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The Great Escape

By Maeve O’Keeffe

The person sitting behind me in the library has a sniffly nose, and periodically I can hear them sucking snot up their nostrils. Two seats across from me, there are two girls, gossiping in theatrical whispers that are punctuated only by their occasional giggling fits. The person sitting opposite me is listening to music, but their headphones are so loud that I can hear every beat of the Ed Sheeran album they’re listening to. Someone else is eating Taytos, and between the crinkling of the crisp packet and the pungent aroma of cheese and onion, I am almost nauseous. The building seems to be simply crammed with people competing to get on my nerves and distract me as I sit in front of my laptop and notes copy, trawling through Google Scholar in search of references for the impending essay deadline.

In moments like these, there is just one place I’d like to be. I imagine the narrow roads meandering through na Beanna Beola (12 Pins) in Connemara, to the little town of Renvyle. In my moments of frustration and stress, it has become like a retreat of my mind’s creation, or rather, recollection, since I’ve been going there every summer with my family since early childhood. Each year, we load up the car with an excess of suitcases, buckle up, connect a killer Spotify playlist, and turn around to check that our beloved golden retriever Lulu is comfortable enough in the back. Without fail, we stop in the McDonalds Drive Through in Galway City, before beginning the scenic ascent to the northern tip of county Galway.

I don’t imagine that the drive through the Inagh Valley will ever cease to amaze me. Each year, whether shrouded in its characteristic clouds, or illuminated by precious sunlight, the way the mountains melt into Lough Inagh’s depths and are mirrored on its surface is beautiful. As a child I used to ask my parents to stop the car so I could look at the waterfalls and rivulets that lace the hillsides, and hear the running water gurgle. Sheep amble across our path, with their rugged coats and vacant eyes, and occasionally, we have to hop out of the car to usher them to the side of the road. Even so, it’s impossible not to surrender yourself to the serenity of the place. The landscape feels wild, yet welcoming, with the tapestry of earthy tones framed by dramatic mountains and glimpses of the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Each year, we slip seamlessly into the same leisurely holiday routines. Swims off Glassilaun Beach (I am adamant that it’s warmer than Trá Bán – also known as White Strand), followed by pints of Guinness in Paddy Coynes Pub in the village. Barbequing sausages on the mildest days, spinning to Letterfrack for pizzas on the rainy days. Driving to Louisburgh in Mayo for breakfast, and pottering around the shops there. We go on day trips to Omey Island, armed with camping chairs, a cobbled together picnic, and flasks of coffee. Sometimes we watch the annual Omey horseracing, but more often we just wander about, as Lulu the dog sniffs curiously at the many rabbit burrows. I began learning to drive on the strand of beach at low tide one year, and another year, my parents convinced me that the tide had come back in while we were exploring, and that we were marooned on Omey for the night. Their prank fell flat when they realised that as an eight-year-old, the thought of spending a night stranded on the island, just like the Famous Five, was fantastically adventurous  (so long as we didn’t run out of Pringles and biscuits).

In fact, the islands off the west coast are preserved in my mind as always sunny. I’m not sure how accurate these recollections of mine are, but I simply cannot remember ever cycling about Inisbofin or splashing about in Keem Bay, Achill Island in anything but glistening sunlight. Perhaps these spots are genuinely blessed with endless sunshine, or perhaps my nostalgia is clouding my memory with a rose-tinted reminiscence. Either way, when my energy is depleted, I only have to imagine the soporific sound of the lapping tide to soothe myself.

I may have developed an intimate knowledge of these places, but the truth is I have only sampled the magnificence of our country’s big attractions and hidden gems. The Wild Atlantic Way is nothing short of genius in highlighting the beauty of our west coast. Though devoted to our traditional trips to Renvyle, it is a great ambition of mine to embark on a road-trip of the Wild Atlantic Way in its entirety this summer, stopping off at each zigzag sign I encounter on our travels. I want to visit Sligo, to see Yeats’s grave and Lough Gill. I want to marvel at the magnitude of cliffs in Clare and Donegal, and lose myself in the magic of Skellig Michael. The scope for exploration is endless, and it’s all on our doorstep.

 I remind myself that the stagnancy of the stuffy library will soon be eclipsed by exhilarating sea swims, leaping into the choppy water and reassuring my more reluctant friends and family members that “The water’s not that cold once you get used to it!” The wind will brace my face and I’ll sing along to Christy Moore as we drive around Killary Harbour. Until then, I must satisfy myself with my daydreams and musings, transporting myself away from responsibility to a dreamscape, where “I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.”