Thursday, August 3, 2017

Croagh Patrick

The weekend forecast for County Mayo was rain, rain and more rain. On my laptop, an icon showed gray clouds with droplets covering each day Friday through Tuesday, but Sunday had an added lightening bolt. Ugh!

This did not bode well for my long awaited adventure. Three weeks ago I was invited by Margaret and her sister, Ursy, to join the family on their annual trek to Croagh Patrick (pronounced Croke), the sacred mountain of St. Patrick, near the west coast of Ireland.  Legend has it that when our patron saint arrived here in the 5th century, he climbed this mountain and fasted at the summit for 40 days. It was from here he banished all snakes (thought to symbolize paganism) from Ireland. 

We know that Croagh Patrick has had religious significance since the stone age, around 3000 B.C. It was a gathering place of pagans celebrating harvest before it was a place of worship for early Christians. Fascinating details have emerged from the studies of archaeology, astronomy and myth. Look it up.

On the last Sunday of July each year (called “Reek Sunday” after the mountain’s nickname), thousands of pilgrims from all over the world descend on Co. Mayo to make the grueling ascent upwards to the 2507 foot summit where a special mass is held each hour, and hearts and minds are focused on God (well, they’re supposed to be). I have wanted to be among this throng since I first heard about this sacred tradition. 

So three weeks ago, right after my invitation, I started training. Can you go from riverside stroller to mountain climber in such a short time? I was going to find out. Having no real access here in Thurles to a life size mountain, I figured the stairs would have to do. So up and down I went every day, between 500-600 steps. Whew! It was tiring. And it made my legs burn and my heart race. It felt like.....EXERCISE! Not my favorite thing.

But I was determined and on Saturday when we piled into the car to head out, I felt pretty sure I could maybe make it halfway up the Reek. That would be respectable. Though the mountain is only half a mile high, the traditional route is a little over four miles. I was told there might be a mass at the halfway point for those who could not (or chose not to) be the best pilgrims. I would be totally satisfied with that accomplishment.

Nicholas suggested we leave the next morning at 5:30 so we could be climbing by 6. Really? Margaret and Ursy expressed their regrets and opted for some quality sister time in downtown Westport. That left Nicholas, me and the two strapping millennials, Emma and Eugene, to seize the day. They had all done this before and were not at all intimidated. I was, as they say, cautiously optimistic.

The morning was partly cloudy and looked promising. That was the first miracle. Hundreds of pilgrims were already on the move when I told my three companions that I would be climbing alone. I did not want to feel pressure to keep up nor make them slow down for me. They reluctantly agreed to this and we made a plan to meet later at the little coffee shop at base camp. I told them if they saw a med evac copter fly over they should text me just in case. And so it began.

I cannot begin to express how truly awesome (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word) this experience was. The first while was straight uphill side stepping boulders, trudging through running water, mud and rubble. As I rose higher and higher, a stunning portrait of Clew Bay was painting itself in my rear view mirror.

I stopped often to catch my breath, only to turn around and have the developing images and colors brazenly snatch it away again. A waterfall to my right could not drown out the whispers of prayers and quiet conversations I overheard as I moved on and up. I was feeling a part of something surreal and beautiful, stepping to the rhythms of ancient ancestors in this, their native land. I began to whisper my own prayers and meditate on the strength and health and many other blessings I’ve received. I wanted to sing.

After a while, the ground leveled a bit but this concession didn’t last long. I was soon climbing again and there were more stones to climb over and more treacherous footing. I was leaning heavily on my walking stick and heaving myself from step to step. But I wasn’t feeling tired or at all bothered by the chilling wind and rain which now pelted us at this higher altitude. That was the second miracle.

The journey actually began on the mountain next door and when I reached the Reek, about two hours in, I was seriously getting vertical. The path was now a solid mass of stones, some better described as boulders. Each step was calculated, with my stick doing the hard work, and I stumbled and fell numerous times. 

I was amazed at the figures I saw climbing alongside me and descending from the top. Many were old and wizened, frail and unsteady. Some were barefoot on a mission of penance. But everyone seemed in good spirits. At one point, I came face to face with a tiny little woman whose age I would guess to be mid-70’s. Our eyes met and she flashed a big smile exclaiming, “Tis hard on me hips”. That’s the closest I came to hearing a complaint. 

