which is understandably rubbish given the wind.

“Wonder how the election went.”



and then begin the last pitch to the summit, up a thousand wooden steps set into the slope for ease of movement ‘cept it isn’t easy at all. It’s awful.

Apparently at the top, which we can’t see yet, because it’s shrouded in mist, there lies the body of some pagan monarch know as Queen Maeve who, long before Jesus walked the earth, ruled these lands with rat cunning and great authority.

There are two versions of Queen Maeve:

She was cruel and merciless, had inconvenient people slaughtered left, right and center and had many sexual partners who all seemed to die conveniently, always to her advantage.

Or, the positive uplifting version, that she was a sovereign goddess. A kind of mystical warrior queen of Celtic culture respected by all.

Depends on your politics I think.

Love and hate aside aside though, the locals revered her so much that when she finally died they buried her up here in the mist 2,500 years ago and have dumped rocks on her body ever since.

Apparently they’re still doing it.

Nick tells me all this as we grind up the steps just so I get the point as to why we’re even bothering. Every so often he stops and starts waving his arms around. The further we go the louder he gets and the more out for breath.

“So now you’ve got this gigantic mound of rubble sitting on the top of Knocknorea, goddamnit..Visible for hundreds of kilometres. It’s amazing.”

Reminds me of Attenborough. Declaiming into the North Atlantic wind. Hair everywhere.

And suddenly there it is. A giant mound of stones in the middle of a barren field rearing up above us. It’s a bloody heavy place. Full of cold, ancient desolation. You could be anywhere. Tibet even. (I’ve been there by the way.. had a similar affect on the breathing as I recall.)

There’s a sign telling punters not to climb on the mound even though there are foot-worn tracks going up.

Instantly I’m reminded of Uluru. Respect asked for but not necessarily given.

We are reduced to silence by the awe of it. The rolling green land spread out far below us and this on top of it.

This tower of power.

“They must’ve respected her,” I think Nick said.

“Yep. Either way you spin it.”

Right then my phone starts buzzing.

Really? There’s signal up here? Pull it out.

A message from back home: “DON’S PARTY…”