Galway’s Splendor

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Mountains of Connemara from Lough Corrib

County Galway, south of Mayo, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean, eastward to the Midlands, and has the greatest number of Gaeltacht areas, or Irish-speaking areas in the country. This is the home of Connemara, made famous by films such as the classic, “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and “The Field,” starring Richard Harris and John Hurt.

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Aasleagh Falls, actually in Co Mayo, but on the border with Co Galway. A famous scene from “The Field” with Richard Harris was filmed here.

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Upper Sky Road, outside Clifden

I arrived in Clifden, on the coast, during the annual Arts Festival and the town was bustling with activity: concerts, readings, art walks. It was lively, and a little hard to find some thin places here, so I headed for the coast. The Sky Road is a fantastic, albeit narrow, little drive. There are actually two roads – the Upper and Lower Sky Roads, and this visit, I drove the Upper one and was fortunate to have sunny, clear skies.

From the Sky Road, I went north to Omey Island, a tidal island that is crossable at low tide from Claddaghduff Quay. As luck would have it, I arrived at low tide, but didn’t think it a good idea to drive my rental car across the sand, so I walked.

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Interestingly, there are signposts marking the way, just in case there was any question of where to cross. The island’s school closed in 1973, and no one is left now. It is yet one more place here in Ireland where time has stood still.

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Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park

The main entrance to the Connemara National Park is in Letterfrack, just a few kilometers northeast of Cleggan and Omey Island. Trees here are just beginning their autumnal transition, and the weather, while a little damp, was still mild enough for a nice walk up Diamond Hill. There are three loops of varying distance, and I wisely chose the shortest route since rain moved in just as I was coming back down the trail to the car park. Had the weather been better, I would have hiked higher up the mountain.

On my way back to Clifden, I saw a roadside holy shrine. Located near the Letterfrack Pier, the grotto is actively in use, as people were present when I first passed by, despite there not being parking available. This site is less accessible than most I’ve visited, and the precarious path to the top was steep and uneven.

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Rosaries, statues, flowers, and other offerings were left at both the main shrine and the statue of Saint Patrick. I continue to marvel at the faith of people who come to these out-of-the-way places and I admire their devotion. A little bench under the trees provides a quiet place of refuge, despite the close proximity to the highway.

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Someone had recommended the small village of Cashel, in Connemara, to me. I drove south from Clifden on the R351 until I came to a local road that went due east. The R351 makes a loop from Clifden, down to Roundstone, and then back up again to Cashel, but the local road goes straight across a bog. Several loughs are here, with names like Lough Fada, Beaghcauneen, Cloonagat, and Conga, but there isn’t a way to access them because of the bogs. In the 30 minutes while on the local road, I only met two cars. There are no houses, no trees, and even the sheep are sparse here. This is a lonely place.

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Connemara Bogs above, and the Twelve Bens below

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The Twelve Bens (sometimes called the Twelve Pins), are the mountain peaks of Connemara. Ben is one of the Irish words for mountain; sliabh is another. Connemara is both mountainous and boggy, on the sea and on lakes. I think the light in Connemara is different from light anywhere else in Ireland, perhaps in part because of the presence of the Twelve Bens.

On the far eastern side of Connemara lie the towns of Cong and Clonbur. Cong, made famous by the John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara movie, The Quiet Man, is a little touristy but still has a nostalgic charm about it. Ashford Castle, originally built in 1228 and now a five-star hotel, is also here and some scenes from The Quiet Man were filmed on the Castle’s property. Cong is nestled here, where the River Cong flows into Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland.

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Cong Abbey

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Ashford Castle

Between the town and Ashford Castle, is Cong Abbey, and beyond it, Cong Woods. The forest’s deep mossy green is lush and thick, and the quiet is just as intense. I walk the path and nothing stirs. I see no animals, hear no birds. I am alone, surrounded by denseness: of woods, of air, of my thoughts. This is a place where one goes to walk and think.