I don’t know where I was when I realized I had probably long passed the halfway mark which was my initial goal. I knew I would finish the course. It was euphoric reaching the summit and taking more photos and having a snack from my backpack. There’s a modern chapel there where mass was being held and a stand with….what else…..cups o’ tea. But it was freezing up there and I was too soaked to feel like lingering, even for a warming drink. 

I’d been told coming down was as hard as going up, and that was true. It was harder to stay on my feet. I heard later that 13 people had serious injuries including head injuries, a dislocated shoulder and a broken wrist. I had seen the medics carrying stretcher after stretcher down the mountain. 

I made it to base camp in one piece around noon, and texted the three mountaineers who had been waiting patiently for me (probably for hours). One mocha later and I was telling my story. It’s been four days now and I’ve hardly been stiff or sore at all. That’s the third miracle. Maybe next year I’ll be back.

An evening celebration was in order. A trad session of course

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sunday, Part 2

As you recall from my last post, Andy and I finally set out exploring the Derrynaflan Trail. Our first stop was Derrynaflan Island and the ruins of the small church there. We lingered there quite a while, admiring the views of the bog in all directions and taking photos. Clouds were starting to gather as we shuffled through the dry bog dust back to the car. 
Beware the beast of Ballinure!

Our next stop was the Ballinure Graveyard. As we pulled up we were immediately halted by an enormous green serpent who surveyed us with suspicion and demanded to know our business. When we explained what we were after, to just have a look around and contemplate the quintessential purposes of the Almighty, he reluctantly granted us safe passage to browse among the stones. But I felt his devilish, beguiling eye on us the whole time, and it gave me chills.

Here lie the Taylors...Burp!
Not finding the medieval church that was supposed to be the centerpiece of the cemetery, we soon realized with horror that our monster had slowly over the years devoured it. Not planning to leave unsatisfied, we found a passage into the belly of the beast and there admired the exquisite barrel vaulted chamber and the burial vaults of some unfortunate Taylors. I wonder if they tasted good!!!

As we were backing away from the serpent, apparently his minions had taken note of us and were marching to his rescue with fire in their eyes. They looked meaner than any bad Leroy Brown I’ve ever seen, and we were grateful they could not jump the wall that separated us. There were many of them and they just kept coming.

I wonder if they're as mean as they look.

By now it was raining… because it rains almost every single day in Ireland, even when the sun shines early on. I had a rain jacket and water proof boots but the natives hardly ever bother with these things, so Andy was getting a little wet as we got back in the car.

We thought about calling it a day but then decided to find one more site. This medieval ruin hopping is addictive, I tell you. Don’t attempt it unless you have lots of time and are prepared to get the sniffles and sore muscles at some point. Do you know if there’s a support group for this?

The Yellow Church 
Our final stop was to be Perry’s Well. But, “well”, we couldn’t find it. It was at one time located on “Church Hill” (wherever that was), but legend has it that someone washed sheepskins in it and the next morning it was moved. What? We walked through one field that looked promising but no well in sight.

After driving another quarter mile or so, we spied something very curious in the distance. This is my favorite kind of ruin adventure, where you aren’t expecting anything and then do a double take.

“What was THAT on that hill?!" We had to go a little farther to find a place to park, then we got out (it was still sprinkling but we hardly noticed) and started trudging. We ran into a limestone quarry and, skirting it to avoid a fence, spied what was left of “The Yellow Church” at the top of the hill. It is referred to as such because of some connections to the neighboring town which aren’t clear. There isn’t much known about it. 

We noticed that the land all around it showed signs of settlement, and we later read there were at least three houses once there and two walled enclosures. We also later discovered that “The Yellow Church” is on “Church Hill”, the former sight of Perry’s Well (before the regretable sheepskin incident). The views were stunning, even in the mist.

“My name is Kim and I’m a ‘ruin’ junkie.” “Hello, Kim”. Til next time…

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


It was 11 o'clock on Sunday morning and my ride to the Baptist church had not shown up. The service would be starting about now and my mind was going this way and that, wondering what went wrong. I hoped Seamus, who always collects me, was okay.

