I climbed the stairs to the cairn at Knowth and took in the view. There it is. Ireland. The wind was strong but soft and seemed to wash away whatever was keeping me stuck. How could anyone stay in a funk when surrounded by all this beauty?
On to Newgrange. They didn't allow any photos in the passageway itself. I still was feeling jetlagged and rather out of sorts, so I don't know if my experience would have been different if I felt otherwise.
We waited our turn outside, taking photos and chatting. Once it was time, we fell into line and proceeded inside. It wasn't nearly as large as I thought it would be. I allowed everyone else to leave and in doing so, had the inner sanctum to myself for a few moments. It was quite impressive. I asked a few questions and marveled at the space. Then, I made my way out through the passageway and back into the open air.
After visiting Ireland and getting to know the people there, one thing that was made very clear is that the hyper-exaggerated Irish accent and leprechaun references that so often appear in the media around this time of year is extremely offensive to Irish people. Most people can't pull off an authentic accent, nor are they familiar with the actual vernacular used - so they resort to stereotypes which are (for lack of a better word) racist. It hurts my heart to see people disrespecting the Irish history, language, and culture that we profess to admire - all in the name of a quick buck.
As a copywriter, I realize some clients will be set on it and that not much can be done. However I do my best to educate people as to why this approach is a bad idea. If they want that sort of thing, they are best to seek it elsewhere.
It IS possible to create an Irish-themed commercial without being offensive. I try to come up with something that is in tune with the sale/event/product that the client wants to feature without venturing into territory that is inclined to further the stereotypes that Irish people are trying so desperately to overcome.
With regard to the term "Luck of the Irish". If you look at Ireland's history, particularly the colonization of Ireland by the English and the fact they are STILL trying to recover from the aftermath, one wouldn't consider them so "lucky".
DNF. This is a bookworm term that stands for "Did Not Finish". It's a really difficult thing for a bibliophile to admit, even only to themselves, that a book just isn't going to be part of their life. Most of us will struggle through, gritting our teeth, cursing under our breath, and hating every single moment. We put the book down. Slowly move it back to the bookshelf. Succumb to the guilt. Move it back to the bedside table.
The guilt doesn't fade. It builds to a crescendo until it becomes overwhelming. So we decide to pull up our proverbial bootstraps and give it another go. We are certain that the creaking spine can be heard the world over, as we open it up to where we left off. Within minutes we remember why we put it down. But because we won't admit failure, we soldier on.
Before long, the book returns to the nightstand. It sits there, staring at you from beneath a lovely stack of books that make us smile and remember why we love reading. But if you sit very still and listen very closely you can hear it, accusing us of giving up. Trying to make us feel like a failure. So we move it back to the bookshelf. Stop taking it's calls.
The dance continues until we finally decide that the time has come to either
a) just be a grown up and finish it already OR
b) admit defeat, don our trench coat, and drop it in the "donate" bin at the local charity shop, hoping no one sees us
This, my friends, is my proverbial White Elephant. I bought "The Historian" almost a decade ago. I took it with me to Ontario when I went to visit my grandmother and actually managed to read about 1/3 of it. Then I came home and for some reason, promptly lost interest. It could be that I didn't bring anything else to read on the trip and thus I was desperate. Or perhaps it's because the book started off pretty well but fizzled out rather quickly. I tried several times to pick it up again, but the interest didn't last very long.
After promising myself I was going to read more and watch less NetFlix, I decided that I would finish this 704 page behemoth once and for all. So I opened it up again, went back a couple of chapters to refresh my memory and got to work. Tedious, heart wrenching work. I wanted to love this book. I swear I did. But - UGH. I just can't.
A book should be enjoyable. Sure, not all of them are going to be "OMG, I can't believe it's over. That was AMAZING! I have to tell EVERYONE!!! What am I going to do now? Did this author write anything else?" But it certainly shouldn't be 'absolute tear-inducing, toss yourself on the ground and pitch a fit worthy of an Oscar' torture. You are an adult. You don't have to read anything you don't want to. That's right. I said it.
