Perhaps, in the end, it was eminently suitable. I missed almost everything that was possible to miss, and meandered my way through the day.
Except for one detail. One detail I noticed that, in its own little way, drove the experience home.
The county of Monaghan is arresting in its simplicity. It is full of hills and lakes, turned earth and cows. Its winding lanes smell of manure, its tiny chapels and graveyards tell of a lifestyle that has not much changed these hundred years.
Monaghan is a biker’s haven as its roads are hilly without being burdensome, and they’re extremely quiet to boot. All of nature comes alive because, in Monaghan, nothing is happening at all.
Into this wonderland I rode with a mission to find Inniskeen.
Thus far in my journey, I have used only a driver’s road map of Ireland, supported by Google maps when things get iffy. The latter does not always rescue me; I often find myself without access to the Internet. And I have discovered that, for all its sophistication, Google Maps is ultimately dumb information; it does not show elevation, it does not distinguish between secondary and tertiary roads, it cannot apply common sense.
The printed map will survive because it complements our human intelligence, rather than trying to replace it.
The small rural community I was seeking has acted, for me, as a stand-in for a certain kind of gritty Irishness. It is a grit born, fully formed, in the lines of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry. ‘Inniskeen Road on a July Evening’ was my introduction to him, and its words are etched on the rough slate of my memory, and consciousness:
The bicycles go by in twos and threes –
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight,
And there’s the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
By God, the stony grey soil of Inniskeen is hard to find, going the back roads! Monaghan has byroads spirited into existence without the boys at Ordinance Survey being briefed. It is likely that they are spirited away again, once one has them traversed.
And yet, because of its hills, there is a sense of being coddled – caressed in its undulations. At every stage in my wandering journey, cows looked down from their hilly heights, knowingly. They are the gods of this land. Only they can see and know.
At length, in any case, I zig-zagged my way into Kavanagh country.
The village itself is a humble spot, although it has much to crow about. Not only does it have Kavanagh, but also is the site of the first Gaelic football match ever played, and has a beautiful ancient tower full of 12th century stories.
It is a place that does not fuss. It is as if, in this month of August, Inniskeen was in deep slumber.
I arrived at the Kavanagh Centre (a converted church) only to discover it closed. Mondays. Drat.
Following very prominent signs, I plodded in cleated footwear to the poet’s grave.
Pacing up and down the indicated row, I could find nothing of him.
I called out to the caretaker, who, in the sunshine and with a Jack Russell pup biting at his heels, was languorously sorting the graveyard hedges.
‘Where’s Kavanagh?’ I called, tracing my arm along the appointed stretch of stones. ‘Where’s the grave?’
‘He’s there. Just look’, he said in treacly, bumpy accent. ‘You’re not the first one to miss him’. He smiled, waved, and continued about his task.
And there, in the row indicated, I finally found him. I stood, quietly, and stared.
It was a grave so fractured, small, unboasting, that my eye had not seen it at all.
Kavanagh was laid to rest as he had desired to live. Without fanfare. In all humility.
As I set to leaving the place, another gravestone caught my eye.
It was not that it was gaudy or attention-seeking. No. Not that.
It was that name. William Brennan. Died 1957.
I thought about it, racking the slate of memory. William Brennan?
‘Ah yes’, I said to myself, somehow content with the connection made.
I took a photo, and the music of the birds and cows in Inniskeen gently filled the air.
Brian McIntyre. August 2013
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About Rothar Republic
My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).
In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.
I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.
All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.
If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.