The Hill of the Poets
I am still looking for a place to live, and as
all things are circular, I have ended up searching for a house in the
place my mother came from, South Down, between Rathfriland and
This is the heartland of Ireland; low, rolling hills and steep, lush
pastures dotted with fat herds, with looming over all the broken wolf's
teeth of the mighty Mournes.
We drove for miles along a road only wide enough for one car, with the
hedgerows bursting into vivid green on either side. The hawthorns and
beeches were rooted in stone walls so old they had sunk into the mossy
ground, becoming one with the earth.
We stopped at a tiny, ancient church on a hill and explored the ancient
building and the old schoolhouse, where a poor but brilliant scholar
once sat on the hard wooden settles. His name was Patrick Brunty, but
we know him better as Patrick Bronte, father of Emily and Charlotte.
The church can trace its line of pastors back to 1422, but in the
churchyard are the ruins of en even older church which it replaced. And
before that, the hilltop land was awarded to their bards by the
medieval Irish chieftains, the Magennis. So this was once the hill of
I walked around the ancient graveyard. It is almost circular, and under
the turf are half-hidden great stones. Perhaps this was once an ancient
hill-fort. All about it the whitethorn was in bloom, impossible
snowstorms of pure white flowers; the elanor of the ancients, sacred to
the Celts. The barefoot Irish peasant boy looking out the schoolroom
window at this graveyard would one day father two of the greatest
writers in English. But if you could write anywhere, it would be here,
looking up at the purple sweep of the Mournes under a grey spring
And how his daughters wrote! As children they and their sister and
brother wrote epics set in a fantasy land, just as a 14-year JRR
Tolkien would one day. They invented monarchs and great catastrophic
wars, and wrote it all in tiny notebooks no larger than a matchbox. And
they wrote volumes of them. Which made me wonder; what does make a
great writer? Where does that kind of imagination come from?
Tolkien drew inspiration from the Welsh Mabinogion, and from a
Scandinavian epic. Where did Rochester come from, was it from the ghost
of some long dead Magennis war chieftain, mourned by his poets? In
endless studying of Beowulf or the Battle of Maldon, did Tolkien
quietly take up some thread, unbroken from the time of the bards, and
just carry on to give us the Ride of the Rohirrim? How did the gene
make the jump from that ringfort in Ireland to a cold, dark parsonage
on the Yorkshire moors, where Emily and Charlotte created their Middle
My driver is waving at me; time to continue the search. Soon, the
tiny grey church is lost to view behind the beeches and the tall,
endlessly twisting hedgerows of the land of the imagination .....
Thanks for your patience....