The World is your Village

Moody mountains, empty beaches, great pubs - Rosses Point has acquired near mythical status. And now you can find it on the Internet, writes Jack O’Sullivan

The Independent
Saturday, May 30, 1998

On a stuffy day in London, when the west of Ireland seems very distant, I often imagine myself back in Rosses Point in County Sligo, perhaps the loveliest village in the country.

My grandmother was born nearby and, for nearly a century, our family has returned as often as possible to a place that has acquired mythical status.

For me, like many others, the Point has always been magical; wonderful seascapes and empty beaches, plus two offshore islands. There is Oyster Island, by which you can spend hours watching cormorants flying just above the water. And Coney, which has a stone chair upon which St Patrick is said to have sat, and its own pub, which the good saint may have missed. Opened when it ‘feels right’, the owner is John McGowan, whose family can claim to be the sole remaining permanent residents.

Moody mountains encircle the landscape. On one side is Ben Bulben, on the other that rounded Matriarch Knocknarea, atop of which is buried the celtic Queen Maeve. Then there is the championship golf course, which plays differently every day with the changing seasons. There’s a yacht club, a good hotel, The Yeats Country, and wonderful pubs- Austie’s for hot whiskeys when a gale’s blowing, Hackett’s for a chat, Harry’s for a song, Nifty’s for a bender. Such a shame they’re all so far away.

I'm not the only long distance dreamer about the Point. W B Yeats, though he lived for much of his life in England, spent a lot of his boyhood in the village and, as he wrote four months before his death: "Under bare Ben Bulben's head/In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid". The Point captured his heart and inspired his poetry. It is easy to picture him walking the fields in the Lower Rosses - tiny, hilly outcrops, with rocks jutting out that feel like the remains of an ancient civilisation, occupied now only by the fairies. His brother, Jack, painted local scenes, as ships sailed past Rosses, a smugglers' haven, down the channel into the port of Sligo five miles away.

There are thousands of other Rosses lovers scattered around the globe. After all, the village was built on a seafaring tradition: it has produced more than 50 captains in the Merchant Navy this century alone; a long list of Devaneys, Bruens and Gillens who went to sea. The pubs are filled with the memorabilia they brought back. The world is dotted with the descendants of those who jumped ship and never returned or who chose to settle their families in great ports such as Liverpool and New York.

So there is no need to daydream any more. You just plug into the Net and find out the latest news about the village, generally disseminated by a character masquerading as the Metal Man. He is a famous landmark, a 12ft-high Georgian statue, dressed in a naval uniform, who points towards the safety of the deep channel for passing shipping. Dubbed "the only Rosses Point man never to have told a lie", the Internet Metal Man posts messages about who he has seen lately walking towards the pub for a "heart starter".

At Christmas, much of the community gathered in Austie's when the site went live online and a stream of messages went back and forth around the world. "People talk of technology killing community," said Noel Kilgallon, a local artist and writer, "but here is a case of it bringing us closer." He likened the event to the whole village gathered around the first valve wireless when it arrived in the Point. There has even been a message from one Adam J Sippola, who announced: "Greetings. I am the reincarnation of W B Yeats. I was reborn on Saturday, January 28 of 1978."

The web site fits the spirit of Rosses Point, says local resident Willie Murphy, who went to sea himself for some time, and whose two uncles were captains. "The perspective of this seafaring community has always been outwards. You would find old guys who had never been inland in Ireland but had been around the world. I remember a row in Austie's over the siting of a pool table in a small port somewhere in North Africa."

These days, however, few people from the Point go to sea and the place has been undergoing something of an identity crisis. Better off "blow-ins" with new suburban homes and good jobs in nearby Sligo town have begun to outnumber the original residents. Willie Murphy says the Internet, in drawing together the virtual community of Rosses Point, has arrived at an opportune moment. "It makes memories of the past accessible to new people and helps give them a sense of the place."

And if you're thinking of taking a holiday, it gives you a chance to get an insight into a village where, like any place you pass through, it's hard to feel at home during a brief visit. You'll be posting your own messages after seeing the reality.