So, I have decided that this book is officially a DNF and very soon it shall be released out into the wild, hopefully to find it's way to someone who will appreciate it. I have to admit I am relieved.
I sit in Dublin Airport
tears in my eyes
an all-too-familiar voice
emanating from the monitors
Interesting how his tone changes
once he gets his way
You could hear a pin drop
or a bomb, for that matter
Voices crying out
What have we done?
A woman paces back and forth
speaking to someone on the phone
"Feckin' egits will be
burning crosses on people's lawns next
you wait and see"
It feels like a horrible joke
an 18-month-long hallucination
a social experiment
a reality tv show
A hundred million voices crying out
What have we done?
"I really need to figure out a way to travel more."
It's interesting, what you think about when the word "cancer" enters your vocabulary in a way that only cancer can. When it is no longer something "out there" and has taken up space in your life. When the mundane things that you take for granted, like a long soak in the tub, are replaced with waiting for phone calls from the hospital.
Not once throughout this experience did I ever think, "Wow, I'm sure glad I worked all that overtime." Not once did I concern myself with my clients or their ad campaigns. What gave me pause was how much I enjoyed travelling and how little I'd done it thus far in my life. I spent many hours of my recovery time wracking my brain, trying to figure out how I could manage it financially.
It never ceases to amaze me, how things come together if you are open to possibilities. I had surrendered my question to the Universe, stating my intention that I would do whatever was needed in order to bring my goal to fruition.
We were sitting at the kitchen table one day during my recovery and out of nowhere I said "I really need to figure out a way to travel more." I wasn't looking for an answer, just stating my intention. My mom replied, "Well, we've been meaning to talk to you about something."
My parents asked me if I would like to come live with them. Apparently, for reasons I can't quite comprehend, they enjoy my company. They said my living there would help them tremendously and in return, they would help me save money that I could use to travel and set up a solid retirement fund. I could sell my house, be debt free, have the acreage life that I always dreamed of, and travel.
I have to admit, I wasn't completely sold at first. As with all decisions, I needed some time to warm up to the idea. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I had been watching shows about "Tiny Houses" and thinking that I could definitely stand to downsize my life. Not quite to that extreme, but certainly let go of some stuff. The thing I kept coming back to was being debt free. That was a dream come true. I would no longer have to borrow money when the unexpected occurred, only to worry about how I would ever be able to pay it back. I would no longer have to put off doing the things I really wanted because of lack of funds.
It took me about three days to decide to downsize my life, sell my house, and move out to the acreage. Now, the real work would begin.
The "C" word isn't anything anyone wants to hear while they're sitting in a paper gown on an exam table. You never know exactly how you're going to react until it actually happens. A tidal wave of emotion threatens to pull you under, drowning in a combination of fear, denial, and disbelief. When you finally come up for air, there doesn't seem to be enough of it any more.
At least, that's what happened to me. They discovered a form of soft tissue cancer in my leg, which is why it refused to heal after I cut it. I was not sure how extensive the damage was or how much more of my calf they were going to have to take or if I would ever be able to walk without pain again.
I went into the third surgery with the attitude that no matter what happened, everything was going to be fine. If I eventually lost my leg, then worrying and being angry about it wasn't going to change that. I was prepared to wake up in immense pain, but I'd been through it before and I'd get through it again. I refused to allow cancer to change who I was and how I dealt with things.
When I awoke in the recovery room, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Something was different. But I wasn't about to count my proverbial chickens as of yet. It would be two weeks before I knew either way.
So I returned to the acreage, where the initial intended two week stay had turned into a month and counting. I was bandaged from hip to ankle and instructed to remain as immobile as possible. I spent the next few days stoned on pain killers, which helped me tremendously. But I couldn't read, which was a bummer. I would find myself staring at the same page for who knows how long and eventually gave up. So I sat in my mom's big comfy chair, my leg propped up on the ottoman, enthralled with episode after episode of reality TV shows like "Gold Rush" and "Pawn Stars" and mowing down Lays plain potato chips like they were going out of style.
