A minute ago I was standing on a crowded street in the centre of Dublin, but now I had entered another world. Passing the old fashioned bar at the back of the bus I walked up the steps into what I can only describe as a traditional living room, with heavy red curtains, an iron fireplace and piles of old books. The windows were painted over and the light was low. It was the kind of place where you could imagine old uncles spinning yarns while your spine tingles at the thought of magical creatures tiptoeing about you.
The Battle of Clontarf
The bus moved off as Dylan began his tales. We couldn’t see out, which was disconcerting at first, but we were soon drawn into the enchanted world of the bus. As Dylan wove his web of ancient chronicles and mythology, reaching right back to Ireland’s earliest days, I began to realise than this was a place where history and legend were inextricably linked.
We stopped at Clontarf, site of Brian Boru’s famous victory against the Vikings, and stepped out of the bus, eyes blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight. We walked through fine Irish mist to the place where Brian Boru was met with ghostly visitations before his untimely death, and I felt the enchantment beginning to work on me. It was as if I had fallen through a wormhole, magically transported from the bustle of Dublin to this isolated and eerie spot. So it was no surprise when Dylan summoned up stories, and even the sights and sounds, of the spirits of old.
Conn of the Hundred Battles
Our next stop was at Beann Adair, where we looked out to sea and heard the tale of Conn of the Hundred Battles and his bewitchment by the otherworldly Becúna. Even the names of the people and the places here are enough to make you feel you are in another world.
It was a cold and blustery day, so the glass of Guinness that was pressed into my hand as we returned to the bus performed a different kind of magic. I sank into my seat, ready to absorb the story of an unlikely friendship between a fisherman and a Merrow (a kind of Irish merman). “And that fisherman died just a couple of years ago,” Dylan said as he concluded the tale.
So it was true, I thought: we are still surrounded by mythical creatures. I remembered how, earlier in the tour, Dylan had stood on the historic hill of Clontarf, mist swirling around him. “You have to believe in the little people,” he said. “Or they fade away.” And now, warm and relaxed by Ireland’s most enchanted brew, I had no problem at all in believing in the country’s magical past.