The Hill of the Poets

by Varda

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 Loughbrickland.

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 the poets.

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 sky.....

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 Earths....

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....

Varda