Nephin’s many riches revealed


POETIC VOICE Seán Lysaght, whose earlier works have included ‘Eagle Country’, ‘Robert Lloyd Praeger – The Life of a Naturalist’ and several collections of poetry, including ‘Carnival Masks’, ‘The Clare Island Survey’ and ‘Selected Poems’. Pic: Conor McKeown

Poet and author Seán Lysaght’s compelling new book, ‘Wild Nephin’, explores a vast and stunning Mayo landscape with sensitivity and wonder

Michael Kingdon

When I picked up this book, ‘Wild Nephin’, it was not without preconception. Nephin is a place and, yes, it is about as wild as could be found in modern Ireland. A book about the area was long overdue. Of course.
Then I started to read and found myself immersed in a vividly presented landscape quite startling in its portrayal. Along the way we meet a host of characters, some still alive while others speak from the soil or from unjustly forgotten literature, with more lives echoed in the names of hills and glens, valley bottoms and streams. The way these placenames are dealt with is especially appealing, bringing back meaning to the shape of the land.  
This firsthand account is a voyage of discovery, yet more than that. It marks a point in time, and in joining the author on his journey we find ourselves reminiscing over a historical past, when this northwest corner of Mayo was truly wild, and catching a glimpse of the future, when parts of it may be so once more.
Seán Lysaght flirts briefly with the notion of wilding, or rewilding at the outset, and later explores the limits of the concept, should this land, which long defied plough and harrow yet yielded to the will of the forester, be permitted once more to fashion itself. Yes, Wild Nephin is a concept, but it is happening, and we get a new sense of what wildness must mean. That wildness belongs not to a place without man, but with him; he becomes an integral part of the landscape, and the landscape becomes a curious combination of grinding labour and enduring love.
Meandering between the old and that yet to come, we follow the author’s trail through the present. As the vast area of which this excellent book is written becomes more widely known, this work will act as a reliable and informative guide.
If wilding, or rewilding, begins in the heart, then here is the seed from which it must grow. This is a book for all who enjoy being outside. It is a book for Mayo men and women who would like to understand their county more than they already do, and especially one to send away, to remind those who live afar that Mayo is indeed a treasure, a land of metaphorical riches barely tapped. They are here, within these carefully compiled and utterly charming pages.
I thought I knew something of north Mayo, with its flowered lowlands and naked, rugged heights. I have hunted the deer and the hare, the salmon and grouse, have relished the long climb and loved the downward slope. Yet this most appealing blend of topography, history and folklore, combined with some of the finest nature writing Mayo has produced, reminds me there is a very great deal to learn. Seán Lysaght’s sensitive and compelling prose adds height to the hills, depth to the bog and breadth to the human experience. It is his finest work yet, a winter book, stirring thoughts of longer days.
I might conclude with the author’s own words: “I am dissatisfied with the idea of an excursion, of my day as an escape. Instead, there is a greater possibility: understanding the natural place as one where I belong – where we belong. That belonging is certainly different from the lives of the people who struggled for a meagre existence on the great expanse of Erris in earlier times, but it still amounts to a way of being here.”

‘Wild Nephin’, by Seán Lysaght, is published by Stonechat Editions and is available in local independent bookshops.