Canal Journey’s End

The Victoria Lock gates soon opened and, on a swell of escaping water we sailed into the sea estuary.

It was high tide, of course, the navigation being tidal, and our elevated location gave us a panoramic view  – to our left and right, or rather port and starboard – of the ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ banks – which, paradoxically were to our east and west.  An accident of history, this.

Bordering the Hall’s estate, the rhododendron (or more familiarly known about Newry as the “Rosy Dandrum” ) grows in great profusion.  We are passing the ancient Narrow Water Keep, which has a sad folk tale attached to its history. 

There was an island in the Narrows once called Nun’s Island but it has been blasted away to deepen and widen the fairway.

On the Louth side is a most beautiful wood of every imaginable shade of green and known as Reilig Chnoc a Phuirt.  It stand just over the stone quay of the ferry and in it were formerly buried unbaptised children and suicides – the ‘conjecturally damned’ as Thomas Hardy had it.  It looks too fair and magic for such sinister associations. 

Finally we reached the green waters of Carlingford Lough.  Somewhere in those wonderful hills above Omeath is a valley called Friothamh which means refracting rays of the sun.  Art McCooey, an Armagh poet of the eighteenth century wrote lines which translate as “O summer-house of the wine whosr rear catches the evening light.”

Friothamh has the sun playing on it morning and evening only, for its golden light is intercepted by the mountains during the day.  The “Fairy Queen”  now lay in Warrenpoint by the old quayside which is ribbed with wooden land-ties.  Grass-grown as it is today, in the days gone by that old pier hand saw many broken-hearted ones kneeling there with arms out-stretched, their eyes wet with bitter tears, praying for the poor exiles on their way to the New World – for indeed Warrenpoint is a port of the emigration years. 

Partir, c’est mourir un peu.  That awful parting really meant ‘to die a little’ to those heart-sick agonised children of our race.  Our quaysides and railway stations were the stages for many a supreme tragedy.

Like the sun-lost valley of Omeath, the lives of many experience but a fleeting benignance in childhood to, after years of dull sorrow and anxious care, end with an ephemeral radiance before the eternal night.

… end …

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