Celtic Illumination, part 273, Away with the fairies.
I suppose most of you would consider losing your car the day before you are about to take your family on a massive road trip to be a bit of a setback. These were the days before mobile telephones; we were sailing out from Liverpool to Belfast the following morning. Getting myself and the family, plus our luggage, to the boat at Liverpool was no great problem, it was the Belfast to Warrenpoint part of the journey that was going to be a problem. I knew that I could telephone my mother and she could probably find someone to give us a lift but, I couldn’t be sure she would be successful and I also knew that if I did ask her she would immediately enter panic stations and the problem would be blown out of all proportion.
I needed to know that transport would be waiting for us when we arrived in Belfast on the Friday evening. There were two people I could contact who I knew would respond, not just in a positive way, but who treat the matter as if it happened every day. Can you hear the banjo’s yet? I telephoned Phelim. It was a short conversation that ran something along the lines of, “Phelim, how are you doing?” “Not too bad, what can I do for you?” “I need picking up from the Liverpool boat tomorrow night in Belfast, about eight o clock.” “Right ye are. Just you?” “No, me and the family.” “Right. See you tomorrow night.” They say that the sign of a true friend is that you can meet after years and just pick up as if nothing had happened.
I was able to relax and know that our journey from our wee house to Warrenpoint was now guaranteed, all I had to worry about now was making sure the children didn’t go overboard on the crossing. As it was a day time crossing there was not the usual drunkenness and fights that I had been so used to on previous journeys. It was interesting sitting there, as a civilian, spotting all the military personnel who were trying to blend in. When we arrived in Belfast I didn’t want to blend in I wanted to disappear. I’m sure that most of you are aware of a problem in Northern Ireland that has been raging on now for forty plus years. People from Northern Ireland refer to it as ‘The Troubles,’ which is a bit of an understatement when you are talking about forty odd years of murder and mayhem.
Basically there are two tribes in Northern Ireland who are constantly at each other’s throats. Each tribe likes to mark out their territory with flags and bunting and even painting the kerbs of the pavements. Apart from marking out their territory it also intimidates any person not belonging to that tribe, warning them that they are in danger. The docks in Belfast were in a Unionist area so the kerb stones were painted red, white and blue. Every lamp post would carry a union jack, or some form of unionist flag and red white and blue bunting would sag between buildings and lamp posts. Don’t think that this was a bright and colourful display for they would all have been worn by the weather and would have grey edges with many being in tatters.
All I could see, as could most other people in the place, sitting in the middle of this sea of red white and blue, was a huge mini bus. The actual vehicle was a dark colour but stood out like the proverbial sore thumb as emblazoned along each side in bright yellow letters were the words ‘Sinn Fein.’ Thankfully Irene didn’t realise the significance of it all and helped me bundle the children and luggage into the mini bus. It would have been seen as an act of total defiance for such a vehicle to be sitting in the middle of an unionist area, I only hoped that Phelim drove as fast as he used to for we needed to get that vehicle out of that area as quickly as we possibly could.
As we left Belfast and began to head South on the motorway Phelim and Peter began to explain that they knew I had said I was bringing my family but they didn’t know how many people were in my family which is why they had brought the mini bus. It was the mini bus the families of interned IRA men used to visit their loved ones in Long Kesh or Maghaberry prisons. I couldn’t believe it, not too long before this I had been sitting in Wallingford with an ex SAS man being offered money to blow someone’s head off. Now here I was, ex British forces, being ferried about in an IRA mini bus. I hoped we were not stopped by any army checkpoints as this one would take an awful lot of explaining away.
Thankfully we arrived safely in Warrenpoint, but what else could you expect from a pair of good ol boys. It was late so we parted and promised to see Phelim and Peter the following day. I had spent an awful long time preparing for this trip. Not this actual trip but on getting my children to Ireland. I wanted them to find it as exciting and as wonderful as I did. Each of my children had, and still do have, their very own little leprechaun. Normally they sit in a row above the television set in our living room. Quite often, before going to bed, I would hide the leprechauns around the house so that the following morning the children would know that the leprechauns had not managed to get back to their shelf before daylight broke and would begin to search for them.
I would always have my eyes open for tiny little brass things. We had told the children that if the leprechauns had anything gold with them it would turn to brass, so I had collected tiny little harps and picks and shovels which I went out and hid in the garden, but not too well. My mother was a little confused the following morning as the children wanted to get out into the garden before eating their breakfast. It was wonderful seeing their faces as they found these items that the leprechauns had left behind, I hoped I could keep it up. In the village next door to Warrenpoint, Rostrevor, is The Fairy Glen. By Saturday lunch time the children were scouring the Fairy Glen looking for leprechauns. It was brilliant. The Fairy Glen is a pathway running alongside a small river and a very pleasant walk.
Ever since my first visit there as a child I loved the Fairy Glen. I could sit by the bridge and watch and listen to the river for hours on end it was, and still is, one of my most favourite places on this earth. Unfortunately, for me anyway, they have modernised the place with block paving pathways and manicured river banks. I preferred it when it was a rough old path. I still managed to give them a little taste of what I had been used to as I brought them along the Fairy Glen but then turned in to the forest and moved through the trees, warning them to keep an eye out for the headless horseman. The headless horseman had always put the willies up me and my sister when we stayed in Rostrevor and judging from the look on my children’s faces, he was having the same effect on them.
I was surprised to find that a lot of development had occurred to encourage more people to visit the place. Three was a cafe and caravan park where we had our photograph taken. The quality is not very good but you can see that the children are pleased to have cleared the trees and the chance of meeting the headless horseman. Their day wasn’t over as we continued on up the mountain to the Clough More, the Big Stone. It’s a family tradition to have your photograph taken by Clough More. Clever people say it is a thirty ton stone left millions of years ago by a passing glacier. But I knew the truth and it was lovely sitting there explaining to the children how the Irish giant, Finn Mac Cool, had dropped it during a fight with a Scottish giant. This was the same fight where the Scottish giant had scooped up a handful of earth and flung it at Finn. The earth missed Finn but landed in the sea behind him and became the Isle of Man, the hole, from where he scooped the earth, filled with water and became Lough Neagh. Sure wasn’t it great telling the children all these stories and being able to prove they were true too.