Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A day on the hill

It had rained in sheets for 40 days and 40 nights. At last, the downpour subsided and the level of the flood began to fall. The tip of Carrantuohill mountain, Ireland's highest, emerged like a tiny island in the sea, and Noah made for it. As he stepped ashore from the ark he met a rain-drenched Irishman, who greeted him: "A fine soft day, thanks be to God."

A fine soft day, indeed. For the past five days we have enjoyed a rare spell of glorious sunny weather, and yesterday we made for the summit of Carrantuohill, over there across Dingle Bay, up the Devil's Ladder, down through the Eagle's Nest.

If you want to know Ireland's past you must explore its hills. On the flanks of hills are the ruined homesteads of Catholic farmers driven onto the island's most inhospitable land by the English. On the crests of low hills, such as Tara, are the seats of Irish kings, from the time before English dominance. On the higher summits of the west are megalithic tombs, dolmens, and stone forts that take us back to the myths and legends of Irish prehistory, even to the time when Cessair, granddaughter of Noah, supposedly set foot on Irish soil at Ballinskelligs Bay, near the foot of Carrantuohill.