dedicated blogsite to Dave Wood's participatory poetry project in Northern Ireland. Started late August and finishing September 2004, it does a compare and contrast with previous visits 1988 - 1998. Also see

16 Dec 2004

Omagh to Cushendall to Derry

…I sat in the welcome space and scribbled a few poetic notes to build a more tightened piece later.

to omagh (section)

glass (though fragile)
now built for seeing through
just like the letter o (in omagh)
is solid
circular (un-ending)
will see you through

the river bed is fed on dreams…

the world is drawn on
blood and sand
(omagh sand and blood)
one pumps into the veins
one props the vision up

It wasn’t worth me staying in Omagh that night. The bus would have taken me back to Belfast as the first part of my expedition, so I returned to the Belmont Road. Although I was worried that the hostel would be annoyed, I cancelled my stay there. No problem, they said. If I’d cancelled a minute before I’d arrived, they’d have probably not batted an eyelid. Good old N.I.

Friday 28th August

I take my moans back about the Belfast city bus drivers. I think it was a grumpy moment of mine yesterday. Though the man that did finally help me get home said ‘nobody cares around here.’

That morning, loaded down with stuff I no longer needed (tourist info, brochures, umpteen copies of the same map etc) I felt like the proverbial snail with someone else’s mortgage on its back. I needed swift directions to Laganside (bus station) again. ‘You can stay on here’, he said, ‘No problem’. I’d bought a seven day travel pass (£47) which has served me well and was just about to serve me here too. There are two bus stations in Belfast, Lagan side and the Europa. The latter with a pub opposite called the Crown, is all glitz and shopping mall. Whereas the former faces to the water and the shipyard. When planning a journey, you have to make sure which one you need to kickstart from.

It wasn’t desperately early (about 8.30am) but the café was closed. Ireland looks after its travellers and commuters. The television was on serving a good opportunity to catch up with the Olympics. Not a great passion of mine but a service like this can’t be taken for granted. The travel information desk was open and I quickly found out how to get to Cushendall o nthe east coast. A beautiful area that I’ve been told resembles or is even as stunning as Canada. Seeing as I’ve no experience (would books count?) of either, I had to create my own vision, but without Yogi, Booboo or the Hair Bear bunch raiding my sandwiches or chocolate supply.

Leaving at 9.03am on the Portrush Express towards and completing its journey to Ballymena.

past signs for kells
through antrim then
a flag that wheels itself
a pole
high on staff a union jack

clouds dragging back
towards the right
we trundle on

and after roundabout
flags increase manifold
at ballee

flip flap

There were strange squat houses painted in two colours, usually cream and another hue. They were like Hansel and Gretel houses.

black and cream
cream and green
blue and cream

each one a keeper of a union flag

are they hanging out
the bunting just for me?
(i am after all an englishman)

At Harryville there was a promotional offer for the UVF through the production of a mural.

I wonder if Northern Ireland had bought in a glut of L’s and over the centuries, they had to use them up before the sell by date. The bus centre at Ballymena, sitting at a strange angle to the train station was a long line of docking spaces for blue and cream buses seeming to drive out of the 1950’s. The font on the signs seemed stencilled on; Ballymena (of course) Larne, Ballyclare, Kells, Culllybackey, Londonderry, Limavady, Ballycastle, Cloughmills, Clough, Corkey, N’Crommelin. Oh – and the sun comes out at 10.15am.

The place was pretty much deserted. This may be because of my time of visit being during the holiday season or maybe buses just aren’t used much. Perhaps it’s a demise most places encounter.

I waited about twenty five minutes for the bus to Cushendall. Not quite on time, but ten minutes after the due leaving would probably have the I told you so bods of the guides smirking in their lunch bag. Ireland is still painted as a tomorrow will do or as just you wait for the sheep to get off the road. The Irish tourist offices and the postcard producers do the place a disservice. What’s friendliness is not laziness. I’m hoping the myth dies along with the thick Paddy label.

so seventeen miles to cushendall
past signs for clinty
a43 warms us along
(even in the middle
of the countryside
houses have numbers)

just three of us
and a bunch of maps

I’d been sent directions to the hostel as well as talked to Nathalie, someone over for the past five weeks to enable her time out to produce her dissertation. If I stayed on the bus and alighted at the coast, I would have had a five-mile walk up to my accommodation. With a bit of struggle and brain scratching, me and the bus driver worked out the way which only demanded a ten minute walk along the edge of a road which drivers seemed to think was a race track for 4 x4’s.

