Remote, deserted, ragged and rusty brown scenery appeals to me journey after journey. The crags up at the Scottish Highlands, the edges of Karoo in South Africa, Donegal’s boglands. The emptiness of the scenery forces our minds to give it signifigance and it doesn’t offer readymade meanings. Questions are left unanswered, but they quiet down little by little, until all that is left are the wind and the premonition of the approaching rain – an image of something primitive, unattainable in the city.
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh is one of Ireland’s six national parks. The park is situated in the scenic county Donegal in Ulster and covers 170 000 square kilometres of mountainous, craggy and boggy land, dotted by lakes and forrests, and cut in the middle by a deep glen. This is called Glenveagh and the six kilometre long lake is known as Lough Veagh. ‘Veagh’ is Irish and means birch. ‘Lough’ is an anglicised version of the Irish ‘loch’ for lake and is often found in signposts.
A few hundred deer herd in Glenveagh. They were imported in the Victorian era but remain invisible during day time as they camouflage almost perfectly into the surrounding scenery. In general, the deer only descend the hills during the night but by then the visiting hours are already long gone, and the gates closed. Nevertheless, you can sense their presence, and I am certain that they keep an eye on us, high up from the hills, close to the clouds.
Originally Glenveagh was wasteland until John George Adair, a speculator from county Laos, decided to build his kingdom in the glen. John Adair bought multiple little plots between years 1857 and 1859, and created the area nowadays called Glenveagh. As the Irish custom at the time was, the landlord evicted over 240 locals from their plots, which left a dark shadow hanging over the estate in its early days. The Irish countryside is full of stories of evictions, misery and hunger, and you cannot miss the amount of collapsed little cottages especially in the west coast and Donegal.
The construction work on the castle started in 1867, and it was modelled after Queen Victoria’s Scottish castle, the Balmoral. When John Adair died in 1885, and his more compassionate wife stepped out from the shadows as the lady of the castle, better times were ahead for Glenveagh. Cornelia Adair set out to remodel the gardens following the Victorian fashion, she helped the poor of her neighbourhood, gave parties and even helped Belgian soldiers injured in the first World War.
When Cornelia Adair died in 1921, the castle was left to decay. Between 1921 and 1929 the Irish Republicans used the castle as one of their bases during the civil war, but finally, in 1929, the castle got a new owner when a Harvard professor Arthur Kingsley Porter bought it.
Once again the castle witnessed parties and the leisurely lifestyle. But the time of parties and chilled champagne was soon over: the absent-minded professor disappeared while visiting his second home in Inishbof island. After spending his night in a boat hut, Kingsley Porter disappeared without a trace. For the Irish police force, this was the first murder case without an actual body.
But even though the tragic shadow once again loomed over the castle, it did not persist: Glenveagh was bought by an American millionaire Henry McIlhenny, a member of the famous Tabasco family. McIlhenny bought the castle in 1937 and entertained musicians, writers and artists as well as Hollywood stars such as Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.
Inside the castle, it is easy to imagine the dinner parties from the olden times, the gin & tonics, the music, dancing and laughter. And on the long and narrow corridors with their soft carpets and Indian cotton covering the walls, you can imagine the young ladies sneaking back into their rooms with heels thrown over their shoulders just as the first rays of daylight reach Glenveagh.
Nowadays, the castle is a museum, and you can only walk its corridors as a part of a guided tour. But it is easy to sense the expectation of the dinner parties and smell the roaring fireplaces in the library room, just as the first raindrops start to patter against the windows.
Behind the castle, you can climb the hills where a magnificent view opens up towards the castle and Lough Veagh. Although it is May, the colours belong to the autumn: brown, grey and moss green. These are the colours, and this is the scenery, which make me return year after another to the Irish or Scottish wastelands. Craggy and boggy grassland till the end of the horizon, rounded hilltops, collapsed cottages, sheep. Wind and rain. The abandoned emptiness breaths loneliness: so many before me, and so many after me, have been looking at the same view and left no trace.