If Earth was ever Middle Earth the Grey Havens
from which the Elves departed were Dún Aonghus, a great bronze age fort
perched on the very edge of a sheer limestone cliff on the Western edge of
Europe, the Aran Islands. From a mysterious raised stone platform the ancient
inhabitants of this fort looked out across the Atlantic and venerated the
setting sun and rising moon….
Having lived all my life in Dublin I decided at last to go seek the Elves on this windswept mystic plateau….assisted by Irish Rail Tours. Through the driving rain of an Irish summer morning I made my way to Houston Station and sat down to await the 7.30 to Galway City…
I bought a magazine for the journey and settled down on the empty platform to kill fifteen minutes.
The magazine was Total Film, of course. ALL NEW RETURN OF THE KING PICS! screamed the headlines. Inside were mostly what is up already on Torn, but a better picture of Aragorn on Brego. I studied it carefully as the rain battered on the roof and the Aran Islands looked less and less like a good idea….I became aware of someone leaning over my shoulder. I shifted away. He followed. I risked a look at him….
‘It’s quite a good likeness, isn’t it?’ said Aragorn, looking approvingly at the magazine. He still had not shaved, and he had stretched out his long legs on the marble floor. Anduril was propped up beside him. Early morning commuters stared.
‘Go away!’ I hissed. Aragorn looked hurt.
‘That’s not very nice…’
‘I’m going to Galway….’ I said
‘Good! I’ll come too, I need a break…’
‘You are not coming to Galway, you are getting back into the pages of that magazine. I have enough trouble with the Real World as it is…’
‘Oh, please, Varda’ he said, then with a twinkle he added; ‘I hear you are after Elves…’
A crowd had gathered. I said;
‘Well Irish Rail operate a strict no broadsword policy’ I said ‘they won’t let you on with that…’indicating Anduril.
‘Well let’s see….’ And off he went down Platform 8 to the Cú na Mara and sure enough on a train named after a Celtic hero they never even noticed.
As the grey Dublin suburbs slid past in the rain Aragorn made himself comfortable, nodding amiably to the gobsmacked passengers on the other side of the aisle. I fussed.
‘I had intended to use this trip to do some writing. I want to write a musing on Boromir…’
‘Oh no!’ groaned Aragorn.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘Not him again’ said Aragorn. ‘when he isn’t stealing the Ring he is stealing the show. I thought I was the hero of the story…’
‘Well, yes….’ I stammered. Aragorn gave me a stern look.
‘Just for today, let’s not talk shop.’ He said
‘All right’ I said.
‘Thanks’ said Aragorn with relief, then he looked out of the window.
‘Rohirrim!’ he exclaimed.
We were crossing the Curragh of Kildare, the ancient Irish kingdom of the horse, and on the skyline were squadrons of horsemen, winged steeds flying along in the misty light.
‘Racehorses on their dawn gallops’ I said.
‘No’ he murmured ‘Mearas….’
The landscape changed; as far as the eye could see black plains stretched away, bare, level.
‘The Dead Marshes!’ said Aragorn.
‘No, actually…’ I said. ‘It is the peat farms….’
Then I thought about it, the decimated boglands, and nodded.
‘Yep. The Dead Marshes….’
The tea trolley rattled past. I bought him a polystyrene cup of char. He made a face.
‘I can’t see what hobbits like in this stuff….the Anduin!’
We had crested a hill and below us a great wide dark river flowed between green banks. The train edged over an ancient iron bridge.
‘No, the broad majestic Shannon…’ I said ‘And this is Athlone, the great Ford. Here we leave Leinster and enter Connaught.’
‘We are leaving Ithilien to enter Rohan…’ said Aragorn, looking at the wide barren fields and sturdy grey ponies of Connaught…
We staggered out of the station into the bustle of Galway City stiff and cold. Aragorn’s broadsword and chain mail attracted a few glances but not too many, this is the City of The Tribes after all. Aragorn stepped off the pavement and an irate driver shouted at him;
‘Watch where you’re going, wally!’
