Tullaghan, Co Leitrim
Getting home to Leitrim following our extended pandemic-forced exile in Dublin was akin to receiving a bear hug from a good friend, something else I’ve been missing these past few months.
There was no one thing that captured why I and so many people are drawn back to ‘their place’, wherever that may be. But the feeling of assimilation was tangible from the first evening we sat breaking bread together on my brother Stuart’s patio, the sun setting slowly before us, over the Atlantic Ocean and Leitrim’s little coastline.
The time it took for the sun to eventually slip away was, I feel, reflective of the pace of life out West and a way of living that appeals to many of the region’s sentimental exiles.
It reminds us of when we had more time in our lives. Of silage summer days and hay gathering evenings when a bicycle could take you to the very edge of your world and back and no one looked for you as long as you came home for dinner.
Returning there again after a few months away, I was struck by the generosity of space. Such a landscape and vista engenders one to breathe more deeply, I find.
Knowing one’s breath is one of the first steps in better recognising one’s bodily responses to stresses, anxieties, and triggers. Controlling that breath and developing the ability to return it to an equilibrium helps to disengage the mind’s evolutionary tendency to engage our ‘fight or flight’ response to such stimuli. Hence some of the psychological and physiological benefits of mindfulness or yoga.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I feel so relaxed in Leitrim – its length, its breadth, and its breathe. Leitrim is my Child’s Pose.
Of course, life in Leitrim is not without its stresses (and these days I’m always on ‘holiday’ when visiting there).
I’m a pragmatic enough sentimentalist with enough lived experience of the place to know that. I know too there are some rose-coloured glasses to be removed from the end of my nose if I’m to wholly recall life there as a full-time resident.
Then there’s the exile’s dilemma to deal with – the belief that what you experience while home on holiday is what life is like there all the time.
While in fact the other 50 weeks of the year locals don’t see as regularly the people they’d like to or do all the things they said they would, either. But all that said and done, for me, there remains something about the place and its pace that lends oneself to a more relaxed relationship with one’s inner and outer worlds.
I find it requires a conscious effort to successfully disengage from the pace of life generated by the built and cultural architecture of Dublin city. I disengage from the volumes of traffic and the avatar existence of a daily commute by cycling everywhere possible.
I decompress from the concrete world by escaping into nature, preferably the coast or the mountains but the likes of St. Anne’s Park too is a perfect tonic. I escape from the volume of people by immersing myself in my little family, our garden, and some music or a book.
On the flip side of this a cycle through Dublin en route to meeting some friends for a night of revelry energises me in the most electric way. Dublin’s many magnificent buildings, structures, and engineering feats remind me of man’s creative capacities and fill me with awe.
There is always something to do (except during a pandemic lockdown – but again that’s hardly exclusive to Dublin). Meanwhile, the anonymity of a city has always both excited and relaxed me; it is the perfect antidote to some of the ‘in your pocket politics’ that can pollute a small town or village.
But one of my life’s maxims has always been: ‘it’s not where you are it’s who you’re with’.
My immediate family live pretty much in a 20km radius of each other in Leitrim. I missed them dreadfully during lockdown and couldn’t wait to see everyone.
We had a wonderful outdoor gathering in the courtyard of an old farmhouse that my dad bought back in the 1980s.
It’s a venue that has hosted many special gatherings of the Regan clan and friends.
It soothed my soul and eased much longing. But I am fortunate to boast a circle of friends in Dublin that are just as mad and meaningful as my family and in normal times we meet regularly and are essentially each other’s extended and surrogate family.
So being blessed with people I want to share my life with in both locations means I can be happy and content in either, and will as I have always done, use the place I am not currently calling home as a counterbalance that helps keep me in equilibrium.
The fortnight at home came at the perfect time for my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Eliza who was becoming well sick of the sight of Mama and Dada and Liath the Cat. Her favourite question had become: ‘Is Leitrim open yet?’
Her experience was the ideal antidote to lockdown: family and friends, space, freedom and abundance. Her integration was instantaneous, and her developmental leap was a wonder to watch.
And yet, when we packed up our car, waved goodbye, and started our journey homewards Eliza turned to us and said: ‘I’m looking forward to seeing Cat’ and in a way I guess we all were.