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20150929-Clonbur-2015375From Cong, I went by boat to Inchagoill, or Inis an Ghaill Crabhthigh: the Island of the devout foreigner, one of the 365 islands in Lough Corrib. Inhabited until 1946, Inchagoill is another place where time has seemingly stopped. Click here, for more information about Inchagoill.

Despite being among a large herd of tourists (which reminds me why I prefer to travel alone or in small groups), I wandered off to be alone among the ruins of two churches, one the Church of St. Patrick, c. 6th century,

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Saint Patrick’s Temple

the other, the Temple of the Saints, c. 8th century. The forestry service has begun clearing some of the trails on the island, and while more convenient to traverse, I wonder how it will change the environment if more people visit this special place.

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Temple of the Saints

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East Galway is home to several monastic sites, and in addition to Cong Abbey, I visited the Ross Errilly Friary, near the town of Headford. Built in 1351, it is reputed to be the best preserved medieval site of its kind in Ireland and has National Monument status. I’ve visited many monastic sites but other than the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, this friary seems the most massive with intact cloisters, and numerous rooms, many covered with grave slabs.

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Ross Errilly Friary

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I think my favorite monastic site to date is Ballintubber Abbey seven miles south of Castlebar. The graveyard at Ballintubber marks the beginning of the Tóchar Phádrai, the ancient pilgrim pathway to Croagh Patrick. Built 800 years ago, the abbey itself is still in use today. I arrived just as a wedding ended. The abbey survived Cromwell’s attacks in 1653 and served Celebratory Mass for 785 continuous years. History just oozes out of this place!

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After the wedding party departed, I meandered through the graveyard, ruins of the original abbey, and entered the church. The outdoor Stations of the Cross, however, were the most interesting aspect of Ballintubber, as the images of the Way of the Cross are constructed from native materials. I’m only including a few photographs of the images here, but I thought this an ingenious use of local stone and wood in this special holy place.

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To close on a personal note, I spent a week outside of Clonbur at this adorable little cottage, complete with half door, stone walls and floors, and thatched roof.

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It was an absolutely perfect place, in part, because it was just up the road from the village of Finny, which is actually in County Mayo, but that we believed was the area from where Jerry’s ancestors came. Daily, I went to a little spot near the cottage where two parts of Lough Mask joined on the Galway side. This was, in a non-mystical way, a thin place, for it called me to come every day to see the water, the sky, the mountains. With one exception, this spot was always deserted when I visited. This was my place, my personal thin place, in County Galway.

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I’ll miss you, Gaillimh, but I’ll be back one day.

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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Wild, Wild Erris

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Of the four regions of Ireland, Connaught is probably the most rugged. Stretching along the west of Ireland, the landscape of Counties Mayo and Galway, alternately mountainous and boggy, is frequently shrouded in a deep mist which the sun does not easily pierce. But when it does, the sky is a brilliant blue and the land has a golden hue.

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The bogs stretch for miles and little of substance grows here. With increasing pressure from the EU, turf or peat harvesting is in substantial decline, and the bogs are continuing their centuries-old cycle of growth and decay, growth and decay. Sheep graze on the mountains and hills, but there are few cattle. Fishing the Atlantic waters continues and is a dangerous occupation. The week I was here, searches were ongoing for a local man who was missing at sea. As one man in a pub told me, “the sea is a harsh mistress.”

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Some describe the area of Erris and the Belmullet Peninsula in northern Mayo as the “last frontier,” and it appears to be so. While Donegal to the north is also rugged with mountains, this area is different. The wind blows constantly across the treeless bogs and rocky outcroppings. Even in September, the gales from the Atlantic are relentless. It takes strong people, familiar with the land and sea, to live here. This is an area of the Gaeltacht, where all of the road signage is in Irish and outsiders are noticed. It is a place where the intensity of nature has taken its toll on the land and its inhabitants. It is Mayo.

