Archive for July, 2012

Peering into the design offices of Harland and Wolff, this building is now decrepit and closed to the public and tourists. There is even a very big green leafy tree growing inside the building, out of a mouldy wall.  You can see it if you peer through the dirty window. Beyond the dying facade of the H & W building rises the new multi-million dollar Titanic experience museum.  It’s four ‘wings’ are massive, matched to the size and height of Titanic’s bow.  This is a walking tour, though, of the pump house and dry dock, which is the largest in the world.

We make our way to the dry dock.  At first, it just seems to be a fenced in area, but as you walk closer, you realize that it is simply, without doubt, massive.  It took 700 men five full years to dig out this dry dock, a place within which the ill fated Titanic was built from the ground up.  Everything is original, and the steel doors that close at the far end are now rotting slowly.  Restoration work is under way.  Touching those doors, it would seem, is as close anyone will get to touching something that Titanic touched.  People in the dry dock, far below, are like like toy people.  There is a wooden cutout the height of a single person and the cutout is placed at the very bottom of the dry dock.  It seems unfathomable that this ship filled this whole dry dock, and then continued to tower upwards of four or five storeys above the place where the water line would be.

You can go down and walk on the floor of the dry dock, but if you’re afraid of heights, like me, the 44 feet down to the bottom is too much.  Realizing the immense size of this ship, with its over 1,500 souls lost in April 1912, is enough to give you eerie shivers.

What the people of Belfast will say, even today, is:  “She was all right when she left us.”  They take personal pride in having built her, but they are also defensive when tourists ask what went wrong in the ship building process.  They often say that it was, truly, the fault of “a Canadian iceberg” rather than human or mechanical error.

What struck me about this visit was that Titanic was, truly, titanic in scope.  Most of Belfast was employed by Harland and Wolff during those years of shipbuilding.  When you think of the marvel of its construction and design, of the pride that the people of Belfast still have in that ship, you think (maybe) that it is better to focus more on Titanic than on the fate of the Troubles.  In either case, lives were lost, love was broken, and things changed forever, for better or for worse.



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Started with a tour of Belfast city hall this morning.  Beautifully made.  The shipbuilders of Harland and Wolff, the company that built the Titanic, also helped to build city hall and the carvings are done by the same craftsmen who did the wood carvings in the first class sections of the doomed ship.  The Lord Mayor of Belfast is a young man of only 28 years, who wears the mayoral gold chain around his suit neck and flirts with young female reporters from the local newspaper.  Mayors in this town are voted in for a term of only one year at a time, but councillors are in for a four-year term.  Not sure why they do this, as I can’t imagine it would be easy trying to start up new initiatives and only have a year to see them through.

While the beauty of city hall was astounding, I looked forward more to seeing the murals of the Falls Rd and Shankill Rd areas.  We went first up the Falls Road, a purely Catholic area in Belfast.  You can tell it’s Catholic and Republican because of the orange, white and green bunting that stretches across the streets and the national flag of the Republic flying on lampposts.  The other sure sign that this is a Republican area is that most, if not all, business signs are in Irish Gaelic, with no translation into English.  You could, for all intents and purposes, be in a town in the south.  (Although it almost seems that the patriotism is twisted out of proportion….and has a frantic, passionate tone to it that you simply wouldn’t see in the south.)

Suddenly, ends of buildings are covered in giant murals.  Not artsy, creative ones, but ones with sharp messages of loyalty to Ireland and the IRA.  There is one that honours Bobby Sands, the leader of a group of Catholic Republicans who were imprisoned for protesting British rule.  (The Catholics in jails like Long Kesh and the Maze were tortured mercilessly, so Sands led his fellow prisoners in a hunger strike to protest their treatment.  He died in 1981, after 66 days of not eating.) There is the another mural that commemorates the Easter Rising in 1916 in Dublin.  Another one marks the sinking of the Titanic, which was built here.  The ones that shock are ones with images of soldiers holding guns aimed at children, babies even.

