Thursday, January 08, 2009
At Sally Gap
‘At this desolate spot situated at the head of the Liffey valley, scarcely a trace of civilization is visible, and until the advent of the bicycle and motor, these roads were often left untraversed by any vehicle for many months at a time. In recent years, however, they have become so well known, that on any popular holiday during fine weather, motors, cycles, and even pedestrians may be counted in dozens.’
So writes the ever-peregrine Weston St John Joyce, master of the Belacquan boomerang, the ‘out and back’, in The Neighbourhood of Dublin, Its Topography, Antiquities and Historical Associations, long a favourite urtext of mine. I notice in the page I reproduce above that the three figures in the lower picture have become two by the time the second was taken, having presumably resorted to cannibalism in the time it took them to walk from the Featherbed mountain to Liffey head bog.
Sally Gap is bearnas na diallaite, the ‘saddle gap’, or at least always was in my salad (and saddle) days, so imagine my surprise on my last visit to find it upgraded, or back-dated, to bearna bhealach sailearnáin, the ‘gap of the way of the sally trees’, though sally trees were there none, then or now. Come back Ordnance Survey sappers, all is forgiven.
I put together a little anthology of Wicklow writing in 1998 and was annoyed to find, too late, a Michael Hartnett poem, ‘In Sally Gap’, which I’ve always regretted not including. That said, the poem has always puzzled me more than a little: what is the ‘it’ of the first and sixth lines (‘It was left upon the granite cliff...’, ‘It hung upon a cross of furze...’). Whatever it was:
It hung upon a cross of furze,
white like a waterfall,
moving, at this distance,
its meshes bleached,
like a lost scarf of lace.