Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grianan an Aileach

I took a bus from Derry to just across the border
with the Republic. The border is fairly open, now,
not controlled as tightly as in previous years. My
plan was simple -- to visit a circle fort called Grianan
an Aileach; my reason more complex -- to get out of
Derry for a little while and let the emotional turmoil
subside...along with my hangover.

By the bus stop was this church, designed by Liam
McCormack -- elegant and surprising in its simplicity.

From here I walked up a semi-winding road to the
fort. The woman who ran my B&B said it was only
about 2-300 feet up. She meant 2-300 meters.
Not helpful to my physical well-being, right then.

And this is Grianan an Aileach -- a circle fort some
2500-5000 years old, depending on whose estimate
you're using. It was the seat of the O'Neill clan till
about the 11th Century. And I was able to just walk
in and wander about...and savor the history of it.

From atop the walls, there's a breathtaking view
of the plain and Lough Foyle, the mouth of the
River Foyle, Lough Swilly and the Inishowen coast.

(I snatched this photo from
because I'd stupidly forgotten to bring more
film and had run out.)

I stood here for hours and wrote. Missed the last bus back to Derry, deliberately. So I returned by walking down a narrow side road that lead into the back of the Bogside.

It was during this 6 mile journey I found the path to a story I'd been circling around, and promptly moved away from it because of the demands it made upon me.

It was early April, and the fields were dancing with lambs so freshly alive, many still had their umbilical cords dangling from their bellies. Ewes hustled about to make certain I wasn't after their little ones -- tiny fluffy things that couldn't decide if they were scared of me or curious about this two-legged creature passing by. There was no traffic and the breeze was cool. It threatened to rain, for a moment, but then the sun joined me on the rest of my did the lead character of my story. My book. My novel, to be exact.

He told me of himself. Showed me I'd been aiming for bald simplicity instead of truth. Lead me to understand what the story was about. I already knew it was to be set in the years between 1996 and 1981, in Derry, in the Bogside, following him, a young Catholic boy, through the time...but he let me know it must also be told in the first person by him.

Not being Catholic or ever having even been to this part of the world until just then, the idea terrified me. Still does. And while I've worked in fits and starts on the story since, I'm still skittish of it. Nervous about taking the plunge.

Until now. Reasons for that to come.

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