Archive for the ‘Ireland Chronicles’ Category

Full Circle

It was our last day in Ireland.  We would be spending most of it driving back to Dublin, where we were planning to stay with the same friends that we met for the first time when we arrived.  We had a lot of things to talk about and savor, and since we are both big into nature, we usually ended up on subjects involving trees, horses, and birds.  Three of our favorite topics.  The long chats were marked by pockets of silence when we were both lost in our own thoughts and worlds.

We made one stop along the way, at a castle ruins called The Rock of Cashel.  The ruins are one of the things I love about Ireland, or any country that has enough history to have ruins.  In Ireland, however, there is something magical about them.  When I am in a ruins there is something mysterious that happens to time.  The stark contrast between time that has stopped and time that is still moving causes me to feel the force of it more strongly, and I am gripped with fascination about the story.  I could spend a lot of time in old ruins and abandoned buildings.

And I got my wish at the Rock of Cashel, thanks to an eternally clueless tourist.  Joanna was trying to get a picture of a view across the vestibule and this tourist planted himself at other end and simply would not budge.  I looked in from time to time and she was still crouched at her end, waiting, while Mr. Tourist stood there and looked touristy.  I never did figure out what he was actually doing, other than disrupting a perfectly good picture.  I offered to throw rocks at him, but Joanna wouldn’t let me.

Our plan was to arrive at the house around dinner time, knowing that no-one would be there to greet us.  They had given us a set of keys before we left, so apparently we did a good job of convincing our new friends that we were the harmless kinds of nuts.

I would be flying out early the next morning, but Joanna decided to stay a few more days and take a ferry over to the Isle of Man.  Her ferry was going to leave late that night.

We arrived well at the house and even found the little driveway on the first try.  I had only been there a couple of days in the beginning, mostly in a sleep deprived stupor, but it still felt like coming home.  We did a little shopping for some grub for dinner and then settled in for a few hours until we needed to leave for the docks.

We left the house around 10:30 PM.  Not the best hour for the two of us to be driving around downtown Dublin, but we found the docks with minimal fuss.  Once we got there, I decided I would rather have downtown Dublin.  The docks may have been perfectly innocent during the day, but they were rather ominous at night.  Too many looming ships and stacks of containers and shadowy places for thugs to hide.  Was I going to leave Joanna there all by herself?  I don’t think so!  Well, she wasn’t very impressed by my concerns so we kept driving to the terminal for her ferry.

I was vastly relieved to see that at her ferry line there was a nice lighted terminal and waiting room with other passengers and vending machines.  There is something comforting about vending machines.  So, I pulled into the drop-off area and we said our goodbyes.  It was the end of our travels together.  We had done it.  We two nuts had not only survived the trip, we developed a friendship and had many rich experiences along the way.

God had given so much on this trip.  It was not always where I expected and definitely not always what I expected.  But encounter Him we did – richly, deeply, overwhelmingly so.  This Mercy was about as overloaded as any one person can be.

I drove back to the house – successfully and in one piece, I might add!  One last night in Dublin.  I was ending where we began.  We came full circle.  Nothing could have been more fitting for an adventure in Ireland.

And so is the end … of this blog … and the beginning of all that lies beyond!



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Dorsey Island

We left early enough for our hike to the stone circles that even with the unexpected extension we still had plenty of daylight left. We decided that we would drive to the end of the peninsula and take the cable car to Dorsey Island.  But first, there were important things to attend to, such as feeding my starving self.  So, we stopped at the little café in town and I had a delicious rhubarb crumble dessert and a lemon fizzy drink.

The drive to the cable car station was long, but took us through some small coastal village and through more of the winding Irish countryside on very narrow roads. Everyone in Ireland seems so calm and I don’t know how they manage it.  When we got there, I had to wrench Joanna’s fingers off the dashboard because she had been gripping it so hard.

Let me tell you about the Dorsey Island cable car. It runs on cables that were strung across the turbulent Dorsey Sound sometime in the last century.  It looked like it could have been run by a hand crank in the beginning.  The car itself was an odd-shaped box with a wooden sliding door and copious amounts of ancient grease on the wheels above.  The cables went into a building with a small window where the cable operator sat and peered out across the sound.  I was beginning to think that Devil’s Ladder was the safer bet.  But we were there, and well, there were other crazies standing in line to take a ride across, so we could all jump off the cliff together.

