2017 Ireland Trip

by Richard Grossinger on June 23, 2017

July 2-3, 2017

We set out from Portland, Maine, with a taxi from our house to the Concord Coach airport shuttle at the downtown train station, then the bus to Logan Airport in Boston. That took from 10:45 AM pick-up to 1:30 PM arrival, well before Aer Lingus even opened. There was a lot of waiting around Terminal 2 for our 5:50 flight. My previous travel journals have been in overly great detail. I will try to confine this one to highlights and fewer details, though I imagine even that will be overkill, but here goes.

 

I am always a fearful flier. For that reason, much of what happened for me on this trip till we landed in Dublin was colored by a mood that began over a month ago when I knew we were going to fly overseas. It increased to an overwhelming sense of gloom by the last days before. It seems that, every time right before I go on a plane trip, I suddenly run into random people who refuse to fly at all. When they elaborate on their reasons, I look at myself and wonder why I’m not with them. I guess it’s because I don’t want to be any more limited than I already am.

From the long lines at our boarding gate it seemed that there were far more people about to board than a plane could possibly hold. I worried about how heavy we would be. In fact, once we were on board and in our seats, I was stunned to see that the plane was relatively empty with as many empty as full seats. More than one optical illusion was operating here.

I didn’t remember choosing it when I made the reservation, but our row, 8, had a huge amount of open space in front of us because of the exit hatch, which made the time aboard considerably more comfortable and also engaged us with the intimate actions and repartee of the flight crew such that they became the cast of a play, all of which was reassuring.

Each side of the plane were two seats with most of the seating in the much longer center aisle, leaving us without a seatmate (usually it is three against the window). It also gave me a direct view of a giant Google Earth map on the wall, which alternated with changing lists and charts: time at point of origin, time at destination, plane speed, altitude, temperature outdoors (brrr!, way below zero F. or C.), distance to site of arrival, time of arrival, time till arrival (it varied within about eight minutes over the length of the flight), distance covered, distance left to arrival, etc. The overall distance was almost 3000 miles, the equivalent of NYC to SF, presumed at about five and a half hours with a tailwind.

A plane trip always starts out with a discouraging number of miles under our belt as we ascend, most of it still to go, about to be aloft for some five-plus hours. There is a gut disbelief that so much distance can be covered in a bearable time frame or that the downbeat mood will change. Of course, it does, very gradually, as one inhabits the seconds and space between the seconds with experience and perception—basic phenomenology. In my case, the flight is a stringently enforced “Be Here Now” regime, trying to make the present real and essential, not to keep counting and playing with the numbers: yea—1000 miles, at last the halfway point, etc. Yet it’s unavoidable, plus the numbers turn over, and they are the most defining aspect of the operative context. We are not in the plane for its own sake but because it’s the only way to explore a space-time continuum in a four-dimensional matrix.

I found the waiting in the terminal harder in some ways than the flight itself because in the plane at least we were moving through the murk of oppression. Lindy sat by the window this time, so I didn’t have the below view to distract me. But the general situation had its pluses: big heavy Airbus, meaning relatively little turbulence though not none; several-minutes-long distractions of friendly interactions with the flight crew and passengers (mostly kids our grandchildren’s ages waiting on line for the toilet in front of us), the dynamic map, food (which was edible this time because of another lapse I had while buying the ticket, as I selected gourmet meals unintentionally), my own melee of thoughts, my earnest but futile attempts to sleep.

These days when I start to doze on a plane, I feel myself plunging through space and awake with a start—every time. I experimented with this sensation as a hypnagogic meditation for a while. When not trying to sleep, I did Zen meditation, psychic guided visualization, conscious breathing, and a psychological exploration of old traumas under current stress exacerbating them, hence making them briefly more accessible. Difficult is opportunity.

I was pleased that we spent our initial hour and forty-five minutes over land, North America, our trajectory going from Boston across Maine to New Brunswick, ultimately to Newfoundland and Labrador where we began what the pilot picturesquely called “the ocean crossing.”

