In the introduction to her excellent - indeed seminal and unprecedented - anthology of Ulster prose,[*] Patricia Craig remarks that for her collection Northern Ireland is to be regarded as 'a geographical rather than a political entity; it consists of seven counties, not the partitioned six or the historic nine. Donegal seems to be inescapably part of the "North", whereas Cavan and even Monaghan have a less decided orientation. I cannot, for example, think of Patrick Kavanagh as a Northern writer, any more than I would wish to allocate Peadar O'Donnell to the South.' Donegal is part of the North, yes, but it's also the place many Northerners go to escape from 'Norn Ireland', as we sometimes call it, mimicking one of the province's accents - an accent Gerard Manley Hopkins termed Chaucerian. Outside the tight wee six is another county famous for its healing powers, a mountainous, often boggy, lough-shining region wedged between the Border and the Atlantic. In the summer months, this particular coastal village is full of Northerners who make merry with those few Southern visitors who return here annually. We gaze out at the blue enormous bay, its long curving marram strands, its islands and roshans and purple hills with the white quartzy dome of Errigal beyond - we stare out and agree that this must be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. The moist light moves and zings like a Jack Yeats painting - in a different climate these immense empty strands would be lined with concrete hotels. Seasoned and seasonal visitors, we mellow out into the illusion of dwelling in the place. And because we come back again and again, we remember our childhoods here and watch our children swim and play just as we did back in the Fifties when things were intensely peaceful, the fish more plentiful, the crabs ready to be hoked in sackfuls.
LRB 8 October 1992 | PDF Download