My Reality Tunnel

“Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities.”

“The border between the Real and the Unreal is not fixed, but just marks the last place where rival gangs of shamans fought each other to a standstill.” – both Robert Anton Wilson

In the early 90’s Hypertext fiction on CD-ROM and online were all set to herald the death of the printed linear novel. This of course has yet to happen and may never do but the concept had a very big influence on the imagination of many of the young people in Co. Leitrim at this time.  

A now forgotten pass English substitutive teacher at Drumkeeran secondary school was a believer in this new form and explained the concept to his Leaving Cert class in 1997. He also showed them the film Rashoman (1950) by Akira Kurosawa to instill an understanding of differing subjective viewpoints. He then asked them to come up with characters, location and a plot and they wrote a collaborative opening chapter together for a story that came to be known as, My Reality Tunnel. They could then write their own personal following chapter to take the story in different parallel directions to the other members of the class. Each week the new chapters were given out randomly as each story evolved and in some cases collided together.  

For the students who were struggling he showed them how to use the cut-up technique by pasting the text from a previous chapter into a word randomizer which printed out the words in a random combination. They tried reading this and got ideas from the odd meaningful coincidence that would appear in the newly cut-up text and found they could write best from this source by using a first thought best thought approach. This was a concept of Brion Gysin, which he  developed at times with William Burroughs. Early on in the process he even managed to persuade the writer and thinker Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), who was at that time still living in Dublin, to give a talk to his class about his concept of the reality tunnel.

Very quickly these students understood the interactive nature of the project and began to introduce new characters as well as themselves into their stories. Real or potential situations they were familiar with also began to appear in the text as well. Very soon they were figuring out issues, imagining things about the world, predicting the future, asking questions and receiving answers about their own lives through fiction.

The teacher was so excited by this turn of events that he began to photocopy some of these stories with instructions and sent them to other English teachers in the county system.  Within the space of a month the practice was widespread amongst teenagers all over the county as they took the stories even further into their own hands and lives. At one point it was estimated that over 1500 different stories featuring many of the same and unique characters were in circulation. It had truly gone viral before that term existed. At the end of the school year it didn’t stop however and the popularity of it ebbed and flowed in more informal and circuitous ways over the next 20 years to today. For some reason 2001 had the least stories in circulation and this situation would continue until 2012 when there was a rediscovery of the practice after an artist led initiative published a fraction of the stories in book form and an article in the Leitrim Observer followed up on it. Today it is said to have again taken hold of young people’s imaginations with more stories than ever before in circulation. (Stephen Rennicks)

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Glencar Waterfall

One of Leitrim’s most popular and spectacular tourist attractions, the waterfall at Glencar, is also its most potentially life and reality changing. Since the earliest times its abundance of negatively charged ions have been inspiring anyone who came close to it. It has long been known that there is a feel good factor associated with any form of prolonged exposure to breaking water (including beaches and in your domestic shower) with improvement of mood, increased awareness and improved health common. More on this subject can be read here.

The waterfall at Glencar is different for some reason with revelations and visions being associated with it since earliest records. A tradition of the holy fool was noted amongst the peasantry in the 1800’s and W.B. Yeats is said to have been a frequent visitor. During the last 200 or so years it appears that the majority of its visitors have become curiously and gradually immune to its power however. Although every so often someone will approach it and leave a very different person than when they first arrived. (Stephen Rennicks)

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Joseph Conrad in Dromahair

There is a persistent local tradition that Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) acted as second mate on one of the steamers that operated between Sligo and Dromahair between 1843 and 1881 and was disturbed by what he found there at that time. I did some research and found that Conrad did serve with the British Merchant Marine between 1878 and 1894 and I suppose it is possible that he could have been stationed there not long before it ceased operating.

