Well into his eighties and not so steady on his feet, my father would drive from his home in Belfast past drumlins and sheep fields to his beloved Mourne mountains in County Down. Safely back, he would call and regale me with tales of the people he’d had wee chats with and the places he’d revisited, how much he loved the air there, the spirits of the mountains. As a young man he’d climbed there at this time of year, overnight in a canvas tent with his friends, waking to the glint of first sunlight on snow all around them.
On one of my visits from London, I persuaded him to talk about what he remembered. He was in his twenties, a teacher at Down High, when he discovered rock-climbing. Thanks to weekends clambering all over the place with the minimal equipment of the time, he’s recorded as having led six Mourne first ascents. He and his friends went on to climb in other countries but it was always the Mournes my darling father loved best.
My poem Off the Map passes on what he told me about one of those first ascents: the ‘F-M’ climb on Slieve Lamagan. It’s the title poem of my fifth collection, to be published in 2023 by Lapwing Publications in Belfast and I’m thrilled to see it here on the wonderful Poems and Pictures blog, curated by Gill Stoker, on the Mary Evans Picture Library’s website.
These photos have aged, I’m afraid. The baby in the second one – yes, it’s me.