I have been asked how did Pádraig Pearse travel to Ros Muc in the first place, surely it was a burdensome task to get there from Dublin. He had no car, but a bicycle which he kept at his cottage.
The fact is that the Galway/Clifden train was running at the time. It was a simple business to arrive at Galway station and change to the Clifden line, and get off at Maam Cross. The station ruins are still there. He would continue the seven miles to Ros Muc either on foot or by pony and trap, or jaunting car. Between 1903 and 1915 Pearse spent as much time as he could salvage from the press of affairs in Dublin, in the west; and from 1907 at his locally built cottage. It became a source of inspiration for his stories and poems, an ideal setting for the kind of Ireland he craved, located in what he called ‘a little Gaelic kingdom of its own’.
His friend Desmond Ryan, a former pupil at Pearse’s Scoil Éanna, later wrote of Pearse’s enthusiasm as the train went deeper into Connemara: “The Twelve Pins came in sight and Pearse waved his hand here and there over the land, naming lake, mountain and district away to the Joyce Country under its purple mist.”
And yet if it was a simple and an exciting journey for Pearse his youngest sister Mary Brigid found it altogether tiresome. Mary Brigid was, to say the least, a bit tiresome herself, and at times a difficult and moody girl. Nevertheless, to satisfy an argument between herself and her brother as to which was the most beautiful Kerry or Connemara, he invited his mother, his two sisters Margaret and Mary Brigid, and his inseparable brother Willie, for a holiday at Ros Muc.
Mary Brigid’s diary tells us something about the family dynamic, that journey, the holiday, and her general dissatisfaction. Pat (as she calls him ) and Willie went ahead to get things ready, while the women followed. ‘The holiday did not begin very auspiciously as the long train journey down to Galway was too fatiguing for me, and by the time we changed trains, bag and baggage, my nerves were on edge.’
Turf fire fumes
The Pearses had to share their carriage with a ‘group of wholesome, buxum, but loquacious Galway fisherwomen, carrying large baskets heavy with fish.’ The smell of the fish sickened poor Mary Brigid. ‘These fisher folk were all fine looking women, tall and dark-eyed, and wore spotless white aprons, and thick Galway shawls. They were kindly people also and seemed very sorry for the white-faced Dubliner crouched in a corner seat, sick and weak.’
The brothers were waiting for their sisters and mother at Maam with a jaunting car. They all set off to the house of Mr and Mrs Connolly, the local school teachers, with whom Pat had arranged for them to have a meal ready for his visitors. The Pearses received ‘a great welcome’ and a ‘country meal wholesome and delicious’ was served. The local parish priest called to welcome them to Connemara, and more tea was served. But again Mary Brigid was feeling unwell. The fumes from the turf fire did not agree with her.
At last they continued on their way to Ros Muc. ‘The car left us at the bottom of a rough, unfinished road, which Pat had cut out in order to reach his cottage, which was perched on the top of a hill, like a grey eyrie of stone. Despite my illness I appreciated the whole appealing scene, the calm eventide, and grey sky, the little grey house, lonely and brooding. The sense of space, the thin wreaths of smoke curling from the tiny cottage-chimney, hinting of home and firelight and peace in this great and wonderful stillness.’
A neighbour had been asked to get a meal ready and to light the fire. ‘The cottage door was flung open, and the red glow from the turf fire shone out into the dusky evening, in friendly fashion.A pleasant-faced young woman stood on the threshold to receive and welcome us.
‘The kitchen presented a most enticing appearance with its quaint oaken dresser and chairs, the shining cups and crockery ranged on the shelves, the well-spread tea-table, so cosy and appetising, and the turf fire over which hung a singing kettle.
My brother Pat was in high spirits, and gave us the freedom of his country cottage in quite a regal fashion.’
The holiday was marred by Mary Brigid’s constant illness. Never once did Pat complain. He would cycle between the cottage and the post office at Maam Cross to telegraph her doctor in Dublin, to send down her medicine.
‘This first early morning ride was the beginning of a regular bicycle service plying between the cottage and Maam Cross. ‘Pat peddled and free-wheeled indefatigably between these two outposts, and most under weeping skies. Looking back on this time I can still marvel at the evenness of temper and unruffled good humourwhich my brother displayed in such trying circumstances. After all it could not have been very pleasant to spend most of his holiday cycling up and down a long and dreary country road. But he knew that he was helping me and he was quite satisfied.’
Gradually Mary Brigid’s health improved and she enjoyed the wild flowers, the misty mornings and the birdsong. She loved sketching, and trips in the jaunting car to Mass on Sundays. But, as we all know the weather is not always kind.
‘ Almost for the whole of our stay in the West the grey skies sent down sheets of rain, and the bogs sent up sheets of mist. Taken on the whole, Connemara behaved very badly to her Dublin visitors until the last day or two when she suddenly and capriciously revealed herself in an ineffable glory and majesty.’
Next week: The cottage as a source of inspiration for Pádraig Pearse.
NOTES: Teach an Phiarsaigh (Pearse’s cottage ) is open to the public daily and is well worth a visit. I am grateful to the guide Larry to allow me access to Mary Brigid’s diary.