Archive for the ‘Ireland Chronicles’ Category

I experienced something crucial about Irish life while on the Hill of Tara. It is wet in Ireland.  Everywhere.  I waterproofed my tennis shoes before I left California, but that was a joke.  I needed a serious upgrade or I was destined to have soggy feet the whole trip.  Neither my feet nor I were excited about that idea.

So, our first goal the next morning was to find a store where I could get some REAL waterproof shoes or galoshes or waders, or a rubber suit. Whatever worked.  We found a bona fide sports store, and lo and behold, they had some uber sporty, Gortex infused, “keep your feet dry in a deluge”, hiking shoes.  They even had them in my size.  The shoes were accompanied by an uber sporty, health nut, sickeningly fit salesman who promptly wandered off with Joanna to talk about all the crazed outdoor things one could do in Ireland.  They pulled out some maps and started whispering and looking over at me every so often.  I heard something about “Devil’s Ladder” and “this one is a challenge”, which is the serious hiker’s code language for “this one will kill the tourist”.  I decided it was high time to buy my shoes and get out of there.  I managed to disentangle Joanna and we made it safely back to the car and on the road again.

We were bound for the Hill of Uisneach.  It is supposedly the spiritual and mythological center of Ireland.  One website even described it as the place where all the ley lines in Ireland intersect.  This was one loaded hill!  I won’t say loaded with what … but remember we were treasure hunters and we knew Who was there first.

We got there without incident – and no detours to Devil’s Ladder – but we couldn’t get in. Come to find out, you had to have a special tour or come at certain times of the week when the field was open.  Turns out that someone actually farmed the field.  Who knew.  Well, so much for the plan.  Which only goes to prove that you never know when God is going to plan circles around you.

So, we sat there in the little driveway to figure out what to do next. I asked what would be right for the day.  Joanna pulled out the tour books and maps and started looking at the surrounding area.  I kept asking what was right for the day.  She told me to relax and let God be God and we’ll find something.  So, I relaxed and sent Serina a picture of my new shoes.   Which only goes to prove that God doesn’t need us to be sharp as tack to get us where He wants us to go.

Then Joanna said that a place called Belvedere Gardens looked interesting. I was a little skeptical at first.  It was too touristy.  God wouldn’t show up there, would He?  Then Joanna mentioned Narnia.  For real.  NARNIA.  It was in their description in the tour book!  Well, for goodness sakes.  I was sold.  Which only goes to prove that God can show up anywhere He dang well pleases.

To the garden we went.

There were several different paths you could take through the gardens and forested areas, so we decided to go our separate ways. Joanna was going to drift and take pictures, and I was going to drift and try NOT to think about what was right for the day and just let God take me there.  And boy, did He.

I will never forget that spot in the forest where He validated His design of me and anchored it at a depth that will never be shaken. The phrase He gave me was about Narnia!  Only God.  Only God could know me that well and could arrange something so powerful in spite of me.  After I cried for a while in the forest, I wandered out into the field and cried some more.  And then it started to rain.  Did I mention that it rains a lot in Ireland?  It was a beautiful rain, like the sky was feeling the same joy I was.  I remember standing with my arms out and my face upturned to the raindrops, absorbing the splendor of the moment when the thought intruded into my mind, “Hey! My feet are staying dry!”  Which only goes to prove that God takes care of the little things too.

Eventually I gathered what was left of myself and wandered back into the forest and followed the trails as they meandered back to the café and visitor’s center. I met up with Joanna and we sat down in the café.  I had something to eat and then asked if Joanna would mind if I wrote a few things down.  I meant to write a highlight or two, but it turned into a few pages.  Joanna wandered off.  Eventually the flow stopped and I went to find her, since I had a vague feeling that we should head in the direction of our next B&B.  I was so blitzed.

Which only goes to prove that you should never let the Mercy drive.

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This was the day we were going to begin our road trip. Two nights in Dublin had served to make me more tired than I had been in a long time, so I knew this was the perfect time to start driving.  With relatively little drama we had breakfast, packed up our bags and hit the road in our microcar.

The first stop on our route was a place called the Hill of Tara. It is one of the “official” spots to visit, which always makes me a bit contrary.  I don’t want to go where everyone else does.  But this place had been calling to me for a while, so we purposed to ignore the tourists and find out what God had for us.

