In Honor of St. Patrick’s Day

Once upon a time, I picked up a cheap tin whistle and tried to play a few notes.  A brilliantly talented 14 year old kid taught me my first few tunes (she is now all grown up and is my dear friend and co-worker and emerging young artist).  When my son went away to music camp for the first time, I went along to chaperone… and to try my hand at the whistle class.  My Irish instructor was none other than Louise Mulcahy whose grace, talent and overall sweetness that week boosted my confidence to keep learning and keep trying and to just have fun with it.  It was the beginning of a long journey in music that I have never regretted.

Above is a video of Louise and her Dad Mick playing a few tunes accompanied by guitar.  I happened to run into Louise while in Ireland last summer and she remembered me and seemed genuinely thrilled to find that I am still playing and have even moved on to playing flute, inspired in part by her playing.

There is a lot of crazy out there in St. Patrick’s Day land with too much drinking by folks wearing too much green, but for those of us who celebrate Irish Music, Dance and Art all year long, it’s an excuse to do what we do all day long.  And to do it well…. there’s an article today in the New York Times about a young man named Drew Lovejoy who dances with my daughter at McGing Irish Dancers.  He’s a world champion, but to watch him interact with all of the other dancers at McGing, you would think he’s just one of the kids.  No ego or attitude, just a love for the dancing.  It’s inspiring.

Today seems like a good day to let you all know that I plan to take a group to Ireland in late September/ early October 2013 for another version of my Illuminated Travel Journaling class.  This one will be outside of the scope of the Art Academy since it’s international.  I’ve already begun making plans by teaming up with the folks at Irish Blessings Tours.  Below you will find a guest blog post by Bee Smith from Irish Blessings.  She is a font of tourism knowledge in all things Ireland and I’m sure with the two of us combining our talents , this trip is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience…. Stay tuned for more information as we tighten up plans.  I’m already so excited!!!

And now, here’s Bee:

“Journaling you Dream Vacation through Art and Haiku

 by Bee Smith, Irish Blessings Tours

Smouldering Lough Talt

Hemmed in by the hills

Cloud above the cauldron

 In August 2011 I guided Amy and her friends around my part of the world – West Cavan in Ireland – a landscape of myth, megalith and sacred power places.  It turns out that Amy leads groups who journal their trips through art.  While I am a deep devotee of art, that gene passed me by.  I did, however, get the writing gene and while Amy wields her drawing pencil, I journal trips by writing haiku.

 Haiku is a Japanese poetry form, deceptively simple and fiendishly difficult (but fun!) if you play by the classical rules.  It is simply three lines composed of no more than seventeen syllables. The classic format is lines of 5,7,5 syllables but these days we tend to play it a bit looser since we are not writing in Japanese after all.  There is generally a ‘seasonal’ word that tells the reader the time of year for the scene.  It also is alive to the natural world, which then can stand for the universal, even Zen, truth. Unlike English poems we don’t use simile and the metaphors are very oblique.  What you aim to do is to capture a moment in time and share the feeling/seeing/hearing/sensing with the reader.

 A cow’s anguished moo

A calf taken from its mother

Sentient beings


I generally have a small notebook in my handbag and haiku is a convenient way of jotting down what I am experiencing. I’ve been a professional foreigner for more than thirty years.  I left the USA in 1980 and lived in England, where I met my Irish partner, for twenty years.  We moved to Ireland in 2001. We live deep in the country on an acre where we garden organically.  For someone who loves nature and needs solitude and quiet it is like heaven. Only better, because I’m alive to enjoy it.

Over those thirty plus years as an expatriate I’ve done a fair share of travelling and visiting many parts of the British Isles and Ireland.  I first visited Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the 1980s and kept going back.

Through poetry I not only met my partner, I also made other friends.  One of those poetry buddies suggested to a group of American women that they let me organise a tour for them over the Festival of Brigit, who also happens to be the matron goddess/saint of poetry.

So poetry gave me my new vocation as tour guide and creatrix of tours for people who want to immerse themselves in an authentic Ireland.  This Ireland is not always furnished with an interpretative centre but allows the visitor to draw their own conclusions.  It does allow the visitor to experience for themselves, take the pulse, to be inquisitive and meet people in their locality.

I also have to say that part of my mission is to get more people to visit Northern Ireland and the northwest of Ireland.  Both areas suffered economically during the troubled years before the Good Friday Agreement.  But since they are less well known they are also very genuinely hospitable to visitors.  The sites are lesser known and offer many surprises.  It also has to be said that the wildlife thrived in this area, which is now a top eco-tourism destination in Ireland.

However, the stereotypes from the television from the Troubles still adhere in the public’s conscientiousness.  But as someone who has visited time and again that violent imagery is far from the complete reality.  As I was wont to say in the 1990s, “ I see more excitement on the corner of First Ave. and 13th  St. in Manhattan on a Friday night than you’d see in a month in all the North!”

It was a pleasure to see a tour, women mostly from the American Midwest, be genuinely surprised that they didn’t have to go through Passport Control when they crossed into Northern Ireland from the Republic.  Neither did they see huge watch towers and helicopters hovering.  All they needed to do was keep straight what currency to use in Armagh, which used to be known as Bandit Country. That has all changed with the Good Friday Agreement.

View of Armagh City with St. Patrick’s (CoI) Cathedral

Open hearted travelling yields many pleasant surprises.

 It is a way of touring that lends itself to journaling through art and poetry, in particular that three lined haiku that can get swiftly jotted in the pocket size notebook. To travel should engage your heart as much as other senses. Jotting down a haiku you often capture that heart sense. It captures that moment just as a photograph. But the poem or drawing uses your hand, muscle, coordination – and they are connected to your heart.

The roaring cascade

Raw assertion over rock

Lichen bearded glen

 Amy wants to bring visitors to Ireland and deepen their travel experience by facilitating journaling with art.  Likewise, I am keen to get people to haiku. We all have eyes but some of us feel frustrated that our mean squiggle doesn’t do justice to what we witnessed. But we all have language. With words and a poetry form to discipline our sight we can journal our travels even if we can’t draw a straight line.

Amy and I plan to join forces to guide American visitors to these special places in Ireland using the travel journaling techniques of art and haiku poetry.  If you are interested in this type of tour experience,

contact Amy here at her blog. 

You can learn more about my part of the world through my blog at

 Dragons or angels

Sunlit cloud writing

I can now read the sky”

Thank you BEE!! I look forward to working with you!!!  And to you readers, as always, I’ll keep you posted….


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