Landscape as Witness - Field Trip: Day 27
Today I visited the site of a famine road that runs past Mullach Mór, starting in an area called Cooloorta. I had first come across this road during an interview that I conducted a couple of weeks ago, but I hadn't been aware of just how close it was until I recently searched for it online. Coincidentally, over the following the number of days I was recommended by two more people to visit it. I managed to locate the road in question on a website that highlighted the various hiking trails around the area. It was suggested to take the famine road as a shortcut while hiking the loop around the Burren National Park, a distance of around 20km
I set off towards the car park where the famine road began, and once again I was grateful for having the brakes of my bike looked at last week. As the village of Carron is quite high up, you are almost guaranteed to encounter a steep decline no matter where you're travelling to. I had been down a section of this hill once before, which is locally referred to as the area's own Corkscrew Hill due to its steep and windy nature. However, the rest of the journey was new to me, and I had to be cautious while cycling along backroads that had barely enough room for one car to pass by.
Compared to the other famine constructions that I have visited, this one was particularly easy to find. As it is the location of a popular hiking trail for tourists, a small collection of cars had gathered at the entrance to the park. Adjacent to the entrance was an information board, however I was shocked to find that there was no mention of the road being built during the famine. This made me wonder whether I was in the right place or not, but walking further along the road put that beyond all doubt.
The marked trail suggested turning off the road almost straight away, and to continue along a narrow track up over Mullach Mór. I stuck to the road and soon I was alone, surrounded by the bleak yet beautiful landscape that is becoming more and more familiar to me. As with many of the constructions built during the famine as part of the Public Works Scheme, this road had not been completed. This was clear from the fact that the foundation stones were still exposed, similar to the famine road in Poulaphuca. Although unfinished, it still stretched on for miles, merging seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. The sections where the road had to be raised were particularly impressive. Mounds upon mounds of stone were place on top of each other, the majority being roughly cut yet fitting together perfectly. A few instances of well-carved stonework could be seen, but these were very much in the minority. Again, this is a clear indication that the road was far from being completed.
Along the side of the road there was an occasional boulder that seemed to stand out from the rest of the landscape. Given the unusual nature of the Burren, it can be difficult at times to tell whether a boulder/rock has been place there by somebody or is simply a natural occurrence. In this instance, I imagined that these boulders were meant to bear the names of the area in which they were located, or else to display the distance to the nearest village. Of course, this is all speculative.
Speaking of which, it was very easy to let my imagination run wild given the history of the road that I was walking along. I found myself looking out for anything that stood out from the landscape, and seeing if I could figure out what its original function may have been. Various upright rocks became gravestones for the builders who had died during the construction of the road, a collection of loose stones hinted at something being buried underneath, white markings on a carved rock alluded a form of signage that had long since been eroded away.
I continued down the road until I came across an area of farmland. Although the road continued through here, this section had clearly been improved by the local famers, presumably to allow for tractors and cars to access the area. As the weather was beginning to take a turn for the worst, I started to make my way back towards the car park. What had previously been a glorious sunny day had now become dark and overcast, and a shower could be seen approaching in the distance. I knew that I would only have a short window of opportunity, so I took out both my cameras and began shooting.
The first thing that struck me was the self-imposed pressure I felt while photographing the road and its surrounding area. I was already worrying about whether or not my images would do justice to its significant history, a mindset that is not recommended or beneficial in any way. I think this way of thinking was only exaggerated due to the fact that it was my first time visiting this particular area, and as a result I was almost shooting blind. In some instances this can actually be helpful, however for this project I think it is worth doing a recce of the area first to take everything in. It wasn't long before the heavens opened, and by that point I had almost returned at the entrance of the park. I shot just under 2 rolls of film, as well as taking multiple digital shots as backups, however I will definitely be returning to the site once more before the end of the field trip. Thankfully, this time I will have the opportunity to do so.
#LandscapeasWitness #TheGreatFamine #Research #Ireland #History #Photography