The history of the site is governmental. It is an ancient site that was used for sacred kingship rituals.  There is a stone monument called the Stone of Destiny that would “roar” its approval whenever a worthy high king was inaugurated.  Now, all of that sounds pretty sketchy, and it is.  Definitely not a stream I wanted to tap into.  But the very first question that comes to my mind is, “why?”  Why choose that spot?  Why build the monument there?  Why go to all the effort to create the mounds and the passage tomb?  What did God put there that got warped?

It never ceases to amaze me how God can effortlessly filter His light through the haze. I wasn’t on the site for more than two minutes when my heart started soaring with praise for King Jesus.  And for an imaginative person such as myself, if I could have procured medieval attire it would have been all the better.  I was in the moment, but I was drawn to do what the land was made to draw me to do, which is to worship the one true King.  The people who picked that spot for their rituals had good taste.  I have to hand it to them.  They knew that land was made for dominion and kinship.  They just went off the rails on which king and whose power.

Joanna and I wandered around on our own for a while, each tasting our own flavors of experiencing the land. She gave that monument a talking to about who exactly is the rightful king.  I think the spiritual realm and the land heard her.  I wonder what the experience will be like for the next unsuspecting tourist who happens by!  I love setting booby traps for pre-Christians.

The icing on the cake is that it didn’t rain a drop the whole time we were out in the fields. For anyone who has been to Ireland, having two hours straight in September without rain is neigh unto a miracle.  By the time we were done in the shops and ready to walk back to the car, it had begun raining.

Let me tell you something about rainy cold days in Ireland. The wet coldness wiggles and wheedles its way into every cell in your body.  It gets into the very marrow of your bones.  And I’ll admit it.  I am a wimp when it comes to cold.  Southern California has trumped my Michigan upbringing.  So, it was a shivering skinny chick that drove in the driveway of our first B&B on the road.  Joanna was fine.  She is slender too, but she’s hardy and could endure a gale without a grimace.

Our landlady greeted us in a sleeveless shirt. Good gracious!

But she also knew what was coming her way. She had placed in both of our rooms one of the greatest inventions known to mankind.  An act of sheer genius.

The hot water bottle.

I had never used one before, but I am a confirmed addict now. A little hot water from the tea kettle and I was in heaven. Maybe I will blast the air conditioner in my apartment just so I can use one.  Joanna and I settled down on the beds, each with a hot water bottle and a cup of tea and what a blissful afternoon it was.


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Why Ireland?

So, what would entice two relatively sane(ish) women who had never met before to fly halfway around the world and spend eight days trapped in a car that was smaller than my trunk? By this time in our lives we should be more settled and sensible, right?  Well, there is mature and there is moribund.  The latter is a disease I dread worse than cancer.  My driving might kill us, but not lack of spirit!

I had been to Ireland once before. My adventures involved the same Frommer’s map that Joanna clung to so desperately, an even smaller rental car, Galway Bay, a castle ruins, a bull, and a perfume called Innis.  I left with a deep impression of the spirituality of the land and a greater understanding of how not to use The Adapter when plugging in cell phones.  I knew I wanted to go back someday.  That was ten years ago, but the day finally came.

It was a friend of mine who connected me with Joanna. He suggested that I call her up and see if she wanted to go with me.  She was a big spirited person, free, and adventurous.  No disease in her, no sir!  So, I called her up one day and said, “Hi, my name is Megan.  Do you want to go to Ireland with me?” and “Oh, and by the way, nice to meet you!”

Just for kicks, I shared with her why I was going.

The first reason was to look for thin places. It is quite amusing to read people’s blogs as they try to describe a special place where we were meant to meet God by using any other language but His name.  They will say a sense of the “eternal”, or an “existential experience”, or “stepping outside of time”, or “everything slows down and you feel how small you are”, and so on.  It makes me want to sit next to them and say, “you’re getting warm, warm, warmer, oh, cold! colder …” until they can’t take it any longer and ask me “WHAT!??!”  Then I would tell them.  God made these places where the veil between heaven and earth is thinner so that we could go there and experience HIM, so just call it what it is and admit that you long for it because we ALL have a void in our spirits that only He can fill.  No disease in me either, no sir!

How does one find a thin place, you may ask. Well, that is where it gets a bit tricky.  There are all the “official” thin places that are talked about in people’s blogs.  Many of them involve the famous Irish stone circles that dot the landscape.  But I am not convinced that the “official” program is the most powerful one.  On my first trip I went to an abbey that was supposed to afford a profound experience.  It was good, but no special sparks for me.  Then my eye caught a pile of rubble next door, and THAT was something.  Turned out to be the ruins of a castle and I had a huge God encounter there, and incidentally, an encounter with the bull who apparently owned the castle.  It just goes to show you never know.  So, our program was a mixture of “this is a spot”, and “this might be a spot” and “we have no idea if there is any spot here but we are going to check anyway”.

