|The Hungry Rock|
Sligo has to be one of the most inspiring places I've ever been; the environment seems to encourage and nurture poetry. Sligo itself is a landscape of mythology and folklore, which seems to talk directly to you, narrating its own stories. The locals are full of folklore too. I wrote this after my friend Declan Foley brought myself and fellow poet Earl Livings on the drive up through the Ox Mountains. We originally set off looking for the Hawk's Well (which was featured in the Yeats play), but gave up and just wandered instead. Folklore about the Hungry Rock says that if you pass it while you are hungry, you will be forever starving!
Winding and curving, we venture
By car towards the Ox Mountains -
"The oldest mountains in Europe";
Our driver narrates the adventures
Of the landscape's lineaments.
The site of Cath Maigh Tuireadh,
Where once two battles raged -
Two mythic races engaged in
Combat, over land and power.
Over yonder towers Cnoc na Sí,
The "Hill of the Faeries" - I
Wonder what faery king or queen
Occupies the cairn on top, or
If faery troops dwell within...
That other cairn on Cnoc na Rí
Of the fiery Queen Meadhbh,
Still fiercly facing Ulster
In defiance from the grave.
Does the ghost of Conall Gulbain,
That hero of Tír Chonaill, still
Sprint swiftly up the steep side
Of the iconic Beann Ghulban?
It's shaped like the snout of the boar
That killed Diarmaid Mac Duibhne
At its feet, so ending the hunt
For he and his love Gráinne;
Their beds are still in Ceathrú Mhór...
From mythology to folklore -
We pass by the Hungry Rock,
Luckily with bellies full
Or we'd be doomed to eternal
Starvation! But cows graze beneath
In the shadow of the rock -
Are they insatiably hungry?
Looking out the car window
In this moment, I'd love
To stroke the land as I'd stroke a cat.
The wind breathes clean, and suddenly
A random bath-tub in a field.
A parliament of rooks on a roof,
Manifestations of the Mór-Ríogan,
Who straddled the river Uinsinn.
Amongst this epic landscape
Lie neglected houses, abandoned
For modernity, thatched
With forgotten roofs, rotten.
The waters of the Hawk's Well
Evade us, as they did
The old man in the Yeats play.
We leave it for another day,
And head back to Sligo town.
© Alison Ní Dhorchaidhe 2009