Moving onto Shankill Road, the Protestant and Unionist side of the city, you can see right away the dramatic shift in politics.  Union Jacks flutter everwhere, with red, white and blue buntings stretching across roadways.  (One side always seems to be visually outdoing the other, in melodramatic fashion.)  The Queen’s face is everywhere, marking the Diamond Jubilee year.  On the Unionist side of things, there are pro-Ulster Defence Force (UDF) murals, as well as anti-IRA murals.  Going way back historically, though, there are even murals that speak about William of Orange’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  This is “The Glorious 12th” (of July) and we often hear about upset in Belfast and Derry at this time of year.  We passed by one giant fenced in area that had been recently burned.  Apparently, wood is gathered every July to feed the giant bonfire of celebration that the Unionists hold to mark their ‘win’ over the Catholics, even though it was back in 1690.  Time shifts here, so that past bleeds (literally and metaphorically) into the present.

The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast still sees the result of what are called “punishment shootings.”  Knee capping is still common here, and the doctors at the Royal Victoria have developed, since the start of the Troubles here in the 1960s and 70s, a reputation for repairing shot out knees.  (Orthopedic surgeons from around the world come to the Royal Vic to learn how to best repair knees damaged by gunfire.)  To think knee capping is still common here, on a fairly regular basis, is unnerving to say the least.  At the height of the Troubles, one major cemetery in Belfast ran out of places to bury the dead.  Their graves are marked by simple white stones in rows.

Our tour guide told us that if a Protestant plays football or hurling on a Catholic field, or against a Catholic team, the Catholics these days wouldn’t mind so much, but the Protestant would need to definitely fear retribution from his own side.  He would be deemed a traitor, and punishment would be swift and merciless.

The Peace Wall, as it’s called, is extremely high.  It’s 18 feet high (or 5.5 metres).  It is metal and stretches between the Protestant and Catholic areas of the city.  A number of murals can also be seen on this wall.  Tourists are allowed to walk down the wall and write messages of hope and peace.  It’s not so much what you choose to write, but what you read before you write your piece that makes you feel ill.

Here are a few pieces of message graffiti from the Peace Wall:

“This wall should fall.”

“One sky, one destiny.”

“It’s one world, one heart, one change, and I don’t wanna wait.”

“How many lives must it take?  The future is now.”

“Destroy this wall for more peace.”

“Catholics and Protestants should live together in harmony.”

Visiting that wall, in the pouring rain, made me so very sad….to think that so many people, of both religions, lost their lives in senseless acts of violence.  It was underlined by the visual division that exists in this city (which is not much bigger than Sudbury in terms of population).  You can’t trust the ‘other side’, ever, so your fear and paranoia, and long memories of executions and roadside torture, paint you into your own political corner and darken the futures of the kids now growing up in Falls Rd. or Shankill Rd.

Violence begets more violence….the cycle repeats itself…and how do they even begin to know how to try and stop it?  They can’t….and that, perhaps, is the very saddest thing.  It’s like a broken record….and it keeps on skipping, skipping, skipping, until something happens and someone gets hurt.





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Tonight finds me in Belfast.  It’s a grey town…non-descript except for the preponderance of Union Jacks coming into the city.  Kerb stones on roundabouts are painted red, blue and white, just in case anyone forgets that you are in what is still largely unionist territory.

Fittingly, the first stop today was in the River Boyne area, where I was at Newgrange on Friday.  Today we visited the Battle of the Boyne site, the largest battle ever fought on British, Scottish or Irish soil.  This battle is at the root of Northern Ireland’s marching every year on ‘the glorious 12th’ of July.  It took place in 1690, but it has had ripple effects on this country, north and south, ever since then.  Some memories are long….and never forgotten.  The fact that the battle replays itself in horrible ways, through The Troubles of the last century, and stretching into even this month’s upheavals here, is bitterly sad.  Such a waste of life…

After the Boyne, we stopped at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Drogheda.  This particular cathedral commemmorates the life of Saint Oliver Plunkett.  Here there are schools named after him everywhere.  If you don’t know who he was, I’ll tell you a bit about him.

The tale of Oliver Plunkett is a sad one if you’re of Irish Catholic descent.  He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1654.  Upon his return to his home country of Ireland, and his home county of Meath, he was named the Archbishop of Armagh.  At this time, if you know English history, you’ll also know of Oliver Cromwell’s reign of terror over Catholics.  It extended into Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries.  By the time Cromwell’s reach stretched into Ireland, it was illegal for Catholics to practice Mass, or for priests to celebrate Mass for Catholics.  This was all part of the Penal Laws.  Irish children were not allowed to be taught about Catholicism and they were forbidden from being taught their Native language.  This is the time when there were ‘hedge schools’, where children were secretly educated in fields behind hedges to avoid persecution.  (There are things called “Mass Rocks” all around this country, flat areas of rock where priests gathered Catholics to say Mass in secret.)

When Plunkett returned to preach in Ireland, he found the Catholic church in disrepair.  He set about to rebuild it, confirming over 48,000 Catholics over a four year period and then even building a Jesuit seminary in Drogheda.  He had a target on his back, though, and soon found himself facing trumped up charges of a non-existent plot to overthrow the government.  He was arrested in 1679 in Ireland, but sent to trial in England because the British thought he wouldn’t be fairly tried in Ireland.  (The plotting and irony seems obvious now…)

He faced a kangaroo court, charged with promoting Catholicism, and  ordered to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  He was killed at Tyburn, in England, on July 1, 1681.  The odd thing about this whole thing is that St. Peter’s is a strange shrine to Plunkett.  He was beatified by Rome in 1920 and canonized in 1975 as the first Irish saint in over 700 years.  Pope John Paul II visited Ireland, and Plunkett’s shrine, for three days in 1979.

Catholics among you will know that holy relics are common.  The shocking thing here, though, is that Saint Oliver Plunkett’s head is enshrined in a glass box near the altar.  It is a shock to see this man’s head, so well-preserved, with obvious features and teeth and a face full of pain, when he was executed so long ago, in 1681.  You can definitely sense that being hanged, drawn and quartered was not a pleasant way to die….and all because he was promoting Catholicism. You also find yourself wondering, in a morbid way, how his head could be so life like.  (Is it because he’s a saint?)

From Drogheda, we moved north into County Down and Ulster.  The border is invisible now, but twenty years ago, buses and cars would have been regularly stopped and searched for hours by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.  Now, residents on both sides of the border shop on either side, depending on the bargains that might exist (especially for gas, which is expensive here right now).  The only real indication that things have changed is that the mail boxes go from green to red, the traffic lights go from red and green to red, amber and green, and the currency changes from euros to pounds sterling.  Within minutes, though, it’s clear that the Union Jack is everywhere….proudly displayed on city streets.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when we tour the Falls Rd and Shankill Rd areas, where the divide between the Protestants and Catholics is still patently obvious.  The political murals, like the Bogside murals in Derry, also speak to “The Glorious 12th”, The Troubles, the hunger strikers at the Maze prison outside Belfast, and the raw hatred that existed (and in some places in this city, still exists, boiling up under the surface).


And now for something completely different….a faery tree!

For some silly reason, I neglected to mention that I have finally found and visited a true faery tree in Ireland.  It sits on the cusp of the Hill of Tara, ribbons, offerings and windchimes rustling from its limbs in an ethereal and unworldly manner.  You see it from a distance and wonder if it’s for real, but upon approaching it you realize it’s more than real.  People from nearby villages have travelled up here to tie offerings to the faeries to its lowest hung branches.  If you wish for a husband, for example, you might tie the symbol of a heart to its branches.  If you wish for a child, you might tie a pacifier or baby toy to a long ribbon.  The effect is both delightful and disturbing. The wind makes the tree come alive, ribbons swirling and leaves shifting and whispering.  Here, the faeries are for real.  Here, the faeries need to be honoured and placated at the same time.  Here, local people believe that their wishes will be granted if they make offerings to the faeries, descendants of those who once lived on the Hill of Tara.  Here, worlds collide in wonderous ways.

