It had been seven years since my last Ireland visit and when I traveled on August 7th, it was my seventh journey to celebrate a January 7th birthday. I hadn’t an inkling there were so many seven occurrences until a few days before I embarked on this trip. A web site about numerology indicated that the number 7 is mystical and resounds with spiritual awakening and that the angels are commending my hard work and efforts. Repetitive sevens indicate dreams are coming to fruition and one should expect miracles, large and small.
I carried this in my heart as I flew to Ireland with two friends to attend a writing retreat at Anam Cara on the Beara Peninsula for a week. Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula is full of angels, according to their web site. I walked along the seashore with flowers, birdsong, and friends, and this indeed was a memory to treasure. The Artist, the Creator of life, and perhaps the pre-Celtic Goddess Cailleach (Hag of Beara) honored my visit and cloaked me in love that seeped into my soul that brought cleansing and renewal. A year before, I was supposed to travel to Ireland, but I had fallen into a dark well of sorrow. Postponed, but timing is everything they say, and thus the journey was a celebration of life that often comes after a dark night of the soul. I brought a rose quartz to offer the Hag, the Creator, and left it on her rock, a symbol of my thanksgiving and further prayer for my life’s purposes.
After a week in what seemed like fairyland on the Beara Peninsula, a friend flew home, and my friend, Nora, and I visited our friend, Martha, from the States who has a home in the Burren in County Clare Ireland. We hiked daily on the limestone mountains, stepping between giant rock footprints made from ancient bones and seashells. I’ve read that there are over six hundred flowering plants that dazzle and shimmer in this landscape. I spied bluebells, yellow-wort, lords-and-ladies, loosestrife, orchids, and many other flowers. We walked on Burren landscape with the Beltie cows, donkeys, and goats and journeyed on a path created by Lough Avalla Farm down into sylvan glens with thick green moss, streams, and foliage. We hiked ten miles, some of it quite rigorous, and at the end, a tea room situated in a stone fort lit with candles awaited us. Scones with clotted cream and jam, barm brack bread, and tea refreshed and delighted us. I wondered if I was in a fairy tale!
Honoring the ancestors through historical fiction writing is what I desire to do, and I also seek the presence of the past in famine ruins and holy wells. It is not morbid, but a melancholy endeavor and a spiritual pilgrimage. I feel as if I’m taken out of time and place to a sentient landscape that remembers and invites me to do the same. PJ Curtis (http://www.oldforgebooks.com), a musicologist, former broadcaster, and writer, who holds the stories of the past as a priest holds a communion host, took us on a trek to a few holy places in and around Kilnaboy, Clare, Ireland. A village, annihilated by the Great Hunger, sits in his backyard and we rambled through brush and brier to visit ruined cottages and a holy well. It was difficult finding the crumbling stone homes because Mother Nature was seeking to clothe the memories in her green forgetfulness, eventually absorbing the past into a presence of wild beauty. A sacred amalgam of earth and spirit will eventually thrive and successive generations will wonder what they feel and those who see will see but not fully understand.
I am of the mindset that the ruined village needs to be honored with preservation, like an elder and his or her wisdom. PJ’s great grandfather found a father and son dead in one of the stone cottages during The Great Hunger. They had grass stained mouths and had already been claimed by Mother Nature. We cannot forget. We have solemn memorials for the Holocaust, Viet Nam, the world wars, and a few for The Great Hunger. If we make pilgrimages to remember and to honor, we leave with the imprint of divinity and carry the dead within us, thus they live on in us. We feed the hungry, we clothe the poor, and we give the shirt off our backs. But if there is no memory, no visitation, and no homage given to the past, we live only unto ourselves.
Tom Hayden writes an Introduction, An Irish Hunger for Meaning, for the book, Irish Hunger:
But some still ask: Why not let the past, with all its horrors, be at rest and be forgotten? First, there is a moral and spiritual need to express reverence for the unknown millions who suffered and died. They have been erased from history, or subjected to demeaning stereotypes. But ‘ “they were a great people” ‘, an old woman told the poet Eavan Boland as a young girl. Even today, many lie in unmarked graves all across Ireland. Thousands died at sea, or at the fever hospitals at Grosse Isle. As their survivors, we should remember and honour them properly in our rituals today.
Second, the deliberate avoidance of past traumas is unhealthy for individuals or cultures. The repressed past does not simply let go of us on command. The “hidden scar” (the phrase again is Boland’s) is transmitted, invisibly and unconsciously across generations. We have become, she says,’“the present of the past, inferring the difference but unable to feel or know it…” ‘ We have not healed from these repressed horrors; it is as if unmarked Famine graves are in each of us.
Third, proper remembrance of the Famine can contribute to building peace rather than reopening old wounds or rationalizing violence.
Fourth, recovering the Irish Famine experience is vitally important to understanding the pervasive crisis of starvation that continues in the world today.
My seventh journey to Ireland was for beauty, for time away to write, for responding to the stanza in Yeat’s poem, “I am of Ireland, And the Holy Land of Ireland…Come dance with me in Ireland.” It was also to march in a parade of redheads. How poignant to learn later that the Crosshaven House in Cork where I spoke about my books, including my book, The Irish Dresser, A Story of Hope during The Great Hunger, served as a soup kitchen during The Great Hunger. Although unplanned, I had come to Ireland again to honor and remember. And to be reminded that my work as a writer is more than just telling a story.