THERE was a time when Squinter was in Donegal four or five times a year, but history and happenstance have conspired to ensure that he hasn’t set foot in the real northern Ireland for three years now. No better reason to visit the county than to spot golden eagles soaring high over Sliabh Sneachta, and so it was that a merry band of Belfast outdoorsmen made their way to the great north-west on Friday intending to spend a few days by the mountains and lakes in search of the elusive raptor. We should have taken the dead otter on the Glenshane Pass near the Ponderosa bar as a sign that things wouldn’t go exactly according to plan. Turning at a lay-by, we braved 40-foot lorries and five-foot boy racers to return to the otter, thinking in the back of our minds that it might even still be alive. But there it lay, its webbed feet splayed, its once-bright eyes deadly dull and crows circling overhead. Could there have been any plainer sign that the eagle would not be ours? But blind optimism is in the DNA of any merry mob, and so we pressed on toward the broad Atlantic through a dozen different weather fronts and a thousand different potholes.
Yomping through bog and stone and hedge and shale is not easy at the best of times, but when you’re simultaneously sweeping the sky and mountain tops with binoculars, it becomes an even more daunting trial. The Donegal eagles had still not revealed themselves after two days and so we contented ourselves with long-distance views of an empty eyrie and a more familiar collection of local birdlife wheeling over lough and sliabh.
As we packed up the boots and the bins, the phone chirruped from the depths of Squinter’s anorak. ‘How was the concert?’ read the text from a Belfast pal.
‘Didn’t you go to see the Eagles in Donegal?’
Squinter’s not sure which was more worrying – the fact that someone well known to him would think he would go to an Eagles concert, or the fact that he thought the Californian soft-rock combo were playing a venue in deepest Donegal.
As the evening shadow crept across Errigal, Squinter brought the text conversation to an end. ‘Oh, right. They were kind of alright. But they didn’t do Witchy Woman and the crowd was five-deep at the bar in Hiudaí Beag’s.’
An unlikely prospect, the world’s biggest country rock band doing a gig in Gweedore, but in retrospect no more unlikely than finding a golden eagle on your first attempt.