Aug. 27th, 2008 08:06 pm
jacktellslies: (crow)
Newgrange is brilliant. It's a single mound, similar to those at Knowth, only much larger. It had been lost to history, thought only a natural hill and used as farmlands. Occasionally a lump of quartz would turn up there, and when the Scottish landlord who owned the place decided to begin mining for the stuff, Newgrange itself must have cried out and revealed itself. The first men to touch shovel to earth there dug directly to that famous entrance stone, to those carvings, and stopped immediately. They knew that what they had found was very old, and very important.

The place has since been restored to what a pile of important academics assure us is very near its original state. It's ringed in skull sized lumps of quartz, shining and white, interspersed occasionally with slightly smaller dark stones in a set pattern. Like at Dowth, the base is haloed with boulders, some of them marked.

The door is guarded by that stone, by spirals and hatches. It's huge and perfect. It could be a map of the Boyne Valley, the fertile river-ringed island contained within Ireland, the spirals marking out Newgrange and Knowth and Dowth, the other shapes representing the surrounding farmland. It could be a map for the souls of the dead entombed there to follow. I'd been to Newgrange once before with my mother and my grandmother. I'm glad to have been allowed to touch it twice. There is a door for humans there, wide like a cave's mouth, and there is a door for the sun, smaller and located above your head. If you don't kneel a bit when entering you'll whack your head on the bottom of its stone frame. I did, in fact, after expressly being warned not to do so. My hat suffered the worst of the blow, but I took the hint and assumed the correct ritual posture.

The ceiling as you enter the long corridor is low, and the walls press close, more narrow near your head. Busy stooping, forced to keep bowing to the place, you do not notice the strong slant in the floor, that in fact you are climbing up. By the time the interior opens into what seems after your crawl an expansive cavern, your feet are precisely level with the sun's door. Both are also level with the horizon as viewed in the distance from the entrance. You're standing underground; you're standing where the earth meets the sky.

Newgrange is five-thousand years old, older by five-hundred years than the Egyptian pyramids. The ceiling of the central chambers is shaped a bit like a beehive rising high above your head, and corbelled, which is to say pieced together with flat stones piled atop one another and fitted together. No mortar was used. The construction was precise: in all that time, cradled by a river and sleeping under weeping Irish skies, it's not leaked once. Lost to us for who knows how long, the interior did not require reconstruction.

Newgrange is cruciform in shape: the stone hall leads to chambers, one before you, one to your left, and one to your right. The carvings inside those spaces are varied. The rooms to your left and right as you enter are covered in them; the one directly before you bares only that triple spiral, beloved but almost a secret placed where it is, to the right of the entrance and facing inward.

Newgrange was there well before the people who first sang the mythologies of Ireland arrived, and ages before the monks eventually stumbled in to record them. So the mythology cannot tell us what Newgrange meant to the builders, but it can tell us something of what it meant to their successors.

Boann had a husband, Nechtan. But she was beautiful, and the Dagda wanted her. So the Dagda gathered his trickery, and sent Nechtan on a journey. And he called up his magic, and he hid himself and Boann in space, within Newgrange, and in time: he built a year in which they could lie together, and he hid it within a single day. They had time enough for one another then, and time enough even to birth a child. The Dagda left at the end of the year, and Nechtan came back at the end of the day, and he was none the wiser.

The son was named Aengus. Through some accident, he was left with no inheritance, so he asked his father for use of Newgrange for a day and a night. Through certain grammatical coincidences in the Irish language, however, "a day and a night" and "day and night" are both described by the same phrase. Therefore, in asking for a short lease, he was also making the place his for all of eternity.

It's about light and dark. It's about sex. It's a time machine that runs on trickery and clever words.

On the winter solstice, at sunrise, a beam of light penetrates the door built for it. It makes its way slowly up the corridor, finally illuminating all three chambers in a way that doesn't quite make sense.

I have two tattoos: a labyrinth on my left shoulder, and a church window on my right arm, shoulder to elbow. My body was built to imitate these structures: spirals carved in the earth; light shining through stone; the sacred reaching into something we mortals made. It's a man's ritual built in the shape of a woman.

Both sites were far too heavily beset with tourists for me to either lose or find myself much there. And the tours were invasive. They preached at us about the science of the place in a way that might have been interesting if I hadn't already known much of it, and allowed us an hour only at each site, including their speeches.

