Novels Children's Books Further Publications Extracts News & Events Links & Contact

Ireland - A Journey Through
the Land of the Rainbows

It had been raining all night. I was standing down below at the far end of the property on the bank of the river, where it splits into a minor and a major stream. I cannot remember how I got there, or why. At the time there were just a few paths through the brambles, and I must have fought my way through dripping shrubbery. It was early in the morning, the sun stood at an angle, just above the hills opposite. The water glistened between the brown river banks. It is said that every person has a landscape to which he belongs and I was convinced I had discovered mine.

That happened during the first winter. We had arrived in Ireland the summer before. For a few months we had stayed in Dublin, at a distance from Switzerland which could be measured in miles, in flying hours. By now, however, December had come and we lived in the house above the valley, part of another world. The drops caught in the cobwebs between the branches of dried-off shrubs were shimmering with the colours of the rainbow.

While the season turned into spring and the valley's hillside to green, I followed the narrow road between the hawthorn hedges, past the abandoned church, the decaying pigeon loft and down towards the sea. I saw the roof of the manor house emerging above the tree tops, the standing stones on the mound in the middle of the field, the swans nesting in the reeds near the mouth of the river. And I discovered the woods where the ground was all padded with moss. It was foolish not to believe in fairies and wizards.

The first winter was followed by another and another. I heard the stories of the peoples who had found and lost this island, of the first settlers who, five thousand years ago, divided the land into fields with dry stone walls and who buried their dead under man-made mounds in passage graves that are lit by the sun on the shortest day of the year. We started to clear the undergrowth and the songbirds returned--chaffinches and bluetits. The dogs disturbed the pheasants which fled noisily at the last moment. Occasionally, a heron would rise from the meadows and slide across the tops of the alders, his wings outstretched.

I read of conquerors and queens who erected their castles along the shores of the island without ever capturing its heart, and of the many lives lost. We tore the ivy from the walls surrounding the garden and reinserted the stones loosened by its roots. I heard of countless people who had been forced to leave the island by poverty, hunger, or fear, and were unable ever to forget it, and I saw the remains of their houses under brambles and nettles. After a while, the swans started nesting in the garden.

I read the legends recorded in the 12th century by Irish monks to prove the godlessness of the former inhabitants of the island and understood how they became enchanted with the stories while writing. I learned of proud queen Maeve who set off to win the bull of Ulster and of Cuchulainn who on his own faced her army while the men of Ulster suffered their birth pangs. I made the acquaintance of clever Finn Mac Cool who takes many shapes and outwits every enemy and maybe death itself.

In the tenth year, I saw the kingfisher dwelling in the bank of the river. A blue flash above the water. "Every place has its destiny", Ovid had written. If we remain for long enough in one place, we will make it ours. It was a misty morning and it lasted for just a moment. I would never forget it.

Now one winter does not differ from another any more, but each winter harbors the memory of that first one, and of that first morning on the banks of the river. It must have been the rain of the night before, the crisp air, the light of the winter sun, and it could have glistened in another river. I might leave Ireland, one day, to live in another place. I still believe, though, that this is my landscape and this book contains the stories the island under the rainbows and its inhabitants have told me.