The morning was beautiful... warm, sweet and crisp, like microwave kettle corn (which I miss tremendously). The sun was bright and I was, as they say, all dressed up with no place to go. I changed into my comfy jeans and opened Safari to see if there was any interesting place I could walk within reason, just to spend the day outdoors.

I was on the verge of despair when the phone rang. I could hardly believe the timing. It was my friend, Andy, who has been conspiring with me for weeks to hit the Derrynaflan driving trail, a series of medieval ecclesiastical sites in the area. Andy has long work hours and lots of other commitments, so I wasn’t sure our plans would ever reach fruition.

“Would you have some free time today to check off a couple of sites?” 
Island in the Bog
“Oh, I might be able to spare a few minutes for it”. I was jumping for joy! I have been in serious "ruin" withdrawal and was just realizing how good a fix was going to feel. 

Our first stop was Derrynaflan Island, also known as Goban Saor’s Island (Goban being a famous church architect of the day), which is a big, unexpected, inexplicable explosion of green in the middle of Littleton bog.  The name, Derrynaflan, means the Oak Wood of the Two Flanns, referring to a couple of clerics who were associated with the place in the 800’s. Yep, it’s old.

Derrynaflan was just another tick off the trail map until 1980 when a couple of guys went exploring with metal detectors. Their wildest dreams came true when they hit 
The Derrynaflan Chalice
the mother lode. As you probably know, because of Vikings and other ill-tempered guests, the monks often buried their treasures when the doorbell rang. We know the Irish ground is saturated with it. Finding it is the challenge. The “Derrynaflan Hoard” is now housed in the National Museum in Dublin and I saw it last summer.

It wasn’t easy getting to the island. There are no road signs and certainly no address. Andy had been there before but still had to rethink a couple of turns. Then there it was in the distance, a polished emerald laid out on a sheet of dark velvet. 

We're almost there!
We parked the car and set out walking. It hadn’t rained in a few days so the bog was dusty and cracked. Like all good adventure walks in Ireland, we had to negotiate a waterway and cross a fence. My eyes were glued to the ground the whole way, just in case a bit of the “hoard” had been left behind. Ya never know!
Five windows have survived the years

These old ruined churches are like fiddle tunes in that, to the untrained ear or eye, they all seem the same. But once you’re on to them, the subtle differences assert themselves with enthusiasm and you never mistake one for the other (well, on fiddle tunes, sometimes you do). 
Brian McLaren, in Finding God, reminds us that God isn’t only found in cathedrals and religious sacraments and rituals (although many of us do find Him there). Nature, art, solitude, community, serving others (McLaren’s list is long) are also vessels through which communion with the Divine may flow. I’ve been thinking about what makes me, personally, feel close to God... how the “fruit of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.) that St. Paul says we, as followers of Christ, will some day come to yield, is being nurtured in me.

Thank you, Andy.
There was a time when I thought these virtues would rise up in us volcano-style upon profession of faith, spewing forth from nothingness just because, as in creation, God ordered it so. Then I started realizing that maybe the six creative days weren’t literal days and maybe good things take time. And maybe all the circumstances of my life have been a part of God’s continuing creation, the making of me.

Among a variety of other ways, I feel spiritual, connected to God, when I'm stumbling over the rubble left behind by my spiritual ancestors. I’m not so naive as to think they were all "holy, holy, holy" and loved God with all their hearts. But I’ll bet a few of them did. And the “faith of our fathers” inspires me, maybe because history is a gossip, and has the benefit of knowing then announcing all the ways they screwed up... but God remained faithful. 

There’s an eloquent sermon in that for me. And I would have missed hearing it on Sunday if I’d gone to church.

Next post: More along the trail... The Yellow Church (which we were relieved to discover was NOT the Hill of Bones which is an unlucky place) and the Ballinure Graveyard.



Sunday, July 2, 2017

Close Encounters

I was raised in the deep south in Roswell, Georgia, a small town that my ancestors helped settle in the early 19th century. I guess we’re a family of home bodies because after all these years, so many of us are still there. I was a black sheep who married a foreigner (an Iowan) and spent my adult life in Florida. But Roswell, though no longer a small town, will always be home.

