"It's a small world," stone mason Michael Hoy and I agreed as we realised that we shared a mutual acquaintance in the late Tom Mullarkey, the Fermanagh-born architect who had been a very good friend to both of us.

Monday, 12 November 2012
  • Lesser Spotted Ulster

Tom had commissioned Michael to produce a number of altar pieces several years earlier and I recalled that Tom had told me at the time, with considerable excitement, that he had discovered this very gifted young stone-mason who could do precisely what was needed for a particular job. I hadn't known the mason's name or where he was from until we met for the first time during the recording at Monea.

Yes, it's a small world.

I'm sure that's a remark most of us have made at some stage, usually upon meeting someone we didn't expect to see far away from home, or happening upon some coincidence or other to do with unexpected mutual acquaintanceships. I suppose you could say, with the growth of instant cross-global communication and international travel, that the "small world" is getting smaller by the day.

"It's a small world."

Yes and no. I think it all depends on how you experience the world and what you think the world is for. If it's simply a place that you travel through in order to get from A to B in the shortest time possible, then yes. But if you think that means that you've been in all the places you've passed through, then no.

Sitting behind the wheel of a car is possibly one of the least suitable vantage points from which to view the countryside. Quite apart from the obvious dangers of distracting yourself from the road in front of you, neither you nor your passengers can see more than a TV screen width of fast moving, truncated, often blurry images which are whipped out of your vision before you have time to register what it is you're actually seeing.

You can't see the sky or the treetops or the summits above you, unless you're in one of those open-topped sports cars in which case you're probably too busy admiring yourself in the mirror to bother about your surroundings. You certainly can't talk to local people or discover anything about the place or what it's like to live there.

It took me roughly three hours to get to Monea in County Fermanagh and the best part of a week to explore and make the various recordings we needed to make the programme. I could have got there in a shorter time but I stopped several times en route to take in the view, have a cup of coffee, stretch my legs and pass the time of day with passers-by.

So when people say to me, as they sometimes do, "Surely you've been to everywhere in Ulster by now? We live in a very small part of the world."

I usually reply, "If you think it's small then do what I do. Get out and walk."

My daughter left home last week to go on her honeymoon. Since then she's texted us from Bangkok and Hanoi to confirm what we've always been told, it's a small world.

Yes it is, but it's a very big province.