Forty Shades of Magic: A hitchhiker’s guide to some of Ireland’s Ancient Stones and Whispers: Part Two
by Jim Malachi
Monday June 19th:
Return to Derreenataggart Stone Circle
After sitting alone in the circle for half an hour or so I decided to ask the stones if they had any messages they wished to share with me, that I had brought along a pen and note paper. Just then a cow and her calf slowly walked past the outside of the circle. The bond of love between them was so apparently strong it could be felt from a distance; obvious, almost tangible. I realized that the message I was being given was a simple one. "Love", in all ways! I doubt if the ancient spirits who inhabit this formation even speak my language, but the language of the love between these two creatures was universal and powerful.
Monday evening 9:00pm:
I am enjoying an evening meal ritual which I cannot ever imagine tiring of; a "Toasted Special and a pint of Guinness". You will not find a "Toasted Special" on any menu in any pub in Ireland, but it is always offered just the same. All one need do is walk up to the bar and request one. It is basically, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with tomato and onion. And it is always the cheapest meal you will ever eat in Ireland, but first you have to know that it exists and that you must ask for it by name. I was turned on to this Irish delicacy by two Dubliners, Joe and Lara Darbey, whom I met in Adrigole, who were also staying at the Hungry Hill Hostel on the Beara Peninsula. The hostel also has a nice pub and we met and chatted over a Guinness on my first night there.
Tuesday June 20th:
Anyone who has had to resort to using public transportation in the southwest of Ireland knows that it is expensive, infrequent, time consuming and generally frustrating. The area is very remote, and there are simply not enough people who actually use the bus system for traveling back and forth to keep the costs within reason. As a result, fares are disgracefully high. My solution was to hitchhike as often as possible. It too has its own set of drawbacks and frustrations, but after having given much consideration to the pros and cons of "hitching", I have to say I had a much better time getting around the countryside on my "thumb" than I did on the local busses. In fact, I even contemplated having a set of spoke wheels tattooed on my thumb with a heart and shamrock between them as a show of my appreciation for all of the lovely people who gave me lifts as I stood in the pouring rain, the blazing sun, and the chafing wind along the narrow shoulder of some lonely, country road with my hopes up, a big smile on my face and my fly securely zipped shut. I have gained access to tons of valuable information about ancient sights and hidden natural wonders from conversations with locals in these "rolling visitor centers"; information I would never had known about if I'd limited myself to the field guides that I'd brought along with me.
So far I've accomplished quite a bit today in the city of Bantry. Found a great deli at the local "SuperValue" Market. Was issued my second Ireland library card which entitled me to one free hour of internet use at the Bantry Public Library, and found the local post office. I also sent a letter to my friend Jennifer in Glastonbury sounding her out as to whether or not I might come for a visit sometime in the next few weeks. Initially, I hadn't planned on including England in this summer's itinerary but I am now thinking what a waste it would be to be this close and not take advantage of the opportunity to revisit that magical place. There is an "all night" ferry that leaves the city of Cork and arrives in Swansea, Wales 10 hours later. It might be worth looking into. I'll wait to see what her response is before I pursue the idea any further.
I purchased a brand new pair of "hiking shoes" for my Ireland trip just prior to leaving Ashland. I haven't allowed enough time for them to be properly "broken in" and am I suffering for it now. I can barely stand in the morning upon rising. The nerve sheaths running through my metatarsal arch are positively SCREAMING! I have been applying arnica cream twice a day but it hasn't seemed to be of much help. It is more than a little scary to be only a week into a two month long trip with this sort of pain. Luckily, I had the foresight to bring along an extra pair of my most comfortable dress shoes "just in case". Those won't do me much good in the pouring rain and mud, but it is reassuring to know I have them to wear if the situation gets any worse.