Then the hallucinations started. Four days post surgery, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought the ceiling fan was a giant white spider, it's legs reaching out for me, her voice calling out to me, trying to draw me into her shiny mouth. Super fun. Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind to ride out the bad trip I was having and vowed not to take any more of those "fun" little pills.
The nurses came and went. I gazed at the birds outside the window, the seasons changing from autumn to winter. I watched a "Game of Thrones" marathon with my dad. I enjoyed fabulous meals made with love by my mom. I waited to learn my fate.
At the first appointment, they removed my bandages and I made the mistake of looking at my leg. It was horrific. They removed about 6 inches all the way around, the edges trimmed in staples. It was over an inch deep in some places, a huge crater that looked like something out of a Stephen King novel. I cried so much I almost threw up.
The nurses continued to come to the house for daily dressing changes, but made a note in my file to keep the wound as covered as possible as the sight of it upset me. I gripped my pillow and turned my head, gazing out the window as they worked. They kept assuring me that it "looked great". I tried to believe them.
I went to yet another follow-up appointment. As I lay on the exam room table, eReader in hand and a blanket keeping me warm, the nurses were gathered around the printer waiting for the test results.
The surgeon appeared, file in hand. She looked at me, smiled and simply said, "We got it!" She showed me the file but even if I could read it through the tears in my eyes, none of it would have made much sense. I just sat there, stunned. I was waiting for the "but". It didn't come. Instead, she hugged me tight and I felt months of stress evaporate.
There were hugs and high 5's, cheering and clapping in the waiting room. All of the nurses gathered at the desk to share the good news. No more surgery. No more cancer. Just go home and heal.
I did heal, and quite quickly. Suddenly, the sight of my leg didn't bother me. Not much at all bothered me anymore, to be honest. I had a firm grasp on what was important. That realization would be the first step in what would become a major change in my life that only a few months ago could have never seen coming.
"Just tell me the truth. Am I going to lose my leg?"
"I don't think it will come to that, but I can't be sure."
I was sitting in the exam room, which was a regular routine by then. I had been given the news that the second surgery was not successful and that they didn't get it all. The cancer was not only still there, it was pissed. I knew that because I was in a tremendous amount of pain and something felt very, very wrong. I had been up all night worried, which didn't help my ability to hear what I was being told. That they were going to schedule another surgery ASAP and that she was going to take all the tissue right down to the muscle.
My Mom was out in the waiting room and as soon as she saw my face, she knew. I sat down and started to cry. She did, too. In that moment, I wasn't thinking "F Cancer" or "I am gonna fight this." I was scared, I was beaten down, and I was exhausted. All I could think was, "Please don't let them take my leg."
So we returned to the acreage and broke the news to my dad. Then we carried on as we had been, the homecare nurses coming daily to change my bandages, the hospital calling with a thousand and one questions, and waiting for the surgery date.
I was able to hobble around, so I accompanied my Mom on short trips to the grocery store, which helped keep my mind off things. I was feeling really depressed but didn't want to worry my parents, so I put on what I hoped was a brave face. One night, I was laying in bed watching TV when a commercial came on for War Amps. A little girl, no more than 8, had lost her leg in an accident. There were clips of her swimming, riding a bike, playing with friends and always with a smile. I suddenly thought, "If they have to take your leg, it's not going to end you. You can't let it."
About a week and a half later, I was laying on a gurney waiting to be wheeled into the operating room for the third time. For some reason, I was quite calm. I reflected on my trip to Ireland, thinking that I was so grateful that I didn't know about the cancer then.
I hadn't said much to anyone outside my family. A few close friends knew and I had to tell my supervisor at work because I was on medical leave. So I struggled with how much to share. I didn't want a lot of attention, nor visitors. I just wanted to be alone, to spend quiet time with my family and deal with how this was affecting me emotionally.
