Well, funny you should ask…
Two weekends ago, a friend of mine, Simon Ricketts, called, a bit out of the blue, and said he was passing through Mayo and could we perhaps meet up for a while? He was over from England, touring the country for ten days or so and Castlebar was on his route. So, hell yeah, I could meet up.
We took the day and we spinned around my (adopted) home county of Mayo in my car.
Before he arrived, I was in a bit of a quandary. What do you show visitors in Mayo? I don’t do an awful lot of this kind of thing. I knew Simon would be happy with a meet up and a coffee and a bit-of-a-chat but I wanted to show him around a little and I wanted to hang onto him for longer than an hour while he was here, cause he’s a really sound chap.
But what do you show people in Mayo?
I learned a couple of things on our journey through Mayo a few Saturdays ago. I learned that seeing a place is not necessarily about going to a particular monument or vista, it’s not about ‘taking something in’. It’s much more about simply being in the place, moving through it, nosing around it, smelling and hearing it too.
We drove around for hours on end. We stood on deserted beaches and under cloudy mountains, we sipped a drink in a roadside hostelry, watch kids dipping in a drizzly evening harbour, heard some music in a crowded friendly pub and had a late pint in a sociable corner.
We didn’t see anything that would qualify as a show-stopper or a big event. We just took a little time and had a good old nose-around and, you know what? It was bloody great.
So that’s the first thing I learned: don’t just see the high-spots, try to ‘be’ in a place.
The second thing I learned relates to how very lucky I am to live in a place like this.
We’re like rabbits, aren’t we? We cut a track in the grass between our burrow and the places we go out into, to eat and to shit. We often don’t deviate much from those tracks. But to do it – to stray off the beaten track, even if for only a day – can open your eyes to where you are. It did for me anyway.
For instance, we drove down the ‘Atlantic Drive’ towards and then onto Achill Island. My God, what a wonderful road! Edging along the ocean, dotted with fearless defiant sheep. It is a high road, a slender road and, by God, an isolated one. I’d been there before but I was going somewhere else, I wasn’t there just for the sake of it. To do that... it was an eye opener for me.
Even to be in the pub, with the music playing, and to look around and see all the people having a good time and knowing I’d usually be dozing in the recliner by now. There’s a life to be lived just outside of our rabbit runs and it’s in your place just as much as it is in mine.
So thanks, Simon, for coming by. I kind-of alluded to it on the day - and I know it sounds odd - but there’s a genuine feeling that, by coming to my country and driving and eating and drinking and chatting and… just… seeing… well, you honoured us. Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds stupid but I did feel something like that. You were enjoying yourself so well that you were doing us proud.
So thanks mate, come again soon, eh?
FOOTNOTE: Simon kindly provided me with this link to some of the live music we heard in Matt Molloys in Westport on the Saturday evening. It's here.