This is a wonderful book, as a pilgrim and a traveller, Gange is welcomed all along The Edge. The locals extend a generous hand because strangers are guests but also because strangers bring news. He is accorded time and attention because he appears from along the whale-road which requires skill and effort that resonates empathy with communities who have lived and died by the wave. It is not the same if you rock up in your fully provisioned camper-van. Gange is a man with a mission: to refocus the lens of history to bring the sea-ways, cliffs and anchorages front and centre as they were in The Before Times. An abundance of legend and story (essential for survival on the unforgiving Atlantic Edge) preserve songlines of the seaways. A band of towering cliffs on the Ordnance Survey map is represented by an inconsequentially thin line and the sea itself is blank. From a kayak, the cliffs are a looming vertical landscape, a storm of gannets, a calliphony of cries, odd bushes, cascades of guano. From a kayak you can eyeball those seals and daydream of selkies.
Did someone mention maps? Gange pulls ashore in Roundstone by appointment with Tim "The Map" and Mairéad Robinson [covid obit April 2o2o] expecting a cup of tea and an interview about the boundary between land and sea. They suck him in, settle him down for an exchange of stories, place-names, lore and song and it's 11 hours before he looks at his marine chronometer and escapes from Tim na nÓg to continue his journey South. Much of his journey repeats that trope: arriving cold and locating the oldest extant salt in the village to share tales of Life on The Edge. He has an ear for bird cries but also an ear for poetry and cites a number of local poets including Christine Evans of Bardsey / Ynys Enlli; WS Graham of Kernow; our [obit] own Seamus Heaney.
But our intrepid voyageur goes incandescent in Mayo when he pulls out at Erris and hears the tearing cries of the Shell to Sea campaigners. The proposal to bleed profit from the offshore Corrib Oil field seems to epitomize the unholy stitch-up between big business and central government and the collateral damage that accrues to local people, local livelihoods, local culture and local ecology. The Satanic bargain may work in financial terms [or may not if naive politicians and bureaucrats are seduced, suborned or bamboozled by the consummately brutal apparatchiks of St Mammon] but only because it is "impossible" to put a dollar-value on culture and continuity: allowing these assets drop off the balance-sheet and blow away on the wind. In 2018, between Gange's visit to Rossport and the publication of his book, Shell threw in the towel and walked away from too much trouble. Win! It could have been far worse! if the people of Erris had been black and living on a different coast in the Niger River Delta. The Rossport Five would have been the Ogoni Nine hanged after a stitch-up military tribunal. The Irish Constitution is really strong on property rights but the law favours those with the deepest pockets and a centralized government can be more easily bought because there are fewer people to pay off.
An evocative revisionist tapestry of a book weaving natural history, poetry, storms and lonely sunrises into a magic carpet that carries you from the dawn of human history to the day before yesterday.
Note: approach the talking book with caution: the pronunciation of some of the proper names will make you gasp and there are A Lot of proper names here in Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Irish and English. And the Scots and Irish accents are
laughable unnecessary generic.