In spite of that, I decided to go ahead and post a request on FB for "healing vibes and positive energy". So, on December 1st I made yet another early-morning trip to the hospital on an empty stomach and dressed in my favorite PJ's.
"Well, I know why your leg won't heal. You have cancer."
I felt the world fall out beneath me. My stomach sank. All of the air was sucked out of my lungs and everything suddenly became an odd shade of grey.
It started out with a cut on my leg that refused to heal. It would reach a point where I thought it was healing, then it would break down again. My intuition told me that something was really wrong, but I was too fearful to seek help. So I stubbornly insisted that I was fine.
Finally, I went to the doctor who referred me to wound care. I went every week and they tried every treatment they could think of. This went on for the better part of a year, during which time they tested me for a myriad of things that could be preventing me from healing. They also drilled me on nutrition and suggested I wasn't eating enough fruit and veggies. Now, I admit my diet is not the best on the planet, but it's far from what I would consider unhealthy. I was also asked about my activity level, what I could be doing to interfere with the healing, etc.. At any rate, we would soon learn that what was going on was not in any way my fault.
I was referred to a plastic surgeon and had the initial surgery in May of 2015, which consisted of a skin graft. It never fully healed, but I was assured that I just needed to be patient. By the time I returned from Ireland in October, the site was falling apart once again. I was heartbroken.
After the cancer was discovered, I had another surgery. This time the goal was to to remove the affected tissue. It required at least two weeks of recovery, much of which was spent in bed. I had this misguided notion that I would get a ton of writing done and catch up on the list of books I'd been meaning to read. The reality of the situation is that I was in so much pain I could barely function. I didn't like the pain killers, so I just quit taking them after a couple of days and slept as much as I could.
I had a follow up appointment and the night before I couldn't sleep. I had a feeling that something was wrong. Very wrong. Turns out, I was right.
One of my enemies ended my life
sapped my world strength, afterward soaked me
wetted in water
set me in the sun, where soon I lost
the hairs which I had
and then the hard knife edge cut me
Fingers folded me, and feather of bird
traced all over my tawny surface
with drops of delight
Then, for trappings a man
bound me with boards, bent hide over me
glossed me with gold, and so I glistened
wondrous in smithwork, wire encircled
Say what I am called
Useful to man
Mighty my name is
A help to heroes, and holy am I
Each footfall carried her further into the past
the cobblestone under her feet
filling her with a sense of awe
to still her mind
but not abandoned
Companions and adversaries
grand inspirations and hushed conversations
echo through the ages
spiritually inspired artistry
Survivor of raids and wars
decorated with indigo, lead, and copper
now speaks quietly from beneath a class enclosure
The human tide
moving ever forward
building up momentum
stilling her mind
wishing them away
She stands among
the ancient texts
piled to the ceiling
by marble busts
and the spirits of those who once were
The circuit completed
she steps out into the sun
Not someone you’d want to meet, the Washer at the Ford. The Bean Nighe. Certainly not someone you’d want in charge of your laundry. For if she sets to washing for you, it is your burial garb she’s fretting over. It is said that the Bean Nighe are the spirits of women who died in childbirth, cursed to this work until the time when they would have died naturally.
Playwright Gavin Kostick uses themes drawn from Celtic Mythology to bring forward a story that takes place in contemporary Irish society. A brilliant, raw, visceral portrayal of a family both brought together by tragedy and torn apart tragically.
“A dead man’s room overlooking the sea. With bruised hearts and shredded reputations, three siblings sift through the rubble of their crumbling family empire, each attempting to steer their own course to survival. Putting fortunes at stake and with no one to trust, family bonds are pushed to their limits. Do we shape our own destiny, or are the sins of previous generations – and their repercussions – an inescapable fate for those left behind?”
I am no stranger to live theatre, having seen everything from small local shows to expensive, full scale productions. “At The Ford” takes its place among some of the best performances I’ve seen. Even those unfamiliar with the mythology will identify with the underlying themes, brought to life by Aonghus Óg McAnally, Rachel O’Byrne, and Ian Toner.