We are also both treasure hunters. Not the gold coins and precious gems kind of treasure hunters.  We are after the real stuff.  We are after the treasures that God placed in the land – spiritual deposits that are for us to receive and steward.  We knew that we might find the goods buried under centuries of pagan worship and who knows what manner of human stupidity, but that was part of the adventure.  Finding God’s fingerprints STILL there underneath the mess.  We were up for the challenge.  Watch out Indiana Jones.

As for the third reason, well, maybe Joanna didn’t quite realize what she had signed up for. She agreed to get in a car driven by a whimsical, fantastical loving, creative, ethereal Mercy with a tendency to disappear into a whole different universe.

“Ohhh, look, Joanna, doesn’t that huge tree look like it could be a doorway into another world?”

“Megaaaaaan!!! Watch out for that bus, the bus, the BUS!”

I love Ireland. I understand why they believe in fairies.  The forests and the landscapes beckon you with promises of such encounters with another world.  The Celtic soul cultivates it.  I wasn’t looking for fairies, but I was definitely looking for encounters with the God of all worlds and dimensions, and a visible glimpse behind the veil would be better still.  I longed to sharpen my discernment of the spiritual realm, to deepen my connection to the nature God created, and if there WAS a doorway in that tree, I was walking through it.

We were there, we were all in, and it was time to hit the road!

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Our hostess welcomed us with a lovely Irish greeting, a loaf of Irish soda bread, and some butter that actually looked like butter and only had one ingredient: butter.  My body had no earthly idea whether it was the right time to eat or not, but neither I nor my taste buds cared in the least.

We spent some time chatting at the dining room table, getting to know each other’s nuttiness, while I consumed copious amounts of Irish soda bread and tried not to fall asleep in my plate. Joanna looked fresh as a daisy.  I don’t know how she did it.  She flew the same overseas trip.  Yet, she looked like she woke up in Ireland that morning and I looked like I hadn’t slept in just under three weeks.

Our hostess had planned for us to have our own rooms, which was a generous sacrifice on her part, since it meant she had to sleep on the couch. She will reap an eternal reward for that gift.  So, after we had chatted enough to determine that we were all relatively harmless in our nuttiness, Joanna and I got settled in our rooms.

For those who have travelled internationally, you know that life revolves around The Adapter. Back in the old days, The Adapter was simple.  It was a little hunk of plastic and metal that converted their three prongs to your two prongs and you could plug in your hair dryer or electric razor or whatever.  (Assuming, of course, that you were savvy enough to make sure that the said hair dryer or electric razor did the voltage conversion internally.  Or, you could learn about voltages the hard way by burning up your cell phone like I did.)   If you really got fancy, you brought a four plug hub and plugged THAT into The Adapter and then you had a plethora of plugs and a house fire waiting to happen.  Life was simple.  But those days are long gone.  Now The Adapter is the size of a brick, takes up half of your suitcase, and runs on jet engine fuel.  By the time you are done plugging everything in, it looks like a mutated Christmas tree, bristling all over with electronic gadgets.  But at least you don’t have to pack a nightlight.

The plan was to stay two nights in Dublin so that we could get over the jet lag before heading out on our cross-country road trip. An American tourist driving in Ireland is bad enough.  A jet lagged American tourist driving in Ireland would be like a cross between The Three Stooges and Mr. Bean.  Not pretty.

Our first night passed uneventfully. In fact, it was so quiet and peaceful that sleep itself thought it inappropriate to intrude.  There is nothing quite like the irony of a sleep-deprived drunkenness when you are awake and a stark, staring awakeness when you want to sleep.  When I dragged myself out of bed the next morning in a stupor, Joanna greeted me with a cheery “good morning!”  Whatever that girl is on, I want some.  A few Cokes later I was in a semi-conscious state and we headed out for our walking tour of Dublin.

Have you ever noticed that it is simply impossible NOT to look the wrong way when you are crossing the street in Ireland or the UK? So, they have little signs and arrows pointing to the RIGHT.  LOOK TO THE RIGHT.  Ok, fine.  You look to the right.  But you just HAVE to look to the left too, even if it is just a furtive glance over your shoulder.  You start to feel guilty about it.  Someone is surely going to pop up and give you a fine for doing it wrong:  “Can’t you just trust us?!”  Nope.  You just can’t help yourself.  If I had stayed any longer I would have had to join a recovery program for Those Who Look the Wrong Way.