‘What’s a wally?’ Aragorn asked me.
‘Never mind.’ I replied ‘Always cross on the zebra crossing….’ And we stepped onto the pedestrian crossing. A truck narrowly missed us.
‘Wally!’ shouted Aragorn. An astonished driver looked back at him.
‘Come on….’ I tugged him along and we got into a cramped van to take us to the airport.
Aer Arann consists of two planes, both tiny. When you open the door to get in it bangs off the propellor blade. Aragorn looked up at it.
‘What is this?’
‘It’s a plane, but it’s not big enough.’ I said. ‘I never fly in anything that isn’t the size of a small country…’
‘You mean….’ Said Aragorn, looking delighted ‘this lifts us and flies with us, like the great eagles, Gwaihir and Landroval?’
‘Well yes and no…’ I began but then the pilot walked up and said.
‘Just get in, and sit at the front, I need the weight there to take off…’
The runway was a short bumpy strip of tarmac and we pelted down it and were hurled out over the shining blue-silver Atlantic. The rain had stopped and the sun shone on the dramatic Connemara mountains. The plane made an underwear-threatening lurch then circled low over the largest Aran Island. Below the pure white limestone sand created deep turquoise shallows, and long strands of golden brown seaweed trailed in the crystal water like a sea goddess’s hair.
‘It is like a place preserved by the power of the Elves’ said Aragorn, looking down in wonder. He moved to look back and accidentally poked a passenger with Anduril. She squeaked. Aragorn looked over his shoulder.
‘I am sorry, my lady’ he said.
‘She is not a lady’ I said.
‘I beg your pardon!’ said her husband. I sank low in the seat. Aragorn smirked.
‘Forgive her’ he said graciously. ‘She is from Dublin….’
We were ferried to the car park at the foot of the heights of Dún Aonghus. All up the narrow country road waited jaunting cars with jarvies, local men straight out of Synge’s Riders to The Sea, weatherbeaten, battered caps on the side of their heads, pipes clamped in jaws….before I could stop him Aragorn had gone over to one and said;
‘Excuse me, could I have some of your pipeweed…..?’
The jarvie started and swore in Irish. The horse started too and bolted off up the track, the jaunting car bouncing along behind. Aragorn shrugged and came back.
We walked the long path up to the fortress. All around the dún was a field of sharp limestone stakes, to repel attackers. Aragorn examined them with approval.
‘Even a thousand orcs could not get through this…....these were a mighty race of warriors....’
We entered the first then the second circle of the great fortress. Aragorn seemed to have forgotten me, and strode away to the brink of the sheer cliff, and looked out over the Western sea. There is a great limestone platform, used they believe for ceremonial purposes. Aragorn leaped up onto this and walked to the edge. He looked very tall, and Anduril’s hilt caught the hazy sunshine. He glanced down at me and said;
‘This was where they looked out over the unknown. Whoever departed from here never came back, so here they said their farewells. They wore gold, on their arms and around their necks and on their heads….’ He touched his wrists and his chest and his long dark hair ‘…and they appeared to the people more like sun gods than kings….’
‘Is he the guide, dear?’ an elderly lady tourist asked me. Quite a crowd had gathered to listen to Aragorn.
'He is very good!'
‘He must be the resident archaeologist’ said a man with a camcorder trained on Aragorn.
‘Neither, I think….’ I said.
‘But kings they were, Kings like me…’ said Aragorn softly ‘Kings out of the West….’
A splash of rain hit the window beside my head. I woke up with a start. Ballinasloe. We were still stuck in Ballinasloe. The signals had broken down…how long had I been asleep? I looked up and down the carriage. It was crowded, but there was no sign of Aragorn. I felt silly looking for him. I sat up; my neck hurt. Just then the train jolted forward. An elderly lady on the other side of the aisle smiled at me. I recognised her from Dun Aonghus. She leaned over and said;
‘Whatever happened to your friend, my dear….?’