A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3: McCools Kick at Mud + Digging Seamus Heaney

in which your author re-visits a most-likely not ancestral mud patch and reads at a master's grave

semi-overcast 70 °F

So, where were we? Attempting to recall Day 3 of this whirlwind trip, I begin this entry in Galway, expecting I’ll only complete a few paragraphs before we launch ourselves back along the Southwest coast in our trusty Renault.

Day 3 began in Magherafelt. Neither Dan nor I slept very well, having stayed up too late the night before either writing or attending to political Facebook groups presently raising bundles of cash to turn America blue. [Fun interjection from the present: Dan holding up a ten Euro bill in Galway and saying, “oh I thought this was trash.”]

We pack up the car, park, and drop into a friendly breakfast place, where Dad and Dan have their first traditional Irish fry, with curling chunks of bacon, eggs and sausage. (The vegetarian of 20 years opts for a raspberry white chocolate scone.)

Dan is experiencing some strange jaw pain so he runs across to a pharmacy to get some heating compresses. (“Are ye havin’ a wee bit of payin?”) We drop by Bryson's Bar, built in the early 1860s, and site of my first true singing experience in an Irish pub, captured by my dear friend Amy for posterity. It's nice to show Dad this place, and Dan and I remark on how small it seems these years later.


We make our way to an area on the outskirts of Magherafelt called Toberhead, where John and Olivia McCool set up a farm back in 1730; it was this homestead that initially led me to this town back in 2014, and this will be my 3rd time there. We drive up the long dirt path and walk up the muddy lane to where we can see one of the old houses in the distance; everything in this part of the world is very spread out. (A recurring joke between Dan and I on this trip characterizes the same rural Irish types who asked "MacKooule? MacKooule?!" on our last trip, saying "Aye, it's moahre MacKooules over to look at some muck.")

Robin, the farmer who owns the land comes out with his teenage daughter, wondering about what these odd trespassers are doing staring off behind a fence on his property, and I re-introduce myself. He’s a friendly man and we chat with him for 5 minutes or so – the thick rural dialect is just as I remember it. On the way out, we spot a better view of the farmhouse and take a few good selfies, then stop at the sign boasting “McCoole’s Road” on the way out.


Next stop is Bellaghy, just up the road a bit, birthplace of the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I’ve been following the Heaney HomePlace on Facebook since it open just over a year ago, as I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the man’s work and presence, and a couple years ago had the chance to perform some of his work in an event led by the Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge. (Poets’ Theatre director Bob Scanlan was a close friend of Heaney.) There’s a characteristic light Irish mist in the air as we pull up.

The Centre is organized in two floors, and begins by introducing small displays on people who the poet featured in his early poems. Throughout the exhibit, there’s a deep sense that although this was a man who gained access to the highest, richest perches of creative language, imagery, and metaphor, he was ever rooted in his hometown and the colorful, characters who inhabited it. Every description extols him as not only a true artist, but an eminently decent and humble human. Many poems are posted alongside visual representations of the persons or themes discussed in the poems; I’ve never been to a museum dedicated to a poet before, but this seems a spot-on solution for how to lift something off the page and turn it into an experience. Heaney’s poems placed people and experiences on the page, so in a way making this transition in reverse makes perfect sense. There are videos one can sit and watch that feature people either describing their relationship with Heaney, what Heaney’s work means to them, or reading their favorite passage of his, and in most cases doing all three, with a wide range of interviewees from Bono and Bill Clinton to schoolchildren from this area.


We pause at a lovely café upstairs – Dad comments that this is the best food he’s ever had at a museum. I can’t recommend this place highly enough if you’re in the area, and even if you’re not in the area, it’s worth a day trip. There isn’t too much else around this region in terms of tourist attractions, so I imagine (and hope) the Heaney Centre will become a solid anchor for economic development. I splurge in the gift shop, wanting to support the fine work of these curators and Heaney’s extraordinary legacy. I hope to make it back some day.


On the way out of town, we stop at Heaney’s grave, where I visited two years ago. It’s lightly raining now just as it was then. I read Heaney’s “Digging” as well as a piece in honor of Mom’s good friend Sheila who had passed away within the week, a piece that our dear friend Dan, who passed away last year and whose memory we carry with us on this trip, has emailed around after the death of Ted Kennedy. I take a beautiful wet leaf that had fallen on the grave, and leave another in its place. The Heaney stops are real highlights of the trip so far.


We press forward and make the trek to Stranorlar, a place I first visited ten years ago this month. (There are some bittersweet emotions being back inside this place, to be honest.) I booked us a room at the Kee’s Hotel, built in 1845, a rustic place that is as opulent as anything could be in this area. We have dinner (excellent food) in the restaurant, and have a long chat about work life – Dan and I are following very untraditional, self-created career paths, often very rewarding, but with many unorthodox challenges. As ever, I feel extremely fortunate to have this support system. Dan and I round off the night by having a pint and a whiskey (omg it’s so cheap here) in the hotel bar, then walking across the bridge that runs over the River Finn, past the Sean Mac Cumhaill football pitch, to a bar I recall hanging out at ten years ago, now closed. There are many old ghosts here.


We’re getting our sea legs with the trip, and writing these words from Clonakilty days later, I can vouch for this: the best is yet to come!

Posted by coolmcjazz 18:16 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged donegal bellaghy stranorlar

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Loving following the trip Jason. So good to see you

by Jo

You guys were the perfect first stop, Jo! It was quite an unforgettable adventure and I miss it already! Best to the doggies and Tom.

by coolmcjazz

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