There is a cemetery right down the road from our family house where you can see the gravestone of my great great grandparents, Valentine and Nancy Coleman. It was so close to the road that, when the road was widened a few years ago, it had to be scooted over. I’m guessing that means Valentine and Nancy are now under the road, but I’m not sure about that. They won’t care, regardless. The Colemans of Roswell are as relaxed as willow trees and have always known how to go with the flow, even if it’s the flow of traffic overhead.

I consider it a rare privilege to have this local ancestral heritage available to me. Roswell is full of historic documents and legends and someday my story will become part of the legacy (the eccentric widow who stole away to Ireland and was never seen again).

It isn’t all so good though. I grew up a racist. It was apparent that my family considered all people of color to be inferior. I don’t recall it being said directly, but the attitudes made it obvious. I overheard whispers about filth and stupidity and disgust with poverty. We weren’t the hateful KKK brand, but just the common ignorant southern middle class of the day.

The only interaction I had with anyone ethnically different from me was with our ironing maid, Mary Stuart. Mary had a humble, subservient spirit and I loved keeping her company while she ironed our weekly laundry. My mother set her up in a back bedroom and she worked while watching General Hospital on tv. It was funny to me that she pronounced it General Horspital. 

My mother made a point of telling me that I should never, ever say anything to Mary about her being a n……. because that would hurt her feelings. And of course, being the rascally little scamp that I was, the next time I saw her I blurted out, “MARY, YOU'RE A N……. !” Mary knew how to be gracious and forgiving, even if my mother knew nothing about child psychology. 

She had a circuit of clients in our neighborhood and we were the last house of the day. So my mother was responsible for taking her home. She lived on Oxbo Road which was sadly referred to simply as “N…… Town”. I remember seeing the black children playing in the dusty (or muddy) street and returning my bug-eyed stares as we bumped around the curve to Mary’s house. I was so curious to go inside when we dropped her off, but that was never going to happen. 

So where am I going with this and why now? A few days ago as I was walking by the River Suir, I came upon a family of Travellers enjoying the sunshine and bathing their horses. In Ireland, the Travellers are an indigenous ethnic group that have a long history of conflict and tension with the majority of “settled” Irish. You may know them by the traditional (but perjorative) terms of “tinkers” or “gypsies”. They are recognizable here in Thurles by their horse drawn buggies. They have traditionally been nomadic (hence the name) but in recent years have settled into groups of more traditional houses and trailers mostly in urban areas.

According to internet research sources, they are often viewed as “insular, anti-social, dropouts and misfits.” I also read that “social, economic and educational exclusion were contributing factors to high levels of offending behaviors.”  I actually spent a couple of days reading and watching documentaries about their alternative lifestyles and subsequent struggles with discrimination.  

One source stated that 50% of Irish Travellers do not live past age 39 and that men are six times more likely to commit suicide than the settled population. There’s a plethora of information out there if you’re a closet anthropologist like me and feel the need for more details.
I felt of rush of deja vu as I greeted the Travellers by the river and watched the children play. I introduced myself and asked permission to take some photos. I have to say I was intrigued to see the horse on a leash taking a swim. I couldn’t decide if the horse liked or disliked this. Maybe the horse wasn't even sure. 

A few days later they were back and after they had all left, I noticed that one young man remained behind. As he was across a fence rehitching his horse to its buggy, we struck up a conversation. He told me some things about his large family and asked me about mine. There was so much more I wanted to hear about his take on contemporary Traveller life. I really REALLY wanted to ask him for a ride back to town (about a mile) in his buggy. But I was fearful based on the prejudices that I had to own. I hated this feeling of uneasiness and suspicion that had no basis at all in this young man’s appearance or behavior. But I also felt responsible for the safety of my children’s mother, so I hesitated. As he was about to trot off, my brave took hold and I popped the question, “Do you think you could give me a lift back to town?”

“Sure. Meet me up by the road.” Yes! I was thrilled. Then just as quickly I heard “Ughhhh…..actually I just remembered I’m not going that way. I have to meet someone down the road in the other direction.”

