My grandfather as a young man was cutting turf on a bog in Leitrim with his neighbour. As the slan cut into the wet peat it suddenly become tightly stuck. The men thought it might be a piece of bog oak. As they dug away further they saw something colourful, something with a red tint, something unusual. In just a few minutes the two men had released a headless body from the peat’s grip. The red tint they had seen in the bright July sun, was in fact the ginger hair on the back of the severed neck of a gruesome corpse. Soon other neighbours, old and young all stopped working on the turf banks and came to view the grisly scene.
When telling this story my grandfather was a master at maintaining the suspense, infusing enough tension to keep us all on edge. He told us later that the body was not some recent murder victim but that of a priest, executed in penal times. I don’t know if this was merely wild speculation but stories like these were sufficient to fire the young mind. I’ve never lost that fascination with the past, a yearning for it to give up its secrets and riddles. The Leitrim I grew up in was full of wonderful storytellers and great stories – one cannot exist without the other. There are still many stories to be told and retold.
If one was to take a walk amongst the abundance of megalithic tombs that dot our landscape; to the early christian sites associated with men like St. Caillin, St. Barry and St. Manchan; to the Doon of Drumsna, the great earthworks that separated ancient Connaught and Ulaidh, to explore the sites of the old O’Rourke, Clancy and MacRaghnaill strongholds, imagining the spirited Devorgilla, the beautiful wife of Tighernan O’Rourke , whose kidnapping led to the coming of the Normans; or perhaps take a wander through the valleys of South Leitrim where Eoghan Roe O’Neill transformed his unruly Creaghts into an efficient fighting force, maybe travel in the footsteps of Carolan, the blind harpist, last of the great Bards; or stroll around the country lanes that in 1798 were thronged with Frenchmen and Croppies heading for oblivion on the hillsides of Ballinamuck; then maybe linger in the beautiful grounds of Lough Rynn, seat of the infamous Lord Leitrim, the most despised of the landed class, one of the first victims of a Land War that would transform property ownership on this Island; why not stop at the homestead of Sean MacDiarmada, one of the men who signed the Proclamation of Independence in 1916, the very title deeds of this Nation; or maybe recall the hundreds of men who fought and died on foreign shares , from the heat of Mesopotamia to the mud of Flanders, in the Great War to save Civilisation, and surely then realise that a small County like Leitrim bears a rich legacy to be tapped into.
It is said that we do not live in the past and yet the past lives on inside of us. As long as there are storytellers there shall be tales to be told.