Hundreds of planes a day make ocean crossings without incident–three-quarters of the planet is water—and I hardly think about it. Nonetheless I was in the capsule this time, and it seemed, if not dangerous and foolhardy as such, an undertaking without fallbacks. The engines functioning is essential. The positioning of Greenland and, later, Iceland on the Google map were marginally reassuring, but we weren’t really that close to them—the projection onto two dimensions exaggerated both their size and proximity—nor were they that useful in the event of mechanical problems. The ocean is the ocean, and the crossing is the crossing, no amelioration: Christopher Columbus, the Vikings, etc. We were tacking east along the westward route of Brendan and the early Irish New World explorers. In Brendan’s world, huge metal “birds” carrying people and their luggage across the sky routinely everyday would have been like the manifestation of an archetype or myth to them, which in fact is precisely what it is.

When you go from the North American East Coast toward Europe at 600 miles per hour and 39,000+ feet, the sun sets but the same sun rises soon after, another anchoring detail in a sea of uncertainty. It’s the pure Euclidean geometry of gravitationally bound spherical objects.

I won’t trojuble you any longer with the tedium of the flight. At dawn we came down through the clouds onto Eire, circling modern Dublin, then arcing over the North Sea in approach, landing at 4:30 AM.

I tend to forget how jet lag and shift of context disorient the body and mind and impose instant trance and amnesia. In the space of a half hour we almost lost one suitcase, both cell phones, and my passport. Some of this was caused by a distraction, as we had a difficult time switching to roaming on the cell phones, a feature which we needed at once to text our home-exchange partner in Glasthule, suburban Dublin, who had to be alerted when the bus passed through Blackrock. When dialing produced nothing, I had to call AT&T’s foreign assistance number and talk while we were getting our bags and finding the commuter coach stop, which added to jet-lagged absent-mindedness, things like not zipping backpack pockets, etc. We did not escape unscathed, but I’ll get to that.

 

Light rain of the sort that is common in Ireland and quite magical, emerald in its effect, as if gentle droplets materialize from pure air.

Bus driver on the right of the bus, bus on the left of the road, everything moving fast in a surreal reversal like landscape-reversing prism goggles, to the not unpleasant musack of a melodious light rock station on the driver’s radio—we were seated up front behind him. He was pleasant and diffident; I’d cast a young Irish Clint Eastwood.

Longest tunnel I have ever been in. No idea where we were or were headed. Early early morning. Coastline with beaches, container cargo, seawalls, people jogging. Sleepy but finding the relocation delightful. The oldness and European-ness stood out, a difference that was exhilarating. This was not Trump’s mall America.

No divider separated July 2nd and July 3rd. We left on the 2nd, arrived on the 3rd, but it was still the same day. Forty-minute ride to our stop. Sharon, our exchange partner—she will be coming to Maine another year—picked us up from an old-fashioned bench by the stop where we were watching birds I will tell you about, and drove us around her neighborhood for a dizzying tour of shops, restaurants, train terminal, much of it slanted to her tastes so not necessarily applicable—we won’t go to pubs or fish & chips—and too fast to absorb more than disconnected details and how hard it will be once we try to navigate it on our own.

 

The birds of Ireland sounds like an Innocence Mission album. Those good-sized noisy blackish turkey-headed doves with white neck rings—I guess they are a species of pigeon—are fun to watch, not all that graceful for birds and making a cawing racket as they move from perch to perch like gulls, amusing in how and where they sit. I’ll have to find out what they are. Our host says they are pigeons and a nuisance, but they don’t look like any pigeons I have ever seen. They are too big and out of flock, more like land-based puffins.

 

Wild flowers in the pavement and empty lots and along walls. Rich pinks and yellows. Traces of emerald green.

 

The sound of Irish-accented English—the brogue in all its variations, pitches, lilts, and rasps from people of all ages and shapes—almost worth the trip. All road signs in Irish (Gaelic) and English both, which gives a Mesolithic or Middle Earth sense of things.  Overt friendliness and extension of personal boundary is the most striking difference here. They have not been completely recruited into modernity. Just about everyone who we asked for directions took the opportunity for anywhere from small discourse to minor Homeric tale. They inquired about us, where we were from, how long in Ireland, where we were going. We heard about trips to America, relatives in America, parts of Ireland we shouldn’t miss. It was very convivial and theatrical both, certainly entertaining and happy in global dark times. Ireland is rumored now to be getting pulled into the worst of modernity by its youth, but it is still the old country.

 

First major problem was discovering the iPod missing. I assumed it was lost on the flight because other things fell out of my carry-on pack (not my actual backpack) in the bin and had to be regathered from a zipper left open. In a very sleepy state and on either side of a brief nap, I spent an ungodly amount of time trying to call Aer Lingus. It was impossible. Every number, including the Aer Lingus help desk and Aer Lingus/Dublin lost & found, had a voicemail loop. First, it sent you to automated information, none of which was useful—the most relevant: if you left something on the plane, use the courtesy telephone in the terminal. We were no longer in the terminal. Asking for an operator by pressing O or 00 led to the same scratchy upbeat melody interrupted every twenty seconds by a too-pleasant voice apologizing for the delay and saying to remain on the line and my call would be answered shortly. Nada. I gradually came to regard it a ruse because every number led to same tape and no one ever answered my call, shortly or otherwise. Using the landline in the house, I stayed on one recording loop for almost an hour with no success.

I spent almost two hours never speaking to a person at Aer Lingus. While searching the internet for any way in, I learned that they were not the most admirable company, beset by scandals in Dublin. So much for idealizing shamrock planes.

All of this activity was mixed with naps and snacks from bread and clementines Sharon nicely provided so that I lost any sense of time or pattern of meals or the day itself merging into another day. There were plenty of other dilemmas once Lindy and I were left in the house alone. We had to find our U.S.-to-Ireland voltage conversion plugs and places to plug them in. The two we bought in the States were not enough to handle all we needed to recharge. Then a toilet wouldn’t flush—this turned out (but only after Sharon’s hasty return) not to be a plumbing problem but a knob that needed to be worked with the rhythmic cadence of a musical instrument to gain traction and pump. The lock was also challenging, requiring a slight pressure of the key simultaneous with a violent yank of a lever-knob, and the key, it turned out, had to go slightly to the right before a productive turn to the left. There was limited food available in the house, but we had limited mobility without a car. Our rental doesn’t begin till Friday because we don’t really need a car in Dublin and, more to the point, because we cannot exceed a rental period of four weeks, after which our contract would turn into a lease at three times the price, so we had to begin it on July 7.

The hardest thing, though, was getting the phone to work as a phone rather than just a texting device. This was after twenty minutes back at the airport getting the roaming started and learning how to avoid gargantuan roaming charges. Local calling is something you don’t think about in advance. I had to try to call Aer Lingus, and I initially attempted it on my phone. The texting from the bus had worked fine. But no combination of adding and eliminating country code, area code, US exit code, 0’s and 1’s and 01’s worked. Each led to three discouraging beeps and silence. I ended up in a forty-minute discussion with a smart and committed customer-service guy in the Philippines. He reasoned the matter through until it was fixed, which was quite a process since he didn’t know anything prior about US cell phones in Ireland. It turned out that we needed to dial 01 with the local area code and number—no exit code, no country code. It was counter-intuitive, and our faraway guy found it by painstaking trial and error. He had me change settings while also making adjustments on his end, and each of his had to be accompanied by half a dozen different dialing options on my end until we got it right and applied it to both phones. Consider this a traveller’s tip. That’s the only justification for such detail.

I won’t belabor the iPod/Aer Lingus situation. Classic iPods are not made any more (Pandora, streaming, and the like having sadly replaced music libraries), so I was furious at myself for losing mine and trying to figure out the next step. At a certain point I was planning how and when to go back to the airport because Aer Lingus just wouldn’t answer any line. It was an extreme solution I never would have thought to get to.

