The Errigal Road

© By John Montague

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We match paces along the Hill Head Road,
the road to the old churchyard of Errigal Keerogue;
its early cross, a heavy stone hidden in grass.

As we climb, my old Protestant neighbour
signals landmarks along his well trodden path,
some hill or valley celebrated in local myth.

‘Yonder’s Whiskey Hollow,’ he declares,
indicating a line of lunar birches.
We halt to imagine men plotting

against the wind, feeding the fire or
smothering the fumes of an old fashioned worm
while the secret liquid bubbles and clears.

‘And that’s Foxhole Brae under there –’
pointing to the torn face of a quarry.
‘It used to be crawling with them.’

(A red quarry slinks through the heather,
a movement swift as a bird’s, melting as rain,
glimpsed behind a mound, disappears again.)

At Fairy Thorn Height the view fans out,
ruck and rise to where, swathed in mist
& rain, swells the mysterious saddle shape

of Knockmany Hill, its brooding tumulus
opening perspectives beyond our Christian myth.
‘On a clear day you can see far into Monaghan,’

old Eaglesone says, and we exchange sad notes
about the violence plaguing these parts;
last week, a gun battle outside Aughnacloy,

machine-gun fire splintering the wet thords,
two men beaten up near dark Altamuskin,
an attenpt to blow up Omagh Courthouse.

helicopters overhead, hovering locusts.
Heavily booted soldiers probing vehicles, streets,
their strange antennae bristling, like insects.

At his lane’s end, he turns to face me.
‘Tell them down South that old neighbours
can still speak to each other around here’

& gives me his hand, but not not ask me in.
Rain misting my coat, I turn back towards
the main road, where cars whip smartly past

between small farms, fading back into forest.
Soon all our shared landscape will be effaced,
a quick stubble of pine recovering most.

© John Montague, The Errigal Road, 1975, complete text, Collected Poems, 1995, The Gallery Press.

John Montague stresses the difficulty of relationships with old neighbours against a backdrop of routine violence.

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