The Mournes of County Down, visible from the hill above the Morrisons’ house, are granite mountains famed for their beauty. In the 1800s Percy French wrote a song called “The Mountains O’Mourne” about a young man who travels to London and writes home to his sweetheart in Ireland. Here are the first and last stanzas.

Oh, Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight
With people here working by day and by night
They don’t sow potatoes, nor barley nor wheat
But there’ gangs of them digging for gold in the streets
At least when I asked them that’s what I was told
So I just took a hand at this diggin’ for gold
But for all that I found there I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

There’s beautiful girls here, oh, never you mind
With beautiful shapes nature never designed
And lovely complexions all roses and cream
But O’Loughlin remarked with regard to the same
That if at those roses you venture to sip
The colours might all come away on your lip
So I’ll wait for the wild rose that’s waitin’ for me
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I first spotted the Mournes on a cloudy day. They rose gray and shadowed in the distance and disappeared into mist like wraiths. They reminded me of the Blue Ridge Mountains at home in Virginia with their rounded slopes riding off as far as the eye can see. The Blue Ridge grows with trees, bathed in sunlight. The Mournes, however, are bare of trees, clothed in gray rock, pasture, and rough red and purple heather. One evening, we drove into the foothills, past stone walls and crumbled foundations, and spotted sheep grazing high above. Stopping at a lough (lake) next to a dam, we ventured out of the car, straining our eyes in the dim light and fighting the furious wind. The surface of the lough surged up in thousands of little peaks, which glowed with the setting sun’s light. I pushed back the hair flying in my face and looked beyond to the Mournes standing in a ring around us, black and immoveable.

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