 

By the time Lindy and I took a walk to get groceries and another adapter, we were totally discouraged and wished we had never come. What misguided fantasy led us to leave the relative comfort of our lives for this tangle of dilemmas, the inability to do the merest things? The nearby convenience store and more distant supermarket offered the crappiest of cellophane-enclosed industrial food and corporate packaging, though with a few edible and organic items. Reason was, we were only technically in Dublin, more in remote suburbs with a kind of newish overlay from the requisite world of conveniences, not worth travelling to except for small nuances of a strange place.

I took a walk on my own to find where the train station was, getting it out of the way for later reference. After a number of quite long false trails, each time getting redirections from workmen or kids, I found the station itself, mastered the ticket machine, and walked back, slowly memorizing the way. Without false trails it was about fifteen minutes through interesting neighborhoods, including a lovely branch of the Anglican Church of Ireland.

In the evening, Lindy and I set out to take the train to Blackrock, a few stops back toward Dublin. That adventure marked a complete change in each of our moods and an abrupt upswing in the tenor of the trip.

As soon as we stepped out the door, a woman from TSA phoned on my cell, solving the iPod dilemma and ending the Aer Lingus boggle. Ten minutes earlier I had thought of TSA in Boston, the chaos created there by my opting out of what is rumored to be a DNA-uncoiling machine. Since my iPod was considered an electronic device, it was put in a bin. Between Lindy and me managing the traffic of carry-on packs through the radar and me being patted down while she got my stuff, we might have missed it.

In just ten minutes and with the help of my college friend in Boston, I learned that TSA had found my iPod, and would turn it over to him if I filled and signed out an authorization they would email at once. So much for looking down on the Transportation and Safety Agency. They were quick, present, polite, responsive—and productive.

From that stroke of luck we fell in with interesting people at the station, on the train, and in Blackrock, and had the sorts of incidental conversations that make a trip. They have a quirky quality of their own and are the reason for travelling at all. There is a tendency to forget we are social creatures like dogs and other primates and that interaction of foreign bands has been part of our identity, knowledge, and context since before the Stone Age. It’s not any one thing that people say—it’s the unexpected use of a word here and there or an unlikely view of reality.

 

This is meant to be a shorter travel journal, but if I make it too sparse, I end up saying nothing of interest or use to me or you. My own aesthetic…. I could write poems, or a series of disjunctive observations, but that’s not what I am drawn to while travelling.

What stands out to me are the small things like conversations, many of them soon forgotten. Travel is not an idyllic, romantic transposition to a cheerful, exotic reality. It is the act of discerning little by little a world, though universally human, of small discrepancies of speech, rhythm, styling, landscaping, cultural integrity, bodily and mental use of time and space. It is not only observing but melding into it and having to encounter its imbroglios. If you travel as part of a group tour—a more common method for people our age and something Lindy has suggested at times—you are still in America, buffered. She notes this, how all our difficulties got in the way of her image and now they seem part of the interest. She forgot the game and was super unhappy, wishing we had never come, but that because she was expecting to be entertained and made comfortable. It isn’t about entertainment and happiness in that sense. It’s about trying to be elsewhere as yourself, experiencing who you are in the terms of a different placement. It is pleasurable but in smaller ways, and only when you slow down, occupy those seconds (and the space between them), and try to reset your metabolism and lifestyle to a slightly altered version of planetary habitation. Ireland’s not a big difference like the outback or jungle; it’s slight and tied to social and cultural habits and loyalties. You realize how dependent you are on mechanical things working: locks turning without force that could break your only key, toilets flushing when asked to (especially on first use), edible foods being where you can get at them, phones tamely cooing and delivering parties summoned from wherever. But these are all miracles, though we take them for granted. When they don’t happen, there is a tendency to get flustered, frustrated, angry, and want out. I can remember on other trips hitting this point and it turned out to be the second and real beginning of the trip.

 

Teen boys on the train and walking along the street engage in wild rough-housing “like Roddy Doyle characters,” Lindy says, “or maybe Roddy Doyle just got it right.” On the DART train from Glennageary to Blackrock, they wrestled from their seats onto the floor and rolled around, making a terrific and intimidating racket. Again on the street—other rambunctious boys.

 

Droplets of dew crystallizing out of the air but no fog—rain. The lightest and least intrusive of rains. The antics of those white neck-ringed birds again, on poles and phone lines. I will try to confirm their identity.

 

The sweetness and friendliness of strangers persisted in Blackrock. A young woman named Orla was the only clerk or authority in the Organic Supermarket that led us to pick this town as our destination (first recommended by the checkout clerk at the supermarket by our house when we presented our sparse cullings of organic food to his station—“if you want a place where it’s all organic….”). Orla looked like a combination gentle punk and street ragamuffin with a heavier brogue than anyone encountered thus far, but she was kind and empathic too, in fact more so, making us lists of places to go that were not city-like around Dublin, enthusing with passion and heart about them, such that they overrode any cynicism in her colored hair, combat clothing, and toughish attitude. She had a kind of innate enthusiasm for the beauty of her rural Ireland—that is, once Dublin stopped, and it did on a dime, she explained. It was akin to patriotism of a lost era in the States. When I returned for some drinks to go with dinner, she expressed a desire to be a performance artist, so I told her about our daughter Miranda.

After exploring Prague-like lanes that kept winding deeper into stranger, more colorful and idiosyncratic-looking shops, art projects more than shops, but not finding the fancy restaurant Orla extolled, we settled on her second choice, a Vietnamese place called Diep with stools, no tables, young guys in charge up front, and a whole bunch of cooks plus at least one older Vietnamese man visible in the back—fairly good pad thai and spring rolls, and lots of intentionally goofy attention from the guys in front.

 

Train ride back. Late darkness this far north, thank goodness for the Gulf current and apprehension for its future with Greenland and the Arctic melting. A bit of glow in the sky still at eleven.

 

July 4, 2017

I will not write much into today, as I would like to send my first posting. Our four full days in the Dublin area—three after a jet-lagged trance day—started with a commercial walking tour on O’Connell Street. When I purchased a slot online from the US, I discovered that, as writers (something I incidentally mentioned in a chatty email exchange with the company), we were comped—we got to go for free. Only in Joyce’s Ireland!

Getting to the tour was its own adventure because it started with a long walk to our host’s office where there was a working scanner and printer. That allowed me to get the authorization form for my friend picking up my iPod to TSA. Getting to the office, about twenty blocks straight downhill toward the sea followed by a jog left, involved the sort of initial misapprehension one has when drawing wrong geographical conclusions about an unknown place. We actually tried the direct opposite direction first from strong conviction, then a road 90 degrees counterclockwise, then one 180 degrees from the initial impulse in order to be on the correct track. I had mapquested it, but it made no difference because my internal map was inverted. Stopping to ask people on each occasion got us redirected with two men’s rather colorful description and repartee of Dunleary (Dun Laoghaire), the village to which we were headed on foot. The previous day Dunleary was mentioned often, but we didn’t know where or what it was, hence confused it with the direction in which we were headed (though it was opposite).

Going to a normal office in a very old building was another tourism plus. Then we set out another opposite trajectory before getting redirected to the Sandycove DART station (we had used Glenageary the night before). It put us one whole station closer to Dublin but still twelve stations away. Great viewing the entry to Dublin—harbor, quays, warehouses, bridges, stonework, canals, density; best graffito: No Fracking Ireland.

We thought we left more than enough time, but that wasn’t true. The so-called short walk from the Connelly Station to 59 O’Connell Street, which we had been told was a few blocks, was a half mile. We arrived with only ten minutes margin and, after discovering the length before us, had to hail a cab immediately. The driver promised to get us there “five minutes early!” and almost did. He needed to zoom up a long one-way street and down another, during which he all but sang us a Happy AMerican Fourth of July and then went into rapture when learning of Lindy’s birthday being today. He wanted to know what I had bought her. “Nothing,” she said. “This trip,” I said. “Ireland,” he said, “beautiful Ireland, the best present of all.” An older man, central-casting rotund, like an unshaven character out of Sean O’Casey, he kept up a boozy soliloquy, barely interrupted by us, in which he sang us there.

 

After today’s two-hour exhaustive tour of tourist Dublin, I have been thinking about the texts and subtexts of tours. Aine—put an Irish twang accent over the “A”—was a bright seasoned, older guidewoman with experience at the National Museum, and she piloted an engaging tour. Yet the flood of historical facts and pure information were overwhelming and ultimately brain short-circuiting, especially regarding sites and events of the 1916 uprising against England, culminating with all of the men leading it (with streets and buildings named after them and statues in the streets and in front of buildings) being shot by a British firing squad.

The genre of “city tour” is inescapable. What else are you going to do while leading a horde of strangers and hitting all the must-see buildings, districts, bridges, telling pat provocative stories (especially regarding the exclusion of women in earlier historical times, etc.)? It’s what the customers are paying for. Yet you can’t take it in or anchor it. It becomes tedious. I envied the youngest member of our group who, at six, decided that large collections of pigeons were much more interesting, and she followed the birds and danced across floors on which we were being shown mosaics, teasingly blocking the view.

On the other hand, certain things stood out which, if Aine hadn’t called attention to them, would have been lost on me: the exquisite greens and pinks of the marble on the floor of—was in the Parliament Building or City Hall or the Lord Mayor’s castle, I hardly remember?—the gradually smaller windows on upper stories at Trinity College indicating Georgian architecture, the figure of justice with her scales balanced on a roof-top (spare and sharp and with holes in the scales to keep the rain from unbalancing them as it used), the gilded symbol of Yahweh on the ceiling of the church turned into a pub (organ still there above the whiskey collection too), a giant version of the Da Vinci Last Supper with local people of varying ethnicity, gender, and age substituted for the apostles, and so on.

I will get back to this journal tomorrow.

 

In retrospect, I’m not sure how much of Dublin I saw. I saw numerous historical buildings and monuments, heard their vital statistics, and walked in constant crowds of varying density because there were so many walking tours and tourists covering the same general territory, speaking many, mostly Indo-European language groups. I tried to consciously broaden my perspective to relocate myself in Dublin as an actual unknown parish. That meant breaking my attentiveness to the tour and Aine’s voice and looking around at what else was present: single shops (locksmiths, bookstores, watch emporiums, jewelers, gold merchants, wool from the islands), knobs and knockers, designer furniture, souvenirs and curios. I sought throwback lettering and medallions on buildings (angels, Gaelic and Latin regarding healing above pharmacies, shelter for the indigent above hotels). I noticed myself smelling incense, restaurant cooking, street urine, serious liquor, and a rich fifties aroma exuding from newspaper and candy stores. I occasionally dropped into the John Cage music of the din. I don’t pretend that it was workaday Dublin, but at least it wasn’t the canned tour narrative.

The formal foci of our walkabout were historical, political, commercial, and pop sites (for instance, Aine pointing to where we might run into Bono, Bob Geldof, or Van Morrison, where they owned property along the River Liffey, and where they were lionized on walls of Dane Street. Another hip star, premier Justin Trudeau of Canada, happened to be in town, visiting his Irish counterparts, so we were told, tongue in cheek too, where we might spot him. Historic taverns, bars, and pubs were emphasized, as we passed through an Italian quarter, the renowned Temple Bar (now a pricey tourist trap), and along Dane Street. We briefly learned the careers of moguls who once owned each district and how their names and businesses were represented in the incarnations since. We were told that much of Dublin was old landfill.