If he was the main cargo on the route would have been corn for the mill in Dromahair as well as passengers. I found this image of one of the steamers, The Maid of Breifne. He would no doubt have taken note also of how the British Empire was treating its subjects there as he steamed along the river Bonet in this period not long after the Great Famine. Perhaps this is one reason he felt a connection with Roger Casement when they briefly met one another in 1890, not long after Conrad arrived in the Belgium Congo. Conrad mentions this in his Congo Diary from that time. In that period Casement was working as a supervisor on the railway being built between Matadi and Kinshasa. By 1898 however, as British Consul for the region he was to write a damning report about the human rights situation there. Conrad was of course on his way deep into that same colony, steaming along the Congo River, and not long after Casements report was published and widely read he would write his own expose in fictional form of what he himself had found there, Heart of Darkness (1899). (Stephen Rennicks)

Location of harbour on map

Tuatha De Danaan prophecy

A friend of mine who knows about comics and ancient Irish legends brought a yet to be fulfilled prophecy from the mythological cycle of ancient Irish legends to my attention. It references a time when the Tuatha DeDanaan (who may have existed during the Bronze age) have been beaten by the Gaels and Milesians (our ancestors). After this they never actually left Ireland but are said to have gone underground and became known as fairies and the like as we gradually forgot about their reality. I found a good link about their connection with Co. Leitrim here.

The prophecy states that one day they will have to return to awaken the inhabitants of the country from an enchanted sleep of forgetfulness. It is said to be a time when symbols will be more real than the things they represent, when people no longer have thoughts of their own and their minds are stronger than their instincts. In parallel to this we would have become so materialistic that we would gradually be destroying the environment in which we live in our hunger for power, money and resources. This was even the premise of a short lived series of stories in Thor (1986)by Marvel Comics which actually featured the Tuatha DeDanaan as the main characters, see image and this link for more details.

My friend feels that the current threat of hydraulic fracturing for gas in deep shale rock in Ireland may be the time for the Tuatha DeDanaan to somehow re-enter our consciousness so we can unite with them in solidarity to stop the destruction of both of our environments. Sliabh an Iarainn is the place where the Tuatha DeDanaan landed when they first arrived in ancient pre-history Ireland and Co. Leitrim is identified in the prophecy as the location for this awakening to begin. Sadly Co. Leitrim is also the main proposed centre for the shale gas industry to establish itself quietly before it spreads to other parts of the country. Perhaps a comic story could even spring from this idea too? (Stephen Rennicks)

Time Travellers

Two female time travellers from ancient Persia are said to be regularly encountered at the megalithic cairn on the top of Sheemore. They are said to be very friendly and over the past 10 years or so have told various people who happen to encounter them some of how and why they come to be there. I can actually see the hill of Sheemore from where I type this in my home (in the Marion year of 1950 a giant cement cross was erected on top of the cairn by the parish priest in Gowel). I believe I may have seen them once there myself in about 2005 not long after I moved here but it was well before I knew anything about them or I would have questioned them further myself. The women I saw were in their early thirties and dressed in black modern clothes (a bit military goth I thought at the time) and I had a feeling they may have been German. It was as I was reaching the summit and I saw them packing away a large tube shaped object into a handheld case. As I approached I overheard them saying to another walker that they were from Persia. This exchange had always stuck in my mind as odd. I did remember there had been what looked to be a hire car parked on the road below and this is where I believe they walked to. Below I have pieced together the various stories I’ve heard of what they have been known to tell people.

They are from an ancient Rosicrucian order first established in 1470AD which understood that time is an illusion, that there iss only one ever changing and rotating moment. Nietzsche’s concept of ‘the eternal recurrence of the same’ and times cyclical nature are clue to this they state (how everything returns again in the same or new form, from flowers to fashions). Ireland they claim was part of Atlantis/Lemuria and what is now known as Leitrim was its spiritual centre. I had already known that this is one of the beliefs of Rudolf Steiner, more of which later. They said their order correctly forecast that a certain energy field in this region would remain at an optimum level for communication with what they called the ‘higher worlds’ between 1990 and 2040. These higher worlds are said to actually be our eternal spiritual self that the ego and our material existence has cut human beings off from experiencing. This also happens to be another core belief of Steiner (who coincidentaly is said to have more of his study groups here than any other county). Many of their order have been coming here since 1990 then but they say their fellow time-travellers prefer to keep a low profile as they are only concerned with communicating with the higher worlds and then returning to their own dimension of time.

