Frank Mitchell was the Professor of Quaternary Studies when I was a geology student in Trinity College, Dublin. When he retired in 1979, I was already overseas, working in Sharjah. A few job changes and a dozen years later, I was back in Ireland so to speak. In fact, I was commuting to work overseas and never found employment in Ireland in the coming thirty years.
And while I was off commuting to work in Australia and Asia, my wife acquired a copy of Where Has Ireland Come From?, a gift she received in 1994. A gift that just re-appeared today while she was moving some of her books. Frank Mitchell wrote it and it was published that same year. Though I read it at the time, my re-reading today was an even more memorable pleasure.
And quite ironic given that I had a long lunchtime phone conversation with a daughter about ideas for animation scenes that involved geology. I’m a great fan of coincidences but like most things, you have to be paying attention to truly see them.
Then I slipped out to the Aviva Stadium for a shot of AtraZeneca so I’m being prepared for the herd immunities that will re-enable my access to the great outdoors.
After that, I was talking this evening with my buddy CW about us walking to Rome. We officially rescheduled the walk for next year. He mentioned the potential for walking in Ireland in the meantime. I suggested the first route he proposed might be quite boring. I’d read Peter Lynch’s Rambling Around Ireland and he cut inland rather than walk Larne to Dublin by coast. Then I thought about Portstewart and how I’m still a member of the National Trust and really want to visit the arboretum. And the Mourne granites and the excellent afternoon tea once enjoyed in The Slieve Donard Hotel.
After which I reread Frank Mitchell’s account of how the landmass we call Ireland moved from the latitudes of Brasil, crossing the equator to pass Egypt and emerge as part of what we call Europe. How our island was ice shaped and shaved from the Antarctic (450 million years ago) and is drifting apart from Boston (today). As a lapsed geologist, I should have realised that the huge range of geology is enough reason to walk the north eastern coast. Bring it on.
From 1700 to Two Million Years Ago is the first chapter of his book in which he tells the story as if walking the island when the rocks and landscapes were being created. Brilliant. Thank you to Frank Mitchell.
But 1994 was a long time ago. Let me close by saying there’s a very nice appreciation of Frank Mitchell here in the Irish Times archives from 1997. And I think that it’s a fitting epitaph that he’s remembered as an Environmental Historian.