Our turn came and we climbed in. There were two sets of wooden benches lining the sides of the car.  There were also signs posted about the maximum persons allowed and we were half a person over.  But it was too late, the door was closed and we were off with a bounce, a lurch, and a prayer.  Dorsey Sound seemed a lot wider from up there.

After a few minutes had passed and I relaxed a bit about going to a watery grave, I started to enjoy the ride. I especially enjoyed the opposite shore getting closer.  That was the best part.

We disembarked with a sense of relief and accomplishment and set out to explore what we could of the island before we had to go back. We were late enough in the day that we only had about an hour or we would get stuck there for two hours while the cable car operator had his dinner break.  Apparently there aren’t too many people who want to spend their lives running an antiquated cable car, so there was no one to take over for him.  Since the sky was threatening to dump on us again, I opted for returning sooner, rather than later.  So, I sent Joanna off to take some pictures and I went back to stand in line with all the other shivering crazies who had braved the cable car and the weather.

Joanna got some good pictures, though. And we had the status of surviving the Dorsey Island cable car.  So, there’s that.

On the way back to the B&B, we decided to stop at a local village pub because someone was hungry again. Turns out that driving in the Irish countryside and taking death-defying cable rides are good for one’s appetite.  The pub we picked was perfect.  It was truly a local pub, not a tourist pit stop.  So, we got to enjoy watching the interaction between the regulars.  Joanna was even favored by their little dog, who jumped up on her bench seat and made himself quite comfortable.

When it came time to order, I got fish and chips. Joanna ordered mussels.  They were even locally grown.  How do you grow a mussel?  Well, I learned.   At the right time of the year you put out lines with buoys and all the mussel babies attach to the line and hang out there and grow until one day someone comes along and serves them up to Joanna for dinner.  I never had mussels before, and I was just fresh off the kipper experiment.  But I decided to try anyway.  All I can say is that they were weird.  Not fishy, but not anything else I could describe either.  Joanna had a whole big bowl of them and she dug away with a good will.  I don’t think I need to eat them again, ever.

After dinner we headed to the B&B for our last night before heading back to Dublin. It felt like the morning hike had been a long time ago, but the impact of the experience was still deeply resonating.  I will always have special memories of the south of Ireland, cable cars, mussels and all!

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To The North

After a peaceful night’s sleep, entirely free of nightmares about Devil’s Ladder, I awoke to a lovely day for a hike.  That was a very good thing, since we intended to do just exactly that.  This was the day we were going to do the Cashelkeetly hike, which would take us to some of the well-known stone circles in that area.   It would also take us through some of the rolling, stony Irish hills that I so dearly love and into the domain of many a fluffy ball of sheep.

Our new B&B hostess fed us a hearty Irish breakfast and then offered to go with us to a parking spot in town and then drive us to the beginning of the trail so that we could walk back to the car.  Joanna and I were quite pleased with that arrangement, so off we went.  When we arrived at the designated parking spot we gathered up our gear and hopped in her car.  We drove along for a bit, as she chattered away.  And she kept driving.  And driving.  And driving, for what seemed like an eternity.  I was beginning to wonder if we would run out of country.  But eventually we got to the signpost for the trail, which literally went over the fence into a sheep pasture.  As we were climbing out of the car, she gave us our instructions on how to get back to where we parked, which went something like this, “turn left and go down the path a ways and turn right and then veer sideways a bit and then turn again, and walk a bit longer and then veer the other way and you’ll be there.”  I looked bewildered.  Joanna looked serene as always.

We clambered over the fence and began our adventure.

Most of the hike was getting to the stone circles.  They were the objective, but I sure enjoyed the process of getting there.  Those hills speak to me.  I love the combination of the lush green grasses and the stones and boulders dotting the landscape.  Many times I stopped for a few minutes to absorb whatever ethereal feelings were floating by.  I could have walked into the side of one of those hills and disappeared into another world.  Usually a disgruntled cotton ball would jerk me back to reality with a bleat of protest at my presence.  Apparently the sheep thought the field was theirs.  Their little white fluffs on the distant hills did make for nice scenery.