20150919-Belmullet-2015002West of Belmullet, on a coastal road, is Dun na mBo, Fort of the Cow. This iron and stone structure stands silent watch over the ocean below, and entering between the slanted columns and protected by a strong gate, I see the maelstrom. Dun na mBo jarringly reminds you that you are a guest of nature here. You learn to respect and fear the sea or she will consume you.

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20150920-Belmullet-2015069Blacksod and her stalwart lighthouse are at the end of the Belmullet Peninsula. On the day I drove to her, fog and rain surrounded Blacksod, and I didn’t venture far from my car. I wished the weather had been more accommodating, as I wanted more suitable photos of the sculpture in the shape of a boat near the pier. Each pillar symbolizes a different ship that emigrants boarded leaving from Blacksod, and on each stone is a plaque bearing the known names of those who departed. The website, http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/ explains the memorial:

“A memorial garden has been created in Blacksod by Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile Eachléim in 2013 marking the 130th anniversary of the first sailing. The orientation of the boat is due west indicating the direction of the emigrants’ journey across the Atlantic. The side of the boat is divided into fifteen sections, each representing a ship that left Blacksod Bay. The width of each section relates to the number of passengers who left on each ship and their names are displayed. The sections are separated by spaces of varying sizes representing a timeline of their departures.”

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Blacksod is a place of emigration. It is a place of memory.

As I left Erris, I drove along Broadhaven Bay before heading south for towns with names like Ballycroy and Mallaranny. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

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And I Shall Have Some Peace There

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The night he died, I was reciting WB Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” to him. The last words I spoke to him were, “It’s time for you to go now. Go to Innisfree and have some peace there, and wait for me.” He took one final breath and  then silently, he was gone.

Twenty-five months later, I went to Innisfree in Lough Gill, on the Rose of Innisfree. There were six adults and two young children on board, and the late afternoon sky was gray and overcast.

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The captain took the boat as close as possible to Innisfree and stopped the engine. As the boat gently swayed, I read the following quote from John F. Kennedy, at the request of his oldest son.

I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all come from the sea. We are tied to the ocean, to the water. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.

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I lit three small lanterns and the captain, Alan, set them onto the water for me. I poured some holy water I’d just taken from the Tobernalt Holy Well, and then, as I slowly scattered his ashes, I read this old Celtic prayer from John O’Donohue’s book Anam Cara.

I am going home with thee, to thy home, to thy home,
I am going home with thee, to thy home of winter.
I am going home with thee, to thy home, to thy home,
I am going home with thee, to thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer.
I am going home with thee, [love of my heart] to thy eternal bed, to thy perpetual sleep.

As I wept, an elderly woman, who had been standing on the stern with me, took me in her arms. Her name was Mary, and she told me she lost her husband 22 years ago and knew my pain. This benevolent stranger held me as I cried and said goodbye to my husband. There were no other words to be spoken, but I am forever grateful to Mary, who understood, and stood, with me.

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He is home, and I am home, with him. May he rest in peace, at Innisfree, until we meet again.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
from 
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

 

Forests, Beaches, and Holy Wells Along the Wild Atlantic Way

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Forest of the Cavan Burren

So many beautiful places, so little time to write about them! While in Sligo/Leitrim, I had the opportunity to tour one afternoon with Bee, who operates Irish Blessing Tours (send inquiries here) and she took me to some of her favorite thin places.

20150916-CavanBurren-2015016Our first stop was the Shannon Pot, the beginning of the River Shannon, located near the Cavan/Fermanagh border. There are several myths about how Ireland’s longest river was formed (click here for more information).  While water actually flows from a tiny river near Marble Arches Caves in County Fermanagh to the north, it collects here, at the Shannon Pot.

My favorite place Bee took me was the Cavan Burren, a UNESCO Global Geopark. The Cavan Burren is very different from the Clare Burren and its lunar landscape.

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Here the forest is thick and lush, with mossy underbrush but uneven, rocky terrain. There are large boulders left by glaciers thousands of years ago, but at some, there are what appear to be forms of rock art, usually in the form of carvings or rubbings, rather than paint.

