It’s not every day I stand under the trees at the side of the River Lagan at Minnowburn and get rained on; but I am happy to. We have had a nostalgic summer; a summer with the type of weather we thought we always had when we were children, and this is some of the first rain after a welcome but unexpected and extended dry spell. The soil, grass and leaf litter underfoot soaks up the wetness and lets go big, grateful earthy smells.
Earlier, my dog had bolted into the river and swam away after a little moorhen. She’d rounded the bend and was heading for Belfast when I managed to get her attention and persuade her to give up being so anti-social, with her huffing and puffing after the bird, and come out. She is getting some sense in her old age but old habits die hard and the compulsion to spring some wild fowl is just in her. The ranger told me the Moorhen was not alarmed; in fact it had just flew up a little and popped back into the water behind the dog, flummoxing her in the process.
The sounds of flute music and the tune of ‘The Dark Island’ are amplified by the river and filter through the trees. The up side of the dog’s escapade is that I get to experience that at some distance from its source.
At the invitation of the protagonist and artist Liam de Frinse, myself, traditional flute player Gerry McKee, and photographer Nick Smith, have come to experience and participate in de Frinse’s ‘Lagan Love Trail.’
The Love Trail is an eco art project; a seven-mile love poem to the Lagan, and it stretches from Minnowburn to Lisburn. Liam tells us, ‘Everybody owns it, and nobody owns it. This is anti-bourgeois – no one can buy this and in the end it will all go back into the earth where it came from.’ De Frinse’s point of departure has been the song, My Lagan Love, a traditional song by Seosamh MacCathmhaoil (Joseph Campbell)
Where Lagan stream sings lullaby
There blows a lily fair
The twilight gleam is in her eye
The night is on her hair
And like a love-sick lennan-shee
She has my heart in thrall
Nor life I owe nor liberty
For love is lord of all.
Liam gets a buzz from the people who come to the outdoor Arts Lab. The project, which runs from May to November, is intended to be a prototype. ‘For what?’ I ask. ‘For whatever it emerges to be in the end,’ he tells me. I get that. He is sticking to his concept – that the project itself, is not only an open air arts lab, but it is also interactive, actively inviting engagement with the people who walk along the Lagan Towpath and those who want to get involved and it will, in the end, be the product of what happens. It is, as he says, ‘a happening.’
Gerry is playing his music – the sound plumps out the intrinsic acoustic of the birdsong. Nick is collecting images. We make God’s Eyes and talk of Mexico and the protective talismans Mexican men make when a child is born. We talk about the significance of the colours that go into them and the symbolism of the circle of life. We sit at the ‘Love Nest’; it is woven from dogwood branches. Now that it has been there sometime, ivy, nettles and buttercups have grown into it. Elsewhere in this coppice, there are hearts hidden in the trees, a woven chamber of branches – a place where we can enter in and look out at the world as if we too are birds. Installations are suspended from the trees. There are all manner of subtle and unexpected things. It is at its best when it is experienced.
We talk about creating a guerilla performance under Shaw’s Bridge sometime soon – to read poetry, play tunes and see what emerges. No one who passes is without curiosity. People stop to enquire what is going on, all the time. Some young people want to join in, ‘Are you guys making art? That’s cool.’ They are on their way to look for the Kingfisher, but promise to come back another time. One is a chef, one is a student of psychology, one is a photographer. They want to get involved.
It hasn’t all been easy. A large-scale sculpture, the Lady of the Lagan, was abducted………….. Maybe she eloped. I hope for better things for her. Her sister is being conceived – her bigger, stronger sister – a Goddess for the Lagan.
We talk about recipes for making ink from Gall – a product of some alchemy with oak apples – themselves the alchemy of a bug and a young oak. We talk about parchment and ancient manuscripts, boredom in monks, and marginalia. We talk about De Danaan and how the ancient Irish had the language of trees and each one had a story and a place in the every day stories – the narratives of the natural world and our relationship with it. We talk of industry, of barges, and the Lagan as canal. We talk of love messages written in moss, and concrete poetry.
And often when the beetle’s horn
Hath lulled the eve to sleep
I steal unto her shieling lorn
And thru the dooring peep.
There on the cricket’s singing stone,
She spares the bogwood fire,
And hums in sad sweet undertone
The songs of heart’s desire
Part of what Liam aims to facilitate is writing from the people who use the Towpath. He is encouraging people to write a seven-line poem that becomes part of the poetry tree. Anyone can take part, and to do so must submit their poems and a photograph of themselves out on the trail. They will get a certificate and a copy of the final composite poem. So write down your poem and become part of the mysterious work of art that is the Lagan Love Trail – the Lagan as muse.
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Email submissions to: Laganlovetrail@gmail.com
One of the better versions of My Lagan Love