….and I, once again, know that I believe in faeries…especially when you stand under a faery tree and feel a frisson of excitement and energy run through your body….here is old and ancient and sacred lore and magic.







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Part I:  I Could Marry an Irish Taxi Driver…

I have fallen for an Irish taxi driver named Paul.  There’s a story here, but not one for the blog, I’m afraid; it’s more grand inside my head than on paper…and ours was a fleeting romance of a cab ride from Merrion Square to Grafton Street….but ask me sometime, when we’re out for dinner, and I’m drinking wine.  It’s a good tale!  (I also believe that I could elope with a Dubliner….or marry him to save him from the current economic downfall.  Pickings are slim at home, but the men here are flirty, sexy and fine.  ‘Nough said!  They seem to like hobbits here…. 😉

Part II:  Stalking Patrick Kavanagh

I’m writing this in the posh lobby of the Grand Hotel in Malahide, just outside of Dublin proper.  I’m in the lobby because that is the only place where the Wifi signal is strong, and free. (Apparently right beside the fireplace is the only spot that can do the trick!)  Everywhere else, well, they charge an arm and a leg.

Lobby couch surfing is awesome for people watching, I might add…I can listen to the work man who has a rough accent and is talking with the concierge, or I can watch the Scotsman in a kilt who is at a rowdy wedding reception in some grand wallpapered ballroom down the corridor, or I can just listen to the Polish receptionist speaking with the girl from Drogheda.  Any option is pretty fascinating…and allows me to eavesdrop…and write something later…

So….on to “Stalking Patrick Kavanagh.”  With just a few hours before check-out in Dublin this morning, I had my trusty tour book with walking route in hand…and jotted down directions to the Patrick Kavanagh statue near the Grand Canal.  I wandered round Merrion Square, down Fitzwilliam Upper and then (logically) Fitzwilliam Lower (!), turning left onto Leeson Street.  You have to know where the statue is because the canal is quite long.  Thankfully, my trusty tour book had it marked.  I wandered along the canal at 9:20am….sunlight slicing through emerald green leaves of trees that hang like a canopy over the water.  For some time, I thought I’d gone the wrong way.  Maybe I should have turned right instead of left, but soon I could see the silhouette of a man seated on a park bench.  It was him.

Patrick Kavanagh is one of my favourite Irish poets…Yeats is my fave, Heaney follows, but Kavanagh is up there with the greats, too.  He, like Yeats, was a forerunner in Irish poetry.  He’s one of my poetic men.  He wrote one of the most beautiful poems in history (Irish or otherwise) called “Raglan Road.”  It’s been put to music, often, and sung by many Irish singers.  Sinead O’Connor does a nice version…but I think I’ve also heard a Shane McGowan version, too.  Van Morrison’s is amazing, but Luke Kelly (of The Dubliners) does what I think is one of the best renditions ever.  (You can check it out on Youtube if you’re interested.)  Doesn’t matter who sings it….the words are the thing.  You can read it, if you’d like, and you’ll be a finer person for reading it and letting it sink into your soul, by going to the following link:


So….I see the outline of the man sitting on the bench and think to myself:  “Self, this must be one of the world’s best statues….”  He is weather-worn and greenish bronze, sitting on the bench with his legs crossed and his hat to his left, gazing out on the beauty that is the Grand Canal.  I took photos and, again, because I seem to want to touch things to ensure I’m really here, really in the moment, I looked around and (because it was relatively early for a Saturday), rubbed his shoe.  “You’re amazing….a real inspiration.”  I spoke the words quietly, even though no one was near by to hear me.  (You don’t want people hearing you talk to statues of dead poets and rubbing their metal shoes….it sends the wrong message… 😉

Wandered back to Merrion Square and found the two houses that W.B. Yeats lived in…once (at #52) when he was ‘just a poet and playwright’ and later (at #82) when he was a senator and involved in speaking up for Irish independence.  What a man…what a poet….what a life.  I cannot wait to see Sligo again.  (Last time I was there was 1996….and I am not ashamed to say that I snatched a little pebble off his grave near Drumcliffe as a momento…something I may well do yet again later this week….)

