Tag Archives: ireland

Enchantment on the edge

” I sat down on the bank above the beach where I had a splendid view all around me.  Dead indeed is the heart from which the balmy air of the sea cannot banish sorrow and grief.”

~Peig Sayers

We are more than a week home to Ohio now.  In this time we have run the gamut of human emotions.  Grief over the loss of and  funeral for Tony’s mom, love and glee at reconnecting with far flung family at said funeral, relief at being in one’s own bed and living space, awe at the turning of the season, as autumn in Ohio carries its own special splendor.  Overwhelm at the return to the reality of regular responsibility.

So often the case, I find my soul lagging behind my body after a trip of such magnitude and so part of my mind’s eye is still fixed on the magical hills and cliffs and windswept beaches of western Ireland.  But I am more fortunate than most who return to the US from a trip to the Emerald Isle.  I have music.

I shall start with that.

This fiddle playing owl graces the doorway of Neligan’s Pub in Dingle, where we happened upon an “open” session in which to play a few tunes.

Irish music has been in my life for a good while now.  Beginning with my son taking on the challenges of the fiddle, which led not only to his life’s work as a musician but also to me forging my own brambled path via whistle, flute and eventually (gods willing and the creek don’t rise) the Uillean pipes.  To say this music is a gift in my life would be a vast understatement.  Everywhere we laid our weary heads whilst in Ireland had something to do with the music.

Our friends in Blackrock, Co. Louth are both musicians.  Through their work over the years, they have come to know many influential people in the relatively small world of traditional Irish music.  And this is how I came to find myself treated to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a private lesson with a legend.

Things I took away from meeting Seamus: I have good tone (this is really good news) and I need to work on my ornamentation (not news to me of course, and also not unexpected from a Sligo styled player)

Seamus Tansey is a force to be reckoned with.  His playing carries the wild, untamed side of Irish flute music and his mercurial personality matches this fierceness.  He’s a character not to be crossed, from everything I have ever heard about him.  And yet, because I came connected to someone he holds in high regard, I think he took a shine to me.  Our lesson was mostly me being stunned at the musical gymnastics he was asking for and him being patient with my inabilities.  There is nothing more humbling than this music and I have so much to learn, it’s true.  Perhaps this lesson with a legend would have been better spent on one besides myself, one with more knowing of the intricacies of this tradition.  But when one gets this opportunity laid in front of them, one must say, “I accept.”  I am grateful to Seamus and his lovely wife Joan for their gracious hospitality, to Simone and Sean for shuttling me to Northern Ireland for this opportunity and to Lillie whom I took to the airport hotel in Dublin far earlier than maybe suited her so that I could get to Belfast in time for all this.  Life is rich indeed, and we all do things to build each other up, do we not?

One of my favorite evenings of this trip was of a night in a Kerry kitchen, trading very local tunes with my friend Michael, a lovely box player who is a bit too shy to play at the sessions but who has loads to share.  Another favorite memory is that of an open session in a little pub in Dingle called Neligan’s.  Another box player called Michael, along with a few other lovely players and another lovely night of tunes indeed. A shout out to publican Dara who makes all feel welcome and at home in his pub.  Thanks for the encouragement to come along and play!  (We shall catch up to ourselves in Dingle shortly here in this writing…..)

Dingle is quite the touristy place really.  I can only imagine the throngs during the season.  But I think of this music as a bit of a back stage pass. Knowing a few tunes and humbly sitting in (only when invited, of course) at a local session can mean that the local musicians might stick around for a chat after the tunes.  And just like that, one makes a new friend or two.

Thankfully for Tony, all was not incessantly musical.  There was much touring to be done in our short time in Ireland. I was keen to hook him on this country I hold so dear with the hopes of luring him back once again.   I will be there next year for a whole month of course and I hope for him to tag along for a bit of November perhaps….. we shall see.

We took in the windswept Cliffs of Moher where there was not only natural splendor…..

One can see the rains coming in just in time to take cover….

Small beauty, amidst the majestic.

 

The wind makes drawings in the grasses.

Dizzying heights.
Classic cliffs. There is a reason this place is famous.

But the splendor of quirky humanity as well which made my heart swell.  There was an intrepid couple from away, maybe Portugal or Italy (difficult to hear with the wind blowing) who were keen to get some iconic wedding photos made….

Her veil blew in the wind and the rains did fall.  Everyone seemed to be good sports about it all.

Others got in on the fun and had their own impromptu wedding shoots….

It was one of those rare, feel good moments when one feels a part of things and good to be a human.  These kids might have been from Germany (again, so hard to hear with the wind as it was).  But strangely, all seemed right with the world for the moment.

