My beloved is one among an estimated 80 million people worldwide who have Irish ancestry. Such huge numbers result from the mass exodus of Irish folk in the mid 19th century. They left behind a country wracked with famine, starvation, poverty and distress and set out for places near and far, as far away as New Zealand even, to try and make new lives.
My DB hasn’t been immersed in tracking the Belton family geneology, but the urge to see the place from where his great-grandfather set sail for NZ in about 1865 was our reason for heading to the town of Wicklow in County Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland as our first priority. The day of our visit the sea was as blue as the sky, swells burst into pristine white foam onto the rocks below the stone ruins of an ancient castle near the mouth of the harbour and the hills behind are as emerald as legends tell. It’s a beautiful place and must have tugged at the heart strings of every Irishman and woman who left.
Like working our way through a song sheet of Irish ballads we visited Kilkenny, Killarney (it wasn’t Christmas), Bantry Bay, Galway and Dublin of course, stopping off along the way to see special sights recommended to us by locals. At Glendalough in County Wicklow we found the Belton name on a tombstone, possibly no relation, but proof that the name existed in those parts.
Everywhere we went the beauty of the landscape made an impression; from ancient ruins and tombstones decorated with celtic motifs now encrusted with lichen, to vast green slopes that fall steeply down to the sea. Some aspects of the natural landscape are strikingly similar to NZ’s and made me feel right at home. As we tootled through the countryside I saw so much in the colours and patterns that will inspire my knitting and remind me of this trip.
County Kerry’s Dingle peninsula could not have been more beautiful, we stopped and looked and took photos again and again until we reached the car ferry at Tarbert to hop over to County Clare (Darling Girl) and head for the mighty Cliffs of Moher. Gazing out on a perfect afternoon the Aran Islands were easily visible in the distance. And yes these islands give their name to Aran knitting motifs but the story that there are family patterns by which fishermen drowned at sea could be recognised is plain fiction! Aran sweaters, socks, hats, mittens, ponchos and throws fill the tourist shops, some are handknit and others clearly not – some not even made with wool. Sacrilege!
Near Cork we stopped to kiss the famous Blarney Stone and, because no trip is devoid of some knitting or yarn related exploration, we made a special visit to Hedgehog Fibres. Here the rapidly growing team of yarn artists create their modern magic with dye pots and woolly fibre. On the invitation to fossick through the bins of available yarn, I didn’t hesitate. There are a few hanks of speckled yarn in my stash to remind me of our wonderful trip to the Emerald Isles and already a pair of socks on the needles – guess what colour?