Met a painter on Merrion Square.  Bought three beautiful watercolours for 60 euros.  Could’ve done with two for 40 euros…but then the third spoke to me and I thought “Self….you’re only here so often…buy the third!”

Got caught in a rainstorm in Malahide this afternoon….one moment it’s raining and the next the wind blows it off to the ocean….so momentous that even the weather here reminds you to live in the moment…to honour the natural world…to be blessed with holy water from the sea that is only just across the narrow road.





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Clannad was unbelievable.  The National Concert Hall is gorgeous, and imagine putting people who sing in Gaelic together in a hall with lots of Irish who still speak Irish as it’s now spoken in the Gaeltacht (and in Donegal, where Clannad is from).  It was transcendent.  If you haven’t heard them sing before, you ought to….you can check out their website at:  www.clannad.ie  Hearing Maire (Moya) Brennan sing Yeats’s “Down by the Sally Garden” was enough to set me getting teary.  When they ended, the standing ovation was so intense that one of the twins (either Padraig or Noel Duggan) was trying not to cry.  That set off a lot of people in the audience, including me.  There is no substitute for hearing true Irish songs from Donegal in Irish….

Today was a visit to Tara and Newgrange.  The Hill of Tara (Temair in Irish) is the ancient Celtic capital of Ireland, a place where the goddess Maeve was worshipped.  Over 142 high kings were crowned here.  There is even a ‘coronation stone’ at the cusp of the hill.  From here, you can see many counties of Ireland.  There is also a memorial Celtic cross for the 1798 rebellion.  It was here, at Tara, in the 1840s, where Daniel O’Connell spoke to more than 1 million Irish to protest the treatment of the Catholics in Ireland.  (This makes me think of the painting in the National Gallery yesterday of a priest secretly saying Mass in a tiny cottage, packed full of Irish Catholics.  The very thing I do each week, by going to Mass at my local church, was once something that my ancestors were unable to do without fear of torture of death.  It’s a sobering thought….and leads me into my voyage north to Belfast and Derry in the coming days.)  The buildings at Tara have long gone, but there is a sense of a spiritual centre.  Modern Celts who follow pagan Celtic rituals still travel here, especially on solstice days.  In any case, it is definitely an ancient and haunting place….and it makes me smile because my cousin Tara named her daughter Maeve….so it’s a nice connection to history.

Speaking of Maeve, the goddess and not my cousin’s daughter (!), she was the goddess of war and was symbolically married to the high kings.  (Hence the phallic nature and style of the coronation stone, or ‘lia fail’ as it’s called in Irish.)  What struck me, again, is how poets are venerated here.  The bards were above the druids, in terms of hierarchical order, according to our guide today.  Think of that!  The importance of story, and of recalling and remembering story, in verse and song, is crucial to this country’s evolution.  You only need to look to modern Irish poets, and to Irish singers like Paul Brady, Christy Moore, the Dubliners, and countless others too many to mention here, to see how poetry weaves itself into music…how the rhythms of language and music are mated in so many ways.

