Icon u not.
‘Icon’, noun. (Greek. eikõn, an image, from eikõ, I resemble.)
An image or representation; a portrait; This one is very clear cut. The most iconic Irish Mountain is situated in our heads, and our hearts. Not outside, topside, offside but inside.
Let me make reference to folk far more in the know than I. David Kirk’s poetic and quite beautiful publication ‘The Mountains of Mourne – A celebration of a Place Apart’ gives more than a hint or two. Dawson Stelfox writes the foreword, although, by his paraphrasing the poet Patrick Kavanagh, he may mislead the reader to think it is the Mournes that Kavanagh refers to, when in fact it is in the more modest Monaghan hills, that the poet found his iconic images. To quote Stelfox, ‘The Mountains of Mourne have had an overwhelming influence on my life. To paraphrase Patrick Kavanagh, when their story is told “a carbon copy will unfold my being”.
There are few who can come as close to the truth of the iconic as Kavanagh. To paraphrase him, in my mind, is to take three giddy skips off the top of the Devil’s Coach Road, following a picnic of two bottles of rum and a reheated three day old curry. To quote ‘Monaghan Hills’, Kavanagh addresses those same hills thus, ‘Monaghan hills, You have made me the sort of man I am, A fellow who can never care a damn For Everestic thrills. The country of my mind Has a hundred little heads, On none of which foot-room for genius.’ What he would have given to have been born among the Mournes, but no,‘O Monaghan hills, when is writ your story, A carbon-copy will unfold my being’.
My point, yes, there is one, is this, for Stelfox it is the Mournes, for Kavanagh, it was Shancoduff. Very often, what we learn most of ourselves we find not in books, but in the relationship we garner from the natural about us. Whether this is a vast or a modest landscape is irrelevant. It is what shapes the icon for us afterwards. For those unable to get up the mountains get a copy of David Kirk’s book above, and also check out Rob Beighton’s beautiful 2008 publication, titled ‘Ireland’s High Places. From the Mountains to the Sea’, or John Feehan’s, The Landscape of Slieve Bloom. Given the economic climate, visit your local library or check out www.borrowbooks.ie with your library card handy.
I leave you with Kavanagh’s iconic image of his own wee black hills that never saw the sun rising. From Shancoduff, ‘My hills hoard the bright shillings of March While the sun searches in every pocket. They are my Alps and I have climbed the Matterhorn with a sheaf of hay for three perishing calves In the field under the Big Forth of Rocksavage.’
Forsake the rum, and the curry, and go find your own iconic Irish Mountain, when the fog lifts and the mists clear, and if you learn to know it half as well as Kavanagh, Kirk, Feehan, Beighton, Stelfox et al, perhaps when its story is writ, a carbon copy will unfold your being.