Blog by: Liam Campbell
Rivers and loughs etch time into place and challenge our ideas of constancy and transience. Our ancestor had both the intimate need and the time to gain insights into their loughs and rivers. One purpose of our Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership is to connect ( reconnect ) people to the water. Is there a better time than now? We can take tine and look anew at the long linear edge of the lough and its rivers which juxtapose two different worlds that each enrich each other. According to experts at least 600 species of plants ( one third of the indigenous plants here ) are found in or by rivers and lakes – the interface between land and water offering the richest range of habits of all.
Places are not just physical surroundings, they are a web of rich understandings between people and nature ( though I sometimes don’t want to separate these – are we not part of nature too ? ) people and their histories, people and their neighbours. Each of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows … in this way we cover the universe with drawings we have lived. These drawings need not be exact. But they need to be written according to the shapes of our inner landscapes (Bachelard, cited in Macfarlane, 2007: 232).
From an early age I was aware that my father was in demand as a water- diviner, the seeker of wells aided by a forked hazel rod. This ancient functional relationship with the earth and water held a mystique for me. I want to take water the role of water places in my life more seriously and to reinvent the water of here as a place to go to and love. Its is not just about maintaining diversity and local distinctiveness but it must have meaning for the people who inhabit and use it or it is unlikely to be cared for. Little things ( details ) and clues to previous lives and the landscape may be the very little things which breathe significance into the roads, field and shoreline. If others try to define these for you, or the scale is too big ( the lough is a big place ) , the point is lost. Local distinctiveness is about anywhere, not just beautiful or special places. We have to begin somewhere and water offers a rich angle on the things we thought we knew. How can we renew our acquaintance with it ?
Once we start talking about streams, rivers and loughs, perhaps we will start ‘owning ‘ them again.
Investigation and celebration
- Make a parish area Water Map – chart all the local watery features from the smallest stream to springs and wells and find out the names of the pools, quays, bridges etc and discover what they mean – but write it down somewhere !
- Collect oral histories ( especially from our elders when we still can ) about working beside, flooding ete etc – the list is endless
- Celebrate springs and well with seasonal festivities – religious and secular
- Take photographs of all watery features
- Collect and use information from local people, local papers etc – Look at what Ardboe for example does
- Start a parish / area archive with water as a theme
- Research watery industrial archaeology such as mills, weirs, fishing quays, canals, stepping stones, fords and ferrys etc
- Consider a diary of daily observations beside the water
- Poetry, prose, drama and music
- Check out a whole water and names heritage
- Organise loughshore and riverside walks and picnics when it is safe to do so
- Think about the water source when you turn on the tap
- Think about the amazing concept of catchment
- Think about customs and stories, boundaries and borders, ancient patterns and recent histories, pilgrimages
- A water audit of use and practice
- Install water butts
- Food production and water pollution – research
- Water power – investigate
- Report water pollution
- Think of what you put in the drain
- Think about culverting water before you do it
- Are hard areas always the best – permeable surfaces – less run off
- Use recycled water
- Leaks !
The silence of landscape conceals vast presence. Place is not simply location. A place is a profound individuality. Its surface texture of grass and stone is blessed by rain, wind and light. With complete attention landscapes celebrates a liturgy of the seasons, giving itself unreservedly to the passion of the goddess. The shape of the landscape is an ancient and silent form of consciousness. Mountains are huge contemplatives. Rivers and streams offer voice; they are tears of the earth’s joy and despair. The earth is full of soul (O’ Donohue, 1997: 115).
Two final things – In our daily lives we need water all the time. We humans are composed of over 90 per cent water. Without it, nothing can grow and secondly if we had to carry water from the well, we might appreciate it more. After all that how Lough Neagh began!