I shook away from the crowd and whispered my name to the place. I breathed and I did not. I followed the stones that held the edge of it. When they too subsided leaving only grass and hill I collapsed on the mound as if I were exhausted and resting my head on a lover's thigh when they were through with me. I bid a hasty adieu and returned to the bus. It wasn't enough. I want to break into these places with you in the dark. I want to find them when they are free.


Aug. 27th, 2008 07:32 pm
jacktellslies: (opium den)
My last day in Ireland I'd saved for Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. To get there one must sign up for a tour. Misery. Pestilence. Woe. Most often, I believe, the hired coaches only go to Newgrange, the most widely known of the three, but I befriended the driver, told him how much I'd like to see everything I could, and he did a fantastic job of convincing his other customers that they all wanted this as well.

Previous scholarship held that these were the oldest megalithic sites in Ireland, built by foreigners new from mainland Europe. It was believed that as their creators bred and died and left the work to their less worthy descendants, the technologies and skills devolved. As the sites moved north and west and more time passed they became sloppier and simpler, the monuments at Carrowmore and Carrowkeel little more than a few inadequate stones clumsily piled atop the dead. I cannot recall who the originators of these theories are, but I detect at least a hint of anti-Irish sentiment. Fortunately, some lovely Swedish academics arrived and, with the deadly precision of their thesis, told their predecessors to eat it. Their more recent work suggests the opposite: that the first ancient Irish megalithic sites were those in the Northwest, that they grew in complexity and scale until creating a wonder, not just by the standards of a small place like Ireland, but standing out among the entire ancient world.

Dowth, the smallest of the three sites, is closed, so I've still not seen it. But Knowth is lovely: imagine a series of earthen mounds, perfectly round things clustered together, suggesting perhaps mushrooms, or hobbit houses. The domes are all covered over in grass, and some are ringed at the base with large stones. Many of the stones are marked with carvings, mysterious and intricate. There are spiral shapes, little suns and what might be stars, lines, curves, sharp and jagged things. It could be a language. It might be a system of magical notation, either set sigils the entire culture would have recognised, or a map to a more personal shamanism. They could be the boring hallucinatory scribblings any modern creature who has dabbled in such things would recognise, or stations at which worshipers could meditate. They could be nothing more than art, and nothing less. Of all of the ancient art of this type yet discovered in Europe, more than one third sleeps at Knowth, speaking in strange and subtle tongues, misunderstood differently by all who see it.

Inside of these artificial hills are caves. The same boulders that embrace the hillocks without reach into them, forming long corridors and their ceilings, being the walls and roofs of chambers, often roughly cruciform in shape. I walked into a few of them. I knelt in them, pressed my face to the cold stone.

One of the mounds, which is really more of a ring fort, is a Christian creation, which is strange. The messengers of the new faith did not bring violence against Ireland's people, but they were usually savage in destroying the objects and sites held sacred to the old religion. Knowth should have been smashed, but instead they not only allowed it to stand, but built a little cave of their own.
jacktellslies: (bee)
The cathedral itself is something of a museum now. The original had been built, supposedly, by Saint Brighid, whom the museum and church readily admitted had once been a goddess. "That other Brighid," they called her, which is very similar to what my grandmother (not the one who is praying for me, although this one might be too) usually called a certain gentleman caller who happened to have the same name as my father. The goddess Brighid was a triumvirate, a patron of blacksmithing, healing, and poetry. The myths speak again of the split between the culture gods and the nature gods. War threatened, and Brighid volunteered to marry the wild king. If there was a line between two ideas, Brighid could be found there, blurring the edges of things, joining them. She was a goddess of fire and of water, of eternal flames and holy wells.

Christianity came to Ireland, and Brighid, in a move similar to the one she made with her marriage, apparently decided to become a nun. She was successful that time: the new faith came peacefully. This Brighid was the daughter of a nobleman and his bondwoman, thus making her a creature of neither class and both. At her ordination the archbishop of Ireland accidentally read the wrong vows, making her not a nun, but, impossibly, a bishop. He claimed that the mistake had been the work of the Holy Spirit and defended it fiercely, refusing any challenge that was raised. Brighid was a defender of the poor, as exceptionally generous with her father's money as saints tend to be, and the founder of a notable monastery. Bridging perceived divisions again, she made a monastic centre for women and men both. In the story of her founding of it, she went to the noble who owned the land at what would become Kildare, which means church of the oak, asking for a space for her religious order. He offered her as much ground as her mantle could cover, and she accepted. The cloth, thrown down below the tree, expanded to cover enough ground to build the entire large town. I believe this is traditionally depicted as a miracle, but I've always imagined that she was a clever creature and unravelled her cloak, making one great, single ring of the thread.

The church was interesting to me for how little of Christianity was in it. There were saints in the stained glass. There were alters and a lectern and ornate confessionals and the things that one needs for the ritual, but there was no crucifix. I only found two images of Christ in the building, in fact. There were animals depicted in the tiles in the floor. There was a nautilus shell raised on a small dais in the back. The baptismal font was carved of a single rough piece of stone.

Outside of the church I found an old crypt that locals apparently once called Brighid's kitchen. I climbed into it, blinded by the dark. The few pictures I took were more to see the cavern through the light of my camera than to keep the pictures themselves. I took the stairs down, under the earth. The bricks at the back wall of the place curved, their shape suggesting an oven.

I spoke to the woman at the tourism centre and was given a map that should have directed me to a holy well dedicated to the saint. In Ireland the wells are often flanked by a tree covered in torn bits of cloth. The cloth is a prayer, tied onto a branch. It is when the attentions of time and weather eventually cause the fabric to disintegrate that the prayer is thought to be granted. However, either the map was a particularly Irish one or any skills I may posses at finding my way were failing me. I gave up, not much disappointed by not having found the well, and returned to Dublin and my fabulously international hosts.
jacktellslies: (bee)
"The monastery, though," the driver remembered and asked, "which one do you mean?"

"Oh dear," I laughed, "I suppose it might not be the only one now that the fifth century is over, hm?" I told him that I was content to walk around searching a bit, and we agreed that it would likely be best to drop me off in the middle of town.

This was, quite conveniently, very near a tourist office and a nice woman who stepped off the bus with me asking, "The cathedral? Do you mean the one with the round tower?" And, thinking round towers to be neat, decided that this one would do whether it was the one I'd originally intended or not. Luckily enough it was, and the tower was only an unexpected bonus.

It was guarded by an old man in a small hut. He took two coins from me, and up I climbed. Some told me, after I'd come back down again, that it was the tallest such tower in all of Ireland; others said it was only the second tallest. Either way, it's one of only two that you can climb. The doors of these structures are located high above ground level, maybe a distance of about twice my height or more. It's unclear to us now why this was the case: although monks did hide in these towers during Viking attacks, many existed before the raiders came. They weren't exactly defensive structures, either. Although they may have been used as watchtowers, it seems that for the most part the monks hid in the towers where the sacrament and various relics were kept specifically to die there. They ran to their martyrdom. They were immolated there, burning and crumbling along with the sacred texts they'd spent their lives copying by hand. I reached the door by wooden stairs. The monks themselves, and here at Kildare the nuns, too, would have used a ladder they could have pulled in after them: that the relics be destroyed was a tragedy, but their being taken by the pillaging heathens was thought worse.

The inside of the tower was traditional to the point that I was terrified. There were maybe five levels to it, just a series of simple wooden floors connected by very tall, steep, and narrow ladders. It had been raining that day, and the stone and wood inside were slick. Heights don't worry me at all, but ladders and certain staircases always have. The rift in the ceiling that birthed you to the next floor was small. The shoulder bag at my lower back caught on it, forcing me to contort and twist right where the hand rails ran out, curving my spine sharply like a cat, reaching behind me to brace on the floor where it ended, crawling, one knee and then the other to the ground, and then doing it all four more times. I have a few pictures that aren't very good of the view through these little passageways, the endless struts leading down below me, the stone walls a touch green and beginning to think of sliming over. I wondered how long it might take the old man to respond if he heard a scream and a thud or two.

Finally I reached a room with windows larger than the occasional slits in the stone that let in just enough light by which to climb. They were sealed off with plastic, but there was the cruciform cathedral below, the cemetery, the town, and farmland beyond that. They revealed the thickness of the stone that surrounded me, and were ringed on the outside with growing things, plants and moss. There was one more ladder up. And I laughed when I got to the top of it, not certain that the crevice cut in the roof itself had been original. The stone beneath my feet was irregular and slanted downward away from the centre, and I was ringed by stone in that rising and falling shape, crude triangles made of a series of squares, that one associates with the tops of medieval fortifications. I stood on top of the bloody thing. They'd erected a fence around it, I imagine to prevent jumping more than falling.