The New Theatre is located in the old Temple Bar area of Dublin. You access it by walking through Connolly Books, an amazing bookshop that I wish I’d taken the time to return to. I am sure if I had, I would have made some marvelous discoveries.
One night, as we gathered for supper, Thorn asked us to choose a line from something we'd written that we felt best represented our personal journey to Ireland. Something that spoke to us and that we would carry with us.
Each of us wrote our chosen line on a sheet of paper. Thorn took the sheet back to her cabin and in the quiet hours of the night, combined those lines into a shared poem.
I keep trying to photograph things that can’t be photographed.
I came in search of lush green land and found instead Fae Magic’s hand
This is a basilica of life
This is a place of truth, fierceness and hard edges
The trees talk louder here
Rocks have stories, ancient and bold
They sing to those who listen
Silent, resting, awaiting resurrection
The stones are a witness across time
The thistle calls out to me
The poet’s voice interlaced with threads of Ireland’s troubles
On the hills and in the caves, gnosis lies hidden, but we know truth
The sun winked through the clouds at Loughcrew Cairn
red as an Asian poppy in the equinox sky
I thought I couldn’t be happier
then Tiffany danced
These rocks, these stones
this wind and loam,
These rocks, these stones
this wind and loam,
I am the land
the land is me
(land is me)
and every sea
We are vast and shining
filled with light
Life is flowing
Life is moving
Life is rising now
Life is flowing
Life is moving
Life is rising now
Written by T. Thorn Coyle
The song was written by Thorn, who taught it to us as we sat on the bus. Soon, it became our anthem, with Thorn both leading the song and keeping time on her Bodhran as we travelled along.
calling to Brigid
offering to leave
A soothing balm
Not to replace
But to bring balance
We were told the story
of the sacred stone
now part of
some posh foreigner’s
To be ripped from the ground
so far from home
to be possessed
instead of appreciated
Thousands of stories
such as this
bits and pieces
for no other reason
than the assumption
they won’t be missed
So we stood
calling to Brigid
Making an offering
from our hearts
To sooth the pain
To heal the wounds
An attempt to bring balance
For far too much has already
She sat making notes about where she was heading, when to meet for lunch, and (most importantly) what time she needed to be back. She didn't want anyone to be waiting on her, much less a bus full of Pilgrims.
As they stepped out into the morning sun, they surveyed the area and headed toward their predetermined destinations. Some would remain on the bus and head to Yeat's Grave. She had decided to explore Sligo with the others, taking advantage of a shopping day.
The woodcarver's shop was easy to find and once they stepped inside, they were greeted with a smile and a friendly hello.
Two wooden statues were chosen from the window and he was more than happy to treat the Pilgrims to a retelling of the myths that inspired them. Taking a piece of paper from his cluttered workspace, he wrote down the story as he spoke, so that they would remember.
An hour had passed and it was time to go. She wanted to be certain not simply to wave and say thank you over her shoulder as she left, but to look him in the eye.
"I wanted to be sure to tell you that Vyv sent us. She said to say hello but wasn't sure if she'd be able to drop by today."
"Well then, you'll need something to prove you were here. What is your favorite animal?"
"A hare.", she replied.
He moved to his saw and cut a small square of wood from a plank. Turning to the vice, he clamped it in place and began carving, telling another story as he worked.
"It was thought that hares weren't very common here in Ireland. But the truth is, they are so good at hiding, they are rarely seen."
The carving finished, he removed it from the vice and handed it to her.
"Here you go. Thank you for coming to see me."
It wasn't simply the gift of the carving, but the opportunity to hear him tell the stories and to experience the passion with which he told them. The heart and soul of Ireland resides in those stories and in the people who are kind enough to share them.
The cottage was warm and filled with the scent of freshly baked scones. Claire stood at the table, her hands covered in dough, dressed in flowing green velvet.
"Oh, I hope you like it.", she said, over and over.
