To give them the history of Howth I could have sat them down, taken out the books and pens and given them a traditional lesson, but that wouldn’t work for them. Like me, they do better learning orally, from storytelling. So I joined with a recently launched safari and hiking company, Shane O'Doherty of Howth Hikes and Trails, a man with history on his mind, and a keeper of the flame.
Shane was kitted out in safari wear, water, first aid accessories, and an energetic young dog named Bruno. He met us (a group of 5 hikers) in the heart of the busy village. Born and raised in Howth, Shane has an extensive knowledge of the area and as we took off at a steady march, past the Church and Country Market through the village, he began to tell of the characters and tribes of Howth and soon we were transported back in time.
We heard of the prehistoric man, the Celts and Druids, we walked to Aideen’s Grave (a 4,000 year old Dolmen at Howth Castle) and saw the Island of Saints and Scholars on Inis Mac Nessan (Ireland’s Eye). We imagined the Vikings arriving in 795ad, and land on her sister island, Lambay Island. And we listened to Shane tell how the Vikings eventually left when our King Brian Boru was victorious in battle, but died in the process. The Normans came next and their decedents are still living in Howth Castle which dominates our view as we walk.
Shane, a chatty, warm-natured, man in his early 50's traveled and worked as an airline executive. He lived in many European countries, but found there is no place like Howth, with her unique and beautiful qualities, and rightly so, he felt the need to share his love and knowledge for her. He now leads tours on history, literature, cave exploration and coastal climbs.
We strode across the greens to the ridge of a reservoir and into the most magical of mossy forests of rambling Rhododendrons and wild garlic, the white flower making abundant beds underfoot and the pink/purple petals of the flowers overhead.
As Shane led the way he told of more modern times. Of 100 years ago and Howth’s crucial role in the 1916 Easter Rising and the gun-running expedition on board the Asgard. Local men landed those guns and volunteers marched them into Dublin for the rebellion that lead to the War of Independence and the Free State, which is now the republic of Ireland, that we know and love.
Not just a history tour, Shane mixed in Howth's literary giants that came and wandered and were inspired by the landscape; Dean Swift, Samuel Ferguson, James Joyce and HG Wells.
One W.B. Yeats lived above the cliffs, and said this; We are not strangers, just friends who have yet to meet, and he captured what Howth is all about.
We, like our kids, made like goats and climbed twisted paths to the crackle of the yellow buds opening on the gorse, brushed past ancient mossy boulders and jumped trickling streams of the clearest water, until we entered into a natural tree-lined tunnel and emerged at 'Lover's meet' at the peak of Mushrock. We stood trance-like, captured by the purple and blues of the Mourne Mountains to the glitter of ocean surrounding Ireland's Eye and Lambay, across to the Sugarloaf and Dalkey mountains where a patchwork-quilt of Dublin city meets meadows and emerging crop fields, bound by treads of road and hills.
This is how the beauty of a place can hold you, calm a beating heart, force your eye to rest as each majestic detail is observed and absorbed.
If I could give the kids anything more, it would be time, more time to explore and discover. When you come across natural beauty of this magnitude it can only be understood slowly letting it soak in and be appreciated over time.
Thanks Shane (and Bruno) for a great adventure.