Wednesday June 21st:
How appropriate that I should find myself sitting alone here on this quiet afternoon of the Summer Solstice, next to none other than the old stone Goddess "Cailleach Beara" (The Hag of Beara). What a lovely way to celebrate the longest day of the year and in such gentle company. I am so fortunate to have Her all to myself. Her energy is in fact similar to that of a very large old tree. I am basking in the ancient presence of this calming, powerful stone perched high in the hills outside the coastal town of Eyries. From where I now sit and write, it is easy to make out Her searching, feminine form, chiseled in granite and looking out toward the sea waiting for Her consort to return to Her side. SHE IS BEAUTIFUL!! Her many striations are filled with jewelry, coins, flowers and other gifts left behind by others like myself who came here to spend quality time with Her. I'm honored to be in Her company on this special day. How sweet that Her Spirit summoned me so that we might spend this Solstice together.
Just up the coast road about a half a mile or so, lie the wind blasted ruins of Kilcatherine, medieval chapel and cemetery. The roof is gone now. Ancient gravestones, Celtic Crosses, and chipped markers lie scattered about the chapel grounds. They tilt at odd angles like dancers, bent and petrified beneath the harsh accumulation of centuries, their stark contribution to the eerie and otherworldly atmosphere which hangs in the salty coastal air. The “Crone” energy is alive and well both here and near the “Hag.” Of the many sacred locations which I visited on this trip, there were several places where it seemed entirely inappropriate to take photos. This was indeed one of those places. Legend has it that the Hag once stole the Mass book from this very chapel and was turned to stone as a punishment. She is doomed to remain that way until Her husband returns to Her from the sea.
Thursday June 22nd:
I don't think I'm ever going to be able to successfully scale the Healy Pass road on this rented bicycle, it's simply not equipped for the terrain (nor am I). If I am ever going to visit the Ardgroom Stone Circle on the north side of this peninsula, I'm just going to have to whip out my lucky thumb and "hitch" over the pass another day.
This can be a harsh and discouraging place sometimes. I find that making some sort of "human connection" whenever possible seems to help. I realize I have chosen an unusual and difficult path and that I must decide at each and every crossroad which way "forward" actually is. I have also chosen the most remote and wild section of the country in which to begin my journey, a fact not all that obvious over the internet last month when I was planning my itinerary. Despite all of the frustration and obstacles, there is "something" coming through to me. A faint voice issuing up from deep within the land itself. It speaks in a tongue which, though unfamiliar to me, manages to reassure me that it is teaching me about itself in its own way, in its own language and on its own terms. I will simply have to be resourceful and press on. What else can I do? Ireland is a wild, primitive, beautiful and untamed place in many ways and if you insist on being here, you either figure out how to survive or you don't.
Friday June 23rd:
Friday is "Market Day" in Bantry. The streets are overflowing with tents and outdoor booths. Everything from organic produce to farm raised lamb to hand made jewelry is available in the town square. A vintage British motorcycle, a Royal Enfield, was parked on the street near one of the booths. It was assembled in India in 1965, the year I graduated from high-school. I stood there admiring it, bemoaning the fact that I'd forgotten to bring along my phone camera and would have loved to have gotten a photo. Just then the proprietor of the booth stopped by and we chatted briefly. Then next thing I know, he is removing the plastic wrapper from a disposable camera and handing it to me with his compliments. "Here" he says smiling, take several pictures"! So I did, and when the owner of the bike finally arrived I talked him into taking a picture of me astride it. You just never know what you are going to find once you choose to make that "human connection".
Saturday June 24th:
I am sitting alone in the Ardgroom Stone Circle and it is BEAUTIFUL! Although this site has seen its share of "Saturday Tourists", for the moment at least, I have it all to myself. I successfully arrived here thanks to a nice couple from Holland, Neil and Marlein, who were kind enough to give me a lift at the Summit of Healy Pass. I was perched on a trunk in the rear of their mini-bus, leafing through one of my field guides on the way down into Ardgroom, trying to decipher the exact location of the stones. The couple expressed an interest in the stone formations which I had traveled all the way from America to investigate. By the time we reached the coast road on the other side of the pass, they had became so curious that they drove me all the way here in order to see for themselves. I was so grateful! After taking several photos, they continued on their way to the town of Kenmare in Co. Kerry.
These stones have a gentle and timeless quality about them, a stillness that hovers over this site like a cozy blanket. An occasional sheep will come and go, but aside from that I am alone, except of course for the Spirits who reside here. It almost seems as though They wanted me to be here today. The trip happened so effortlessly and seamlessly, my appearance here was like water being poured from a pitcher. A curious stream of events which turned out exactly the way it was meant to.