They ate plate after plate of scones with butter, jam and cream. She was happy to chat with Claire, while helping her prepare the feast. She even went so far as to joke,
"Look! I'm jammin' with Claire."
When she rose from the table, she was so full she wondered how she would ever make the journey back down the hill to the bus.
They made their way to the adjoining room. There, they found her harps patiently waiting.
"I hope you like my music.", she said.
In the midst
of that deep night
I was awoken by
the screeching fox
and the night
was so fragrant and silent
said I couldn’t bear
to let it pass in slumber
So I walked by the fields
and through the misty night
My way was made clear
through the dark depths of the wood
where the shadows mingle
in a thousand ways
and the light of the moon
sheltering me from the dark night
I see him standing
waiting there for me
and his frame is so cold and far away
I wish he’d take me tender by my hand
and through this misty night
we’d walk together
The horses raise their heads
but there is no pain here
And as I stare upon his perfect face
and see the fathoms deep within his eyes
the sadness, the human loneliness
he says with a sigh
things are not right
and he goes from me
And the dawn
slowly chasing away the moon
and it stares at the rising sun for a while
like my lover
fades with the dawning
fades with the dawning
fades with the dawn
"Symbolic" by Claire Roche
Claire's music brought many of the Pilgrims to tears. She sat there, unable to do much else. This magical creature was so talented, yet so humble.
She chose two CD's from the pile, paid John, then stood in line to have Claire sign one for her.
"Thank you for jammin' with me."
"Welcome! Welcome!", he said. His arms open wide, he gestured toward the cottage. "Go on up. I'll be right there."
The Pilgrims gathered outside, taking photos and chatting quietly. Soon, they were taken though and out to the back garden, where the tree labyrinth was waiting.
The Woodland Bard shared stories, looking over his shoulder from time to time in order to show them where these tales took place. In the distance stood a Hawthorn tree in the middle of a field.
"Even those who don't believe in Faeries wouldn't dare bring harm to a Hawthorn."
The time had come to make their way down the path and to the entrance of the labyrinth. There, he told them to choose an apple. They would dip it in the water and coat it with ash, carrying it with them. When the path led them back to this point, they would wash the apple and continue on. It was symbolic of transformation. Leaving all that no longer serves behind and allowing yourself to emerge fresh and ready to move forward.
The labyrinth was beautiful and peaceful. She went in, open to whatever might happen and emerged serene, with a sense of purpose.
The Faeries are calling.
hanging on by a thread
but hanging on
She sits facing the mouth of the cave, accepting Her challenge. She is not afraid. She feels a deep reverence for Her and the work that is ahead. She can feel Her. There is no question She is there. Even if she hadn't felt Her breath, heard Her whisper, she would have known it.
You will be cold. Chilled to the bone. Brought to the cusp of death, sat at the precipice, pushed to the edge. You will have to make your way back. Kicking and screaming, if need be.
She remained there long after The Morrigan had taken Her leave. Until she saw some movement out of the corner of her eye. A young boy appeared with a small rabbit. She rose and quietly approached.
"Would you like to hold it?", he whispered
"Yes.", she whispered back.
She stood holding the rabbit. It was warm, cozy, and soft. Quite the contrast to the encounter with Her, only moments before and yet, somehow fitting.
Thank you for this gift.
Battle is your art
With courage fill our hearts
- from the album "Motherland" by Lori Llyn
She stood on the hill, the mound in the distance. Here, she was told the legend of Queen Maeve (Madb) and how she ruled Connacht. Maeve's Sovereignty was not bestowed upon her. She stood firmly in it, embraced it, lived and breathed it.
She listened to the tale of the Battle of the Two Bulls and how (when it was over) the Brown Bull of Cooley carried the white bull, Finnbhennach throughout Ireland. As pieces of Finnbhennach dropped to the ground, place names, landmarks, and monuments were created.
The mythology and legends are so much more than stories. They are alive. You can walk the land and see where the battles took place, where marriages were consummated, where heroes were born and laid to rest. Is this connection to the past what brings so many here, each on their own Quest to find their own connection?