“It’s my private mountain, it belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”
Wm. Butler Yeats, famed Irish Poet is buried in Drumcliff, Co. Sligo under the watchful eye of the Dartry Mountain range. I’m not sure if the above mountain is the specific one he wrote about in his obituary poem ‘Under Ben Bulben’ but it is one of many I found exceptionally captivating during my brief sojourn to County Sligo. As I wrote earlier, our reason for venturing across the pond was to participate in the fleadh cheoil (translated as ‘Festival of Music’). But I decided that while I was over there, I would do a little digging around to see what might be interesting to include in a visual travel-sketch-journaling trip with students. As luck would have it, a friend of mine from Cincinnati had recently traveled to Ireland for a Celtic Women’s Group trip and their lovely tour guide just happened to live in Co. Cavan, very near to us.
Bee Smith and her story-teller partner Tony Cuckson run Irish Blessings Tours. They cater tours to just about any group’s needs and are extremely knowledgeable about Ireland in general, but the areas of counties Cavan, Leitrim and Sligo especially. As Ireland’s heartland, poised on the borderlands, and pretty much ignored by the tour buses, co. Cavan reminds me a bit of Ohio. And much like Ohio, if you just hang out with someone who knows their way around, you begin to discover that there is more than meets the eye to the quiet beauty there.
I drew many parallels to Ohio while in Ireland. There is a distinct sense of home there which I found a little disturbing. Lord knows I don’t need to obsess about moving to Ireland… We here in Ohio have lovely rivers, streams and lakes to discover. There are ancient places that capture the imagination as well. Set right on the Mason-Dixon line, Ohio’s history is wrapped up in the liminality of border-country. We discovered Ireland’s versions of these things on our tour with Bee and Tony and beyond in Sligo.
We began with a visit to St. Patrick’s well:
The water was extremely cold but refreshing and a couple of us dipped our feet in for a bit. I can see why it is considered a magical place.
Next we drove the tiny, unlabeled, one-lane back roads to find a couple of ancient sweat lodge ruins. These apparently were used by the ancient people as a place to go to replenish body and soul by heating rocks and creating a sauna steam bath situation.
The relationship of the land to the mythology of the Irish people is at every turn in the bend. We soon found ourselves at the Shannon Pot, where the Shannon River, and much of Irish Mythology begin. This is a hauntingly beautiful and deep-dark spring that is the source of the fresh water of the Shannon River. Tony told us the story of Shiannon and we were all put into a pensive and peaceful state of mind.
We walked very near to a faerie fort…. but not too near….
And then on to a visit to the Cavan Burren which means ‘stony place’. And stony it was.
In the midst of the hills and woodlands, remains of ancient hunter-gatherer societies can be seen in the form of stone circles which would have anchored large communities as well as old burial tombs and calendar stones to help people keep track of holy times.
There was beauty everywhere.
and magical beings with whom to share it. This is Obi, a fairy dog. (fairy because he is all white except the tips of his wee ears.)
….and on from Co. Cavan into Leitrim and then Sligo. We didn’t spend much time in Leitrim, just a quick spot of lunch. But I know that this area is tremendously arty. They have an art center along with a specific sculpture center and one of my summer time flute instructors was artist-in-residence in Leitrim along with his band. Art and soul run deep in the area. I felt right at home.
One of the cool things about Ireland is that in such a relatively small geographical area, one can see an extreme variety of different landscapes, hear a variety of different music styles and speech patterns. In just a short drive from Leitrim we found ourselves in Sligo where the mountains meet the sea. We were blessed with amazing weather for our 24 hour visit. As one art gallery owner put it, we were lucky to have come during summer – it was on a thursday this year. To think that a week ago today I was on the west coast of Ireland, gazing at the sea, a little overwhelmed and teary.
I found the relationship between the mountains and the sea to be an interesting one. In most places in the world, mountains reach for the sky, even if they are near the ocean. These mountains seemed to have been carved differently when they were made. It is as if they are swimming toward the sea. The ‘whale back’ shaped formations are known as drumlins, and the land is simply swimming its way into the ocean. I was enchanted.
Georgia O’Keefe spent years painting the Pedernal, a mesa in the Jemez range in New Mexico near her home at Ghost Ranch. I have often wondered what it would be like to be so focused as an artist. To have that one spot that you couldn’t get enough of. I myself have always been a bit orbital, flitting from one thing to the next and only accidentally finding my way to getting things done in some cohesive way. Or at least that’s how it feels and seems until I look back. But these mountains. I could see never becoming bored with watching them slowly swim their way westward. A slow, mad exodus to the sea.
I’ll leave you here with a couple of sketches from that day. There are many more to come as I get them down on paper. I am off to dig myself out from under a mountain… of bills, laundry and this aching homesickness for a place I hardly know yet have known all along.