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Rock Art, Cavan Burren

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Fallen Dolmen near Giant’s Leap, Cavan Burren

Cairn dolmens are present, both standing and some that have fallen. Had time allowed, I could have spent all day here in this magical place.

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Cairn Dolmen, Cavan Burren

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St. Patrick’s Holy Well

Bee also took me to Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, located in the town of … Holywell, just over the border in County Fermanagh. This little well is believed to provide healing for people with mental and nervous conditions, including depression. As part of making the rounds here, pilgrims remove their shoes and walk barefoot in the cold water, then over a wall, through a pasture, across the road to the ruins of a small church, and back to the icy water.

I also visited Tobernalt Well twice, only a short distance south of Sligo Town. Tobernalt is much more developed than Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, with several statues, an altar, and stations of the cross, and mass is observed annually here on Garland Sunday (the last Sunday in July). This beautiful site dates to Celtic times and is said to have been blessed by Saint Patrick himself. Check this site http://www.holywellsligo.com/about.html for more information about the well, and how it crosses both Celtic and Christian traditions. This is an active holy site and while I was there, several came and lit candles, prayed, and made their rounds. It is a beautiful place of serenity.

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Tobernalt Holy Well, Sligo

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The mouth of Tobernalt Well

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Another day, I was in search of Fowley Falls located in Lovely Leitrim. While I didn’t locate the falls, I found myself on a very tiny lane that led up a mountain. 20150914-GlencarDay1-2015090At one point, I thought, “I know I’m not lost; I just don’t know where I am.” I could have turned around, but I’ve learned that most always the local roads in Ireland eventually lead to larger regional roads. It was midday, I had a full tank of fuel, so I just went where the roads took me. And look what I found! I later learned that I had stumbled into the Aghavoghil Natural Bog. It was glorious! I parked my car in the road and nary a soul anywhere.

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On this trip, I only drove as far north as Bundoran in County Donegal, on the Wild Atlantic Way. The WAW is a relatively new (2014) tourism campaign promoting the west coast of Ireland and takes in 2500 km of scenic coastline. Bundoran is a major surfing town, and even in September, there were people in wetsuits with their boards out in the cold Atlantic water. Bundoran’s beach is spectacular and on a clear day like I had, you could see the Donegal coast in the distance.

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Bundoran Beach, Donegal

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Bundoran with the mountains of Donegal in the distance

Between Bundoran and Sligo, is Mullaghmore, another charming coastal town. After passing through the town, I stopped on a road near the cliffs, where I could see Classiebawn Castle perched high on a hill; Benbulben in the background and the Atlantic to the west. I did not realize until later that Classiebawn had been the summer home of Lord Louis Mountbatten, until his death in August 1979 when he was killed by the IRA.

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Classiebawn, Mullaghmore

Enniscrone, southwest of Sligo Town, is a popular tourist destination because of its wide beach and more importantly, its famous seaweed baths. I’ve no personal recommendation, but I know where you can go if you want to try one!

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Seaweed Baths at Enniscrone

I won’t soon forget the majesty of the Wild Atlantic Way. Sláinte!

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The mighty Atlantic, at Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo

Musings on Yeats Country, Country Sligo

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Sunset over Lough Gill

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”
from 
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

Northwestern Ireland is nicknamed “Yeats Country,” as many of the places here were inspiration for Irish Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats. 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth and the Sligo Tourism Board has worked diligently to make sure everyone celebrates it. Traveling the roadways, signs point to “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “Hazelwood,” “Dooney Rock,” “Slish Wood,” “Glencar Waterfall,” and to Yeats’ grave at Drumcliffe, in the shadow of Benbulben. Recently, forensic scientists revealed they aren’t sure it is Yeats’ bones that are buried in Drumcliffe (click here for a local story), but to locals it doesn’t matter whose bones are there; Drumcliffe lays claim to his grave.

Yeats

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff church
yard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“Under Ben Bulben”
from 
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

 

I sought to discover why Yeats was so inspired by this area. In my six days in Counties Sligo, Leitrim, and even tiny bits of Cavan, Fermanagh, and Donegal, I found several thin places. While Yeats didn’t use that term, I believe he knew they existed, and thin places were responsible, in part for many of his poems (his unrequited love for Maud Gonne was also a significant inspiration, but that’s another story!). Yeats loved the area so much, even though he had been born in Dublin, he requested that he be buried under the watchful eye of Benbulben, the “table” mountain that towers over the pastoral fields of Sligo.

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Ben Bulben, a table mountain, from the West

 

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Ben Bulben from the Southeast

 

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Rosses Point

Rosses Point is slightly northwest of Sligo Town, and it, as well as the pristine Glencar Waterfall, are referenced in Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child. Glencar is 11 km northeast of Sligo Town.

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Glencar Waterfall

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“The Stolen Child”
from 
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

20150914-GlencarDay1-2015016Glencar Waterfall cascades 50 feet (15 meters) before flowing into Glencar Lough, and as I walked these grounds, I understood why Yeats wrote of the possibility of faeries being here, whisking away young, innocent children at play in this charming, enchanted place.

Lough Gill stretches east from Sligo Town to Dromahair in Leitrim, about 8 km. This beautiful lake inspired many of Yeats’ poems, but most significant to me, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I’ll write more thoroughly about this location in the next installment, but Yeats wrote this poem in England, when he was homesick for Sligo. The Lake Isle of Innisfree is probably Yeats’ most famous poem and literally every Irish person I spoke with had memorized it as a young child. This mystical place is embedded in the Irish soul.

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Lough Gill, early morning

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
from 
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Yeats referenced several more County Sligo locations in his poems and the ones with which I am familiar are The Song of Wandering Aengus (click here for an amazing oral recitation of this poem by actor Michael Gambon), The Fiddler of Dooney, Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland, The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland, and The Hosting of the Sidhe. I encourage you to check out these, as well as other poems by Yeats, at this website: http://www.poemhunter.com/william-butler-yeats/.

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Additionally, one of the special websites created for the 150th anniversary is here: http://yeats2015.com/ and from this site, I learned that a local pub, Hargadon’s in Sligo town centre, hosts a poetry reading every day at 1:00 pm (and of course, I went one day!) for the entire year. The Yeats Memorial Building is also in Sligo.

I will end with one of my favorite WB poems. It is wistful and makes me yearn for my husband and the days we had together in Ireland. But as I traveled Yeats country, I know, deep in my soul, he was there with me.

 

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Lough Gill

 

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“When You Are Old”
from 
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

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Waiting on Shore, Rosses Point

Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle Peninsula)

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The little rock on the left that sidelined me for a while.

The little rock on the left that sidelined me for a while.

My journey was sidelined last week with a serious sprain and while nursing it, I fell behind in my postings. I’m doing better now, but still have weakness in my left ankle. Where did this accident occur? On the beautiful Dingle Peninsula, which is the topic of this post.

I arrived on the peninsula early afternoon on the same day as the Dingle Marathon and Half-Marathon. This didn’t really affect me other than Dingle town was incredibly busy for dinner that evening. That afternoon, I headed to Lough Annascaul, just a few km north of Annascaul, which is also the hometown of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean (I even had lunch at the South Pole Inn!). Driving to the lough was an experience in itself as at one point, I had to get out of the car, open a gate blocking the narrow one-lane road, drive through, and then shut the gate. Regardless, the location was astounding.

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Lough Annascaul looking south

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Lough Annascaul

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Terrain above the Lough

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Into the Valley above Lough Annascaul

Lough Annascaul lies in the valley between two mountains, Ballynasare and Dromavally, part of the Slieve Mish range. I parked beside two cars in the tiny pulloff on the side of the lough, but no one was in sight. No one. Except sheep high on the mountains above me, before me, and beside me. My plan had been to hike into the valley, beyond the lough, but this was where I had my ill-fated step off a wobbly rock and I hurt my ankle. I had managed to take some photos before my fall, and after taking a few more, hobbled back to my car and then B&B where my host took great care, giving me ice-packs and Kytta-Salbe, a German cream that worked wonders.

