The Mourne mountains bear a mantle of the most wonderful amalgam of colours: tawny gold and burnt umber, ivory white and slate gray, and layers of every imaginable shade and shadow of green. Rubble stone fences weave through the natural spaces, and hedges mark out the fallow fields as they wait for spring. Ancient bridges arch over icy streams and rivers. Sheep graze on lower hills, their heavy woollen coats protecting them from the frosty weather. Smudges of white clouds speed across a smoky sky, coaxed by the same wind that gently rocks the train as it rumbles on the tracks toward Belfast.
My paternal 2nd great-grandfather Francis Magee may have travelled this same route on the Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway, as it was then known, moving from Drogheda to Belfast for work. With him in the move was his wife Elizabeth McNally and their two small children, Mary and Michael. It was in Belfast that my great-grandfather Patrick Magee was born in 1866. The family later returned south, moving back first to Drogheda, where their son John Francis was born in 1869, and then to Dublin by at least October of 1870, when their son Francis Joseph was born. As I travel this route I wonder what such a trip was like for the family. Did they see the same beauty in the mountains that I see? Was it a trip of joy and anticipation, or one of trepidation?