They say that time-travel is done by mentally folding time and explain that the space they emerge into at our dimension of time at is where they are also standing in their own time. So for example they step from Sheemore 1484AD into our time (into the same space). They say this can briefly happen by accident to certain types of people in certain situations as well but they mostly don’t notice where they have been and quickly return again to their own time.  For example if you are walking alone lost in thought on a mountain which has a landscape that has not changed in thousands of years, how do you know for sure which time you are really in? If seen by someone from that time you would appear to them as a ghost or apparition.

They say that over the years they have grown to enjoy the county and like to sight-see and enjoy the craic in local bars and even go to traditional music sessions. One of them is said to play a mean fiddle and went out with a guy from Fenagh for a few months.

One interesting side note to Sheemore I can add is that it and the nearby hill of Sheebeg (said to be the resting place of Fionn MacCool) were both visited by members of the British Israelists in 1891 as they surveyed possible hiding places of the Ark of the Covenant and the true Stone of Destiny. They famously did great damage at Tara a few years later when they ‘excavated’ there but it is not as widely known that they also returned to dig at Sheebeg in the same period (picture below). I wonder what they may have found. More on this at following link. (Stephen Rennicks)  

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Data Museum

What would have been the world’s first Data Museum was planned to be opened in Carrick-on-Shannon in 2009. It was also to include displays on the history of Ireland’s computer and software industries to date. The building itself was actually built on the N4 just on the edge of the town but has yet to be opened to the public and is unlikely to be for the foreseeable future. This was blamed at the time on the withdrawal of one of its major corporate sponsors but may have been due to the economic recession or perhaps there were second thoughts on the project, it might have been too recent to catch the imagination of the public.

This was a real shame as there were plans for it to expand its archive into the commercial realm overtime and become a teaching and research centre which could have made it self-sustaining and created many jobs and other opportunities for the county. As well as an extensive collection of electronic documents and programs archived digitally and otherwise, that were to be accessible from public consoles as well as online, it was to include the restored Hollerith Electronic Computer 4 used in the Irish Sugar Company in 1957 (the first stored program computer in Ireland). I found this amazing picture of it being unloaded in Dublin airport before being brought to Thurles at that time.

Another more local angle was to feature a major interactive display on Grace Hopper (1906-1992), whose parents were from Garadice in Co. Leitrim; she herself is said to have been a regular visitor home in her later years. She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language and conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is also credited with popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches, motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer.

To get an idea of what the museum may have looked like there is a good website here. For now the massive purpose built building sits idle with local people hoping it will one day open its doors to the public. (Stephen Rennicks)

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A postcard and print of this image can be purchased at this link.

Howard Marks cottage

I was emailed by a reader of the Guide if I was going to be doing an entry on the infamous former drug smuggler Howard Marks and his time in Leitrim. I replied to them that I wasn’t aware of any connection (since then a few people I know have told me they have heard the same story) and they got back to me with some more information. They claimed that while he was bringing in huge quantities of cannabis into Shannon airport in the early 70’s he was renting a cottage in south Leitrim (they didn’t know its whereabouts). This cottage was where the drugs would have been hidden in cars and then driven onto the ferry to Britain. I already had his autobiography, Mr Nice (1996), so checked this info and he does refer to a rented cottage, but says it was close to the village of Ballynacally. I looked into this and it looks to be a made up name so perhaps he did live somewhere in the county after-all. It would have had to have been close to the airport and Leitrim is just over an hour away and there are of course plenty of isolated cottages that would have matched what he describes in the book.

There is certainly a poetic truth to this story at the very least, as ironically since then these type of cottages and other empty homes in the county have become used to actually grow what Marks had been smuggling into the country at the time. Leitrim can now boast the highest percentage of grow houses discovered by the authorities of any other county. Check out the search terms ‘Leitrim, Grow House’ and see for yourself.

Considering how times have changed since then and that he is now considered a respectable celebrity author, I think if the cottage could be located and verified it would warrant one of those blue plaques and be featured in any official guide to the county (if anyone has more info on this let me know). Until that time it certainly belongs in this one. (Stephen Rennicks)