One writer's view: What it means for us to have won the competition
When I was small we would sometimes visit cousins who had a model railway, and an uncle whose pride and joy it was. We didn’t visit often, but every time we left their house a bit of me got left behind. Not on the train, which I thought silly, trapped on an endless journey going nowhere, but in the creases of the scrunched-up paper hills, in the doorways of tiny cottages, on the tree-lined streets of the small town at the bright blue river’s mouth or marooned on one of the scores of islands my uncle had dotted out to sea.
A part of me longed to stay with the miniature figures – horses, cows, men and women – poised forever on their patches of velvety moss at the edge of the possible.
Which could be why coming home to Westport every time I have been away gives me such an unfailing punch of pleasure. There are specific moments, snapshots I have isolated and carried around with me only to find, to my delight, as I re-enter the west Mayo landscape, that they have not moved. Clare Island still lolls on its back as you crest the last long hill from Castlebar, a floating Yale key dropped by some careless giant on a night out; the tall old boathouse with its rusted roof, superb in its own reflection as you wind down to the harbour and steal a glance to the right; the crumpled hills and sculpted clouds around Clew Bay, infinite in their greens and greys, infinitely generous. Croagh Patrick’s conical peak, here, there and everywhere. And St Patrick himself, still there too, still balancing like Simeon the Stylite, still small and pale and lonely on his column.
“Sometimes I think we live in days more than we live in places,” John McGahern said in one of his frequent musings on what constituted a good life. And he was right. What good is place to us if we have no satisfaction in the hours and minutes of our days? Some places, though, allow us to rhythm our lives to our own choosing more than others. It seems to me that Westport and its surrounds help to make that possible.
The clock on the tower in the town might not always give the right time, but you can set your life by the tide if you want, the twice-daily miracle that pulls the plug on Clew Bay at Rosbeg and empties it of water. By the sun, rising behind the hills, setting over the sea, behind the islands. From your window.
It’s the nature of place that makes living in days easier. It’s not that time stands still, or that you would want it to. It’s not that Westport doesn’t work and worry like everyone else; it does, and we do. It’s that you can more easily make your days your own, decide to enter the world at the edge of the possible.
Geraldine Mitchell is an author and poet who lives in Co Mayo