Eventually, and thankfully without any sheep butting drama, we reached the stone circles.  There were two circles.  One was larger and higher up on the trail.  The second was quite a bit smaller.  Joanna and I wandered around them for a few minutes, just getting a feeling for what was there.  Were they defiled?  Yep.  No doubt about that.  But the question of “why there?” was still at the top of my mind.  I was more drawn to the first circle, so I stood there and pondered for a few minutes.  There was one stone that was much larger than the others and seemed to be facing a certain direction.  Well, one thing that I learned from a very wise fellow land cleanser is that the key may have nothing to do with the monument itself.  The key may be where the monument is facing, or pointing, or looking.  So, I pulled out my compass to see which direction the stone was pointing.  It was north.

Joanna was busy giving the other stone circle the what-fers about who is the one true God, so I decided to leave her to it and go north.  This meant crossing the trail perpendicularly and walking across the field towards the bay.  I didn’t immediately find another piece of land or a marker that felt significant.  So, I walked some more.  Still nothing, though I wanted to keep walking.  By this time Joanna had wandered after me.  I walked down a little valley and to a rise where I could see the water and some houses around it and the land extending beyond that.  I still wanted to keep walking.  It was then that I realized that nothing in my view was what I was walking towards.  I could have walked and walked and walked north forever.  I wasn’t looking for a marker or a portal or anything else.  I was looking for the North.

Well, I have experienced some interesting things, but that was a new one on me!  It became quite clear that this was waking up a spiritual longing, and it wasn’t about a destination in the landscape.  What came to mind was the verse in Psalms that is one of my favorite songs, “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the Great King.”

I still am not quite sure what to call the deposit there in the land that awakened a new kind of desire for the Kingdom of God in me, but that was something very special.  A kind of thin place I hadn’t expected to find.  God made it clear that I wasn’t to forget what I felt there.  I might not be on the land, but the longing will go with me everywhere and will grow.  And maybe, sometime, someday, I might even have better language for it!

Well, I stood there for a while and savored and pondered and wondered.  But eventually, we had to muster ourselves and keep walking and so we moved on.

Our hiking took us by a forest that we simply couldn’t resist.  So, we ducked inside and promptly found more muck than I thought was possible outside of the tabloids.  Joanna commented that she rather liked my verbal expressive tendencies.  She could tell by my noises where the especially soft spots were.  But the trees were beautiful and there was a little waterfall to boot.  The trail took us out to a little parking lot and we thought we had reached the end.  So, we endeavored to follow our landlady’s instructions.

We walked up the road to the left for a while.  That didn’t feel right.  Then we walked up the road to the right for a while.  That didn’t feel right either.  We actually did have a map with us so we pulled it out and looked at the trail.  Eventually we decided that we popped out too soon, and we were supposed to follow it quite a ways further.  I was beginning to have doubts about the motives of our landlady.

So, we got back on the main trail and trudged on.  I began to think about my provisions.  Did I have enough food and water to last for several days?  But wait.  Ireland is a small country, right?  How long can one really be lost?  I was beginning to rethink Devil’s Ladder.  Maybe that would have been the better choice after all.

Well, it turns out that the landlady was right and she wasn’t out to kill a couple of tourists to feed to the sheep.  Or at least one tourist.  I’d like to see them wear Joanna out.   After another mile or so of winding through the pasture, we got a glimpse of the road we wanted to be on and knew we were heading in the right direction.  And sure enough, the directions were right, though I sure am glad Joanna knew how to decipher them.

If it had been left up to me, we’d still be wandering!

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The B&B we were staying at was a bit more formal, and we all ate breakfast at the same time.  That was fun because after the first day of being there, we had some stories to share.   Joanna and I refrained from embellishing our cliff walking adventures too much, but I will admit that we were pretty happy that we went and conquered on our own.

The night before I had chosen the goat cheese scramble for my breakfast, but I didn’t know what Joanna had chosen.  By the way, this particular hostess was an angel.  I asked her the first morning we were there if I could have a glass of ice for my Coke.  She looked at me a bit squinty-eyed, but I have gotten a whole lot worse, especially in mainland Europe.  And then if they DO actually agree to bring me ice, it is two cubes sitting forlornly at the bottom of the glass.  She brought me a FULL glass of ice.  She racked up a lot of points for that one.  Well, when I walked into the breakfast room the second morning, the full glass of ice was already sitting at my spot.  Wondrous woman!

So, she starts serving the different guests, including me, and then comes out with a plate with two whole fish on it.  Whole as in head and fins and everything still attached.  She sets the plate in front of Joanna with a “Bon Appétit!” and I am thinking, “Actually, I just lost mine.”  I knew kippers existed, in theory.  I had never met one in person, let alone for breakfast.  I looked at Joanna with a whole new level of respect.