Eventually, the next day, as you know, saw us headed further south, further west to the Dingle Peninsula, “Corca Dhuibhne”.  We soldiered on through rain and fog and down impossibly small roads which found us over impossibly foggy mountains.  The skies did clear and Dingle did cast her spell eventually and we found the music there that night at Neligan’s.  Sadly we barely had 24 hours to explore this amazing peninsula, but we took in what we could.

All around there was a feeling of being in an “other” world, of being blessed by those who exist in a greater beyond.  Things seem chancey and strange here.

An old “famine cottage” along the Slea Head Drive. Although it was €3 to enter, we found it fascinating and ghost like.
Mary, ever present. The Goddess in modern vernacular.

“Then I went to Ireland.  The conversation of those ragged peasants, as soon as I learnt to follow it, electrified me.  It was as though Homer had come alive.  Its vitality was inexhaustible, yet it was rhythmical, alliterative, formal, artificial, always on the point of bursting into poetry.”

~George Thomson, The Prehistoric Aegean

Language, in English as well as Irish piles up like stones.  Every nook and cranny, every stream and small strand has a name.

we begin to see where the swirls come into play….

The sheer breadth and depth of such a small place is difficult to capture and express.  It is said that Ireland is the size of our Indiana.  And yet, it carries aeons of legends and myths, tales of wonder and woe.  It would take a life time to learn and unpack it all.

We start with small words, easy to learn.  Familiar concepts.

Creatures we know we love already.

Looking out to the Great Blasket Island from the Blasket Cultural center. An amazing place to visit should you get the chance.

Perhaps through painting the sights we see, learning the tunes which waft through the air, and engaging in a word or two of Irish here and there, we might find our way to being accepted by this land I feel so drawn to.  I am keen to spend more time in Ireland.

I like the idea of being able to walk to the sea, and to the local bookstore, and the local pub, which might not only feature a warming bevvie, but also a nice cup of soup on an evening I don’t feel the urge to cook.

I actually don’t even mind the backward driving….

I love the constant presence of ravens and crows (kind of like in New Mexico).

But alas, here I am, now, in Ohio.  And I do not grieve this.  I have an amazing inlet and outlet for music via the Riley School, I have a wonderful community of fellow artists.  We have a patch of land where I am about to go set some garlic in for the winter and batten down the hatches against the squirrels.  Life is good wherever we are.

But I am glad to know of a few places, one especially, which make my heart sing.  Most folks might go a whole lifetime and not find this.  For this I am grateful.

 

 

 

Passage

 

We are returned to Ohio.  Our journey to Ireland, at an end for the time being,  we sift through laundry, piles of post, lists of things we ought to be doing to return us to “real life” and “normality”.  Yet, these notions are unreal in themselves, for every journey changes us, and this one especially.  I will write of a lovely day spent by the sea admiring the magic of moving water and sky, and of meeting musical legends large and small along the way.  I will even write of the enchanting spell the west of County Kerry might cast.  For there is so much more to tell you…..

Eventually.

But for now, we are on the cusp of Samhain and the veil between life and death is thin.  Especially for our family.  You see, while we were away in Ireland, my mother-in-law passed away peacefully.  My husband had arrived with news that hospice services had been engaged for her and that her time was nigh, though no one knew just how long she might linger with us.  In the long run it was all sooner than we had expected, but isn’t that the way of things?  We are never ready, even if we have prepared for an age.  He had just seen her days before leaving to meet me, and I had visited her just days before leaving for Ireland myself a few weeks prior.  I am glad I made the time.

We were now so far from home, and there was some flurried discussion of shifting flight plans and making our way back to Ohio sooner than later.  We opted out of this change and chose to sit with all of it for our few remaining days of travel in Ireland.

Ireland is a place of great depth.  Depth in the beauty of its landscape.  Depth of history and story.  It is actually a rather appropriate place to consider the loss of a loved one.

One can’t move in Ireland for the archeological treasures to be found dotting the landscape.  We visited many in the coming days.  Newgrange being the first.  It is a “passage tomb”, thought to be a place of ritual and ceremony.

It contained the remains of ancient ones, known now only to the mists of time before written history.

Ancient people built these great structures to be in tune with the heavens.  They were at one with the seasons and the turning of the wheel of the year.  Newgrange is known for bringing the sun into the deepest part of the inner sanctum of the tomb at the winter solstice.  One can only imagine the level of engineering prowess this must have taken.

Their care in collection of materials from around the country, and the artful manipulation of stones and designs must have taken them generations.

Amidst the day to day tending to the feeding and sheltering of themselves, these people still took the time and effort to create these tombs honoring the passage of loved ones to another realm.  Death was important to them.

It is said that the Celtic peoples of old had great esteem for the concept of death as an inherent part of life.  That they honored this concept in how they thought about the cycles of the year, and their own place in it as mortal beings.

