A boy of 15 is standing still; thigh-deep in muggy river water. His pomona green Wellington boots are just visible beneath the surface. It’s about six in the evening. He is alone, and the town about him sleeps. He is fishing.
“That’s a lonely image”, I say as we watch him from a distance.
We are leaning against a stony wall by the riverbank. I am unzipping my camera case gingerly because I want to remember the stillness and his solitude when a blonde-haired man of about thirty staggers, stony-eyed towards us.
“Don’t you dare take my picture”, he yells. “You’ve no right, you sons of bitches. You’ve no fucking right at all”.
Startled, I glide the camera down and wait for him to pass. He is still ranting as he shuffles away. He is alone and mad maybe, if mad is a thing.
This was our first of impression of Sligo and the scene I have just described took place just metres away from the impressive glass structure of our hotel, which is shaped like an enormous boat, and obscures the little twist of the river as it stretches itself into an estuary.
Later that night, after a walk through the town, Andrew asked, “so what do you think of it?” I paused, because this was our special break away and you’re not really supposed to acknowledge that it’s not perfect until months later, when you joke about it and realise that the other thought it was a bit shit too.
“It’s a bit dead”, I said. That was indisputable. As dusk settled, the town was lifeless but for a line of three drunken old men, smoking outside their local.
You’d have to move, if you were our age, we agreed, unless you were a farmer or wanted to work in a tattoo parlour, of which there were a disproportionate amount in the town.
We spent only three days in Sligo but it was long enough to perceive how fuzzy a boundary divides what is still and unspoilt from what has been forgotten.
One of the first things we noticed in Sligo town, was a page stuck with blu-tac to the door of a bank (of all places!). It was a reminder of what’s been forgotten. A man, a poet, had penned some verses, on the subject of the queen’s visit. In the penultimate verse, he asked simply “Why won’t they let her visit the west?” And indeed the following day, as we climbed Knocknaree and observed the beautiful, rocky wilderness that surrounded us, it was hard to believe that this wild, unspoilt landscape wouldn’t be to Her Majesty’s taste. And yet, the way I had described Sligo town the night before as “dead”, was as if stillness were a sin.
And when on our last day we visited the majestic lake at Glencare (strictly in Leitrim, but whatever) and the waterfall that inspired Yeats in his poetry we were cast under a spell. Beneath gleaming sunshine, the lake water lapped with low sounds by the shore and there was not a soul to be seen. It was beauty unbridled. It didn’t need the Queen’s visit to make it so. It was too beautiful for words or tourist brochures.
And looking back, I am glad that I never did take the fisher boy’s picture. Without that angry, lonely interruption to the peace, his stillness wouldn’t have resonated into prose.