‘The Hills of Donegal’
‘Hill’ being my mother’s maiden name, this phrase has often proven the source of some quality punnage and cheap jokes in my family, any relatives hailing from that side automatically being granted free entry into the category so often sung about towards the end of a drunken night out in Coppers.
I came to visit some of the Hills of Donegal recently for an extended long weekend, in order to escape the haste and mind-melting suffocation of the suburbs of Dublin, and hopefully find some sort of respite. What I found here I still can’t quite put my finger on, but I just know it has been good for my soul.
Home to fairy forts, ancient standing stones, a world war 2 crash site, isolated, pristine beaches and a round tower said to date back to the time of Niall of the Nine-Hostages, the area surrounding Dunree and Buncrana where my godfather lives is truly a treat to explore. Given my haste to leave the capitol, I foolishly packed an assortment of ill-suited clothing for my undefined stay, and so on my arrival I was forced to borrow a warm fleece, and buy the cheapest set of leggings I could find in the local Sainsbury’s just over the Derry border to wear under my thin Summer-dress and tights.
Once I was properly kitted out, (for though the weather was actually fine, a cool breeze cuts through most types of clothing at any time of the year around here), we headed off down the beach for a glimpse of the sunset, after one of the first days this year when the sun has been properly visible for over a couple of minutes at a time. The battery on my phone had died after a painstaking 4-hour bus journey (NEVER travel with Bus Éireann), so you’ll just have to take my word for it without pictures – but it was beautiful.
The cottage itself is exactly what you’d expect for such a rural area – a large, cosy living area with both a turf fire and a huge range that when lit provides heating for the rest of the house too, and a slanting garden home to various plant pits, a huge greenhouse, and an impressive ‘bonfire area’ as they call it, used for parties and gatherings of local musicians and other vagabonds during the summer months. The road down to the right outside the gate leads down to a beach so large and isolated that it makes the Salthill prom appear like a kindergarden’s rockpool. This (even though it’s only April) has been the hottest day of the year so far – where are all the people??
Apparantly, this is one of the Northern-most beaches in the area, and so by the time sun-soakers reach the turn to come down here, they have already passed numerous opportune locations to spend the day roaming the sands and taking ‘shellfies’ with the local marine-life, leaving local inhabitants of Dunree free to bask in the isolated beauty of their beach without having to worry about careless carts of unsupervised children and other littering tourists – it really is a special place.
When the tide is low, there are caves and rockpools to be explored that lead around the coastline to the right of the beach, continuing on jutting in and out dangerously, yet they consistently draw my gaze as I wander up and down the sands, dodging jetstreams in futile attempts to keep my pathetic Penney’s tennis shoes dry. This is what I needed. This is where I should be right now.
Whatever your understanding of or the scientific explanation behind the sensation of ‘Déja Vú’, my aunt’s continued referral to it as ‘a sign that you are in the place you are meant to be’ comes back to me even now, and I can’t deny that there is a solace and truth in her words that ring true for me when in Dunree. I experienced Déja Vú an unusual number of times this weekend, and given that I’d only ever visited here once before as a gangly, awkward teenager who complained about every last step that had to be taken outside in the rain (even if it meant a breathtaking view at the end of the road), I found it increasingly strange and began to believe her words more and more each time it occurred. I am comfortable here. I am at peace. I am not entirely warm, but nor am I cold.
I’ve experienced a glimpse of the balance, calmness, and joy there is to be gotten out of life, if you just stop to recognise it. Because I must leave soon and return to normal life at home (if you can call it normal), I know that it won’t last. But then, I am also aware that nothing lasts. Nothing stays the same, and while I enjoy the peace and collectiveness there is to be found in this place, my sense of self and purpose being more pronounced than they have been in ages, I know I must return. I must go back, and face the inevitable shift into another reality that I may or may not be comortable with. I’ll have to wait and see.