It hit me like a horse kick. In that brief moment, HIS fears and prejudices had surfaced. I have no way of knowing, of course, exactly what he was thinking. But I’m guessing he might have questioned my motives or my reactions or anticipated criticism from his family. I don’t know. I just know I thought about all this as I walked back to town. 

These things are way too complicated to be sorted out by a Floridian with a laptop. The “us vs. them” scenario is played out all over the place in politics, religion, culture, gender, education, and on and on and on. I spent my career helping young children process their economic and racial differences at an age when it might truly make a difference in their lives. I guess we never really get through the processing. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Your prayers on my behalf were answered. The sun did indeed come out after two weeks of that chilling rain. Saturday morning it sprang on us little frozen mousies like a hungry cat, and believe me, we thawed out fast and scurried for cover. It was, to say the least, an abrupt change.

I’m still not over my cold (my virus went viral and is now hiding out in my ears, having just exited both eyes), but I knew I HAD to grab my share of the vitamin D before the natives bagged it all for themselves. I set out on a short walk, just to get refreshed, and returned six hours later. How could that happen? I thought graham crackers were what I missed most from home, but I was wrong. It was hot, sticky sunshine that flutters your lashes and tingles your skin. It was glorious!

I overheard comments as I walked along. Two ladies passed on the street with this quick exchange: “How are ye?” “Roastin”!  According to the weather man, it was 76 degrees. “Too warm,” protested another. People were standing by their doors fanning themselves as if about to swoon. I guess Florida wouldn’t be their first choice retirement destination. To be fair, MOST of the folks here were ELATED with the weather. Linda and her fam spent Sunday at the beach.

I went my usual route by the river but took a fork I've never taken before and followed my ears to a small waterfall next to the path. I eventually caught back up to the main trail and followed the river back to the road. I was keenly aware of the chirping of birds, every gurgle in the water. The breeze that had last week been ferociously slapping my face was now gently stroking it as if to kiss and make up. I gladly accepted its apology.

I think this throwing myself into intense fiddle practice is having fringe benefits. I am more sensitive to sounds. I wrote last week about the traffic noises outside my window that I interpreted as surf lapping the beach below. I’m sensing meaning and interpretation in what I hear around me. Everything has rhythm and tone and tempo and mood. I read on a friend’s blog that a fiddle teacher once told him to “lie out on the grass and just listen, eyes shut, to the sounds: dogs, cats, cattle, tractor, insects, wind, cars in the distance.” Doing so would enhance his ability to recognize tunes and their structure. I get it. 

On my way home, I stopped for a latte (what a surprise!) Two ladies were sitting outside chatting and, because theirs was the only space out of direct sun, I took a chair right by them. I was quickly assimilated into the conversation and noticed one of them had a heavy French accent. They were both B&B keepers, not to be confused with beekeepers of course, but they were nonetheless “abuzz” with talk of the season and how business was progressing. The French woman was concerned that people seemed taken aback by her accent when they made reservations. I guess when you stay in Ireland you expect Irish hospitality, not French. I wonder if she’s thought of faking an Irish brogue. Probably not.

My friend, Kristen, sent me a link to one of the best little video documentaries I’ve seen in a while ( It was about an American pastor who was sent to Scotland to oversee a rural parish there. Basically, he returned home a few years later a changed man because he learned something that apparently they don’t teach in seminary: to listen, to travel God speed instead of culture speed

More profound than any sermon he could preach or message he could convey was the heart of Christ he expressed to the community by walking through neighborhoods, introducing himself, and just listening to what people had to say. Tuning in, slowing down, questioning, concentrating, attending to the details……. he could be a great fiddler someday! "God speed" to us all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The View From My Window

So all my adventures came to a grinding halt at the end of last week (not that I’ve been climbing mountains or anything) when I came down with a bad cold. I’m surprised it waited so long to rear its ugly viral head since it’s been raining and cold here every single day for two weeks. One day I went walking and was bombarded by three separate showers, each with sunny spells in between. I took refuge under a tree, under a store overhang, and (best, of course) in a coffee shop.

Whoever makes these weather forecasts should be put in jail for causing so much suffering and misery among the Floridians among us. The natives just take it in stride and offer to bring me chicken soup or whatever.

