The Sheilings

The moor is bound up in my very first memories, and that must be the reason why I associate it with my mother. The springtime smell, when everything is just starting to grow, particularly reminds me of her, and I cannot help but think of her whenever I leave the road and take a first step onto the moss and heather; the softness beneath my feet is somehow maternal and life-affirming.

That sensation marked the beginning of every summer season out at the àirigh, for the first thing you did at the roadside was take off your shoes and either put on wellies or go barefoot. You would carry your shoes to the àirigh and not wear them again until the next trip to town when it would feel very strange to be shod like a horse and clomp along pavements. The initial removing of your shoes was a ritual – a freedom ritual – appreciated by everyone on the geàrraidh (pasture) from youngest child to oldest cailleach. The essence of it was a casting off, not just of your shoes but of everyday routine. You cast it all away and lived a different life; something would visibly lift from the shoulders of the adults while the children were free as the wind, completely absorbed in the wonders of the moor. The following images are dedicated to some of the people and places of the geàrraidh that I knew so well.

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