A magical bay where being there is enough
IT’S that time of the year, three weeks gone and I’ve not been to Ireland yet; more specifically, Connemara in the far, far, West of Galway, that magical place where, ‘Being there, is enough’.
The place hooked me from day one, and until my last breath there will be an unseen and unheard calling, perhaps a little like the voice heard by migrating geese, and it says: “See you on Dog’s Bay.”
I’ve lost count of the number of people I have taken to sample the delights of this arc of white sand, always followed by a good lunch at O’Dowd’s in village of Roundstone, the domain of one Roy Green and his family; chowder to die for, and Guinness to live for.
The beauty of taking someone else to these special places is that you can experience it all again for the first time in their eyes as they light up with delight, and no amount of description before you arrive can prepare you for Dog’s Bay, not least because almost without fail something new happens each time, so it’s always a double-hit for me.
I’ll give you my three best moments on the Bay, and then you’ll need to go and experience your own; my children’s faces when they first saw the place, sanderlings are up there too, and I might struggle to pick three, rather like you might when attempting to pick your favourite songs, but here goes, and in no particular order.
On the far side of the Bay, over my right shoulder and hidden in the shifting dune, is a shell midden, the left-over fireplace of a group of Neolithic shorewanderers who stopped off here 7,000 years ago.
The midden, a grey strata in the white sand, is simply the ashes from a fire over which were cooked all manner of seafood, including mussels and the very chewy limpets; I just loved the notion that, if you touched one of the discarded shells which become visible after a storm, the last person to handle the shell was a stone-age man or woman. Several years ago while showing a friend this midden I saw what appeared to be a shiny stone emerging from the sand. On investigation it turned out to be the knuckle-end of a cow’s leg bone. Not much to shout about one may think, however, it was possible to see where the bone had been smashed to allow access to the nutritious marrow, maybe five, six or even seven thousand years ago. What makes this find even more exciting is that, the bone comes from the time when our ancestors were beginning to domesticate farm animals. This meal could have been prepared by the first livestock farmers in Ireland.
Although the brown hare has now been introduced to Ireland, they have their own distinct species of mountain hare, which is different to the UK mountain or blue hare, as it does not change to white during the winter, and besides ‘different’ is the operative word. On the far side of Dog’s Bay, and indeed beyond the other stretch of white beach immediately over the dunes, Gorteen Strand, there is a small peninsular which is almost cut off from the mainland and I believe that the hares here, have developed their own dark, almost burnt reddychocolate colour on the back, some almost with a black swathe the length of the spine. When they get up and make off across the close-cropped machair, it’s a wonderful sight to behold.
And lastly for today, and by no means least, there was the time when I called at the bay on my way home, a sort of ‘good-bye for now visit’. I was alone and just about to drop my seat back for a kip when a movement above the water caught my eye. It was a breaching bottle-nosed dolphin, soon joined by six or seven more and I was treated to an amazing show of acrobatics, and also what can only be described as ‘play’, as two of the dolphins took it in turns to flick large flat-fish up in the air with the beaks and tail fins.
Some people go to Blackpool every year for 40 years, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for me, it’s Dog’s Bay.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop
●● On Dog’s Bay, Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland