Ballyvaughan.3 – The Burren

Poulnabrone Portal Tomb ©2016 Janet Maher

Poulnabrone Portal Tomb ©2016 Janet Maher

It is going to be so very strange not to see magnificent rocks enmeshed with grasses and wildflowers around me upon return to the states. Time has done that tricky thing in that I feel as if this present will continue now forever. Having done a good bit of exploring and learning over the past three weeks, it may be possible to write a bit about this very special place.

Expert Gordan D’Arcy explained in a lecture how the phenomenon of the Burren was glacially created millions of years ago when all the earth’s land masses were connected. If we try, we can see how the edges of what became eastern North America had once separated from what became Ireland, which had separated from what became England, floating apart. No wonder the landscape and dry walls of the New England states come to mind so often here, and why so many Irish immigrants chose that area of America in which to place new roots.

Erratic ©2016 Janet Maher

Erratic ©2016 Janet Maher

According to D’Arcy Ireland was originally a jagged habitat with higher hills like China has. Changes from about one and one half million years after the end of the first Ice Age forward have resulted in what exists now. The borders of Ireland extended much further too, having been worn back to the cliffs, additional islands and jaggy shores of today. The Cliffs of Moher, for example, had extended about 100 meters further than they do now. What remains is the Burren limestone and granite that has not been washed and weathered away. Ireland had been covered by a shallow tropical sea, as evidenced by fossil imprints in the rocks. Marks in the stone were also created as other stones were dragged across while glaciers receded. Large granite boulders called erratics occur, sitting as if placed intentionally in various parts of the Burren. A fascinating occurrence appears in rocks from snails having eaten their calcium away. The rocks are peppered with regular-shaped circular crevices and sinuous trails.

Inis Oirr, Aran, Flowers ©2016 Janet Maher

Inis Oirr, Aran, Flowers ©2016 Janet Maher

Within the Burren, extending through Galway, are a vast array of plants that exist where they normally would not. Some came into Ireland with previous glacial activity from the north, leaving arctic seeds that thrive where the stone provides just enough shelter and alkaline surface for them to attach. Thin build-ups of acidic soil blown in from neighboring areas such as Tipperary fill in holes in the stone and provide a different environment that can likewise sustain plants. Neutral mixtures between the two support still other types. There are about 950 species of flora in Ireland, some of them rare. Seven hundred of them are found in the Burren. Thirty–two of the thirty-four species of butterflies are also found here.

Aillwee Cave ©2016 Janet Maher

Aillwee Cave ©2016 Janet Maher

All around is the physical evidence of ancient history, layers upon layers of time co-existing with the present. The 5200-5800 year old Poulnabrone Dolman is a tomb that held a royal dynasty of thirty-three people. The area has about 70 of these upright tombs from about 4,000 years ago when the Burren was heavily populated. Archeology work on the Caherconnell Stone Fort revealed evidence of human occupation from several different time periods, including a burial site from the early 6th/late 7th century. The Caherconnell Archaeological Project continues. The Aillwee Cave has been relatively dry for the last 10,000 years but its origin dates back two million. Created from what was once a river flowing above the floor upon which visitors walk, the current dampness and seepage of rainwater from above has been incrementally forming delicate stalactites over thousands of years.

In a small cave near Ennis a recent exciting discovery of bear remains containing evidence of human butchering has placed the existence of humans in Ireland 2,500 years father back in time than was thought–to at least 10,500 B.C. “That is 8,000 years before the Egyptian pyramids were built and 7,500 years earlier than the first Stonehenge monuments.”

That highly evolved Irish septs following Brehon Laws existed from pre-Christian times throughout the many centuries before England’s turbulent colonization calls for the need to study the Milesian clans in parallel with dynasties of much more publicized areas such as Egypt and Asia. The Meaghers were certainly among the notable septs from their original base as abbots at Monaincha and in their surroundings in the vicinity of Roscrea, Tipperary.