I realised then, to my great horror, that going down was going to be worse than going up. I decided next that worrying about it wouldn't do much good, and started the descent without much fuss. I was at the door and barely shaking in almost no time at all, only noticing on the way out the interesting carvings that ringed the portal.

The old man and I had spoken when he took my money before I'd gone up, but it was only midway through our second conversation that he noticed and asked, "Oh. You're an American?"
jacktellslies: (this machine)
From Cahersiveen I made my way to Cork. My delight upon entering a city again was as complete as it was unexpected. My utter surprise at finding more than a few buildings located within close proximity of one another may have seemed reasonable had I been away from cities for a few months or years as opposed to maybe a week. But I love the urban, and Cork, from what I saw of it, was wonderful. I had every intention of exploring, finding a queer bar and going dancing, but found instead that my hostel came with a wireless connection, that I had a good deal of writing I wanted to do, and that I was still exhausted. I took a few pictures of the local graffiti, bought a few new pairs of underthings, and moved on to Limerick.

Doing so was not easy. And when I finally got to the house where I was meant to be couch surfing, really wanting only to get something to eat, take a shower, and sleep forever, I instead discovered two things: that my host was not home, and that his parents did not know I was coming. His poor mother was very hospitable despite being a bit high pitched, seeming the entire time we waited for her son to arrive as if she were about to explode. I felt completely awful. And apparently I wasn't the only couch surfer he'd invited without telling her, either: there were two other Americans I hadn't known about already there. Brian, my errant host, arrived before long with two recently graduated boys from Seattle named Morgan and Eric. He announced that we'd be going out drinking, and not staying at his house but crashing on the floor at a friend's flat. I nearly fled, taking the next available bus to Dublin and getting a hostel there. But I'm very glad that I didn't.

A few drinks and some good conversation did me more good than retreating, defeated, into sleep would have. His friend Denis was adorable and desperately enthusiastic about alternative music and his friends' local bands. At the pub we danced to a funny little band from South Wales that made good use of an electric ukulele which my new Irish friends erroneously described as punk. I met Lindsey, a sweet red haired girl. I chatted about our dreadlocks with a stunning barmaid named Katie. I met a young man named Ray who was named for his uncle, one of the men to starve and die in the hunger strikes of the eighties. He was genuinely grateful and impressed that I'd even heard of the event, which I thought ridiculous, and sad. I lived here. Isn't knowing something about the place before coming over the least I could do? He actually shook my hand for having bothered to read a book. Then again, I did spend that day and the next gently reminding the other Americans that their word choices frequently made them seem to be presumptuous swine. Ray's mother was an American, and he asked me if I'd ever been to Philadelphia. He then asked if I'd ever heard of South Street, which is where she lived. How delightfully unlikely! I've been working on South Street for years, and flâneuring there for as long as I've been sentient enough to take a bus.

The next day we slept late, had a good breakfast, and then Brian drove Morgan and Eric and I to Lough Gur. I'd read that it was a pretty lake with a few small sites nearby. What I found instead was a positively astounding stone circle. The Grange was aligned to sunrise on midsummer, composed of more than a hundred large rocks, some of them homes to truly massive, ancient trees, practically infants compared to the age of the circle itself. The first tree I met was a truly gorgeous old thing, still thriving but completely hollow inside, the gash that opened her beautifully shaped. I whispered into her. I reached my hand in, feeling the bark curve, rough, far into the wound. The wood was smooth on the other side. Her roots curled around ancient stone, it guiding her shape, her cracking it slowly, lovingly, over the course of long centuries. The next was next to the entrance, a short hallway of stones. He seemed to guard the place, moss clinging to him like a beard. I liked him immensely.

Listen. I've sought out and fought hard for a charmed life. I've seen some amazing things. Never in my life have I felt a place so good, so perfect. Photography failed me. I couldn't make art of it. I touched the bones of the earth. I returned to the first tree, my fingers finding the bark on the other side of her bole. Sometimes, usually only if I'm quite close to someone, I'll come hard and the chemicals will shift in my head too fast. I'll feel the rush of it, the sharp change, and I'll cry. It happened there: I touched a tree and something changed in my head, something I wasn't prepared for, and I was weeping, half laughing.

