The Wild West of Ireland: Return to Kilmakedar

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. 

Tell us why YOU want to experience the ‘Wild West’ of Ireland, and you might win a free 9-day trip there, courtesy of Wild West Irish Tours and WOW Air. Get the details!

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Tags: The, Travel, contest, ireland, of, west

Comment by Aisling Maki on June 10, 2015 at 7:04pm
These are powerful memories, Cara, and beautifully written. My college boyfriend was from the Dingle Peninsula, and Kilmalkedar was my favorite spot in that area. I loved how the foundation of the early Christian church existed there alongside the pagan sundial and Ogham stone, honoring the new while acknowledging the influence of the old -- something you see so often in Ireland, the blending of the old faith and the new. I wanted to upload a postcard of Kilmalkedar - it's actually a print of a beautiful painting by a local artist - that's framed in my living room, but I'm not sure how to do that here.
Comment by Cara O'Sullivan on June 10, 2015 at 7:06pm

I would love to see that painting. Thank you for sharing that memory! That's quite a common motif in IReland--the pagan with the Christian. 

Comment by Cara O'Sullivan on June 10, 2015 at 7:07pm

I think if you took a photograph of that painting, had the file on your computer or phone, you can use the photo icon, which is second from the left on the toolbar above the comment box you type your comments in. 

Comment by Aisling Maki on June 10, 2015 at 7:26pm
I'm pretty tech savvy and I can't figure it out on my phone because I don't see a tool bar. But I just uploaded the photo to the photo section on this site.

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