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

Ireland Images.4 – The Flaggy Shore

Flaggy Shore, video still ©2016 Janet Maher

Flaggy Shore, video still ©2016 Janet Maher

The Flaggy Shore, Burren, Co. Clare ©2016 Janet Maher

The Flaggy Shore, Burren, Co. Clare ©2016 Janet Maher

We went into the COLD water last night with a group of women who have been meeting here at the same times mornings and nights for four years. One brought a swimsuit for me. The most magic experience of this journey so far. We will go back tonight.

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

Ballyvaughan.2

Self Portrait, Kilkee, Co. Clare, Ireland ©2016 Janet Maher

Self Portrait, Kilkee, Co. Clare, Ireland ©2016 Janet Maher

Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only in a world of speculation…*

This Sunday my father might have become ninety-two, yet instead he has been gone forty-three years. I’ll never forget the series of days during which the rug of my life vanished from under me and everything changed. Somehow it seems fitting that I am in Ireland on his birthday, as I was for the first time on the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. Each deserved a special observance in the place they knew as theirs. As far as I know my father never came to the birth home of his great grandfather. It remains to be seen how I will mark this anniversary. Perhaps I will go to Mass at the Catholic church of Ballyvaughan.

When away from the studio flashbacks occur over and again bringing parallel places and times back to play in my mind, telling me things I would have preferred to have understood decades ago. I imagine my grandfather, James, in the stranger brought into the pub by a possible daughter who saw him walking outside. His eyes lit up when he looked at me a few barstools down as if suddenly recognizing me from long ago (or as if he was younger and I available?), but after returning his smile I politely looked away. It is only in writing this that I realize, my father might have looked like him now. He might have said “Hello!” just then.

At the ceili in Kilfenora the male dancers older than me, with their proper stances, are extremely graceful on their feet. One has been chosen as my partner to teach me to step lightly and swirl with him amid a group ritual that has been performed for centuries the same way. I marvel at a community that comes together once a week to dance—and generously allows tourists in to learn. How could there not be peace and good will in a place that constantly touches each other this way? We learned square-dance versions of these steps in gym class of high school and rolled our eyes. Too cool then to care about things that would eventually matter.

I am grateful for those who did all they could within their limited means to point the way, nonetheless, teaching me to fish, as it were. (The proverb works for all nationalities, even if I’m mixing metaphors!)

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…*

* T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets, I, II

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

Ballyvaughan.1

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On Fern Hill, Doolin ©2016 Janet Maher

On Fern Hill, Doolin ©2016 Janet Maher

That we can transport ourselves to an entirely other reality never ceases to amaze me. We literally drop all that seems so necessary and demanding to awake where it is possible to feel whole again. I am reminded repeatedly of childhood as I walk from place to place. The same flowers appear that I hardly ever see anymore but were among the first I had come to know—buttercups, clover, daisies, maidenhair and fiddlehead ferns—all in and amongst themselves through fields and the edges of roads, appearing in miniature throughout lawns. As this month’s landlord mowed his in a great circle around the upstairs bungalow in which I am staying even the sound made me think of my father. I flashed back to an afternoon when he was repeating this same ritual and I asked him not to mow the forget-me-nots. He assured me that they would indeed return, but did leave me a clump near the front fencepost so that all might feel right in my little world.

Along the walk to my studio and the soulful community of this college the sound of a gurgling brook leads me to notice something left as a marker to the spot where fresh water may be found. Again I recall my father bringing me to such a place outside the city where we could likewise capture cool, delicious water to bring home. There was no need for this extra effort when water was plentiful from our own kitchen tap, but the noting of the possibility, the sense of specialness in this extended moment, left an indelible marker in my mind.

As my father would likewise find “loam” in a secret spot somewhere, fill his trunk with it and spread it across the lawn of our humble home in what would become a desirable area of town, he was repeating the work of his ancestors. The raking of good soil over bad echoed centuries of nurturing the earth as he worked toward creating eventual beauty where there was once merely a building site and start-up house. Here in the Burren many different microclimates exist to produce a vast array of vegetation. Some soil is less than inches deep, yet seeds take hold and thrive. It seems that the intentional tending of soil, eeking out from her what Nature is willing to give while she simultaneously offers unexpected splendors in the entire surround, is meshed into the DNA of the Irish and their place on this planet.

