A scorcher in the Wild West of Ireland today, as the country enters a heat wave and I headed out upon a journey of spirituality and self-discovery.
Stony outcrop of the Burren, stones in every fertile place. ~ John Betjeman
The Burren (Boireann) means “great rock,” and that’s exactly what I found in this incredible spot. Giant slabs of rock tossed onto the land at the end of the Ice Age. Great boulders. Flat plates of rock and smaller, unstable bits of rock. All of it limestone, and all of it incredibly beautiful.
I found stone, and I found so much more during a more than four-hour walk in this amazing place.
Our guide, Pius Murray, took us to Saint Colman’s Holy Well. It was a lovely long walk under sparkling sunshine, and Pius made it all the more special by pointing out some of the most exotic plants and flowers I’ve ever seen. Did you know there are 27 species of orchid in Ireland, and 24 of them grow in the Burren? In fact, Mediterranean and Alpine flowers grow side by side in the magical, mystical Burren. I doubt I’ll remember even half the flower names, but Pius pointed out the Mountain Aven, several purple orchids, and a bloody cranesbill. We saw several butterflies, including one species with red wings that Pius explained was poisonous to birds.
And our walk was interspersed with poetry, myths, and legends about the Burren that made the journey to the well seem to last only a short time.
Once at the well, Pius explained that the water there held healing powers for eyes ailments and that splashing a bit of it into your eyes was supposed to bring about a cure. Now I don’t know if that’s true, but anyone who knows me, knows I’ve had vision problems since I was a child. So, I thought, why not? I tried it, and though I haven’t yet noticed any improvement, I can always hope. I don’t suppose it would happen that quickly anyway!
Following several lovely rituals and a touching prayer circle at the well, we went up a rather precarious, rocky path St. Colman’s Bed, where he sought solitude, and which has remained perfectly preserved for more than fourteen hundred years. The cave was much larger than I expected, but I don’t think I’d want to spend years there, as he did—certainly not without Wi-Fi!
And again Pius regaled us with poetry and stories of Saint Colman, including a rather amusing one about a blackbird and her nest. I won’t reveal the story, though. You’ll have to visit Clare, Connemara, and Galway with the Wild Westies to hear that!
After a few more rituals and some meditation (which I confess I’ve never done before), we made our way down to the Road of the Dishes. I don’t think I’m revealing any Wild Westie secrets here, because the story of the Hospitable King Guaire and the Road of the Dishes is quite well-known.
It seems King Guaire was a very generous man who lived in Dunguaire Castle which is located in Kinvara, very close to the Burren. On Easter morning in the 6th Century, Saint Colman found himself with a very meager Easter feast. At the same time, King Guaire was sitting down to enjoy a specially prepared Easter banquet. But before beginning the meal, the Hospitable King Guaire spoke:
“Oh, would it pleased Heaven that this banquet were set before some true servants of God who require it; as for us, we might easily be provided with another.”
At the very moment he spoke, the dishes rose from the table and flew from the room. King Guaire immediately instructed his guards to follow the dishes and discover their ultimate destination. It’s said the dishes were carried by angels, who deposited in an open space before Saint Colman in his Burren Hermitage.
The route the dishes traveled has been known ever since as the Road of the Dishes.
After such a story, you might imagine that the day couldn’t get better. Well, you’d be wrong, because after leaving the Burren, we proceeded on to Poulnabrone Dolmen, the iconic portal tomb that’s older than the Pyramids.
Just being close to the magnificent stone structure, walking around it and looking up at it, gave me a feeling of being in a timeless time, a time before time began, a time that will continue, unchanged, for centuries.
Our drive back to East Clare included a quick stop at Leamaneh Castle and the story of Máire Rua, Red Mary, an interesting take on romance involving Oliver Cromwell.
People have been asking me which of my experiences on this Clare-Connemara-Galway tour I’ve enjoyed most. I usually say, “All of them,” and that’s true in many ways. Each place I’ve visited over the last few days has been new and different, historically enlightening and great research for my various projects.
But today’s was extra-special.
We all have times when we get stressed over our own problems and worries. Maybe we’re worried about having enough money to live on after retirement. Maybe we’re worried about a family member’s health, or our children’s future. We can get so wrapped up in our problems it becomes a huge burden on our life.
Today, I learned to let go, to release my personal worries, and allow myself to exist freely in the world. I touched something inside myself, my soul, my spirit. Whatever it was, I reached deep within myself and found peace, serenity, and joy.
From the Wild West of Ireland,
Wild Westie Cynthia Owens
DISPATCHES FROM THE WILD WEST: