Ireland is a country on the very western fringe of the European continent. On moving to Dublin, its capital city, I found that things I was able to obtain easily when living in the UK were either not available or could only be obtained at great expense. When I moved to Galway, despite it being a city I found that certain other things weren’t available outside of the capital. I then discovered Connemara, an area that covers the western tip of County Galway, a place which at first seemed impossibly remote and although it’s become far more familiar to me and therefore less remote, I still consider it the ‘back of beyond’.
There is a place in Connemara called the Inagh Valley. A road snakes along a vast expanse between two mountain ranges, hugging the contours of two huge lakes, with only your grip on the steering wheel to keep you from falling in while dodging the ubiquitous sheep. Along this long strip of tarmac you eventually reach Kylemore and there you can take a turn onto a road of lesser quality but still drivable. You continue on this road, over a small bridge and past a few cottages until you see a track that leads up a hill. You park, as no vehicle could follow this track, and with sturdy walking boots you puff up the steep incline.
The path drops into another valley which only gets sunlight at certain brief times of the year. The path becomes parallel with the Kylemore river and you continue in the opposite direction to the water’s flow. Having dodged huge puddles you are then unable to continue as the path is intersected by the river. There is no bridge and the water is too deep to cross. You look across the river and track the path’s progress up to the other side of the valley, and there nestled on the side of a mountain you spy a farm house. Stone walls and a zinc roof suggest that it’s not inhabited. But a car parked outside suggests a more recent occupation than other abandoned homesteads in the area. The car looks as though it was airlifted to that spot sometime in the 70s however, there is no conceivable way you could get such a small car up there.
As you ponder this, you turn to look back at the way you came and are startled to see a man approaching, carrying a huge sack. The sack is obviously very heavy as he keeps having to stop to rest. It takes a while for him get near to where you’re stood. When he’s in range you introduce yourself. You ask and he confirms that he lives in the house at the end of the path. You want to ask him more but he has trouble understanding you. Presently he heaves the sack onto his shoulder and, clad in chest-high waders, strides through the river. He stops to rest on the other side which is when you get a few surreptitious shots. Then you watch as he makes his slow progress to the house.
As you head back along the path that brought you to this isolated spot just outside the Connemara National Park, it occurs to you that the man you just met lives there with no electricity nor mains water.
I took this photo back in November last year. I had intended to return on the winter solstice when the sun would rise directly down the valley, but it rained heavily that day. Since then, while on an outing to Kylemore Lough I got talking to someone outside their house and learnt that the man with the sack was called Paddy John and that he lives in that valley on his own and gets his water from a well.
I was also told that the valley used to house several families and that the children all moved to America. At one time it was rumoured that the valley was the richest in Connemara, due to all the American dollars being shipped to there. It was also rumoured that one of the families kept the money in a box hidden in the house, and it was discovered that rats had gotten into the box and eaten the money.
Recently I borrowed a pair of waders and I intend to cross that river that barred my path to get a closer look at Paddy John’s fascinating house and perhaps meet the man again.