When I used to imagine Ireland, I had two visions. One was of rolling green hills filled with cows and sheep. Another was of a more mystical place, a land of forests that held secrets amidst the foliage lining paths that weave through the trees.
The rolling green hills of the first vision were prominent as we drove across western Ireland last May, carefully navigating the curving roads. Then, on an overcast day, we happened upon Tír na mBeo, the land of the living, the Otherworld of Irish mythology. Or maybe the luminescent leaves of trees and strands of sunlight through the upper branches of a small ringed forest were just the boundaries of that place known only in legend. Killarney National Park, a stunning gem adjoining the city of Killarney, seemed so different from the miles of green countryside that we’d passed on the way there.
I took photo after photo, but only a few came close to doing justice to the dreamlike spaces within the park. We opted to spend time there immersed in nature rather than joining the traffic on the nearby Ring of Kerry, a 180 or so km drive around the Kerry Peninsula. The hours we spent in the park, a large lake ringed with forest, following paths that threaded through the trees until we ultimately arrived at the Torc Falls, were some of the most memorable and visually stunning of the trip to Ireland.
I found the wood where my fictional character Lyric Doherty lives in a cottage with her father Michael and her brother Padraig. A voice in those woods calls her from sleep to alert her to small gifts that later link her to a lost loved one. I stood at the foot of the mountain where another character, Andrew Devlin, climbs in the evening, hoping to glimpse the sliver of sea that might link him to his mother who disappeared long before. Both characters populate the Mists of Na Crainn, ‘na crainn’ meaning ‘in the woods’ in Gaelic.
The book is still in revision for future publication, and I knew it would never be finished until I actually travelled to Ireland to see the country that inspired it for myself. No matter that the fictional Village Na Crainn is wholly a product of my imagination. Killarney National Park brought into full view the setting of the novel as a gift.