In the Hag of Beara’s Footsteps

I was back on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork  recently after an absence of over a decade. I had forgotten the shock of seeing the tall remnants of the nineteenth-century copper mine at Allihies astride the rocks and the Atlantic Ocean everywhere I looked.

If my words were inadequate to describe the experience of the physical landscape of Beara, then one writer had no such problems with verbal inadequacy. I had not got round to reading Leanne O’Sullivan’s collection Cailleach – The Hag of Beara, so now was my opportunity to take the collection to the poet’s own place. The subject of the collection is the Hag of Beara, the mythic figure embedded in the Beara landscape: ‘I walk through paw-prints / the frost has dug,  / among the moist grasses, / my silver hair flowing / like a cat’s deep stretch.’

Michael Longley has described these poems as ‘linguistically abundant’, ‘sensuous and religious’, ‘celebratory and erotic’ in these ‘cool cynical times’.The power of the writing comes, in part, from the breathtaking verbs and adjectives that depict the physical landscape of Beara: ‘rain-waxed fields’; ‘the night moistening the darkness’; ‘the pine trees sap the damp air’; the ‘chanting of stone’; ‘ebony in the fleshing sea’.

Ocean and stone are the dominant physical images on Beara and also in this collection where both images mirror the inner personal landscape: ‘The ocean became the beating thing within me;’ ‘layer upon layer, the stone clasps around me, and my eyes fall to where the sea and mountains meet.’

‘Rapture’ is the title of one of the poems in the collection and rapture is a sensation that courses through the writing as the poet – accompanied by the ghost of the Hag of Beara – roams the Beara rocks and seas ‘as if we were not separate’. Go to Beara and clutch Leanne O’Sullivan’s volume in your hand.