First impressions can be surprisingly accurate, though they often get buried with time and familiarity. So on our 11th anniversary of arriving in Ireland it’s good to remember which aspects of this beautiful country wowed me in the first few weeks. Many of them are clichés – the green, the friendliness and oh the weather – but no apologies for that when a cliché is just an opinion or expression shared by lots of people so hey, it has its place.
There’s one thing, though, that’s never dulled with familiarity: the sight of dry stone walls wriggling over fields and hills as you travel west. With walls getting such a bad press recently (the Trumplan to keep out Mexicans and Canadians, the refugee-proof fences around Europe) Ireland’s dry stone walls are the most beautiful boundaries you can imagine. Instead of harsh isolation, they suggest community and connection, the gift-wrap round parcels of land. I know that’s soppy, especially on learning that many were built after the famine on the back of untold agony, but their curving cuddle of the landscape is so comforting. It’s astonishing, too, to think that stone walls have marked out the Ceide Fields, a five-square mile patch of land in County Mayo, for nearly four thousand years. For reasons I can’t and don’t want to explain, that’s makes me feel so grateful, safe and honoured to be starting my 12th year in Ireland.
The ultimate dry stone wall: the Gallarus Oratory in Kerry has stayed waterproof and withstood Atlantic storms for up to a thousand years