Another Life: Playing the wandering fool beside the whispering Mayo surf
For the beach lover the boundary of land and ocean is more a state of mind than any line drawn in the sand
The length of Ireland’s coastline must now, I suppose, be nearing some kind of exactitude, as Earth is scanned obsessively by robots in the sky. But everything depends on where you pace it, and at what moment. Tide lifts and falls; foam reaches up to lick one’s boots or curl around a rock. For the beach lover the boundary of land and ocean is more a state of mind than any line drawn in the sand.
Where geography meets philosophy
Few people can have given more intense thought to that than Dr Anna Ryan, who lectures in architecture at the University of Limerick and has written Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape, Representation and Spatial Experience (Ashgate, €35). Describing her as “beachcombing in the tidal zone where geography meets philosophy”, Tim Robinson was welcoming her to his own refined contemplation of “the phenomenology of open spaces as experienced by the mobile, memorious, emotional, spatial creatures that we are”.
The book’s wellspring was Ryan’s childhood holidays in Co Clare. She invited 62 people to talk about, draw and photograph the coastal places they knew and felt mattered to them. One was the South Wall in Dublin, the other the Maharees peninsula in Co Kerry. The excerpts from the tapes are often vivid in their feeling and used to mark the central philosophical point that self and place are deeply conjoined: a guiding awareness for architects.
She also includes a description of my own, of going to the strand to swim alone in early morning: “To stand at the water’s edge, a tiny figure, and strip off there, was to become part Roman gladiator, part dreamer in one’s undervest . . .”
“The scale of the body,” writes Ryan, “is a measure of the scale of the physical surroundings. The body makes the discovery itself, through direct contact, direct experience.” And the sea that May morning was still bloody cold, I can tell you.