There was a small pile of rounded stones on the other side of the circle. It looked much like a child, and people had taken to leaving coins there, one and two cent pieces, pennies and a few pence. The other boys were standing around it, waiting for me to finish making love to the shrubbery so we could move on to the lake itself, wanting to leave a coin but apparently not having anything between the three of them. I hadn't anything so small at the time, but I left a bit of gold, a twenty cent piece, excusing it to them: "I like this place. It can have a bit more." I thought of you there. I wished you could have found it with me. The place sang.

They dragged me away and we explored an abandoned farmhouse, round holes built into the walls of one of the barns, meant for firing rifles through during the revolution.

We found the lake. We climbed the biggest hill by the water, got caught on nettles and climbed under and over live electric fences and barbed wire. I did so safely; two of the boys were a bit too daring and were punished for it. And, in my opinion at least, it was worth it. Atop the hill we could see not only the lake and the surrounding farmland, two castles and all the way to Limerick, but to the mountains curving around us on all sides. I stood on a hill and saw to the end of the world. We played up there, throwing rocks, frolicking and jumping and taking ridiculous pictures. When we got back down to the lake the weather had changed from occasionally pouring, usually dry but grey, to perfect blue skies, white clouds, and a shimmering lake. There is a crannog in the middle of it, a small island built in the Iron Age as a fortification on which the creators could safely keep cattle and their homes without much fear of a raid. The legend of Lough Gur is that once a year the water, which is only a glamour, disappears, and the city beneath the lake is made clear. I gazed into the shining place, the grasping green things growing under the surface.

As we drove back, Brian expressed his disappointment that I hadn't made it into town a bit earlier the day before. The boys had gone to a castle that had been boarded up and abandoned ages ago when the owner, a wealthy old woman, had gone mad and left her cattle outside and unfed in the winter. They all starved and died. She was locked up, and the place has had a reputation for being haunted ever since, if it hadn't already before. During the story he said the name of the place a few times, but I'm less accustomed to the Limerick accent than I am to some, and he swallowed his words a bit.

"Wait," I asked, "what was the name of the place again?"

"Castle Connell."

I laughed. I don't usually like to admit such things on the internet, but that's my real surname. I have a castle, a castle haunted by a madwoman and cows.

The boys tried to break into it, climbing trees towards windows, pulling away the boards on the doors, but they failed. Pity I hadn't been there to help.
jacktellslies: (jeanne mammen)
The next morning I woke up a bit early in order to attempt to make the walk out to the oratory. I was accompanied by an American woman from the hostel who also wanted to see it, and a photocopy of a map given to me by a nice woman at the visitor centre. The walk was to be about eight kilometres each way on small country roads. There aren't walkways of any kind, but the Irish don't mind driving in the middle of the road for a bit in order to give you room. We'd only gotten about midway when we realised that we'd certainly made a wrong turn very early on in the journey. Irish roads are famously unmarked. Irish maps don't mention all of the roads, but only the main ones, or the ones the mapmaker thought you might need. We could have backtracked, but I was done. The walk in the country had been nice enough, and I wanted to get out of Dingle. I was on the next bus.

There was one other good thing about the place, but it wasn't at all Dingle's doing: on the page of my guidebook that dealt with the Gallarus Oratory, brief mention was also made of a couple of medieval stone forts in a somewhat nearby town called Cahersiveen on the next peninsula down. It seemed like a good enough idea, so I took a complicated series of buses in order to explore.

The stone forts were wonderful, though, and Cahersiveen was precisely what I'd needed after a tourist town. It was tiny and obscure, small enough to have one hostel in which the proprietor seemed a little surprised to have a modest pile of guests. The long walk to the sites, which I was pleased to take alone, only involved two roads, taking me on a bridge over a river, down a long, even more lovely country road, and past a castle. I might argue that my feelings about castles have less to do with my being a tourist and more with my being a big nerd, but the result either way is a rather huge collection of photographs with the things hanging about somewhere in the background.

The first site I visited was Cahergall, a massive ring of corbelled stones with a smaller ring at the centre. The inside of the larger circle was built in a series of steps that one could climb to get to the top, but that also made a convincing set of thrones if one were, for example, to use the place to strut about quoting Shakespeare, or the film Labyrinth, frequently pausing to sulkily collapse into appropriately royal stone seats. I believe I mentioned being a big nerd already, yes?