According to Joanna, we wandered through quite a good bit of Dublin. I don’t remember most of it, being only semi-conscious and constantly looking over my shoulder for the street crossing man to come and take me away.  I do remember our visit to Trinity College.  I could easily while away the hours in the long room of the library, soaking in the beauty of the centuries old wooden architecture and rich heritage of literature.  It even had the childhood dream of every library lover – wooden ladders to reach the higher book shelves.  Just being in there made me feel smarter.  If I stayed long enough, I might actually read something.

One other thing I remember. We walked.  A lot.  It was slowly dawning on me that I could be in for quite an adventure with this new friend of mine.  But we definitely achieved one goal.  I got some sleep that night!

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A Couple of Nuts

I have heard it said that going on an eight-day road trip with someone you met for the first time upon arrival could be classified as nutty.  But it’s not really as bad as you think.  You immediately have something in common with your new traveling companion, hopefully soon-to-become friend.  You are both nuts.

So it was with Joanna and me.  We met for the first time at the airport in Dublin, Ireland.  We found each other easily (thank you Facebook for pictures) and didn’t even need to use the smoke signals we worked out in case of an emergency.  The next hurdle was the rental car.

When you rent a car in the States, you get an estimate that includes their insurance bullying, I mean, quotes.  So, when you get the final price, it includes whichever insurance package you got threatened into buying.  Well, apparently that isn’t true for European rentals.  When I arrived at the desk, all smug and happy about my super good rental deal, I discovered that they were going to add another 300 EURO and there was NOTHING I could do about it, unless I provided proof of insurance coverage in Ireland.  Right.  Car insurance in Ireland.  I knew there was something I forgot when I left for the airport.  Sigh.

Well, we got the keys to our little car and headed out to find it, hoping not to accidentally step on it and squish it.  It’s a good thing that I decided only to bring my backpack and not my purse too.  However, in defense of micro cars, they are great when you need to use a pedestrian crosswalk to get back on the right side of a divided bridge.

We got all of our stuff loaded in the car and I broke out my pre-programmed GPS.  European addresses are a thing unto themselves.  When I bought the GPS, they told me that it would work for North America, Europe and the UK.  What they neglected to tell me is that half of the addresses in Europe and the UK don’t actually exist.  You have to resort to satellite coordinates and that requires dancing a jig while doing three somersaults and patting your head in a perfect circle to find the exact right format the GPS will accept.  But with great perseverance, a pound of chocolate, and a stiff drink, I got them all in.

Now we were at the moment of truth.   I was the designated driver for the trip.  This, by the way, was another point of immediate connection between Joanna and me.  I was nutty enough to attempt driving a manual car on the wrong side of the road, and she was nutty enough to get in the car with me.  We were off to a smashing start of camaraderie.  I handed the GPS directly to Joanna and asked if she would give me the directions so that I could concentrate solely on not killing us on the first day of our trip.  Eventually I did put the GPS on the windshield, but she always kept the Frommer’s map nearby.  Not sure if she actually liked using it, or if there was a sense of security in knowing exactly how lost we were.

We were off.

“Brakes are a little touchy, aren’t they?”  I observed.  “Yes, just a little,” came Joanna’s voice from somewhere under the dashboard.  I think they put semi-truck brakes in that little speck of a car.  My guess is that the manufacturer knew that American tourists would be driving it.  They were protecting us from ourselves.

Other than the incident at the bridge where I saved us through my lightning fast reflexes (leaving aside the fact that I got us on the wrong side of the bridge in the first place), we navigated Dublin with relatively little drama.  The look of panic faded from Joanna’s face after an hour or two and I have seen it last for three days in some cases.  So, I felt pretty good about that.

Our first place to stay was with some soon-to-be-new-friends who responded to a Facebook post where I asked if there was anyone in my network who would like to host a couple of wanderers for a day or two.  More nuttiness, I suppose, but now our circle of nuts had expanded and there was all kinds of camaraderie to go around.

Our new friends rented a house that had another row of houses between it and the road.  So, we had to drive down this little ally between the front houses – once we actually FOUND the ally – and then take a sharp 90% turn to the left.  It looked a little dicey, so I asked Joanna if she would kindly step to the back of the car and lift us around the corner.  She did it without breaking a sweat.   Once she had squeezed herself back into the passenger’s seat, I drove the remaining few meters and parked on the lawn next to someone else’s micro car.  Our new friend waved and smiled from the front window.

We had arrived.

(To be continued)

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