I want to return to Western Ireland for spiritual and artistic reasons. In college I fell in love with Irish literature, from the pagan/pre-medieval myths to the current day. I love Irish music, too. And oddly enough, I married a man from County Cork (we met in college). My mother’s family has a lot of Irish heritage as well. We are descended from a man who came on a ship to New York Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1847. I can only imagine what was in Martin’s heart when he left Cork and when he landed in America.
The first time I landed in Ireland I was 27 years old, graduated from college and finally had the money to go! As the airplane broke through the clouds to land at Shannon, I felt as though I were coming home to part of myself—there was that rolling green landscape, worn stone walls, and ruins of castles, homes, cottages, abbeys. I saw many wonderful places in my trip from Shannon to Dingle to Cork and to Dublin, but one stands out in memory.
At the top of the Dingle Peninsula stands a 700-year-old church-- Kilmalkedar Church (Cill Maolcheadair). From its steps you can look out to the sea. Nearby stands St. Brendan’s abbey, several beehive monk houses, and a cemetery. The June day I was there, it was warm and sunny. The moist air was filled with that soft scent of the sea. I can breathe easily in such air. I had fallen in love with Dingle already that day. I loved how the land sloped down to sea-cliffs with wild meadows and mountains, with cultivated fields and stone houses with laundry blowing dry in the breeze like wind-whipped masts on a ship.
I was quite taken with the 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque Church that stood resolutely, roofless but with solid stone walls. As I walked up the path to its entrance, I felt very emotional. I had no reason to feel this way. I felt as though the memories of all who had lived and worshipped here were swirling around me like an incoming tide. Intense energy radiated off those walls for me. I stepped inside; I was overcome with emotions that did not seem to be my own. I had never felt anything like before. I had to leave the church and sit outside among the gravestones, staring out at the sea to regain my calm.
My traveling companion, another woman, asked me if I had ancestry from this part of Ireland. As far as I know, we do not. She thought perhaps I’d felt the spirits of my ancestors. Perhaps. I have felt haunted all over that beautiful island, but this isolated spot, this centuries old, roofless church, haunted me the most. I attempted to go back into the church, but could not.
I have been to Ireland a few more times since that first trip over two decades ago, but have not made it back to Dingle yet. I want to return to Dingle and other parts of Western Ireland to explore Kilmakedar Church again and to visit places in Ireland I have not yet seen. I love all of Ireland, but the West has my heart. I am also writing a novel set in both America and Ireland—I need to finish writing my novel in Ireland so I accurately capture that certain angle of gold light at sunset over the sea, the ever-present scent of the sea you have even when inland, huge gnarled trees framing a winding country road, and ancient stone circles silvered in the light of stars.
Do we Americans carry within us the memories our ancestors have of the motherland? Perhaps. I have stories handed down through six generations of writers, artists, and musicians. I need to go back and perhaps complete not only my novel, but that internal circle of memory.
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