The second, Leacanabuile, was the older of the two, and certainly the simpler, but in its comparative disorder it had its own appeal. It was comprised of three separate old dwellings and two other structures, the owners leaving the older one where it was when they built and moved into the new one. The first was a traditional round hut, and the second and third square. One of them had an opening in the ground that led to a subterranean tunnel, unfortunately too narrow to allow for a bit of ill-advised solitary spelunking on my part. The true charm of this fort lie in the fact that its stone walls were all lower than eye-level with verdant grasses growing on the tops. I dream about such mazes. My favourite pictures of the place are the ones that obscure the true shape a bit, emphasising that labyrinthine quality. It helped that Leacanabuile is located in the middle of a pasture for sheep. They scattered at my approach, but when I first arrived a couple of the rams were grazing atop the walls of the fort, looking exceptionally noble and fey. On the bus out of the place I passed a town that boasted of being the location of Ireland's oldest folk festival. They celebrate Puck a bit later in August, apparently parading some lucky goat around the town, a crown perched on his horns.

Neither site was so sublime as the ritual grounds I've been chasing, but they were both truly delightful places. I might fall into states of childlike wonder more easily than most responsible adults, but not usually with such abandon. I wished rather intently that my young niece, who identifies as a pirate, a princess, and several other very important things besides, could play there.

The next morning was Lughnasadh. I took another walk in the country, eating some of the ripe wild blackberries I found on the road to celebrate.
jacktellslies: (dandy)
People, including a good many of the ones from Ireland, apparently love Dingle. A German girl with whom I spoke for a bit at the first hostel in which I'd stayed mentioned that it was the one place an Irish family she'd met told her she absolutely had to see. The locals I've encountered couch surfing seemed genuinely happy for me when I told them that I'd been there. I cannot imagine why. It was Irish Disneyland. It was ugly and cheap and fake. It turned good stories, and worse than that, good people, into plastic clichés.

The scenery I passed on the bus ride over, actually, was really overwhelmingly pretty. Mountains, fields, ocean and shore arranged themselves in combinations more impressive than any I'd yet seen. This only had the affect of making me long even more for the ride back out again.

For Dingle's sake, perhaps I ought to admit a few complicating factors. I arrived there on the first day that the amount of time that I've been spending on buses began really getting to me. I've ridden between four and eight hours nearly every day since I started this trip, and although the view from the bus is often spectacular, it's getting to be a bit much. My sometimes tricky back doesn't seem to be enjoying it much either, honestly. Also, I had no idea of what I was getting myself into. Perhaps my sense of geography is occasionally a bit more American than I might care to admit? This was the first tourist town I'd ever stumbled into in Ireland. Had I known what the place was, I would have braced myself for it, and bemused, a bit dismissive, I would have ignored it.

My goal in going to Dingle had been to see the Gallarus Oratory, a stone monastic structure shaped a bit like an upturned boat. I allowed myself to be too tired to make the trek to find the place the night I got into town, deciding instead to get something to eat, to read a bit, and to sleep a great deal. There's something nice I can say about Dingle: I bought a cheap fish chowder in a restaurant there, and the salmon, cod, mussles, and perch that, in part, comprised it were the freshest fish I've ever tasted in my life. For reasons of professional pride, I wouldn't even admit this if it weren't so overwhelmingly true. Dingle is a fishing town, and the fish I ate were so fresh they were barely recognisable. The salmon was, I think, wild Atlantic, a thing that cannot be legally sold in the States. The mussels had a different texture than what I'm accustomed to selling and cooking. The cod was so fresh it tasted like a different fish entirely. I don't even normally like cod; the stuff in the chowder was spectacular. The dish as a whole was simple and well made, and served with Irish brown bread and butter, two things I'm really going to miss when this trip is over. There: you're not all bad, Dingle. Thanks for the soup.


Aug. 2nd, 2008 12:11 pm
jacktellslies: (jeanne mammen)
Written 1/8/08 for The period between 28/7/08 and 30/7/08

My next host, John, was absolutely amazing. I really regret that the constraints of time and space dictate that I keep him only as someone I see from time to time if one of us happens to be on the correct continent. He and his roommate, a lovely boy named Dave, were house sitting for the directors of Athlone's theatre and street theatre troops, respectively. I stayed in the house belonging to the theatre director, a place filled with pretty musical instruments, art, three gigantic dogs, one toothless old cat whose name may or may not, according to its owners, have been Topsy, fish in a pond in the garden, and a snail on the garden wall. The house was in a pleasant part of town, and directly across the street from the front door was a nice grove with big trees and a little sign in Irish surrounded by flowers. My Irish usually isn't at all bad when it comes to things that might be on signs for the names of places, but the second half of this one was beyond me and I wondered what it might have said. John happened to remark on my last day there, as he started the car to take me to the bus station, that it was an old children's grave, from the time before stillborn, unbaptised infants could be buried in hallowed ground. The sign read either church of the children or wood of the children. Having been an outlawed language, it honestly is not entirely certain whether the Irish word "cill" means church but implies wood, or whether it means wood but implies church.