She munched away for a few minutes and then asked me if I wanted to try a bite.  In my head I am thinking, “I would rather fall off the Cliffs of Moher”, but what came out of my mouth was, “sure, why not!”  I took the smallest piece that qualified as a bite and in it went.  Everyone else was watching me.  I have to tell you something about my face.  It has a mind of its own.  I would lose everything in the first poker game I ever tried to play.  Well, I chewed down that bite of kipper and said, “It tastes like FISH.”  Apparently my face did something quite amusing when I said that because it just tickled everyone to death.  I like fish when it tastes like tartar sauce.  Kippers are about as fishy a fish as you can possibly imagine.  I left the rest to Joanna and reveled in my goat cheese scramble.

That day was going to be our big driving day.  We were on the west coast of Ireland, just a bit south of where we began in Dublin.  We needed to drive all the way down to the Dingle Peninsula, where we would stay that night.  So, we basically planned for a long day in the car.  But as everyone was getting up from breakfast and talking about their plans, we overheard a comment about a sheep farm nearby that gave sheep herding demonstrations.  Well, that sounded quite interesting, especially to Joanna.  So, we decided to take a detour and enjoy the show.

And it was well worth it!  We even got the full Irish effect.  It rained.  Hard.  They had thoughtfully provided a covered area for us to stay under while we watched.  It didn’t seem to bother the dogs one iota.  They lived and breathed this job.  It was such a joy to watch their boundless energy and eagerness to do the job.  In fact, the sheep herder had to get after them a few times because two would respond to the same command!  It was well worth the detour.  And I also walked out of their gift shop with a beautiful knee-length knit wool jacket that I will wear in Southern California, even if I die of heat stroke.

The trip down south was long, but beautiful.  We drove through a national wildlife preserve that just begged you to get out every half mile and go for a hike in the forests and hills.  I could have easily spent a few days just in that area.  Someday I hope to go back and do some of that hiking because I just KNOW there are some thin places waiting to be discovered.  But on we drove.

Let me tell you something about a GPS.  They like to take you the shortest route.  In the city or on the freeway, that strategy works quite well.  But when you are in rural Ireland, the shortest route could be cutting across a sheep pasture, and that’s about what we did.   We drove on so many side roads and byways and nowhere ways that I started to wonder if my GPS was messing with us and laughing its silly silicone head off.  But eventually we bumped our way out of a two-track forest trail and saw the light – in the B&B window.  I had to apologize to the GPS.

So, we made it in one piece to our lovely mountain view home for the next two nights.  After we got our luggage inside and were settling in, Joanna made an off-hand comment.   She said that she decided it wouldn’t be the right time to try Devil’s Ladder on this trip.

I played it cool and said, “Ok!” in the most nonchalant manner I could muster.  But, boy, did I sleep well that night!

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The Cliffs of Moher

I saw them in a picture. I don’t even remember why my friend sent me the picture, but I know I had never seen the Cliffs of Moher before then.  Only I had.  I knew the minute the picture popped up on my screen that I had seen it many times before.  Not in a picture, not in a movie, or anywhere else my soul could pull from memory.  I had seen them in my mind’s eye and my spirit piped up and said, “THOSE are the cliffs you always see!”  They weren’t just any cliffs.  They were somehow very special to my spirit.  I knew from that moment I had to go there.

And that’s why Joanna and I were on the west coast of Ireland, discussing (or debating) with our hostess whether or not it would be safe to walk the Coastal Trail. It was the question on our minds at breakfast the next morning.  There were three other couples at the B&B with us, and the older couple was also planning to hike the trail.  We had all been served our custom breakfasts – I opted for the fancy French toast – and were chatting about who was who and where we came from.  Not surprisingly, the topic of driving came up once or twice, mostly in connection with the monstrous lorries that threatened the life and limb of every tourist who dared get behind the wheel of a microcar.  I think they like doing that.

Then our hostess came in with the News. She said that the local tour guide was going to take a tour that morning and would decide as he went along if he would keep going or not.  Well, that was all we needed to hear.  I think our hostess knew it, too.  She specifically asked us if we were still planning to go alone.  Joanna smiled sweetly and said “yes”.  She is really great at that.