Now to Newgrange.  How do I begin to write about what this place does to me? It’s haunted my imagination for a good fifteen to twenty years and, though I’ve been to Ireland three times before now, today was the first time I actually walked into a four thousand year old stone age tomb.  It sings and vibrates at a high intensity….and you can feel the history seeping into your pores as you travel through Ireland’s ‘Valley of the Kings’ and along the Boyne River.  Bru na Boinne, as it’s called in Irish, is ‘The Palace of the Boyne.”  It encompasses a number of stone and bronze age sites that radiate history.  Knowth, Dowth (which you can’t visit) and Newgrange are the three main Irish passage tombs, but there are countless others (as well as standing stone circles) everywhere.  To give you a sense of time, Newgrange was built 500 years before Stonehenge in England, and 1,000 years before the Pyramids in Egypt.  I’ve been to Stonehenge twice in my lifetime, but it is so commercialized that there is no point.  Newgrange is carefully protected.  Groups of tourists are given assigned times, walked out to a bus pick up point, and driven 5 minutes up to the actual tomb.  There is no way I can explain the feeling of seeing Newgrange for the first time.  (Listen to Clannad’s song, “Newgrange”, and you’ll get a sense of its impression on soul and spirit.)

The entrance stone is something that speaks to me.  I’ve always been drawn to the image of a triskele (or trinity) knot.  The three ‘arms’ on the triskele represent earth, sky and the otherworld.  Seeing the very symbol that I consistently doodle without thinking, and have for years without knowing what the heck it meant, freaked me out a bit.  Again, there’s a sense of something bigger going on here….with me and the world.

You enter under low hanging ‘doorway’, and the guides are careful to tell you to mind your heads.  This doorway hasn’t moved in 5,000 years, but if your skull meets it, well, they say the rock will win!  The outside of the tomb is lined with white quartz, a way to note the link with the early Celts to sun worship and awareness of natural cycles.  On winter solstice, only a few people are ever let into the inner cross-shaped chamber to witness the sunrise.  As it rises above the horizon, the rays slice through the doorway and down the passageway into the inner tomb.  The ancient Celts cremated remains of their loved ones, placing the ashes in basin stones.  Some believe that the Celts thought the coming of the sun into that inner chamber helped to lift up the souls of their loved ones and transport them to the next world.  It’s like a gateway to the other world(s).

The most shocking thing was when the guide told us he would turn off the electric lights in the chamber.  He asked us to imagine what it would be like to be waiting in this tomb for the sun to rise.  The guide on the outside of the passage shone a light down into the pitch blackness and a gold path lit the way towards a basin stone.  It was, to be honest, the most spiritual or religious experience I’ve ever had.  (You’re not supposed to touch the stones, but when it was pitch black, I pretty much groped the stones….but that’s another story.  I also ‘borrowed’ a greenish stone from a pathway near the visitor’s centre….I have a problem with picking up stones, I think, and running fingers over them….especially when they’re of the stone age variant.  Good thing I live in Canada, where it’s not quite as obvious a problem!)

I’ll post photos of Newgrange and Tara in two weeks, when I’m home.  Until then, as our guide Dara said….(and he was also handsome, which didn’t hurt!)….”Imagine you are standing inside the oldest monument….four thousand years old…and you stand in darkness….waiting for the sun to rise…waiting to worship the natural world that you depend on for your well being and livelihood.  Imagine this room, this chamber, lit up with golden light….and know that, when you have the pleasure to see it happen in person, it feels as if God lives here….”

Man, I need to get into that Newgrange lottery and win that ticket for Winter Solstice.  I’d like to meet God in that chamber some day….on my bucket list now!



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The title of this first posting from Dublin comes from the customs agent.  He saw my stamp from three years ago, except back then I arrived on the 25th of July rather than the 26th.  (There’s something to say about timing…and poetic circumstance.)  Arrived at 8:15 Dublin time….Sudbury time, well, 3:15.  Let’s just say it’s been a rough day….but a gorgeously liberating and energizing one.

Got a room at my hotel that, even though it’s supposed to be four stars, looks out over the roof.  Just complained, so I’ll spend one night overlooking the 1800s era roof and one night looking over part of Merrion Square.  (I can walk down to the square and see the whimsical statue of Oscar Wilde leaning back on a rock….so unexpected, so amazing…just like the man himself.)

