Where did the summer go? Not that we had one in Ireland. Nope, went smoothly through from damp dark spring to damp dark autumn without a hitch. Although this week, with September nudging at the gate, the skies appear to have relented somewhat and are surprising us with clear blue mornings. To remind us that it isn't long to winter, no doubt. Rather like the tradition here in West Cork that the sun will always try to come out at least once before it goes down, just to show it's still in existence.
Actually this past weekend was a genuine scorcher in West Cork. Or so I believe. DH and I were away in the north west, in Mayo. He had a photoshoot to do for the bigwigs, and it had been put off and put off since April, while we watched weather forecasts and waited for a miniscule window of opportunity. This weekend was supposed to be it. Fine weather across the country, the boffins declared, best chance yet at an Irish summer. So off we went on Friday morning. It's not a huge distance mileage-wise up to the north west, but with our roads it takes quite a bit of time - about five hours in the end. We were glad to get there.
And the weather?
Well what did you expect? There are vast and beautiful mountains over there behind me in the picture, but you can't exactly see them. They've pulled the duvet down over their heads and have gone back to sleep. It was a long trek up across the boggy slopes (is Ireland the only place that manages to have deep treacherous pools on even steep slopes? Doesn't water usually run downhill to find somewhere to sit?)
Even the sheep were giving up and going home early (they're supposed to stay on the roadside, posing for the rare visitor, until 7 pm in summer, and well they know it).
It was maddening to hear the delighted reports from other, sunnier corners of the land, on the car radio while we peered through the mist and tried to take photographs.
It is a wonderful place, though, Mayo, deserted and windswept and silent. You can stand on a tiny boreen and almost hear the silence all around. And everywhere the signs that this was once a highly-populated region, full of families and animals and cultivation and life.
Now only the sheep are left, grazing the tiny fields where you can still make out the ridges or lazybeds created on poor soil to grow potatoes.
The hawthorn is about the only tree that will flourish in this environment where the wind blows straight in from the sea.
Don't you love this one, bent against the wind and enduring determinedly? The thorn is the fairy tree of course and nobody would think of uprooting one or cutting it down. That would be asking for trouble. You will often see a huge ploughed field with one lone thorn tree standing proudly amid a pile of rocks in the centre, left there for good luck. There is another tradition that these bent old thorns are really images of the Cailleach or the Crone, the wise old woman of Ireland. At midnight she straightens, looks around, and then runs before the wind, cackling. But by dawn she's back standing immovable on her watching post again.
The few remaining families in this part of Ireland still cut their fuel from the bogland as generations have done before them.
The turf is cut and arranged in little stands of three sods for the wind to blow through and the sun dry out for a few weeks. Then it's piled into a rick and brought home gradually in loads, to be kept carefully under cover for the winter.
The little villages don't look like they've changed in half a century. The local pub is often the shop and petrol station as well (plus the place to go when you want to find out the news or exchange a bit of gossip).
We stayed at the unusually named village of Pontoon. It got its name from a very narrow bridge crossing between two lakes. The hotel had a wonderful view over one of the lakes, and because we arrived so late, we were lucky enough to snaffle one of the best rooms at a good rate.
The French window opened out on to a deck. And yes, those are the Fawkes socks, did you think there wasn't going to be any knitting in this post, did you, did you? Well there is. Brought the Gazebo lace crop cardi along as well, since a sleeve is being done at the moment and that's something you can do without much concentration, only a two-row repeat for the lace bit in the centre of the sleeve. Almost suitable for cinemas, but since it's a quadruple-stranded yarn, probably not. One would certainly miss a loop or two in the dark. You need solid yarns and easy stocking-stitch for the cinema, one feels, and even then not at exciting Harry Potter-type movies.
Actually your experienced and wide-ranging views would be welcomed on this issue. What does one knit where? Socks of course are eminently portable, but if the pattern is complex, you do need a little time to work out where you had finished and what bit was coming next before you even start, which makes a short bus ride or a bank queue impractical. The boring and endless sleeve of a sweater offers no difficulties for picking up and putting down, but it is a bit larger to carry round and attracts more attention. Then there are the real demanders, the Starmore Arans of this world, which require your total and undivided concentration non-stop the entire time they allow you to share their presence. (A Starmore is never owned, it just condescends to pause haughtily by your chair for a while.)
Mais retourner a nos moutons. Or in this case, nos fleurs. We were up there photographing extremely rare plants so it wouldn't be appropriate to discuss or indeed show those here, but I thought you'd like to see this beauty.
What a cracker! Exquisite shaping and colouring. I love it!
And this is actually what it was - a tiny clump of wild eyebright growing by the roadside. The blossoms are so small you hardly notice them. But with the magic of a macro lens they become a hothouse delight, don't they? Eyebright is supposedly wonderful for easing tired, computer-dazed eyes when soaked in water - I must try it.
There has been, one regrets to report, even more weakness of character than usual displayed chez Celtic Memory during the past week. (Cries of 'shame', 'shame'.) The hints of autumn in the air - a few dried leaves on the pathway, reddening apples in the orchard, a crispness in the early morning - brought thoughts of cold winter weather and warm cosy sweaters. Such thoughts, linked to the undeniable presence of some rather gorgeous cashmere/silk in the private stash (no you can't, not a hope, it's all mine, all mine), led to wonderings and to perusings and murmurings, and eventually -
- to this.
You could call it Alice Starmore Meets Michael Kors Chez Celtic Memory (now that would be some party!) Last winter's Vogue Knitting had an amazing Kors Aran on the cover, but when I tried to swatch for it I just couldn't get gauge and anyway didn't like the pattern combinations used. But I loved the idea of a showpiece, party-style, elegant Aran. Then, browsing through Starmore's Aran Knitting (gosh, isn't it great to have your own copy at last, I can't believe it!), a rather beautiful design called St. Enda revealed itself. The original was in bright red and sized for giants at a minimum 45" chest, but it was adaptable, it was adaptable... (Does Starmore come off the Isle of Lewis and track down people who adapt her patterns from the exact original, do you know?)
This is now going to be a rather beautiful polo neck sweater for the winter. OK, if it means having to go somewhere really cold, that's fine by me. Whatever the sweater wants it's going to get. It's that beautiful. Working on it makes me feel happy.
(There's a provision in Ravelry for the WIP that makes you feel happiest. How good is that? Great minds there must be, making up the Ravelry phenomenon. Sorry? Oh, yes, I'm in - at last! The invite came while I was up in Mayo - wouldn't you know it? - and when we got back very late on Sunday night, exhausted, hungry, and surrounded by angry dogs who hadn't appreciated being sent to boot camp for three days, there it was to be dealt with. Immediately. Without delay. Upload everything, input everything you possess, everything you know, everything you're working on, the lot. So I went to bed instead. And the next day there were deadlines to catch up with and shows to review, so today is the first chance. It's intimidating me right now, but everyone else has managed it, so maybe if I take it slowly?)
I saved this one until last for you. There was a full moon when we were staying in Mayo by those twin lakes. And just coming up to midnight, when we went for a walk, the moon came out from behind the clouds and threw its path perfectly across the water.
The legend has it that if you see this path at magical times, when the moon is full, you can step out on to it and it will lead you to Tir na n'Og or the Land of Youth. Hadn't seen it so clearly in a long time, so I was delighted that we could capture it (thanks Richard!) and share it with you.