This charm­ing pas­toral mem­oir about an Ir­ish ac­tor’s jour­ney to be­com­ing a ru­ral house-hus­band is full of mud-splashed anec­dotes and sparkling na­ture writ­ing, writes HI­LARY A WHITE

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -


or many young pro­fes­sion­als and fledg­ling fam­i­lies in Dublin, house prices in the cap­i­tal are mak­ing the very con­cept of buy­ing prop­erty within strik­ing dis­tance of the city lim­its a fan­tasy. Sit­ting in bumper-to-bumper in­er­tia on a grim Mon­day morn­ing pro­vides much time to con­sider this along with soar­ing rents, clogged thor­ough­fares, un­re­li­able pub­lic trans­port, blast­ing sirens and bro­ken glass as part of the gen­eral equa­tion of city life. Is a city post­code en­tirely worth it any­more?

Thus, many are look­ing to satel­lite towns and com­muter belts in neigh­bour­ing coun­ties where more gen­tle economics and a qui­eter vista ea­gerly await the chance of some ru­ral com­mu­nity re­plen­ish­ment. Philip Judge, an Ir­ish-born UK ac­tor who set­tled in Wick­low with his wife and two chil­dren, has writ­ten a de­but that cer­tainly strikes while this iron is hot, in­ad­ver­tently mak­ing him some­thing of a poster boy for em­brac­ing wellies and log fires and cock­ing a snook at grid­lock, clam­pers and €6 pints.

Judge ad­mits to be­ing a life­long ur­ban­ite be­fore the move back to his na­tive Dublin from the UK and then on to deep­est, dark­est Wick­low, where he and his “beloved” bought a cot­tage across the val­ley from Sli­abh Buí (the Yel­low Moun­tain of the ti­tle). A role in a West End pro­duc­tion of Danc­ing at Lugh­nasa and Mary Robin­son’s beck­on­ing can­dle­light in the win­dow of the Áras helped draw him home, in­cit­ing a whole­sale but fun­da­men­tally or­ganic re­con­nec­tion that is sump­tu­ously mapped-out here.

A job­bing ac­tor meant — as it does for a great many actors — long stretches nei­ther job­bing nor act­ing. This al­lowed time to train as the ar­che­typal ru­ral house-hus­band for a new age, as at home chop­ping wood and sow­ing seeds as swirling a glass of Côtes du Rhône. Judge takes in a year of Wick­low life book­ended by the har­vest wealth of Lugh­nasa. The sea­sons bring with them dif­fer­ent du­ties and chal­lenges, as well as a chang­ing land­scape both out­side the cot­tage win­dow and in­side his own con­sti­tu­tion.

Never, how­ever, is In Sight of Yel­low Moun­tain a smug, self-im­por­tant gloat about how lit­tle ur­ban­ites un­der­stand or how once you’ve grown your own spuds, you’ll never look back. Judge, who has a litany of TV and stage cred­its to his name, im­bues ev­ery­thing with a dev­il­ish hu­mour of which he is usu­ally the brunt. Lis­ten­ing (and this is very much a con­ver­sa­tional mem­oir) to him re­lay mud-splashed anec­dotes about lend­ing his neigh­bour some hands-on

A gen­tle and ef­fort­less mo­men­tum be­gins to es­tab­lish it­self as ev­ery­thing rolls along from sea­son to sea­son

as­sis­tance with live­stock or deal­ing with a nest of rats un­der the chicken coop makes his gritty de­ter­mi­na­tion to win the county chut­ney-mak­ing con­test all the more be­mus­ing and, in truth, charm­ing.

Plenty of au­thors can write just as well as Judge but you rarely see them do so with as much un­forced rhythm and con­fi­dence on their maiden voy­age.

A gen­tle and ef­fort­less mo­men­tum be­gins to es­tab­lish it­self as ev­ery­thing rolls along from sea­son to sea­son. The ef­fect is bliss­ful, beau­ti­ful and fre­quently laugh-out-loud. The de­scrip­tions of the flora and fauna at his doorstep are ren­dered into bril­liant life by some sparkling na­ture writ­ing as he reports back on drowsy sum­mer­time oak trees, nest­ing swal­lows and the chang­ing colour scheme of the om­nipresent Sli­abh Buí. There’s also the small mat­ter of the richly di­verse hu­man wildlife in his midst.

This is wed­ded to the pithy ob­ser­vance and wit of James Her­riot and non-fic­tion Dou­glas Adams as he rolls up his sleeves and gets out of his depth (“The farmer friends had told me that male lambs at a cer­tain age pro­duce testos­terone. Well, nat­u­rally they would, I thought, I can re­late to that. They also told me this gave their meat a strong, gamey flavour which could only be pre­vented by cas­tra­tion. I couldn’t re­ally re­late to that”).

Like all the best pas­toral mem­oirs, it is the cli­mate pat­terns and soil com­po­si­tion of the self that is an­chor­ing ev­ery­thing. Judge is a sin­cere and mea­sured mem­oirist who por­trays him­self as ben­e­fit­ing from the struc­ture and earth­i­ness that a coun­try life with his fam­ily has pro­vided. This per­vades even as cater­pil­lars are ran­sack­ing the veg­etable gar­den or, as de­tailed in one wildly funny pas­sage, the sep­tic tank starts eu­phemisti­cally “act­ing up”. Be­tween the boun­teous cel­e­bra­tions of Lugh­nasa and the re­gen­er­at­ing early glow of Beal­taine, Nol­laig finds Judge con­tem­plat­ing the Po­laroids of his own child­hood Christ­mases and the gilded echo cham­ber his two sons pro­vide. Un­less you have a heart of stone, this is all deeply touch­ing, as are the core nar­ra­tive punc­tu­a­tion pro­vided by watch­ing “Older Boy” and “Younger Boy” de­velop.

There are recipes to round off each sea­son — ev­ery­thing from el­der­berry cor­dial to pheas­ant curry — that con­trib­ute to a very comely, lived-in feel to this ti­tle. There are in­trigu­ing so­journs into an­cient Celtic mytholo­gies and ru­ral tra­di­tions that are done with the clar­ity and rigour you of­ten feel only the blow-in is truly ca­pa­ble of. And there is, per­haps most im­por­tantly, a story of a man try­ing to pro­vide for his fam­ily out­side of the rat race while do­ing right by the en­vi­ron­ment around him.

If we are to stem the widen­ing dis­con­nect be­tween our in­creas­ingly ur­banised so­ci­ety and the nat­u­ral world, voices such as this may play an im­por­tant role.

Change of script: Judge has swapped tread­ing the boards for don­ning wellies

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