So, surviving the short trek, I realised I wasn’t expected until much later in the day and spent the next hour keeping the cats and the goat company. I even discovered a fairy ring at the back of the building.

No one could deny the beauty of the area. Looking over towards the other side, the fields stretched out and stretched onwards. Though picturesque, I did feel I’d seen equal in my home county of Derbyshire. But read on - I’ve not finished with this place yet.

I’m a restless soul, particularly after spending time in Belfast, its vibrancy eking into my tourist sensibilities. The converted barn, had a couple of stables attached. I left my main rucksack tucked in there. I don’t normally take risks like that by the way. I’d heard about and seen hitchers in Ireland getting lifts as easy as pie. It was time to put the culture to the test. Within five minutes I was away and along the road to the centre and so the shores (it’s important when talking of the place, the emphasis should be put on the a in Cushendall).

I hate doing the tourist talk, that’s not my raison d’etre for being here, but here goes. Cushendall has pubs, posh hotel, a Spar, local ice cream and corner shop, pizza parlour and chip shop. It’s also got a tourist information building pretty much opposite the bus stop for the Antrim Coaster. But could I find an off-license? That’s a rhetorical question I believe.

The Spar has the Post Office as a bed partner. Under the same roof, there’s also (another) ice-cream parlour and all seemed to be doing fine. I know at least one Midlands Co-op sharing its shop space with the Post Office. If it wasn’t for the growth of supermarket chains springing up, there would be an even greater feeling of achievement for the union.

The beach lies like a drawn out s bend. The pebbles grate sharply on each other as the water pulls back. There are strands of seaweed, stones jammed into wormed out other stones and an occasional burst of detritus. Most of the area is clean and unspoilt with a fairly new looking bank of houses perched about fifteen metres back. There was a real problem getting a mobile signal. Eventually it came in then disappeared as soon as it arrived, probably rowing a boat over from Mull just across the water.

History is part of Ireland’s gene pool so even in a place like this there are a couple of reference boards. I wonder when the history plates in Belfast will start to pop up. Sorry – that sounds insensitive.

here by the fringe of cushendall
lap waves that strike
the stones
and roll its tiny boulders back

it is the noise which fascinates
the pebbles want to roll away again
retreat into the sea

some seaweed then
the guts of the world
throw up its dregs
in green
and brown
and gloopy

i see its fathoms in
these broken fingers

i walk on

rock pools
thin yellow moss
green coverings
high mound

the sea is trickster

i am out of my depths

sea knows i’m english
(sees my limited mind)

perceives my poetry as false

sea weed – no more
no less

A hitch back and the broad based hostel welcomed me in the form of Nathalie and the German shepherd dog, Nancy. After two hours, the three of us, wellington’d up, set out walking.

Cushendall used to have a railway. One part of me is glad it doesn’t. There are few green and peaceful spaces in the west that are dedicated to the foot as a mode of transport.

I told you I hadn’t finished talking about the majesty of the place. Sometimes, the only constancy in the walk was the curiously orange river which either pushed along slowly or raced frantically at our feet in valleys or as a frothing crashing waterfall.

What follows is a series of Haiku* based on our hundred and twenty minutes.

haiku walk

here’s gap in fence
old brickwork fallen trees moss
beginning the walk

it has been raining
we jump across while we talk
of how far we go

thin strands of water
squelch squelch – trying to keep up
our green wellingtons

dead wood snapped falling
i keep falling behind her
nancy! you’re calling

across a short ditch
we both walk on this new path
wide open spaces

you point to the barn
and it seems a long distance
o purple heather!

by a wide river
shallow and with orange water
we take photographs

continue up hill
small yellow flowers tall grass
always surprises

and crossing the road
you left the dog lead behind
nancy makes her way

forest country park
paths laid out round waterfalls
we talk of music

coming back around
nancy is still off her lead
and crossing the road

back to the river
i have to stop for a pee
and you walking on

finding the lead there
i wave to you – well done!
now we return home

two hours walking
but it doesn’t feel like it
you cook while i write

*pronounced ha-i-ku. The anglicised version of this Japanese poetic form asks the writer to use three lines of five, seven, five syllables respectively. Contemporary Haiku-ists demand only the capture of its idea and not the strict count of beats.

