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The other day we visited the mother-in-law's homeplace, situated about 20 kilometres away. She pointed out the houses along the side of the narrow road fringed by foxgloves and wild angelica, saying the names of who had lived there and who lives there now. Too many were vacant, with unruly gardens and tatty lace curtains, dispossessed of human touch. The one-room schoolhouse was now a cowshed, with a corrugated roof. She had nineteen teachers over her time there; “I learned nothing.”

Everywhere, forestry: extensive spruce plantations, on former pastures and fields, creeping over the hills and valleys of this townland. The county is the most forested in the country, with almost 19 percent of all land planted. When land becomes forest, it is forest in perpetuity, according to Irish law. Plantations are abhorred: nothing else grows or lives or sings in their shadowy, heavily pesticide-sprayed confines, except at the fringes, and they block sunlight, consigning surrounding houses to gloom.

According to land conservancy groups and the Farming Assocation, forestry is to blame for the bog slide that occurred here over the weekend. Torrential rain poured into a mountain bog from drains made in the plantation above it, weakening the soft ground. On Sunday evening, thousands of tonnes of peat heaved from the mountain, unfurling for six miles, down a ravine and into the surrounding townland, killing cattle and sheep and smothering fields and gardens within nine minutes. At the ravine, I couldn’t see the bridge named the Dawn of Hope, only a diabolical maw, gaping, coal-black, over which water thundered. Sublime, in the way the Romantics meant it, a scene that overwhelmed, for all the power of furious nature.


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