John took me everywhere in the area I possibly could have wanted to go, offered me tea as often as even I could have wanted it, and took me out for a nice vegetarian Irish breakfast.

We went to Clonmacnoise, an ancient monastic site that, at one time, would have been the cultural centre of Ireland. There were high crosses, round towers, ruins, and objects and locations said to offer healing powers. The one for back pain, unfortunately, was blocked off. It was once part of the framework of a church window, but has been lying on the ground looking rather like a seat or a throne for centuries. One was meant to sit in it in order to take the cure. I took pictures, hoping that the transference might happen in that way as well.

He took me through a gate, down a path, into a field on the top of a hill where we found a stone carved almost imperceptibly with ancient sigils.

We went to the bog at Corlea where an ancient trackway had been found: the widest such thing ever found in Europe, made of wood and perfectly preserved under the peat. No one knows exactly why it had been built. Either it was meant to connect ancient ritual sites (it did stretch between them, certainly) or it had been built to sink. Nothing that large would float atop the bog for long, as the Celts, who had been sinking sacrificial victims in it with some frequency, would have known. I side with both, actually. They built the sort of architectural feat the Romans are still bragging about, a perfectly straight road connecting two of their most impressive religious sites and cities, and used it until it was claimed by the earth itself and became a passageway for and in the underworld. And the conversation at the little museum planted atop the trackway (on top of steel support structures many metres deep, I should mention) was fantastic. We were taught about the particulars of the local bog men, the royal victims found broken and murdered in antiquity, but so well preserved by the highly acidic peat that, when found, sometimes cause the police to begin searching the missing persons registries. My little group was well informed. In the course of the talk we found one another assisting the expert, listing the uses of sacred trees, filling in the names of the old gods and other sites with similar archeological finds. I learned about fairy forts, a term which refers specifically to ancient artificial hills with trees on top. Our guide told us of a former visitor whose father, she'd insisted, had been a sensible man, not at all given to telling mad tales. They had a fairy fort on their property, but no one ever went near it. In a rush one day her father cut through it, not thinking much about it, and within was confronted with what he thought, at first, to be a beautiful woman dressed in grey, but then found to be a terribly old man with very long, knotted hair. Her father ran, and no one ever went near the place again. I think this makes them sound a bit cowardly, honestly, although I'm willing to believe that the encounter felt sinister for reasons that were not adequately conveyed. Making others uncertain as to whether you're a curvaceous young thing or an old man sounds a bit too much like what I do to people on an average day for me to be much frightened by it.

That evening John took me to the oldest bar in Ireland, a place called Sean's Pub that had been open since approximately the year 900. I had a marvellous time, drinking with John and one of his friends, and with an Irish metal band that had been living on a boat. I'd presumed that this was for purposes of touring, but looking back on it, I'm not at all certain. We stayed up a good deal later than the taxies, but the long walk home was good for me. I had to wake up earlier than I would have liked to catch my bus to Dingle, but was able to do so without any trace of a hangover.
jacktellslies: (jeanne mammen)
Most of my thoughts in recent months have been dedicated to attempting to decide upon a reasonable future. Not the entire future, mind, just the next year or more of my own. I know that I'd rather not live in the States. If I did stay, I'd be interested in organic farming on the west coast, although most of my attempts to learn about it have failed. The Peace Corps sound just fine, but I'd rather not be obliged to do anything for any set period of time. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to transfer to a store in Canada. Of course, I miss Ireland terribly. It would seem, however, that in order to get an Irish work visa, one must already have secured work, but that most employers won't hire anyone without a work visa. Fab. Would any of you happen to know anyone who lives anywhere interesting who might be looking for an occasionally unruly houseboy? I'm fairly well read, I like to cook, and my morals are easily compromised.


jacktellslies: (Default)

August 2009

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