I’m afraid the ankle slowed me down quite a bit. The following day I did the Slea Head drive, stopping first at one of my favorite spots in all the world, the cemetery at Ventry, overlooking the beach. It was simply a gorgeous day, and rather than walk, I sat in the sun on the rocks for over an hour. Also, I’m including what I think is one of the most beautiful epitaphs I’ve ever read. I just nodded my head in agreement.

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Mid-day Beach at Ventry

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The Great Blasket Island

I continued on to Dún Chaoin or in the English, Dunquin. Much of the Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltacht region, where Irish is the predominant language still spoken by residents. Dún Chaoin and Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter) are two of these Gaeltacht villages. I stopped in at the Blasket Centre, an OPW site (click here for more information). The Blasket Centre documents what life was like on the Blasket Islands off the western coast of Dún Chaoin, especially on the Great Blasket Island (An Blascaod Mór), which was inhabited until the last of the islanders were evacuated in 1953. An interesting thing I learned was in the early to mid 1900s, Great Blasket Island became a haven for writers in the Irish language, and several notable authors had their works published. Check this link for information about many of these writers. I had so wanted to take the ferry to the Great Blasket, but knew I couldn’t traverse the rocky hills. Perhaps next time.
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Dingle is home to many megalithic and monastic sites. Located a short distance from Ballyferriter still on the Slea Head drive, I stopped at a beautiful standing stone located a short distance from the road. It was at the base of a mountain and overlooks the Atlantic, with the Three Sisters Hills near Smerwick in the distance. Again, what a special place to raise an ancient standing stone and circle. I don’t know the name of this majestic place, but its location is superb.

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The Three Sisters

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Standing stone at Riasc

Riasc also in this area, located outside Ballyferriter, is an amazing thin place. I learned of, and was driven to, Riasc, by new friends Martin and Mary. Riasc, or Reask, in English, is the site of a small monastic site dating to the 6th or 7th century and was only excavated in the 1970s. The ruins consist of a small oratory (church), burial grounds, several clocháns or small huts, and decorated stone slabs. What is most notable about this site is the large standing stone that has both Celtic and Christian engravings. The stone is over 5 feet tall and is in remarkable condition. My friend pointed out to me the engraving DNE, which in Latin stands for Domine, or “O Lord.” I could have spent hours here, but other places beckoned.

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The ruins at Riasc

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Riasc

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Gallarus Oratory

Of course, one of the most iconic sites near here is the Gallarus Oratory, built probably between the 7th and 8th centuries. The Gallarus is notable because it is constructed of perfectly dry fitted stones, meaning without mortar, and it still stands today.

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Brandon Creek

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Where Brandon Creek meets the Atlantic Ocean

I find myself consistently being drawn to water, which is not unusual when you’re on a peninsula. I visited five other “water” sites on the Dingle Peninsula, besides Lough Annascaul and Ventry Beach. Listed below are photos of these places, but the only one I wish to highlight is Brandon Creek, the location from which St. Brendan the Navigator (Patron Saint of Sailors) is reported to have set sail in 535 AD. Many believe St. Brendan eventually landed in Newfoundland in North America before returning to Ireland.

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The Three Sisters from Béal Bán

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From Brandon Point, looking southeast

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Alone at the top of the world at Brandon Point

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Smerwick Harbor with another view of those sisters

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Inch Beach Sunset

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Walking Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Corca Dhuibhne, Dingle Peninsula, you always touch my soul. This trip, you also touched my ankle, but that will heal. The visions and memories (don’t you believe they are intertwined?), however, will last forever.

 

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Conor Pass, looking north towards Brandon

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Lady’s Island, Dingle Peninsula

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Slán!