After crashing for two hours, well, let’s just say I couldn’t stand not doing things, being here again….it’s hard to explain, but every time I come here I feel I’ve been here before.  (Genetic memory?  Perhaps.  Reincarnation?  Perhaps.)  There is just a pull and draw that speaks to me deeply….so bloody hard to explain in words, but perhaps some of you have had that with other places in this wide world.  (I think of you, Shelley, and New Orleans….if you read this….you, I think more than anyone else, would get the draw and pull…the undeniable sense of spirit returning.)  It’s as if you suddenly turn a corner and recognize something on a deep level….hasn’t happened anywhere else for me….not to this extent.

Spiritual wanderings aside now, I traipsed out and went to the National Gallery of Ireland.  My “Connemara Girl” painting wasn’t exhibited because the gallery is being renovated.  (Sucks to be me!) Still, I did see the Irish gallery and the amazing original of Kathleen Ni Houlihan.  If you’re Irish and you’ve studied poetry and art, you’ll know what I’m on about.  Then saw the Jack Yeats paintings I’ve been dying to see…he’s the brother of William Butler Yeats, my favourite poet ever!  (That family got hit with the ‘talent stick’, I’ll tell ya….and it’s obvious when you see the paintings and think of poems by the other Yeats.)  The European gallery, interestingly, was full of Catholic art.  No big surprise, given the main religion of the land.  (Who knew halos could sparkle like that, even 600 years after the artist painted them….those Italians were good!)

Then rushed down to Nassau Street, which is bit crazy.  Busloads of Americans tramp around.  I managed to find a traditional Irish music store, though, so I stayed there for a good long time.  🙂  From there, decided to go to the National Museum, where you can see ancient Irish gold from first century B.C.  It’s beautiful, but there is an exhibit on right now dealing with a “psalter” (book of psalms) that they found in Tipperary in 2006….in a….wait for it…a BOG!!!  The archaeologists have managed to save fragments of the original text….it’s spine tinglingly amazing to see.  The ancient Irish even made ‘book shrines’ of wood or bronze to protect those religious books.  One interesting quotation was on an information panel.  If I can recall it now, it said:  “Christianity is a religion of the book….”  So, in turn, it’s not hard to understand why books were revered by the ancients here.  No surprise, either to find that poetry, good craic, and storytelling still lives here….and reigns.

There is sadness here, though….the taxi driver says everyone is emigrating to Canada, America or Australia.  After the Celtic Tiger crashed due to the EU insanity, the only jobs that are safe, it seems, are those of civil servants.  Walking by Merrion Square an hour ago, there was a woman with a baby on her lap, begging for change in a paper coffee cup….this is truly a beautiful place, a place of history and family connections, but there are cracks in the facade.  You don’t have to look far to see poverty on a human scale…and in the closed shops on side streets.

Tomorrow is Newgrange and REALLY old tombs….obviously, I have a fetish, or a problem, to do with anthropology and archaeology….and this place feeds that very well.

Off to listen to Clannad live at the National Concert Hall tonight…hopefully I won’t fall asleep!



….pictures to follow when I get home….the writing of it all is more important to me right now!

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Decluttering has become my fetish this summer.  My sister and I are trying to shed our parents’ trinkets, including coloured depression glass, pottery vases, floral cream and sugar sets, and painted German bowls.  It is amazing what china cabinets can hold, and when your mother was an antique collector (read “horder”) you know you’re in trouble.  In any case, today I took three more boxes of bits over to our local antique dealer, Sheila.  She and I have struck up a bantering relationship as I’ve been there twice this month.  The moment I walked in, I noticed the painting.

