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Chasing history around Ireland

Celtic Life International. In the latest issue, Fall 2013, we find Our Hero straying off the beaten track. . . .
We got lost in the dirt roads north of Clonakilty. We were looking for the spot where Michael Collins got ambushed. According to historian Tim Pat Coogan, Collins was  “the man who made Ireland.”

  In “Clon” itself, as they call it, a busy town 330 km southwest of Dublin, we had seen the house where, as a boy, Collins lived with one of his sisters. We had admired the larger-than-life statue of the legendary figure. And we had followed the signs to nearby Woodfield and explored the site of the family homestead.
 But as evening fell we headed north towards Beal na Mblath, roughly along the route Collins followed in August 1922. The movie Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson, made that final journey look easy enough. We had a Google Maps printout: how hard could it be? . . .
 . . . Finally, we spotted it: the white stone cross that marks the spot where Collins died. As we stood there, alone in the evening, I realized that this would be a highlight of our driving adventure in Ireland. Looking back, I can not only confirm that, but add that most of our peak moments arose when we strayed off the beaten track.
Yes, we got lost. We got lost in Kinsale, looking for a stone chair. We got lost hunting the birthplace of the Irish saint who founded the monastery at Iona in Scotland, and then again, seeking the lakeside castle that, late in the 16th century, served as a base for pirate queen Grace O’Malley.
But when we did reach our various destinations, we would find ourselves alone: no tour buses, no hordes of souvenir-hunters. With the Irish “Gathering” already in full swing, and more than 300,000 people expected to visit in Ireland this year, some travellers may yet be looking for that more private experience. In our “hire car,” we drove 2,200 kilometres in three weeks and got lost half a dozen times. But we would repeat this journey in a heartbeat. (To read the rest, check the nearest magazine outlet or else
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.