It was a lovely way to close a tiring day of travel. I asked Nathalie about the huge grassy mound near to the coast but in view of the barn. There is an almost perpendicular drop to the sides. Last week the lump played host to a race directly to the top and down. The winner did it in thirty five minutes. Nobody runs down, it’s impossible. You just slide down on your jacksie.

Whereas the city is fine for the cerebral (and the shop-a-holic inside us) the spiritual came in the form of Cushendall and the forest country park. Though not completely wild, the last time I felt anything close to this was in Bejstorp in Skane. The ground was thick with luminescent moss and there were few reference points which would lead our way back to our base camp by the old dividing line between Denmark and Sweden. Sweden was the first time I saw a cauliflower fungus, whilst at the back of the hostel, by a massive gas cylinder, a perfect fairy ring lay. We tried to work out whether it was a full moon that night.

We finished downloading some photographs by early morning. I slumbered well. I recommend the place for anyone obsessed with the politics of the land. Sometimes you have to let go.

cushendall (using fridge magnet poetry at the barn)

only honey whisper falling
sing light and shadow storm
(may you please)
blow music – still sleep smooth mist soaring
a delicate moment always is

beneath essential diamond summer
sea goddess rest to recall sun
behind the sad and feltful mother
the moon dreams true – is never gone

Saturday 29th August

About 8.30am I rose to the sunshine and the alarm clock, chatted, had breakfast and posted some entries on slugger, and incorporating writing. Within twenty minutes of sticking out my thumb, I was sitting in a car with an ‘Ards man.

I was impressed. The library was running about ten minutes late but quickly opened up so I could grab some web-time again. In my jumble of books, pamphlets, tapes and newspapers there was no way I could hunt out my library card and pin. She came up trumps and wrote it all down for me. Cushendall, for all its beauty and for all its ‘hard to get to-ness’ is still registered with the modern world and, while I was there also had its own share of silver surfers.

Time gave me forty-five minutes. I was standing at the bus-stop on Mill Street, when racing up and through the town, about thirty motorbikes straggled in a line. Nobody seemed annoyed. The town was used to tourists (like me I suppose). Just at the back of the library, the sheep market setting up.

The Antrim Coaster is a bus that winds and meanders its slow way along the scenic route of the east then the north coast. There was no way I was going to get a seat. The bus was chocker with visitors, families, luggage and day-trippers ready for the rope-bridge experience. The last time I was there I fell on my arse in the mud. Just thought I’d tell you that, they may be listening and want to concrete it over.

The driver didn’t seem to mind me plonking my rucksack in the gangway and perching myself on the frame. We swapped morning witticisms, there was a mix up with the change over but all was settled and we pushed our way along the sea front dropping off the merry travellers and sprawling family by the roadside. The second of the two headed for Dunseverick Castle. The bus driver explained twice the fact that it only had two walls and you could see it was perched high on a steep bank of cliff, but there was a desperate determination in the fathers eyes which I suspect wasn’t shared by the rest of the clan. I saw the place – it was scary (I wouldn’t stay there…).

lurch – bus dreams us along
some things are universal
the sea
the land
teenage girls wearing pink
and over-using
the word like

I got off at Portrush and caught the supposedly straight through train for Derry. The trains seem to be as old as the buses. They weren’t uncomfortable, far from it. They were far cleaner than the more up to date track-runners in England. Ireland has its pride but I wonder if the millennium managed to get here yet. Portrush was for the sea-side, I was heading towards a different kind of water. The accents by now had changed, there was a kind of au sound in the middle of the locals’ words, even to the point of Laundaundeerry. That was another change too – Derry taking on its conversational dancing partner, London.

A change of plan. Off at Coleraine and get the next train behind this on the platform. The station had its obligatory snack and drinks machine and there was a steady glumness about the place. Even the young snogging couple weren’t that passionate. Maybe I should have offered…maybe not.

By now the real tiredness had set in. I feel asleep at Waterside where the train did the same. Whatever was wrong was righted and we reached Derry (Londonderry through the p.a system). I remember there was a story of one of the radio stations having to get an absolute balance of saying Derry and Londonderry in equal measures. I don’t know if that’s still the case. Let not hell break loose (wait for this innocent Englishman to hide first).

I’d been told that morning of there being a parade in Derry. That word still makes me think of decorated floats and tombolas. I didn’t think this would have been the case.

I alighted from the train (there are plans to close the station down) and made my way across the Foyle, phoning my host as I went.