It hung on the far wall, underneath some other banal landscape painting.  “Sheila,” I said.  “That’s an Irish painting, isn’t it?”  The image was of a young woman, draped in a cape, with goats nearby, near the sea.  “Yes, it is.  No one else has known that.  How do you?”  Such a question….”My mum’s family was Irish, so I’m interested in Irish history, poetry and visual art.  I’d recognize that piece anywhere.”  I asked her for its name and she said “Connemara Girl.”  “Do you happen to know if it’s in the National Gallery of Ireland?”  I asked.  “I’m going to see some works by Jack Yeats there next Thursday afternoon.”  She looked it up online and said “Yes, it’s there!”  (It’s not a Yeats piece, but one by Augustus Nicholas Burke…)

I left there, having unpacked my own antique clutter, telling her that I would come back after my trip to purchase the iconic image on canvas.  By the time I hit The Minnow, I knew that painting was a universal nod to me, to my mum’s heritage, to my solo trip next week.  I had to go back and buy it.

What’s the point of this entry, you ask?  Well, I guess it’s that you always need to be paying attention to your soul’s voice.  You need to feel when something happens— some event or situation, or chance meeting with a person who is a stranger but seems more recognizable to you—to recognize that there may be something greater at work here.  It seems obvious to me, these days, as I shift and evolve, that there is no such thing as circumstance or coincidence….but only serendipity.

These days, as I declutter other peoples’ things, and gather my own new pieces that strike me to the heart and soul, I find a clearer mind and sight.  I strip away the old to make way for the new.  That’s a gift and a blessing.  🙂

Peace, people.


Check out Burke’s “Connemara Girl” at:  http://onlinecollection.nationalgallery.ie/view/objects/asitem/search$0040/0/sortNumber-asc?t:state:flow=b3029d43-8074-423b-bdb9-c394e6085dcf

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So I’m coming to the end of my week here, house sitting and dog sitting 8 shih tzus (and 2 more of my own), about a half hour outside of Sudbury.  Here’s the main thing I’ve learned:  I’m more of a townie than a rural girl.  This disappoints me, but only reinforces what I learned last summer when I rented a cottage on Manitoulin; I like people, even though I need time away from them occasionally to write.  An odd paradox.    (I think, in my imagination, that I’d like to live the life of the romantic poet of old, who hermits away to create, but when I have that carved out time, it never works.  I need to live in a bustling place to observe and then create.

Poets and writers, I believe, need time on their own to reflect, read, and then create new work.   I’ve done more reflecting and reading than writing, so I feel a bit of a let down to myself.  I’ve learned I’m drawn to early morning light through pines, cedars and birches.  There is a golden beauty that seems to paint both mornings and evenings that I haven’t noticed in town before.  It’s so beautiful, along with the bird song, that it distracts me more than I thought it would.  (The other thing that distracts is the sound of coyotes and other such four-footed creatures howling at night…it can be a bit otherworldly and unsettling when you’re used to living in The Minnow.)

I’ve had time to think, too.  Talked to my parents, which sounds weird but isn’t if you know me!  Sometimes, when it’s quiet, and I’m made to be quiet inside myself, I feel grief intensely.  One way out of it is to talk to those I’ve lost, because I believe they can hear me.  I did that tonight, after an early evening swim to cool down, and then sat on a swing.  (The place I’m staying is surrounded by woods, with a nearby pond off the ‘back yard’, and smells of greenery and moss outside.)  Before I knew it, I caught sight of some movement down by the pond.  I had just been ‘chatting’ with Mum and Dad about life these days….because I miss doing that in person now they’re gone….and out waltzes a beautiful white-tailed deer.  The deer and I locked eyes and observed one another for about four minutes.  Finally, it turned and flipped its tail and made its way up the rocky hill.

This all makes me think of  Rowling’s Harry Potter books and the infamous petronus, a creature that can bring greetings from those who have passed from the physical to the spiritual world.  It gave me shivers.  Sometimes, when you go inside yourself, when you get really quiet, you can hear, see and experience things you wouldn’t normally….and that’s a gift from God.

I will miss the 8 shih tzus I’m dog sitting this week when I leave on Saturday, but I am glad I had this time to get furry shih tzu cuddles and sit amongst the trees.  (Still, I’ll be glad to hear ‘town sounds’ again and get back into my groove….)

From the back woods….



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