I thought that my first Dark Mourne blog should explain where the name comes from, and why I had to choose it. I expect many readers won't be aware that the Mournes … sometimes known as The Dark Mourne … are a magnificent range of granite mountains that sprawl along the southern coast of County Down in Northern Ireland. Granite from the area has been shipped all over the world, and was widely used as paving stones in both London and New York. The highest peak in the range, Slieve Donard, casts its purple shadow over the tiny town of Newcastle, nestled on its wooded lower slopes. The latter has to be of the most beautiful and picturesque seaside towns in the entire UK, visited every year by thousands of tourists, hill-walkers and ramblers (hence the title of my blog … though I promise not to ramble too much here). Golfers also flock to the area, to play on Newcastle's immaculate links course, Royal County Down. And the town is home to a thriving artistic community and hosts exhibitions of their work annually.
But now to that very well-known song, Where The Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea, perhaps the best advertisement ever for the Mournes and Newcastle, and one that comes readily to the lips of most of us Northern Irish folk. It was penned by William Percy French, born in 1854, died 1920. A failed civil engineer and journal editor, he finally returned to his first love, music, and came to be regarded by many as one of Ireland's leading entertainers and songwriters of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. Possibly his most famous song ... The Mountains of Mourne ... is fairly typical of Percy French's many works, which are aimed straight at the sentiments of the Irish diaspora. A monument to French and the song is located on the promenade in Newcastle.
The Mournes also inspired another Northern Irish writer, one who went on to international acclaim and whose books have recently been made into a series of films … the great C S Lewis, whose fantasy world of Narnia was created in their image. In addition, Newcastle was home to the poet and author Richard Rowley and his short-lived Mourne Press, which failed in 1942. More recently, the town has become the home of well-known children’s author, Martin Waddell.
The Mournes have now also grown in status in another respect … they have been one of the settings in the acclaimed film Philomena, starring Judi Dench, and provide much of the backdrop to the much-heralded HBO television series, Game of Thrones. To find out more about these go to: https://www.discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthrones/
The mountains also attract local photographers … much of their work having been used to advertise Game of Thrones. One such photographer is Neil Carey of Neil Carey Photography. View his stunning images of the Mournes @: http://neilcareyphotography.com/219628/2432945/home/windy-gap-mourne-mountains
I was born in County Down and much of my childhood was spent in Newcastle, windblown and happy on the beach, or eating ice-cream on the promenade. There were also donkey rides to enjoy (still are) and walks in beautiful Donard Park where the bog-brown Glen River flows to the Irish Sea. Later on I discovered the glory of the mountains and spent years, latterly with my children, rambling there. The Mournes have been one of my greatest inspirations and are about to feature in my forthcoming novel, Billy Blitz. And although I now live in the fabulous city of London, much of the time I still yearn to be back there. As W.B. Yeats put it so movingly in The Lake Isle of Innisfree:
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
I stand on the grey pavements of London and long to be back in the Kingdom of Mourne. That those pavements may be made from Mourne granite is some small comfort.