It is said that while the Celtic people of the ancient times must have certainly grieved the loss of their loved ones when they passed away,  for they were only human after all, it was all understood to be The Way Of Things.  The many passage tombs we were to encounter in subsequent days honors this idea and I found it all strangely comforting.

There is something about this time of year that offers us a chance to consider our own place in The Way Of Things and to remind us that we are only here but a short while in the vast depths of time.

 

It is crucial that we make the best of our time here.  To strive to be the best incarnation of spirit we can be, to offer that back to whatever great power put us here in the first place.  We cannot know the intentions of the cosmos.

Knowth, in the same general vicinity as Newgrange, was the next stop on the day we learned of Tony’s mom’s death.  Our eyes danced with dizziness at the spirals spied on so much stone and at the great vastness of scale the many passage tombs provided.

Stones were to be a constant theme in the days to come as we traversed the country and took in all we could in the days we had left.  I put the work of writing and painting aside and simply experienced it all with Tony, which felt like the right thing to do.

We left the east part of Ireland to head west toward the Burren, a place I was keen to see this time around.

It is a magical moonscape of sorts.  Many of the roads are mere cow tracks or bóthairín and I found myself holding my breath as we occasionally met another car traveling in the opposite direction.  We made our way to Poulnabrone Dolmen which is considered a “portal tomb”, which was also a means of honoring the dead.  The murky, misty weather intensified the mysterious feel of the place and we fell in love with it all immediately.  It was in keeping with the depth of how we felt about everything going on and seemed to be an appropriate way to spend some of our time in Ireland, considering the circumstances.

Barren though it all seemed at surface level, there was life everywhere in the cracks and crevices of stone.

On route to the Cliffs of Moher on this day, we spied the ruins of an old church.  Less ancient than the pre-historic sites we’d been visiting.  We parked for a look at the place.  It was no less enchanting for its relative modernity.

Once again we were struck with the connectivity of life to death in this place.  Graves upon graves, old and new, just next to a place where cows graze and birds flit about.  There is a peace to it all.

Later that evening we spent an enjoyable and delicious meal with dear friends in Ennis.  I read stories to the kids while the grown ups shared wine and cooked.  There was fresh baked bread which was divine.  There was time to laugh and converse and sing a bit together.  It was ultimately quite healing.

There is so much more to tell of our brief time together in Ireland, and I will weave that part of the tale into this broader story on another day.  I will tell of how we left Ennis far too quickly to catch the ferry back once more to my beloved County Kerry, and how we dodged raindrops to play amidst sea and sky along the Dingle peninsula where we could.  And how we eventually made our way back east once more again to fly home.

Once more through the mists….

And here we are, on a gray, autumnal Ohio day.  Sifting through old photos of Patricia Lynn Musick.  Pat is someone who had the strength of stone and steel in her very bones.  She raised my Tony and his brothers on her own with nerve that saw her through many trials in her lifetime.  By the time I came to the family, she had found her first love from teen years and had married him and cared for him through his life time of health problems.  She used to be a beautician and so would perm my hair for me when it was fashionable at the time, but way out of my budget.  She was fierce, whether playing cards or caring for her home or working the many jobs she held to keep things together.  She was proud and had a sarcastic sense of humor.  She loved her grandkids and they loved her.  We now have her last dog, Charlie, who needed a bit more care than Pat could give her as her own health further declined.  We took her often for visits which I think Pat appreciated.

I dedicate this post to the mother of my beloved.

Pat, go bhféadfainn Dia do bhealach a lasadh.  May God light your way.

Always quick to strike a pose for the camera.
Pat visited in Maine multiple times and loved visiting the seaside.


 

 

 

 

 

Bog Silence

Did you know, my middle name is Heather?

Today my Kerry companions and I head north on a little road trip to Ennis in Co. Clare, endlessly chasing the music.  There is a gig to attend by a friend who makes this music professionally and a session in the works up the road after the concert.  And so, this day will be a traveling day.

I know I am not painting “enough” in recent days but writing feels like the art this week.  Gathering imagery and words.  Following the threads of inspiration.  This is “enough”.  Whatever that means.

As I left this space in my last post, I was off to don wellies and wander up the road with my hosts here to visit a bit of bog land that has been a part of their family and culture for generations.   The bog road goes well off the Ballybunion road and so traffic, if any, is light, and consists of other walkers and wanderers seeking a bit of quiet time in Nature.

We dodge raindrops and keep an eye on the horizon for rainbows.  Of course there are rainbows.

The bog is quiet with only the sound of the breeze, the rain falling, bird song and a an occasional gentle mooing of a far off cow.

Bogs are natural wonderlands, filled with all kinds of flora and fauna for those with eyes to see.  Ferns and heather, native grasses and mosses.  It is a lovely place to behold.

