A SENSE OF PLACE

My walking routine is so much more than an exercise regime ordered by my doctor. It is one of many things. It is an hankering after times past – times we spent in Gozo where it felt so good to walk everywhere and everyday, taking in the delightful scents and stunning sights of a Mediterranean land- or townscape. So my current walks here are a looking back in a sense, and a remembering of very positive energy which in itself is energising my today.

But it is more than that; it is a grounding of myself in this Irish West Cork landscape. For years I had felt restless here, discontented even, I wanted to travel and I did not feel as if I even belonged here, this landscape, this town and people – however beautiful and friendly, had totally lost its appeal for me and I often felt a stranger. And this despite there being a thriving Art Centre here and my contentedness about all my travels to India.

So when we returned from Gozo in spring 2018 I decided to do something about this, I could not continue the way I was. I started to look at this place with fresh eyes. Discovering new aspects of this town and area, nature and vernacular architecture, people, and I studied the map carefully to know all the hills, the rivers and the surrounding area, keeping in mind the four cardinal directions to orientate me precisely. And I walk, I walk everywhere and my body is feeling so grateful, I feel fitter for it in my every movement. My mind smiles and I’m constantly making plans to explore even more places in the vicinity, little walks and big walks. I have plans to visit and explore surrounding villages too, just as I did in Gozo.

And all this is giving me a sense of belonging and of feeling good in this space on earth, many is the time when I have felt very isolated here in West Cork, cut off from the rest of Europe and the world. I did not like this feeling and then I would hanker to go back, to return to Belgium, even after all these years. But I know that I am here to stay, and so I need to ground myself as much as I can, and I think that I now have found the way to do this – finally – after many years I am beginning to find a sense of place, a sense of belonging.

Yesterday’s walk was not long, it was in open space on the ring road around the town. It opens up views of the town and the hills behind it and shows the river Ilen upstream going off to its source, and downstream flowing into the town. These are good views. And while a constant flow of traffic does not make this walk particularly peaceful, it is nevertheless a walk I love. Many spring blossoms grace the shrubs and many wild flowers grow along the edge of the roadside. Fine stone walls have been built along some of this road, in local rock, shale, in slate-blue colour, with the odd bit of striking white quartz here and there, beautiful.

As I look towards the town centre, my eyes casting over a wide area of marshy ground, I notice works are still ongoing, the building of flood protecting walls. Skibbereen was built on marshland which makes the town prone to flooding. The town centre lies in a long valley, open to the West and North, and protected from the Atlantic Ocean by hills to the South and South-east.

I do believe that in every place on this wonderful earth of ours there are many interesting and exciting things to discover. Finding out about the place we live does give us a sense of belonging.

I would love to hear about your experiences and feelings about your sense of place or your sense of belonging. I would find it to be most interesting.

Along the river Ilen as it enters the town of Skibbereen
Ribes sanguineum in flower along the river Ilen
Looking downriver as the Ilen enters the town of Skibbereen
Looking upriver

25 thoughts on “A SENSE OF PLACE

  1. I moved to Texas over 30 years ago and even though it’s still the USA, it is a very different place. I have become a fully “nationalized” citizen (that’s a joke here) and as you can tell from my blog, I truly love the nature I find here. Sometimes, it takes awhile to find the everyday beauty.

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    1. That’s lovely, and I can imagine you enjoy the nature there in beautiful Texas. Ireland too is so very different from Belgium, like you say, there is beauty in every land over the whole earth – nature is nature.

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  2. How ironic that I’m reading this. I haven’t blogged or read blogs on wordpress in quite a long time. However I am this week in the mountains I grew up in agonizing over having half my heart still here although I also moved to Texas about 30 years ago and have raised four children there. I have a small hope of being able to move back here this year where I feel at home, where I feel I belong. I know if it does not happen I will have to lay the dream to rest and find my sense of place wherever we find ourselves. Our stage of life and finances are such that if this window of opportunity passes it may never come again. Thank you for sharing your encouraging thoughts and experiences. I know I can find contentment but sometimes you have to let go.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughts on this, I value very much your feedback. It is ironic also how we can long for places we left when much younger. I guess when we think of it we can find contentment and peace wherever we are. Matters of the heart eh 🙂
      Wishing you lots of strength and may your wishes come true.

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    1. Sounds sensible Derrick, simply writing this last blog has made me do quite a bit of thinking on the subject, and valuable insights of friends like you and others make it even more interesting for me. Thank you for your thoughts.

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  3. A lovely post and good to hear you are feeling more at home. I think the winters in Ireland are hard. I get sluggish in those wet grey days of late autumn and winter. Now with the longer days i get more time to spend outdoors and that helps restore my spirit. I feel we only really get to know a place by walking, we can see everything up close and get to appreciate the beautiful of it all.

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  4. I have an African son-in-law who had to flee from war, with the clothes he had on him and leaving everything behind, and I found it very moving when he once said to us: “Home is where you are”. His family fled from different places and they only found each other again after half a year, each in refugees camps in a different country. It is then that I realized how true this is, after having lived in 6 different places in Belgium, 4 in Ireland and 1 in England… Always found it difficult to connect with each environment, but it taught me that first of all one has to learn to live in ones own body and from there connect with people and places. And walking is the best way to learn both!

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    1. Thank you for your wise words sis, and so true too and lovely to get a reminder of this. And yes walking is the best way to learn to connect with ourselves and our environment.

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  5. I followed a link to your page from Murtagh’s Meadow and read this post with much interest. Four years ago, we moved from a 30acre farmlet where we had built a house, created a huge garden and planted 400 olive trees, into the nearby town. We have had some difficulty adjusting and I still miss the peace and the sense of achievement which gave so much pleasure. Walking is so good on many levels and I know we should do a lot more of it.

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  6. I’m glad you are feeling more settled where you are, Agnes. I’ve never managed to live more than two years outside my home country, so I admire your determination to find that peace in Ireland.

    It’s taken me a long time to feel settled where I am now. I bought the house here in November 2009 and have gradually found more and more to like about the place. For me, the main turning point was joined a Knit and Natter group in the next village – and now that I also bump into the ladies on the bus, I feel connected to my community 😊

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    1. Thanks for your valuable words Helen, I’m glad you are able to connect where you live. Yes it is of great value to also connect with people in order to settle, and the people around here are great, I’ve joined a book club, also a natter group (without the knitting as it happens but I would not rule that out) and like you it is wonderful when you come across the women in town and know each other. A feeling of belonging is , like your say, being connected to our community. And having a sense of place is truly being routed into your very surroundings, into the earth.

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      1. Rooted is a good word. There need to be connections for the roots to develop: people and attractions in a place are like the soil.

        How does your Natter group work? Do you have a specific talking point each time?

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      2. You have put it so very well Helen “rooted” connections to people and attractions.
        Our natter group is a loose group of women, young and older, who meet up in a local book/coffee shop and the discussions are very varied. There are professional women among us who are just on their lunch break, and retired women like myself, it can be very interesting. So no specific talking points, but the woman whose brainchild it is, she is our local philosophy teacher.

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  7. I read somewhere that when we change everything changes, we look at things differently and learn to accept things, places and people as they are. These thoughts came to mind as I was reading your post. Regards.

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