We arrived in the North by ferry from Scotland en sharpish route to spend a week in coastal Donegal via Belfast and Derry. With limited time, and being very near the Belfast Botanical Gardens, we decided to go there,
where our Irish Luck beset us, thrusting us immediately into the terrible thorny heartbreak history of this country, for directly adjoining the Gardens is the Belfast Museum,
showing the exhibition The Art of the Troubles.
Then, via a fast train to Derry later that day, we walked The Wall that split the town into two famously warring camps divided along religio-political lines. Here at the interface, the 1998 Peace Agreement looks a fragile thing as marches every summer, apparently insisted upon by Protestant Loyalist extremists, not only enrage the minority Republican Catholics, it refreshes memories sorely in need of rest and fans anew the flames of hatred.
Except for our Brit bits and our pre-Abott Australian bits….and perhaps some stray bits, we both have 100% Irish bits, and so feel
a strong attraction and affection for this country, its tragic history, and especially its Guiness. Our mixed-matched hosts, Catherine and Connie combine Counties Armagh and Donegal/Dublin respectively. For the whole week we were there, we heard not a single voice raised in argument – truly witnessed the eminent possibility of a lasting Irish Peace in our time!
On the strength of our wonderful wild Highland tour of Scotland, we ventured to do the same in Ireland. So we embarked on another wilderness tour which took us to Counties Meath, Mayo, Galway, but unfortunately, not to Kerry. For strictly sensory and learning impact, we’d have to say Rabbie’s Scotland is hard to beat. But for getting down home and personal with all the sad misadventures of any and every Paddy and Joe you may ever meet, Rabbie’ s Ireland wins hands down…if you’d care for proof…bear with…read on… According to Darren, our Irish tour guide: on his homeward trek, following a 3-day bender, Paddy comes upon a priest baptising people in a river…
He watches awhile as the priest solemnly dunks each newly professed believer who then answers him with fulsome assurances that, “Yes, I saw the face of Jesus”, whereupon the priest fervently blesses each one, repeatedly saying something like: “Holy Father, we are grateful to do your good works. We mortal sinners give you our thanks for your gentle mercy and goodness. Satan has been vanquished here today!” When the good priest invites Paddy to take his turn, Paddy agrees and smartly enough is duly dunked.
Asked by the priest if he saw the face of Jesus, Paddy replies in the negative and asks to take another dunk. The priest obliges, holding Paddy’s head firmly under the water for a more extended time. Asked again by the priest if he had seen the face of Jesus, Paddy, spluttering and breathless, again replies in the negative, but with some doubt, that maybe he saw something but could he not take another dunk to make it out more clearly? The third time the priest dunks Paddy far more firmly and for a far more extended time. When he finally allows Paddy up, and asks him if this time he’d seen Jesus, a barely conscious, spluttering and coughing Paddy manages to say, “Father, I’m so sorry. I tried and tried. I thought it was Jesus but it wasn’t. Are you sure this where he went down?”
Now if you’ve any PC-derived 2nd thoughts about the humour there, just let the Irish bits of you loose to laugh at it. They’re sure to know a good crack….
Newgrange is a 5000yr old passage tomb in the Boyne valley. It is a place of astrological, spiritual, and religious importance,
best known for the illumination of the tomb passage at the winter solstice. The Neolithic farming community was a devout tomb building society and before the invention of the wheel, transported stones of tremendous size across vast mileages of land and waterways using-log rolling techniques. Around the Newgrange base there are 97 large stones, some highly decorated- especially the entrance stone.
We were guided along the 19-metre dimly lit low ceiling passage in small groups to a chamber about a third of the way into the tomb. The dim lights were completely extinguished and we were shoulder to shoulder in total darkness – gulp – under tons of earth and rock – double-gulp – in our small group. Before we could panic, our guide demonstrated in facsimile, the winter solstice.
As we watched the winter sun creep up the passage, our relief blended with awe at the dramatic illumination of the chamber. Occurring naturally, the phenomena takes about 17 minutes from start to finish at around 9am in the morning. Our demo was less than a minute (thank goodness!)
My inner catholic was doing battle with my inner Celt as I was confronted suddenly and frequently with reminders of the Presentation Order of nuns that provided all my early education in Western Australia. The first time was in Dingle when our lovely host Muirean encouraged us to visit a local museum/chapel.
There we found a mural depicting the life of Nano Nagle (1718–1784) founder of the Presentation Sisters, it adorns the walls of what used to be the sisters’ community room.
Every town we visited seemed to have a strong presence of Presentation nuns. A late night stroll home after dinner and traditional Irish music in a pub in Galway led me to a beautiful wooden door and yes it was the Presentation Convent door! I felt spooked! After all that I think the inner Celt won as I became more entranced with standing stones
and Pagan Holy Wells.
Our hairdresser in Sligo fascinated us with her brogue and easy friendly manner as her Catholicism flowed through all her conversation, as natural as breathing.
Having allowed ourselves only 2 bedazzling days on the Dingle Peninsula, we have left a great chunk of our Irish pagan selves unexplored there. To fix that, we shall return! To stay in a 200 year-old cottage by a bay on the Wild Atlanic Way for a month come mid November when our Irish instalment will be continued…..