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We take a drive through Connemara, searching for a beach on that sunny day and getting lost like you should in that strange, unornamented, inward place, along winding roads and over lichenous bridges, past signs in Irish and lone ponies grazing near ponds and clusters of children, who come here from cities and towns across Ireland to learn Irish like their parents before them. We ask fishermen if they have any oysters to sell and get ice cream sandwiches at the one shop for miles and miles.

Here and there, white houses appear, fenced by crooked belts of stacked stone, introverted even in the sunshine. Once in awhile, we come across an arcane vernacular structure, a shed perhaps, or a renounced house under slow demolition. The abandoned or vacant architecture of the west of Ireland lingers for generations, a reminder of its enduring poverty and the cyclical flight of its children.

The sun is pale behind its veil of clouds by the time we find Coral Beach, nearly empty, save for a few stubborn sunbathers and a German woman calling for her boy-girl child, who hears but leaps away anyways, among the long spines of stone rising along the shore, petrified whales with tide pools for eyes, black as soy sauce.

Where the grassy dunes meet the stone, Daragh points to a slice of dark turf peering from under the grass. I think of all the time it took, before it became what it appears to me: organic matter accumulated over thousands of years—long-ago sunshine and rain, bodies of animals and even humans, much plant-life, time-pressed into what Seamus Heaney called "black butter,/ Melting and opening underfoot". During that time of its becoming and being, it acquired meanings for humans. Once the bogs harboured gods, who were offered gifts and sacrifices. Then the English vilified them, deemed evil like the rebellious inhabitants of this island, and drained, or attempted to, as the bog resisted. Finally (so far), they became sites for conservation, as well as contestation; for some, use is equated with freedom, ownership with exploitation, rather than stewardship.

Nevertheless: meanings change, or accumulate, and find their ways into essays or poems. For a word may become the knife that will cut meanings loose from the past, to reorder them into the shape of another world. There will always be material, pressed down by time; as Heaney wrote of the bog, "The wet centre is bottomless."


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