Cliffs of Moher ©2016 Janet Maher

Cliffs of Moher ©2016 Janet Maher

All around me are reminders to garden, recycle, be active through walking and biking, with evidence of each every day. Groceries are taken home in recycled boxes, the groceries themselves reflective of health, organics and quality. Here we turn off the power switch after using an appliance in order to preserve electricity. It is from here that the phrase “no worries” must have been born. The words sound somehow wrong in America, false to me when I hear them said by people who do not usually speak that way. When I thank a couple for giving me directions at a turning point in the road here, however, the phrase rings authentic. A genuine friendliness and sense of calm exists. It may be that the environment of beauty and space generates an even keel in everyone. The midwest coast of Ireland seems like that of fairy tales (and I haven’t even been further north). There can be no coincidence that films about the magical past are made on location in such a place that actually exists.

The residue of the torturous past is here too. The “dead” houses, some with torn lace in windows, others with no windows, roofs or intact walls. Like the melting adobes of New Mexico, they dot the landscape as reminders of those who once lived there, causing me to wonder about their circumstances. As I still seek the story of my own ancestors’ leaving I wonder, what kinds of homes might they have left behind? Taxed per window, how many openings in their walls were they able to have? What was their view from within the midlands and the cities? My friends from Laois have alluded to a story regarding Viscount de Vesci in Abbeyleix and my great-great grandfather. Perhaps they were testing the waters of my willingness to eventually hear something that might disturb me. I await the fuller tale that lies hidden as so much else does behind the open land that was once so full, within the soil, rich with the blood of battle and sacrifice. Meanwhile, I venture out to explore it all and spend hours in the studio as calm as a baby in her mother’s arms.

Maher Family Farm Goat Cheese ©2016 Janet Maher

Maher Family Farm Goat Cheese ©2016 Janet Maher

John O’Donahue, whose writings initially led me to the rocky southwest coast of Ireland and now to his own homeland above it, knew how to describe what I see. “The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open. Immune to our strategies, it can take us when we least expect it…The animation of the Beautiful is so immediate and fulfilling that we simply enjoy it for itself; it never occurs to us to ask what purpose it serves. Our joy in the Beautiful is as native to us as our breath, a lyrical act where we surrender but to awaken.” (The Invisible Embrace of Beauty, pg. 8)

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

Ireland, 2016!

This year has been one of gratitude for so many experiences that have validated the path I have chosen in life. An artist residency at the Burren College of Art is about to occur, as much as I feel it is merely a dream. Over the last decade I have come to know Ireland as a deeper ancestral home than I ever could have imagined. It is the land of my parents through their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and thus my own great-great grandparents and theirs before them. Apart from my one Parisian great grandmother, I’ve learned that literally everyone else tied back to the midlands, south and west in the Old Sod – Tipperary, Laois, Kilkenny, Kerry, Cork, Limerick. No wonder I fell to pieces when the plane lifted to take me back to America after my first visit. It was as if I was being ripped away (as I also have felt arriving and leaving my American soul-home of New Mexico).

Over the past year I have been become familiar with sharing images to Instagram and, although with reticency at first, Facebook has become a “normal” way for me now to relax, find out about things going on in the big world, and weigh in with my own blips and shares. For this next month, however, I think I’ll be doing any sharing from this blog that has been so good to me since 2011. It is through MaherMatters that I found so many likeminded individuals, some of whom have become (if still virtual) friends. It is also through here that I discovered recent ancestral connections for my cousins, circuitously provided through a clue I tucked into my book, Waterbury Irish. Thank you to all who have subscribed and engaged here over all this time!

While I will be in Ireland to work, to produce with an end result in mind, I will also have the opportunity to visit with dear Irish friends made through many years of research. It remains to be seen what I will post here, but I am imagining a series of photographs that I take during the month. Most of what I will be doing in Ireland is truly for me as I treasure the enormous gift of solitary time with a plan in place (and room for serendipity), a studio in which to work, no routines, obligations or known people (as much as I love my loves and friends and wish for more “quality time” with them!) except those whom I encounter in relation to the Burren or otherwise seek out in this majestic place.

My first share must be this, as I anticipate what has been promised, Ireland’s soul merged with my own along the Wild Atlantic Way. Thanks be!

 

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair