I don’t wish to embarrass him. But this man – who, for all I know, could be a descendant of The Knights of Conwy – visited me in my Irish hideaway. This ‘holy knight’ of Colwyn Bay – The Marchogion – flew in on his metal steed and graced my wee cottage with his presence.
No Celtic sojourn could be complete without The Marchogion. Following the ancient Welsh custom of ‘descending on a tavern’, we found the local pub’s restaurant was closing. A kind lady said they could rustle up ‘something simple’. We asked for the steak dinner. When the meal arrived, it was mighty – a fitting introduction to Castlerock.
I decided to give The Marchogion the full Irish experience. So on Saturday I took him for a full Irish breakfast. Then we headed for the historic ‘walled city’ of Derry – one of the finest places on earth, dating back to Columba. The saint’s presence can still be felt in the ancient stones. And just as these people live on the border of two lands, they also live on the border of two worlds.
While looking for The Body Shop, we walked straight into the middle of a huge, loud march by the Apprentice Boys. I saw a lad with a gash in his head, and immediately knew this wasn’t like the parade at Littlehampton Carnival. We managed to stay for most of the proceedings, and had nice chats with marchers and police. The local cops, the PSNI, must have some of the most beautiful lady officers in the western world.
In the evening, I took The Marchogion to an Irish music session over the border, so he could see both ends of the cultural spectrum. Despite the pleasing taste of Smithwicks, I noticed a look of panic on his face as the musicians started up yet another wee tune. By the end of Tell Me Ma, he was ready to leap into the nearest bog. Perhaps I hadn’t properly primed The Marchogion for the varied delights of traditional music. ‘I thought it would be more jiggy,’ he said.
Sunday saw us meeting up with Olivia, a young lass who used to attend our church back home in Sussex. She put her head in her hands when we told her about our adventures the day before. Don’t know why she was worried – we’d found The Body Shop in the end.
We then hopped onto the revival trail. Like two mad tourists who’d lost their maps and minds, we wandered helplessly around Coleraine, Kells, Connor and Ahoghill, asking strangers, ‘Is this where the 1859 Ulster Revival started?’ Bizarrely, it seems everyone knows where the historic sites are, and the locals gladly directed us. It was an inspiring afternoon.
Before we knew it, the weekend was over. It was time for The Marchogion to leave. I helped him onto his steel stallion at Belfast International Airport – and he was away. The cottage was colder and quieter without my royal friend buzzing around shouting, ‘Drink!’. But there’s plenty of washing and ironing to be done before Wee Wifey visits. (Photo: a ‘revival church’ in Ulster, by Clive Price)