Just this past summer, my wife, Maura, and I found ourselves back in her girlhood home of Tullyraghan and its magnificent views of Monaghan—the land of ten thousand hills. The distant high ridge of Mullevash Mountain, lush with Sitka spruce trees, rises a thousand feet above the endless miles of rolling farmlands.
On the next day after our arrival, we proceeded down a wee lane lined with hedgerows coated with wild Irish roses. Yet, Irish hedgerows are more than hedges in an American suburban town. They grow over ten feet high and contain a variety of vegetation, including hawthorn trees, which bloom with white flowers in May, shrubby ash trees, blackberry and raspberry briars, stinging nettle plants, stalks of foxglove flowers, and a very thorny, yellow-flowered whin bush. Don’t try and push your way through an Irish hedgerow, or you’ll be in for a surprise. Deep within the hedge is a “shook,” or watery ditch, bordered with rocks and a second hedgerow with an equal amount of briars and nettles. Surely, they do a great job of preventing cows from wandering into the next field!
We continued down the lane and listened to the bellowing of cows and the bleating of sheep on the other side of the hedgerow. Magpies flutterd from hawthorn bush to whin bush to show us how easily they can do it. The lane proceeded up a high brae and took a sharp hook down to the “Moile” Lane Bridge (we would say Mile) that crosses the Black River, a great trout stream that flows southward from Northern Ireland. We climbed up another steep hill to a spot I’ve always called “The Celtic Dragon Trail.” It is actually the remains of an old stagecoach road from Crossmaglen, County Armagh, to Castleblayney, County Monaghan, and so overgrown that you would have to wear knight’s armor to penetrate it.
We returned to our original lane on the other side of the “Moile” Lane Bridge, which led the way to a set of crossroads and old peat bogs. Maura (my own wild Irish rose) explained to me that her grand dad and father regularly came here to dig up peat for fuel, in order to keep the open-hearth ablaze. As children, Maura and her brother sat next to the warm and cozy fire and listened to the spooky ghost stories their dad and grand dad used to tell. She said the tales were so convincing that when she rode her bike back from Castleblayney after dark, she always encountered a wee elf of a man, who allegedly sat on his swing between two tall chestnut trees. When he caught sight of her, he would hop on his tricycle and cross the lane to frighten the wits out of her—living proof of the existence of leprechauns.
In fact, even to this day, farmers will plow around a lone tree in the middle of their fields, for to cut down this tree would offend leprechauns, who, in return, would bring you bad luck! We continued down this country lane and westward past chestnuts full of songbirds, like song sparrows, willow warblers and thrushes. Within moments we spotted a beautiful white horse trotting in an open field.
At last, our final set of crossroads appeared before us. We turned southward toward Tullyraghan, with hedgerows full of blackbirds and swallows. To help restore earlier habitats, the Irish government has wisely created a law that prohibits farmers from trimming them until after the nesting season. We soon approached the driveway of Maura’s home, where her brother Hughie and his wife Roseanne invited us to join them for a nice, hot cup of tea and a slice of freshly-baked Irish soda bread. That hit the spot after our long bit of a ramble.