In and around Rosses Point

From the Irish Monthly, January, 1912

Rosses Point, fronting Sligo Bay, nestles amid a crescent of the loveliest hills in Ireland, like a great white sea bird driven in by the tempest to seek shelter in the green and peaceful valley. It is a place for which Nature has done a great deal, man but little; and may it never become that paradox and abomination - a fashionable watering place where the majestic roll of the rumbling surf is mingled with the strident notes of the band on the beach and the discordant notes from the distant hobby-horses; where the tameless energies of the sea are walled in by smooth parapets and elegant promenades, the chosen haunt of flaunting Fashion! At Rosses Point the restless ocean works its will on the shore and ploughs its way steadily inland, year by year, all unheeded, licking the treacherous rocks into smoothness and sucking into its depths, here a sand dune, there a shoulder of land. As yet the Rosses is but a village, its people primitive in the world's eyes, it may be, but true to their grand old heritage of Catholic Faith with its leading characteristic of limitless trust in, and holy familiarity with the Man above.

Scepticism and materialism, the offspring of modern luxury and unrest which men miscall delight have not yet touched with their pestilent blight this simple, seafaring people.

Though Sligo Bay lies open to all the forces of the Atlantic, yet one finds at Rosses Point no plunging seas mounting to the welkin's cheek, and towering cliffs rearing their scarped faces over the fret and fume of the waves. These things one misses. But it would need the brush of a Turner to paint the purples and browns and greys of the surrounding hills, the black foam-flaked rock ridges, the scudding surf iridescent in the golden sunlight, the vault of turquoise sky, softened here and there with clouds of lustrous softness flushed with the glory of the day star. This is one of the seascapes you get at Rosses Point, but it is incomplete without its background of melody, the mysterious theme of the sea, the swish of the incoming tide, the sob of the waters in the hollows of the rocks, and the drip from the crags of the receding waves.

To get to the shores without passing through the village you may go by a rutty, rugged roadway on the sloping height above, overlooking the silver channel where the Garavogue mingles its waters with those of the glistening sea. A primitive stile leads from this pathway into The Greenlands, which form one of the finest golf links in, perhaps, the Three Kingdoms, where as far as the eye can reach, extends a green billowy expanse of velvet turf enamelled with a rare broidery of lovely flowers, the pink century and dappled orchids, the silver grass of Parnasties and swaying bluebell, the soft eyebright and dewy butterworth. When you stop to pick up a baby pansy of yellow petal and black heart, you are greeted with the fragrance of the purple thyme and golden bird's foot trefoil.

As you ramble up hill and down hollow, with now and again a tantalising glimpse of the distant sea, the pleasure of your walk is enhanced by the springiness of the soil and the tang of the brine in the air. A last steep descent leads you into a hollow where the high fringe of marrain grass and restharrow, the tall brooding cliff on the left, and the sibilant throb in the distance reveal the presence of:

The moving waters at their priest like task

Of pure ablation round earth's human shores.

You go through a sandy gorge made by a break in the sedges and a glorious vision bursts on your delighted eyes. On your left are the tall rocks shelving down to the ocean's brim, and honeycombed with caverns hollowed out in grotesque arches and recesses by the inroads of cycles of tides.

On the left is a steep incline, down which cows sometimes make their way from the green swath overhead, and file across the shore. Cows on the beach always strike me as an incongruity and a blot; near a fern-fringed brook they are idyllic, but in the presence of the vast sea they are impertinence and an intrusion; if not an absurdity.

The rocks at Rosses Point have nothing of the sublime about them. Only in a few places are they anything like lofty. It is amazing what vagaries the sea plays with rocks. At one time she will chisel them into angles and peaks, at another smooth them into roundness; turn the grooves into ridges, others she perforates like a sponge; here she will, by persistent lapping, waste away the base of a huge mass until you may shelter from a shower beneath the overhanging ledge; there she will toy with another until it is honeycombed with cells like a wasp's nest. Sometimes she will hollow out giant caverns resembling the aisles of some vast mediaeval cathedral and again she will flow over shelves, breaking off and rounding here, adding and sharpening there, till the rocks themselves look like a turbulent, tempestuous ocean smitten to stone. Now that I have reached the rocks, I move quickly from ledge to ledge, staying only to pick up a narrow fluted strip of broken seaweed or long reed-like lamenaria , some mermaid's skipping rope, or to gaze into a rock pool where green tresses of velvet softness trail in the water, while here and there, a splash of soft dusty red on the rock reveals the presence of the sea-anemone with its petal-like rays. Sometimes I stoop to loosen one of those bell-shaped limpets that cluster so tenaciously round the crags or those myriad fans and volutes that populate the halls of old Neptune, asking myself dreamily, what kind the little tenant was, and:

Did he stand at the diamond door

Of his house in a rainbow frill

Did he push, when he was uncurled,

A golden foot or a fairy horn

Through his dim water-world?

What a thing of beauty and of marvel a seashell is, so delicately coloured, so wonderfully designed! The ironclad vessel of man is caught in the strong embrace of the wind and the wave, and smashed remorselessly to pieces on the rock; the frail ship of pearl, a work divine sails safely through cataract seas, guided only by the little living will within.

At last I reach my jutting ledge and am free to revel in the beauty around me, to look back at:

The ever lapping ripples on the beach

And tender curving lines of creamy spray

Or to gaze into the divine transparency of the incoming tide and listen to the grinding of the shingle in the surge. There may be those who agree with the poet in thinking that:

The best charms of nature improve

When we can see them reflect from looks

That we love.