Studying for my Leaving Cert, not today or yesterday, my claim to fame among my school-friends was that I shared my birthday with William Butler Yeats – June 13. I was born 100 years after his birth.
have always loved poetry, and when I was a child, my father was constantly scribbling words for plays and poems in notebooks and the odd work pay-sheet. Our house was full of books, and you could find Dad’s poems written on pieces of paper everywhere.
I am not a poet – but now, as a writer, I am constantly craving the headspace to write. A quiet place, without interruption. A place to get the proverbial creative juices flowing.
In August, after the country emerged from the isolation of our national lockdown, you would think I would have rushed to immerse myself into the midst of people to enjoy the hustle and bustle of life. But while others had passed the time in lockdown by discovering their creative sides, I had found myself struggling to write. So, I had to change location.
Even though I live in Mullingar in Co Westmeath, surrounded by beautiful and inspirational lakes, I craved the sight, sound and smell of the sea.
For some reason I am drawn to places located close by the sea when I am in the midst of writing my novels even though they are set in the Midlands.
Before lockdown, I’d jump on a cheap flight to Malaga and hibernate with my laptop in an apartment for a few days. But of course, that was no longer an option. I needed to write. I wanted to ‘escape’. I had a looming deadline. I headed to the county of Sligo. Only two hours from Mullingar and no delays in an airport, no cramming clothes into a cabin bag. Just load the car and off.
My 10-day trip took me to a remote cottage nestled on a hillside under the watchful eye of Ben Bulben in the townland of Carrownamadda. From the tiny living-room window, I could see the serene sea in the distance. The weather was unusually warm and sunny, and I spent a good portion of my time writing with my laptop on my knee under welcome sunshine.
After two solid days of writing, I abandoned the sheep who inhabited the mountain side and, praying my car doors would survive the thorny bushes, I ventured down the narrow laneway and reconnected with humanity.
I stopped in the village of Grange and, for an hour, I lost myself rooting through the tables and shelves (and the floor) of Rosyhill Furniture and Antiques shop. I didn’t come away empty-handed, as I bought a 1930s Remington typewriter, in need of a lot of TLC – my winter restoration project! Alas, I doubt I’ll write a novel on it but the purchasing experience is filed away in my brain and may make its way into some future book.
A cappuccino from The Jam Pot Café, along with a cream cake, was delicious, after my diet of Coke and sandwiches of the previous few days. I then made my way to Streedagh Beach. It stretches for 3km and as I looked around, my breath was taken away by the beautiful views stretching across to Donegal and all the while, Ben Bulben cast its shadow behind me. It’s not my thing, but if it is yours, I was reliably informed that this area is a surfers’ paradise.
Of course I’d neglected to bring sun cream on my holiday – this being Ireland, I wasn’t expecting 23°C of heat – so I headed into the local pharmacy in Grange, where the chatty assistant encouraged me to visit Drumcliffe Tea House and craft shop.
I love coffee when I don’t have to make it myself, and the next day I headed there, having first easily achieved my daily word target – after all, I couldn’t lose sight of the reason why I was on this break: to clear my mind, to be inspired, to heighten my creativity, so that I could write.
Long before my husband died, and before my children were old enough for us to do the whole family package holiday thing abroad, we often visited Sligo for our summer holiday, packing the car to the gills with bottles, buggies, blankets, and renting a house close by the sea. We explored the landscape on twisty drives and froze under towels on deserted beaches, and we always stopped off at Drumcliffe, the final resting place of WB Yeats.
On this August day in 2020, standing alone, I was filled with a sort of nostalgia I hadn’t experienced before. The church and cemetery are built on the site of an ancient monastery founded by Saint Columcille, dating back to 574.
Yeats penned his own inscription for his headstone, words taken from his poem, Under Ben Bulben. “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by!”
An uneasy feeling, like an icy finger, travelled down my spine, as I looked at his date of birth – June 13 – and dropped my eyes to his death date.
I wondered what words might someone put on my headstone when I depart this world? As a crime novelist, I shudder to think what might appear. Maybe, I thought, I should be like Yeats and write it out now, to avert some dark, disturbing line from one of my books being carved into marble as my legacy.
After an evening sitting under the pink sky of the setting sun and the rising full moon, I stared out at the Mullaghmore peninsula with the silhouette of Classiebawn Castle a shadow on the horizon.
I slept well that night and the next afternoon, I drove to Mullaghmore, recalling the bombing in 1979 which resulted in the death of Lord Mountbatten and three others. The castle was closed to the public, so I parked in the village and walked along the beach.
Mullaghmore beach is beautiful, great for headspace, and I will definitely return, here with my grandchildren. Quite a few people were sitting out in the sunshine, eating and having a drink.
If you are lucky enough to visit this area, you have to go into the Pier Head Hotel where, in the lobby, you will see a fabulous painting of Leonard Cohen by Mullingar artist Ruth Ryan.
With views of the sea before me, sheep all around me, bees buzzing in the air and Ben Bulben behind me, I succeeded in my mission and finished my novel.
You won’t find any direct reference to Sligo in it, but I was inspired by the landscape and history of the area. I absorbed the peace and tranquillity of the rugged mountains and placid sea, heightening my creative spirit, like Yeats did when he lived in London and drew on his love of Sligo to inspire his writings.
And I will return soon, to find inspiration and a creative peace. To quote my birthday twin Yeats again, from his poem Lake Isle of Innisfree…
“And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow…”
Find cottages available to rent at imagineireland.com
Final Betrayal by Patricia Gibney is available now