I am sitting quietly, waiting to write down whatever information They wish to impart with me before I leave. (Which is not something I am in any hurry to do.)
The words "Old Forgotten Ways" drift in and out of my consciousness. This place feels truly ancient and the language and ways of the people who spent the time and energy erecting this sacred monument are all but forgotten. I am suddenly overcome with intense sadness at that notion, "The Forgotten Ways". But sadness erupting suddenly at these sites is not an uncommon occurrence for me. I admit I have felt similar emotions at nearly all of the stone circles I have visited thus far. I have almost grown to expect it at some point.
Four stones in particular have an extremely "feminine" quality about them, As I focus my attention on them, They claim that They are "watching over me". "Sisters", that's the word that comes through now loud and clear, and it is sweet and comforting to hear these words spoken inside my head.
I finally broke down and (after asking Their permission to do so) snapped a few photos. I never want to forget Them and this holy place, nor do I ever want to forget the way I feel at this moment.
An hour or so later, as I walk along the narrow road which leads away from the Ardgroom Stone Circle, I am struck by the intense beauty of my surroundings. It is as if my eyes have been "opened" and I am able to actually witness the Living-Spirit shimmering in the sunlight upon whose breathing, green Flesh I step.
I feel You with me, Alive beneath my feet!
It is breathtaking and there is no mistaking Her presence now. She is with me, all around me and in me; the One who called me here, with me and looking after me In All Ways. It is really an unimaginable experience. Her Green Form, at least 40 shades! I feel as though I am on drugs. Perhaps this is where the term "being stoned" originated. Who knows? Who cares?
Several hours later....
My wild, beautiful and mysterious Green Beloved. I sit here in the lingering warmth of this flat twilight river rock and listen to the sweet smelling sound of your "mountain fresh blood" as it churns past me on its way toward the sea; nourishing every living part of You just as my own nourishes every living part of me. Sitting in stillness here among the blood-red fuscias and pink Rhododendrons that grow like weeds along this pulsing, crystal artery, my vision is once again transformed, allowing me access to deeper levels of Your most private truths. I am honored and grateful to be with You here, now, at the "Level of Your Blood".
Sunday June 25th:
Dromagorteen Stone Circle
It is a beautiful sunny morning. I decided to "hitch" a ride into Castletown and visit my favorite ring of stones. I purchased a deli sandwich from the local "Euro Spar" (Ireland's equivalent of the "7-11" convenience store) and was sitting at a picnic table outside Twomey's Pub when a woman walked out of the Pub and struck up a conversation with me. I had no idea at the time that this was Kathleen Twomey. She and her husband owned and operated the establishment. I explained to her that I was from America and I was in her country for two months visiting ancient stone circles and other sacred sites of Ireland's past. She informed me that she was a member of the Beara Historical Society and that within the hour, their group was to depart for a nearby Bronze Age site that had just recently been opened up to the public. It was called the Bonane Heritage Park, and was located in the Sheen River Valley just across the border into Co. Kerry along the old "tunnel road". She asked me if I would be interested in joining them. I couldn't believe what I was hearing!
The park's organizer and animating force, Daniel O'Connor, is a local farmer whose love and knowledge of Sacred Antiquity seems to be boundless. He led our group of twenty or so pilgrims on a guided tour of some of the most unspoiled and well preserved Bronze Age artifacts that I have ever seen. Huge stone circles, Boulder-burials, ring fortes, court tombs, bullaun stones, Fulachta Fiadh, souterrains, it was all there; powerful and impressive beyond my wildest imaginings or my ability to describe. You simply have to experience this unique place for yourself. Danny carefully explained the many solar and lunar alignments of the formations and their relationships to the constellations in the night sky. For example, the stone circle at Dromagorteen is the centerpiece of a complex astronomical calendar which consists of eight specific alignments of both solar and lunar cycles. Monuments on the horizon mark the rising and setting of the sun and moon at significant dates such as winter and summer solstice. The local Bullaun Stone (nicknamed "Rolls of Butter") is a large flat-topped rock where a basin or "bullaun" has been hallowed out. Often oval or round stones are found sitting in the bullauns and are thought to have been used as ancient corn mills. In this case, a total of eight bullauns are carved out of this stone and the round stones are still intact. It is now believed that it was an early astronomical observatory. The bullauns provide a mirror image of the lower half of the constellation Orion and its associated stars. I crawled into the underground "bolthole" of the souterrain which was located near the unusually large ringfort. Ringforts are circular fortifications designed for protection against predators and intruders. It was like entering into another realm. Danny explained to us that the sun peeked into this darkened underground chamber on only two days of the year, February 5th. and November 5th. Coincidently, these are the dates of my two favorite Celtic Cross Quarter Festivals, Imbolc and Samhaim.
