Feeling my Fear on Achill Island

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I have fallen in love with Achill Island, Ireland’s largest island (of an island?), but connected by a bridge at Achill Sound. Achill is a popular summer resort area, but it was quiet in September. I checked into the Bervie Guesthouse and I only mention it specifically by name because it was just listed as “Hideaway of the Year” in the Irish Georgina Campbell Awards.

20150922-AchillIsland-2015036It is located directly on Keel Beach, and the third-generation owners, Liz and John Barrett, are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

My first day, I arrived on a blustery, gray day and after a quick soup and brown bread at the Beehive, decided to go to Keem Beach, located on the western side of Achill.

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However, as I drove the narrow mountain road, with the ocean directly on my left (and no barrier on the side!), and both the sea and cumulus clouds threatening me, I chickened out. I pulled into a little place on the right side of the road and cautiously turned around and headed back down to the safety of my B&B. Why do I tell you this? Because the next day, my perspective about fear was forever changed.

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The storm had passed and the morning sky was sunny and clear. After breakfast, I talked with Liz and John and asked directions to Keem Beach, and wondered if there was another way to get there. They told me I had been on the correct road, and no, there was no other route. I explained I had become unexpectedly anxious the day before and turned around before I reached the summit. Liz then said the most profound thing to me.

Feel your fear, then go on through it, and do what you need to do.

As I drove, I let that sink in. Feel your fear. Acknowledge it. Don’t act like it doesn’t exist, but then, GO ON THROUGH IT. Don’t let it hold you back from doing what you need or want to do. I remembered the last three years and realized that is what I had been doing. When we received the diagnosis, and then through treatments and later hospice, and then after my husband died, that’s what I did. I was afraid during all of those times, and I completely felt that fear. But I didn’t stop. I kept on going through the fear, despite the fear.

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I drove up the mountain and saw the spot where I’d turned back, but this time, I kept going. As I came over the crest of the mountain, there below me, was Keem Beach, in all of her magnificent beauty. I found a place to stop on the side of the mountain, hopped out of the car, and just soaked in the view.

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I went down closer to the shore and basked in the sunshine for over an hour, frequently gazing up the mountain at the road I had just traveled and feeling both proud of myself, and grateful for Liz’s kind wisdom.

From Keem, I drove back to the center of the island and visited the Deserted Village at Slievemore. Years ago, Jerry and I had tried to visit the Village, but it was pouring rain and the road was washed out. We had to turn around on the narrow little road, with me out of the car in the rain, giving directions. It was not the best of times. However, on this day, the sun was shining, and as I pulled into the car park, I saw the sign that somehow, we had missed the last time: No Through Road.

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I walked the ruins of many of these 80-100 stone buildings that stretch for approximately a mile. It is believed that some of the buildings were used even into the early 20th century as “booleys,” or temporary housing during the summer when people would bring their cattle to graze these pastures. As I walked this generally sheltered, but rough terrain, I contemplated the people who had lived and worked here. Rugged land requires rugged people, and those who settled here must have been incredibly strong of body, mind, and spirit. Why did they choose this location to settle, and when and why did they leave?

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20150923-AchillIsland-2015208Sean Relig Chill Damhnait, or the old graveyard at Kildavnit lies on a peninsula south of Achill Sound. Walking among the gravestones and burial plots, some dedicated to victims of An Gorta Mor or victims of a fire or shipwreck, the realm of the spirit world is palpable. A mountain stands in the background, as the graveyard gently slopes down to the water. Across the road, a newer cemetery is built, but this place, this ground, is home to generations of ancestors. This was a thin place.

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The stone plaque on the remains of the old church explains that Damhnait or Davnet, was a seventh century Irish saint who probably built a church here, after she fled pursuers. Later, according to tradition, Grainuile (Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen) built a church here in the 16th century to “facilitate worshippers from her nearby castle.” Read here for more about Grainuile and her castle at Kildavnit: http://www.achilltourism.com/granuaile.html

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Achill Island, you touched me in a special way at this time in my life. As the setting sun painted the land and sky in the same colors as your heather, fuschia and Monbretia, I breathed in the words, “I have arrived. I am home.” I am here, at this moment, and I am at peace.
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