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.