COLUMN: Experiencing homesickness for Leitrim for the first time

This Leitrim Life

Colin Regan


Colin Regan

Offaly people are the biggest turf burners in the country

Even the bog has become a place of renewed pilgrimage. Picture by Andrea Rankin taken at Tullynascreena, Dromahair

We were due to visit Leitrim the weekend before St Patrick’s Day.
Things were just kicking off and as the first cases had recently been reported in Dublin we opted to stay put.
Mum fell into the ‘vulnerable to Covid-19 infection’ category and we didn’t want to endanger her in any way. That was nearly three months ago. It’s hard to believe that, just typing it now. The time, in fairness, has flown by but that doesn’t deflect the feeling of longing for home.
It is, I think, one of the first times in my life that I have experienced a sensation of homesickness. I certainly don’t recall another.
Even when attending boarding school from the tender age of twelve, I don’t recall that pang for home. Don’t get me wrong, I longed for the Friday evenings when we got back to Derryloughan, but more for the great dinner mum would have waiting for us. The food in the boarding house was predictably awful. But there were so many people, and so much life, and sport, and fun to fill every waking hour, it wasn’t in my make-up to think much on home.
When living in America I didn’t long for Leitrim. I was having the time of my life. I missed the people, the place, the ensemble, rather than the geographical space. But I was blessed to find myself surrounded by likeminded people from across Ireland and the globe, many of them from Leitrim.
So this surrogate family met all my social needs while New Hampshire, Vermont, New Orleans, Mississippi, and the likes kept my spatial needs at bay.
Right now I’m missing the people and the space that Leitrim boasts. I guess it’s because during lockdown I have been restricted in engaging with all the people I normally do and limited in filling Leitrim’s geographical spaces with suitable alternatives, such as the Wicklow mountains or even the relative wilds of Howth Head. Dollymount Strand has always been without our restricted travel area.
But as much as I love having a costal space available to me in Dublin (and not just during lockdown) it can never compare to Leitrim’s little neckline, or the majestic spaces of Tullan Strand or Mullaghmore, presented without ostentation by our neighbours in Donegal and Sligo, respectively.
My family and friends in north Leitrim have been exploring all the terrains available to them (within the restrictions of public health advice, of course).
Even the bog has become a place of renewed pilgrimage (I believe all the turf are already saved!). I don’t imagine our mountains have enjoyed such footprints in recent memory.
What glory is to be found within 5km of anywhere in Leitrim, as the readers’ photographs to the Leitrim Observer has been demonstrating. I have been wallowing in various vistas – from clandestine country lanes to flower-freckled meadows and mirrored lakes reflecting their sentinel mountains. The sunset scenes have been particularly dramatic (and envy inducing!).
Edwina Guckian’s Twitter account has become a go-to for some visual treats.
Her attuned eye manages that which all artists seeks: to turn something familiar into something new and universal. Her single images can tell a tale that capture the eye and the mind’s eye for an hour.
Speaking of telling stories, Seamus O’Rourke is some man. Everyone I know has been sending me links to his dispatches. They help remind me of the warts and all life of Lovely Leitrim. And we’re all the richer for it.
For now we’ve circled July 20 on our diary (the dates the travel restrictions are due to be lifted) in anticipation of getting back up to the northwest to see all our family, friends, and to explore the great wild open that is Lovely Leitrim. In the meantime, stay safe up there, and don’t go changing.
Liatroim abú.