Rain on the patio, ghost in the bucket
It’s not all bad, being home bound for a few days. I have found some creative and productive ways to spend my time…starting with cooking. I’m not the greatest fan of Irish recipes, but Irish meat and produce are the best. I don’t know what they do or don’t do to their chickens here, but I think you could dip a nugget in cement and bake it in a kiln and it would still come out tender. So I’ve made chicken and broccoli casserole and also beef stroganoff (with luscious Irish sour cream) and been greatly comforted, to say the least. 

Thank you, Ursy, for serving me this AMAZING array of Irish food.
I have discovered that many Irish people have never tasted a buttermilk biscuit. Can you believe that? Never tasted a biscuit! (The word “biscuit” here means cookie, as in “If you eat your dinner, you can have a biscuit later.”) 

Of course, many Americans have never savored that Irish staple known as the scone. Southern Americans think "scone" is just a word that comes up in conversation as in, “Looks like it’S cone rain agin. I declare, beats all!”

So I’ve been making batches and letting the natives try real biscuits. The white flour here is as light as White Lily, but I haven’t found any crisco so I’m using Irish butter instead. I actually think I’ll stick with the butter from now on. And if you add a little sugar and maybe a few berries, and cut it into a triangle shape, guess what you get? Yep, a scone! Who knew?

Biscuits like Mama used to make
Paul, accordion player extraordinaire, taught me three new jigs and two new reels yesterday afternoon, so I have lots of practicing to do today. I’ve also used this indoor time to catch up on my reading. I reread Love Wins by Rob Bell, a controversial book that renews my faith each time I pick it up and assures me that God is not horrified by my questions and doubts (or my honest expressing of them), but His patience is immense and His great love for us something like “from everlasting to everlasting” which sounds like a long time. If you read this short book, I’d like to discuss it with you. Send me an email.

I bowed out of a good trad session last night due to still feeling a little puny. I snuggled under the covers with Book 10 in the Poldark series and (spoiler alert!) sighed in disgruntlement as it looks like Clowance is getting back together with that “cad”, as my mother would say. Great period romance by Graham Winston (or is it Winston Graham? I always get that confused) set in 19th century Cornwall, with beautiful descriptions of the coast (and tin mining, for those of you who have that hobby).

My room here on the second floor overlooks the street below and I have imagined the sound of cars whizzing past is actually the ocean surf pounding the beach of my Gothic hideaway. I wonder if passersby see me staring out at them from time to time and imagine I’m someone’s mad wife chained in the attic. (Did I mention I also watched a Jane Eyre DVD this weekend?)

I’m feeling better today, will be in again tonight and, hopefully, ready for the weekly craic at the Monk’s pub tomorrow night. Pray for sunshine in Ireland once again. 

Btw, I taped the street sounds from my bedroom. Listen here. Don’t you hear the surf? Of course you do!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Starts and Stops

I have two fiddle practice cd’s at home produced by a distinguished Irish fiddler named Matt Cranitch. I don’t remember where I got them. I think some sympathetic friend or impatient session-mate gave them to me. I listen to them often, tunes played cleanly and deliberately, to internalize the rhythms and improve my technique.

I was just gobsmacked (been waiting a month to use that word) to discover that Matt, along with accordion player, Jackie Daly, was holding a workshop nearby for aspiring trad players. Sign me up!

Me and Matt
It was a great day with about a dozen musicians (some of them children) gathered in a cozy room of the pub where I play and sing on Friday nights. I sat right in Matt’s face but he seemed okay with that. Matt and Jackie like to play in the Sliabh Luachra tradition which I find exceptionally melodic with an emphasis on polkas and slides. It’s all about timing. 

When the workshop was over I realized, not for the first time, that I may be missing something when it comes to developing a distinctive style. I had a little chat with old Matt and he recommended his own fiddle course which is condensed in a book and cd package. He just happened to have a set in his car and sold it to me on the spot (signed, of course).

