On one level, this blog is a memoir, an autobiography of a slight adventure which took me from the polite society of Bath to one of the last great wildernesses in the British Isles, an empty corner of an empty corner of Ireland. On another, it is an attempt to make sense of a relationship between identity and landscape which is so intense that it still surprises me.
Other outsiders found the fragment of County Mayo that is Erris long before I came here, and I want to understand their experiences, the stories that tumble down every mountain and crash against every mile of seashore. Spaniards from the Armada were shipwrecked here more than four centuries ago; earnest Victorian anthropologists spent their summers measuring the bemused population to discover if they were examples of the legendary ‘Africanoid Celt’. Nationalists and philanthropists, Regency bucks and pioneering archaeologists and giants of twentieth-century literature all fell under the spell of what the Tudors described as ‘the remotest of all places’ and the nineteenth century dismissed as ‘a land of no promise’. Why? What is it about this land of no promise which promises so much?
That question is at the heart of what I’m trying to do, just as it is at the heart of the place itself. Every time I leave Erris, I ask myself how it would be if I never went back. The past would still be there, and the mountains and the sound of the waves and the hare glimpsed as it bounds over the blanket bog. All that would change would be my absence, an emptiness where I once was.
That loss would mean nothing to Erris. It would mean the world to me.