A small smudge
the brightest green
from Heapstown Cairn
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
- 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?
It was early morning when they disembarked at Carrowmore. The visitor centre had just opened, so they would be part of the first tour of the day.
She learned that Carrowmore cemetery is home to 30 passage tombs. These tombs were more than simply monuments or the dead. They were a sort of status symbol for the living.
As she followed along the tour, she found herself drawn to the surrounding views. Imagine, living so close to such a sacred place! She wondered if those in the area were constantly aware of the ancient energy emanating from this space or if they had simply grown accustomed to it, taking it for granted.
They were told of the Cailleach of the North, who brought winter to the land and the Cailleach of the South, who ensured the return of spring. Everywhere you turned, the Goddess had left her mark.
They were told of the "footprint" on the stone leading into one of the cairns. They say that this stone was chosen and carefully placed there because of that mark.
They walked down the stone passageway and stood around the tomb in the centre. There they were told of how, in ages past, stones were chosen and transported here in order to create these structures. To honor their ancestors.
She tried to feel something, but the ancients were distant. The energy was there, of course, but it was faint. Could it be that too much had been taken and not enough given back?
The thistle calls out to me
more of a scream than a whisper
you'll never smell a sweeter blossom
you'll never feel a more painful sting
The bus took them down yet another country road, coming to a stop near a little house. They disembarked and headed down the path toward the Cairn. It was so unassuming, they all walked past it and had to be called back to the lesser-known path through the grass toward the cluster of trees.
Finally, the last of the wanderers joined the group at the base of the cairn. She marvelled at how a sacred site could remain so well hidden from casual tourists and revealed only to those who sought it out. Permission had been given by the farmer to hike through his field and to remain gathered there.
They were told the story of Airmid, who was part of a family of healers and very knowledgeable in the ways of herbs.
It is said that, after her brother's death, Airmid collected 365 healing herbs, spreading them on her cloak. In a fit of jealousy, her father pulled her cloak from the ground, scattering the precious herbs to the four corners of the earth.
Through Airmid, we can learn the power of herbal healing. The Pilgrims were each charged with the task of seeking out an herb, connecting with it, and collecting it for a ritual. Once done, they placed these herbs upon a cloak spread on the ground. She reached into her backpack and took out one of the five stones she brought with her and placed it on the cloak as an offering.
They stood in a circle, connecting to the land and to the herbs they'd chosen. Once complete, they came forward and together they picked the cloak up from the ground, scattering the herbs to the wind, offering them to Airmid.
"The energy of the Fae is strong in this place.", she thought to herself. Taking the opportunity to explore her surroundings, she headed back to the path. Once there, she turned away from the direction where they came and soon found herself staring at a tree. It was wrapped in barbed wire and upon further examination, she realized the tree had simply grown through the fence. You can't contain nature, nor hold it to your will.
She heard someone calling. "Time to go already?", she thought. Turning, she made her way back down the path toward the bus, taking a bit of time to survey the scenery. A tree, a flower, always something to catch her eye.
Once back aboard the bus, the Pilgrims were shocked to learn that almost 4 hours had passed! It didn't seem possible. But then again, this is a magical place.
The crows call out to me
“She is here! She is here! She is here!”
Not meaning me, of course, but Her.
The one. Herself. The Morrigan.
A relationship that I did not seek out
but found me just the same.
An energy so powerful, so ancient
that once sensed it cannot, will not be ignored.
I make my way through the gate, past the graveyard
the energy rising to greet me
Onward to the grassy path
a brief pause, and then I climb
All the while the crows call out
“She is here! She is here! She is here!”
I silence my ego
the part of me that will question everything
Casting doubt and throwing shade
destroying the sacred
in favor of insecurity
keeping me stuck
Connecting with the land
and all that occurred
since it all began
She does not speak,
with a nod and a knowing smile
The crows are silenced
welcoming Her into the space
for Her instructions
they take to the sky
“She is here! She is here! She is here!”
It was just after 6 am when she found herself standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to Loughcrew Cairns. She was well aware of the climb. About 2 kilometers from the spot where she was standing to the Cairns themselves. It was a steep ascent, but she was determined not to let it get the best of her. There was no way that she would allow herself to remain on the bus while the others explored this ancient landscape.
She dug through her backpack, found her headlamp and put it on. Then, backpack secured, she started her ascent. She moved slowly but with purpose and before she knew it, she was moving through the gate at the top of the stairs. It was then that she saw the path and realized she had quite a way to go before she reached the top.
She continued on, pausing every so often to catch her breath and gaze out over the landscape which was slowly revealing itself as dawn approached. She turned to see who was still behind her. A strange voice called out,
"Please, turn off your headlamp!"
Embarrassed, she obliged, replacing it in her pack. It was then that she noticed she didn't really need it, as the faint light was more than enough for her to find her way. As she continued her climb, she reflected on how far she'd come and how strong she'd become. Would she have had the courage to attempt this even a year ago?
After what seemed like forever and yet no time at all, she arrived at her destination. The Cairns.
She turned and surveyed her surroundings, marvelling at how far she climbed. She couldn't help but feel proud, knowing that this was but the first of many tasks set before her that she was now certain she was capable of.
The Pilgrims gathered together to welcome the rising sun. They stood side by side, listening to the Bodhran as it kept beat with their hearts and with the heart of the land. The sun, glowing a deep orange, slowly rose. Then, just as slowly, it immersed itself headfirst into the clouds. The moment was not lost on them, as each silently reflected on what they had just witnessed.
After a time, they dispersed, quietly making their way around the Cairns. Careful not to disrespect the site nor disrupt others who gathered there, they paid their respects to those who came before and the land where they last laid their heads.
Taking what would soon feel like her rightful place at the back of the pack, she made her way down the hill toward the stairs. It felt like a journey out of another world and back into the familiar. Thankfully, the descent was slow and she was able to acclimate herself.
As she walked the path, she passed a group of sheep grazing. They paid her no mind. These were not the first Pilgrims the sheep had encountered, nor would they be the last. Then she spotted a tree. It beckoned to her, whispering secrets. Belief in Faeries was strong here, as was their energy.
She felt the sort of calm and piece that so often eludes us. Normally, she would resist leaving. But somewhere inside her she knew that the feeling would remain and the connection would deepen as they continued on their sacred journey.
The sun had already set by the time the bus arrived at the gates to Loughcrew House. As she waited for her suitcase, she stood in the dark, quietly admiring her surroundings.
Bags unloaded, the Pilgrims followed the pathway up to the house. The sound of her suitcase rolling along the drive seemed much louder than it probably was. She stood for a moment, marvelling at the entryway. Passing through to the house itself, she soon made her way through a maze of rooms, each more impressive than the last.
The Pilgrims were weary and eager to get settled in their rooms. She was directed through the main living area and found herself in a lovely library. She imagined enjoying a cup of tea and a good book, but alas there would no time for that.
When she opened the door to her room, she was delighted! It was exactly as she saw on their website. She had to remind herself they would only be spending one night here and she was determined to make the most of it.
The Pilgrims made themselves at home in various areas of the house. Some turned in early, others gravitated toward the kitchen, a few ventured out onto the grounds. A fire was lit in the Great Room where she settled on one of the couches. Soon, others gathered to enjoy the warmth, admire the house, and get to know each other a bit better.
She could have sat staring at the fire all night. But with a sunrise ritual planned, combined with the hike up to the cairns, it was best to turn in and get as much rest as possible.