The silence of the bog is infectious and exactly what I have been craving.  I find it interesting that this segment of Brain Pickings is about silence and it comes across my digital path this morning as I build a little blog post before hitting the winding road to Clare.

Turf is cut from the bog and stacked to dry for use. This is called “footing the turf” and the structures are like sculptures.

This bog is a working bog and local folks have utilized the turf to heat their homes and light their hearths for years.  This is all now up for discussion nowadays as bog turf holds a great deal of carbon.  My companions are gentle stewards of this patch of bog as well as of the land which holds their cottage and grows much of their food.  They know this place well and appreciate its limitations.   I for one hope that a least a bit of turf can be burned here and there in future as the smell is divine.

After the bog walk, we return to the cottage for a cup of tea and a game of fetch with Pancake, a lovely pup indeed.

I am treated to a bite to eat and evening descends upon us.  Tea turns to wine, conversation turns to tunes, just myself and Michael – flute and accordion – and I hear slides and marches which are new to my ears.  They are local to this place and I wish for them to be collected and played back home, to celebrate this beautiful quiet patch of Kerry.  Mike and I talk about how the old tunes are really the best tunes.  Flash and musical prowess are lovely to behold, but there is something so rich and lovely about a few solid tunes in the kitchen with a local farmer.  I am blessed beyond belief.

Later I return home, my head fairly swimming with music (*finally!*) and I am reminded of the date.  It is the anniversary of the death of one of my best and most influential friends of this life time – Mia.  If she could see where life has taken me, she would beam, I am sure.  When she was ever so ill, I had just begun on the whistle – awkward and shy about it.  But she insisted I play what I knew for her and so I did.  She laughed and clapped in delight and told me never to stop playing.  I haven’t.  I miss Mia on a regular basis and think that perhaps the magic of this special day, from pre-dawn beach time, to a bog-walk under a watery sun and into the evening with new tunes and dear friends may have just been a blessing from the beyond.  I am deeply grateful.

 

Practice

Yesterday was a day of travel.  My Buddhist friends say, about most everything, something to the effect of “and herein lies the practice.”  This is what I was saying to myself as I drove the Irish countryside, at once familiar and not so.   Though fraught with white knuckled nerves, my journey was uneventful – in spite of monsoon styled rains.  (It was overly rainy, even for Ireland!)  But I managed with the driving, getting used to being the pilot of a strangely-sided vehicle.  I must admit that being fully and constantly present in the moment is actually really exhausting when one actually does it for real.

We go through our lives on auto-pilot so much of the time.  There is nothing quite like driving in Ireland to remind me thus.

This morning, there is peat in the air.  I slept soundly and solidly for the first time since arriving and this has given me renewed purpose.  There may be a visit to the beach today.  Music has been elusive so I will just play on my own perhaps.  One cannot push the plan.   I hope to get the paints out as well, though I am disappointed with the medium I ordered to use as its drying time is a good deal longer than what I use at home.

It can take a few days to feel truly landed in a place.  I am not sure I have quite yet arrived, but I am close.

Away from my desk

Miraculously, I make it through a full day yesterday with only the one quick nap, crashing to bed around 10 pm local time. (After a delicious dinner of curry and catching up with Ireland based dear ones, of course.)  Traveling eastwards across the Atlantic on a redeye flight wreaks havoc on one’s inner equilibrium with regard to time and so powering through this day is important.  The journey was uneventful, if not a bit bumpy and I am grateful for a safe arrival and a lift here to the village from the airport in Dublin.

Today is a brand new day and I manage to roust myself out of bed while it’s still morning.  The village of Blackrock in Co. Louth is seaside charm personified.  We walk for a cup of coffee at a place called Rocksalt, where the latte is artful divinity.   Out the window to the alleyway, we watch workers come and go, to and fro and admire an old Renault parked there.  I think I might like an old car such as this, if I lived in a place such as this….

Though the cafe is crowded with freelance workers as well as those there for breakfast and conversation, it is still quite subdued and quiet.  This is something I have noticed on other visits to this country, things are more quiet here.  I can hear myself think which is really nice.

After coffee we step outside for the wander home and I take a quick snapshot and a few seconds of video to show you how very lovely it is here. (note to self on video with phone in future –  turn the damned thing to the side!)

We have been greeted with a gorgeous day, complete with a bit of sunshine and a lovely cool breeze.  I am not sure what the rest of the day will bring my way.  For now, I am enjoying just settling in.  Listening to the quiet of this workaday seaside village, hearing the quiet of my own thinking which is a welcome change.

It is my hope in the coming weeks to keep in touch with you all on the blog here, with photos and updates.  I did, after all the hemming and hawing, opt to bring a few oil paints as well as my usual sketching supplies, so perhaps I’ll have something to show in that department as well.

Til then…..

ps, 2 months into this decade we call ‘the fifties’, and I am really liking it thus far.