So as I walk along the River Suir today, I think about how unSuir I am of so many things. Life seems to be a series of starts and stops. I start learning a bowing pattern, then stop and reconsider because I still sound so choppy. I’m doing something wrong but I can’t figure it out.  And more serious things like, I begin a relationship but then, for various reasons, it stops and I’m once again sitting down at the debriefing conference table in my brain, having a heart to heart with…well, my heart. Explaining to it one more time that all is in order and we’re good to go. It sneers at me slightly before limping out the door.

Thistle be a great day!

Starts and stops. I have been informed of SIX deaths in the past week. Three were elderly but still seemed untimely. The other three were down right tragic and left me sneering at God and asking if I will EVER understand what He’s thinking in putting us through this. 

There was a time when I knew Him like a book (literally), when He was as logical and predictable as this lazy river. Then the waterfall…. and I almost got washed away. Don’t worry, I’m drying out nicely. But I have friends who are treading water at the moment and I just pray they can stay afloat a little while longer. Where the hell are the life rafts???

I admit it. I'm obsessed with swans.
Weekly session at the Monk's pub
I should mention there were also two births this month and two more due this summer. Starts and stops. Everything changes, is renewed, faith gets a second chance. When grace is illuminated it somehow radiates hope where there should be none, and the warmth of it is comforting.

I googled help for my schizophrenic bowing dilemma. I bounced around until I found a good chat board on a trad website that seemed relevant. A couple of guys were talking my language and as I read down the page, saw that the more accomplished musician was making a strong recommendation……The Art of Traditional Fiddling and CD by Matt Cranitch. Really? I’m ready to roll.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Out Of The Bog

When I arrived in Ireland on May 2, I assumed I’d be safe. But I was immediately ambushed at the airport by an overpowering chill that kept me in bondage for days. I literally could not get warm. I slept in leggings and two shirts UNDER my pajamas…AND did I mention two pairs of socks and the wooly scarf…AND a blanket over my duvet? It would have been embarrassing if anyone had known. Now it just seems funny. I have acclimated well and am running around naked like the natives. 
Slices are cut from the bog bank
Ireland has never been famous for its sunshine and Pina coladas. And for centuries her people have depended on the bog to keep them warm. 

The stacked peat takes weeks to dry
Online sources say the bog covers about 16% of the island and is thousands of years old. When the ice (from the ice age) began melting, the combination of poor drainage and dead plant debris created conditions that resulted in the formation of peat. It goes to depths of about 2-12 meters in most places. Last year I visited the céide fields in County Mayo where extensive ancient walls have been discovered deep underfoot….a village swallowed up by the bog over time. 

We still have a ways to go
This copious peat has been like manna from heaven to the Irish…. a life-sustaining provision that many still depend upon. Most homes I visit on cold days are burning peat briquets in a wood stove and I will forever associate that distinct, earthy aroma with Ireland.

Sooooo….you can imagine how thrilled I was when Margaret asked me if I’d like to go with her to “foot the turf” one day. It’s a practice that has been passed down through the generations and, though changed a little thanks to big machinery, still in some ways remains the same. 

Bog cotton is common

First, the turf has to be removed from the bog. The older generation here can tell you stories of using sleáns (two-sided blades) to slice and dice it up by hand then toss the chunks to a helper with a waiting wagon. Today a tractor-like thing does that, thank goodness. The load is then dumped on dry ground, cut into strips and, after it dries a few days, it’s footed or stacked into small piles so it can dry out completely. You can see what I mean in the photos. Then it’s delivered to homes and kept like firewood.

It was worth the work. Thanks, John.
Everyone here either still foots turf every year or they have fond memories of it from childhood. Linda told me her granny always said, “The tea never tastes so good as it does in the bog”. I expect that’s because the tea was a welcome interruption to the backbreaking work of bending and stacking. Linda still has the aluminum milk can her granny carried with her. Paddy Doherty (age 90) says the first order of business was to place the can in a hole in the bog so the milk would stay cool and fresh all day for the tea. And his wife quickly added, “Oh, the tea is so good in the bog. Just lovely!”

And would you believe? When Margaret and I had been footing for a couple of hours, John (who owns this piece of bog land) calls us into his bog kitchen (yep, it’s just a kitchen right there by the bog) and serves us tea (and pie!). And I can attest, it never tasted so good as it did in the bog.