After spending several enjoyable and informative hours at the site, we all reassembled at a local historic eatery called "Molly Gallivan's Tea Room" where we were treated to some lively "Trad" accordion music provided by two of the members of our party. Kathleen was kind enough to return me to my hostel on her way back to Castletown that evening. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined such a charmed and fulfilling day. I have so much to be thankful for. Now, more than ever before, I feel You
"alive beneath my feet, and looking after me in all ways"
Monday June 26th:
I have returned to my favorite (and first) stone circle outside Castletown, and as I sit here the words "Here and now, now and then" suddenly pop into my mind. I get the distinct impression that this was once a place of "sacred unions" or marriages. I feel it possibly had some connection with the cycles of the Moon and fertility.
Such a strong and lingering "presence" . . . gentle and clear. It is a wonderful place just to be, to sit, to listen . . . it is simply bewitching!
"Here and Now, Now and Then, You and I, Old Friends"-
“Friend . . . . Friend . . . . Friend”. . . that is the word that is being repeated in my mind like waves breaking on the sand.
It is at this point that I begin to cry. These stones will "speak" to you, but you must give them time. You have to "open up" to them, for Time as we know it simply does not exist inside these circles. The past is "happening" now, right along side us, aware of us- It is pure magic!
Tuesday June 27th:
I hitched into Bantry this morning to purchase a ferry ticket to Swansea. Jennifer's letter reached me at the Hungry Hill hostel. She gave me the "thumbs-up" for a short stay at her place in Glastonbury. She further explained that her house is currently undergoing a massive "Oprah make-over" and that all will be chaos for some weeks to come. Carpenters usually start showing up to do their dirty work very early in the morning as the U.K.is in the midst of a "diabolic heat wave". They try to finish working before it gets too unbearably hot in the upstairs bedrooms. So, if I am ok with that, I am welcome to stay. This is great news. I had no idea how much I had been missing Glastonbury until I realized how easy it would be to get there from Ireland. I made several lasting acquaintances while in Avalon last summer, both on this, and the "other side of the veil". The thought of returning to that magical place filled me with anticipation. The Tor, Wells Cathedral and Leisure Center, Wearyall Hill, the Goddess Temple and Rhiannon. It would be divine to step inside the circle of the Nine Morgens and stand once again in Her enchanting presence. I don't believe anyone REALLY belongs to, or fully appreciates a place until they have "returned" to it. I believe you need to actually "leave and come back" in order to earn the right to call any place "a Friend". Up to that point, you are still merely a "visitor". The logic of this notion projected upon my imminent return to Ireland in several weeks was not lost on me at the time, and I was already looking forward to my second appearance on Erinn's Beautiful shores.
I wandered into the Catherine Hammond Gallery in the town of Glengarrif. I had been dropped off there by a ride I picked up Bantry on the way back to Adrigole. I spoke for awhile with the owner, Catherine Hammond, and she eventually got around to asking me whether or not I had visited the Kealkil Stone circle which was located a short distance from the town. She explained that it was a very powerful place, one of her favorites; and that I would have little difficulty finding it on foot. Lately, I had grown accustomed to heeding advice such as this about sacred sites, especially when it came to the ones I had no knowledge of or plans to visit. I interpreted her suggestion as another "invitation" by the Spirit in whose loving care I was becoming more and more at ease. So, it was settled. Tomorrow I would set off in the direction of the "Brown Pub" of Kealkil, the local landmark which points the way up the steep, narrow road and into the hills toward the stones that awaited me.
All words & images ©Jim Malachi
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