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Notes by Alan Dix on "At the Edge: Walking the Atlantic Coast of Ireland and Scotland"

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At the Edge: Walking the Atlantic Coast of Ireland and Scotland


This is one of the books Bill on Tiree lent me to take with me down to Wales, and I must get my own copy.

In many ways Joseph Murphy's journey mirrored my own walk around Wales. He walked the Gaelic sea coast from South West Ireland to the Northern tip of the Outer Hebrides as a means to make sense of his own Gaelic heritage and issues of sustainable development on the Atlantic fringe.

He is clearly a far more experienced walker than I was when I started (and still am), and also seemed to be far better prepared in terms of both planning the logistics of his walk and reading history and literature before hand.

The book is an account of his 1500 kilometre walk (approx. 1000 miles) including his experiences as a walker and of the people he met and places he saw en route.

As a walker many of his experiences resonant with my own, three weeks in feeling "like a man forty years older", swopping sides of the road to walk a different camber (unfortunately not possible when the camber is the slope of a cliff edge, always the same direction), and finding villages with three outs and no breakfast. Some problems are far worse in Scotland tan in Wales, notably the midges!

The stories of his encounters with people are vibrant and rich including many accounts of generosity and some of ignorance … particular amongst English incomers.

He encounters multiple examples of large-scale development being foisted on fragile rural communities, many connected with energy production both renewable and non-renewable. He struggles with the difficulties and contradictions between the needs for carbon reduction and the impact some of the proposed solutions have on traditional communities.

Some of this may be truly necessary, but the high-handed and often ignorant policies of distant policy makers make it hard to trust the arguments. Just recently Lord Howell, a Tory peer and advisor to the government on energy policy said that Fracking can take place in 'desolate' north-east England. However, I think Murphy would be hearted by the Indian villagers who thwarted plans to mine their sacred mountain.



"Celtic monks let salt water take the place of sand …"


"I knew you had the Irish" "It's like a good dentist working with an old tooth. If you root around long enough out it comes" … metaphor for his walk


Loch Léinn - lake of learning "The 'Dark Ages' were clearly less dark in some parts of Europe than others."


"You need a pair of sandals" - advice from his wife - JM mutilates his shoes as second best

p. 55

switching road sides to change camber when ankles hurt


geographic space vs place - Relph "Place and Placelessness"


"Am I not a man" robbed of language and culture


Irish rain ...


joints seizing up after 3 weeks on the road - "like a man forty years older"


- Shell project in Mayo - "community doing development for itself or is development being down to it?"


journalist - the 'idle' rural poor who should "grow up and start living in the third millennium"


Irish energy policy "predict and provide" (c.f. Smart Grid)


Irish speaking Category A regions - 67% daily speakers - critical mass


languages disappearing, one every two weeks


village in decline - challenge of sustainable development for Ireland


pub with no sandwich despite shop next door


Ballycastle - three pubs/shops … but no breakfast


"Big Read" in Killala - "second hand books lining the walls"


from sustainability to well being


Galogas - (Scots Gaelic) warriors with long axes to unseat a Norman knight


Tory Island of Donegal - easier to understand Hebridean Gaelic than southern Irish


"You have to be rabidly post-modern to enjoy seeing a mock timber facade sandwiched between Greek columns and mediaeval turrets" (re Irish ostentation school of architecture)


incomers' (Southern English) views of 'locals' in the Highlands and Islands


16 words for hill/mountain in Gaelic - just like Eskimos and snow


Celtic monks and nature poetry "an eye washed miraculously clear by continual spiritual exercises … *strange vision* of natural things in an almost unnatural purity."


overheard mobile phone "I'M ON STAFF-FA"


he does not like crowds!


uncaring coach drivers


Gaelic tree-name alphabet and alphabet trails


Skye by any other name?


language for self-respect and development


Skye English incomer talking about "Typical Skye … They don't know what a hard day's work is"


David Paterson "A Long Walk on the Isle of Skye"


Skye Bridge global capital and local power


- in North Uist - local man says he can talk to Donegal, but to Islay or Mull


the hedgehog debacle!


"lazy beds" (c.f. Soay on Tiree), anything but lazy!


Prince Charles "Lord of the Isles" as well as 'Prince of Wales'


Scalpay - coal word for Corncrake = "gràineag" = 'hedgehog' in standard Gaelic


North Harris Trust website says the community "prizes its Gaelic language", but has no Gaelic version of the site.


scarcity of wood - carrying roof timbers to new house from old one


West Side Coastal Walk on Lewis


historic links between Free Church and Gaelic language


Lewis villages (like on Tiree) stretch from moor to sea, not simple nuclear model even when Houses one end of the land.


the decision to refuse planning for Lewis turbine array was purely on ecological, not cultural/community grounds. Indeed "the decision making process had no capacity to take cultural concerns into consideration"


Gaelic areas Scotland an Ireland in 19th century treated as "primitive and backward" where they should "try to be more English and less Gaelic" - a "colonial experience similar to the experience of people n Africa and elsewhere"


climate change often used as excuse for national concerns to overrule local ones in remote areas. Murphy looks to vision of sustainable development that is locally based