So, we bundled up some gear and some grub, said our prayers, and headed towards the beach. I had chosen this particular B&B because it was within a half mile of the Coastal Trail.  We found the trail without any difficulty at all.  You’d have to be blind to miss it.  It started out as a dirt road that wound along the shoreline, but quite a ways from the edge.   I must admit that we shared a grin or two about the concerns for our safety.

Not to completely discredit our hostess. The path did wind itself considerably closer to the edge and the cliffs continued to rise higher and higher.  At one point we did some stream hopping, but we didn’t have to ford any great torrents of water rushing through from the fields.  I think that God cleaned it up just for us that day.  Not that there was a shortage of mud, however.  Plenty of that to build a whole new island.

I am grateful to the Irish for not following the popular American habit of putting up fences and barriers everywhere that detract from the view or the experience. They had signs saying that the cliff edges might be unstable, so don’t be a fool.  But they allowed you to be just that if you wished.  Not that either of us would ever do anything risky, at least not until later in the day.

The hike and the views were spectacular. You could be walking around a curve in the shoreline and suddenly there was a sheer wall of rock rising from the water across the inlet.  It just took your breath away.  The sea birds flying around the cliffs and landing on the ledges added a sense of timelessness, as if those cliffs and those birds had existed forever.  Many times throughout the hike I felt as if I had crossed the threshold into some ancient realm.  There is something so moving to me when nature takes me beyond the awareness of the time I live in.

We hiked along for probably a couple of hours, more or less alone. There were other brave souls on the trail, so that was encouraging.  Eventually, the tour caught up with us.  We saw the older couple from the B&B and they seemed quite happy to see that we were still alive.  The tour catching up with us turned out to be a huge gift from God.  There was a certain spot where the “official” trail cut up to the highest part of the cliffs and took you directly to the visitor’s center.  Since we were now with the tour group, we got to take the VIP route, which continued along the coast for a while longer and then cut up to the ridge.  So, we walked along with them for a while.

Then I saw the rock ledge.

This was the gift. I saw it first from below.  We were just coming to the part of the trail with the most vertical climb to the ridge.  And I could see this portion of the cliff edge above us that jutted out over the water.  That was IT.  That was the spot.  I can still see that image in my mind – me looking up at the trail and seeing the ledge and knowing that’s where I had to go.

Joanna was still meandering behind me taking pictures, so I let her know that I was hiking up and I’d see her at the top. And I was off.

It is amusing to think of how little we know about what is going on inside of someone, or how vastly different our motivations can be. When I got to the top of the ridge, there were a fair number of people up there, enjoying the view, taking pictures, posing with their families and doing the normal tourist thing.  Yet, here I was, coming to this place for an intense spiritual experience.  Did everyone think I was just another tourist?  Or was there someone else in the crowd I labeled as “pesky tourists” who was having a deep encounter of some kind?  Or was someone up there to try to thrash out their problems and needed some perspective?  Or were they bored and wanted to go home?

What I did know at that moment is that there was a ruckus going on between my spirit and soul. This is the dialog that went on in my head.

“You have to stand there.”

“WHAT!?? Are you nuts?”

“No. You have to stand there.”

“On the ledge. 700 feet above the water.”

“Yes. On the ledge.  700 feet above the water.”

The funny thing is that I think my soul secretly wanted to, even though it was more immediately concerned with how high it would register on the stupidity scale to get anywhere near the edge.  But I was there.  And I knew my spirit knew something so I had to go.

This was the picture I had seen so many times. Me standing on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the water.  I could feel the wind and see the water below me.  I didn’t know exactly why I was there, but I knew I was supposed to receive.  So I asked the Lord to download everything He wished to give me, to unpack the treasures of my spirit, to do what He had brought me there to do.  I felt such an intensity of freedom and dominion that is hard to put language to.

My spirit loved that spot. Apparently, it is not afraid of heights, or sudden gusts of wind, for that matter.  My soul, however, was not quite so carefree about the whole thing and did manage to interject some common sense.  I stayed back a ways from the very edge.

Joanna made her way up a short while after and we wandered off towards the visitor’s center to finish up the hike. But I was lost in my own world and wasn’t likely to emerge any time soon.  Joanna and I decided to part ways.  I was ready to find a shuttle to take what was left of me back to the B&B.  She wanted to hike some more, bless her soul!

On the way back, she had a deep encounter with God.  It was a good day.

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