One peripheral event that stood out for me were the vibrant, hard-playing buskers mainly on electric guitars along Henry Street (and later Grafton once Lindy and I walked on our own), the O’Connell shaking bridge over the Liffey with a view down-river in either direction, the interior quality of the Dublin Castle courtyard (now apartments), and the bright and unexpected colors: the flaming towers and background indigo-blue of the Dublin city seal painted and embossed on lamp-posts, stone steps, concrete, etc.; the bright flashing light bulbs of a modern ice-cream parlor with an exhaustive range of colors represented; the afore-mentioned polished marbles; the Irish flag (I didn’t know till Aine that the central white of reconciliation joins Catholic green and Protestant orange), a rainbow plethora of balloons, yarns, and costumes with occasional rushes of locals or tourists dressed as leprechauns or Vikings, the latter in a shipmobile howling indulgently and shouting obscenities and battle cries.

I assimilated the distinctive tempo and yaw mostly subliminally. The sheer fact and experience of being in Ireland overrode every overt specification, every explicit detail, which is true of anywhere. In that regard, the fact that people back in the States were still asleep or awaking in present time while we were deep into the day and the tour added a sci-fi frame of space-time relativity.

It was not a matter of over-intellectually “thinking” Dublin as opposed to “looking at” Dublin or “being in” Dublin. It was more an ongoing unconscious read of the vibration, a psychic attunement to one’s own interior changes in a different environment, hence a legitimate incarnational shift. It imbued all the senses and the psyche with a reality that could neither be pre-imagined nor categorized, so I can’t get at it in this journal—my report is drab by comparison. My sleep and dreams and sense of my existence upon waking changed in just a couple of days, and that spoke more integrally to the travel ceremony.

There is also a deeper sense of history in Europe, which creates, at least for me, a feeling of timelessness in time—a kinship with earlier (and perhaps future) inhabitants of these sites. I don’t know whether the flow is psychic qua transmigratory, our DNA genome with a single source, or the collective clan memory of haplogroups fissioning out of Africa and breeding with Neanderthals in the north. In that sense, it is near impossible to distinguish imagination incited by novels, movies, history classes, and archaeological projections from actual Akashic deposits in one’s individual aura and the terrestrial noosphere. But I felt personally connected to the past here, not in the sense that I might have been a person here in another identity but in the sense that it didn’t matter, karmically, whether I was or wasn’t; I couldn’t be separated from the greater human cultural and biological spore that has arisen on the Earth.

The tour ended at Trinity College from where Aine directed Lindy and me to nearby Cornucopia Restaurant: College Street to thoroughfare Grafton to sidestreet Wicklow. I pass on the recommendation. Folks lined up in an automat-like vegetarian cafeteria to be fed large portions from steaming rectangular metal receptacles. I got aubergine in tahini sauce over bulgar. Two salads—everyone chose, fruit or vegetable—came with the main dish. Down the row was a large assortment of organic drinks and plenty of healthy desserts with an emphasis on chocolate, banana, and coconut and added ice cream or yogurt. Though Cornucopia was packed, the line moved fast and we got a table.

Afterwards we hiked in the throngs down Grafton Street to St. Stephens Green, a small park founded (as per the signage) in 1663. After walking partway in, we rested on a bench before a large pond, seated next to a wasted older woman vaping with the devotion of someone in an opium den. We watched a continual commotion involving pigeons, gulls, ducks, dogs, little children, teenagers, and the mixy hoi polloi. Every time someone fed the birds, fowl chaos resulted, as the gulls turned into their vicious, take-no-prisoners species selves, attacking each other, screeching as if heaven were falling, and stealing from each other’s mouths. Meanwhile kids and teens continually tried to push each other into the water. I imagined the view of the few tiny sparrows—even the pigeons must have looked gigantic to them, and where did so many wolves and clad apes, not native to these parts, come from?

I led my reluctant wife back to Henry Street, a totally uninspiring mercantile thoroughfare and shopping mall, because I wanted to hear the musicians playing there. During the tour they were magnetic enough for me to stop and take in the sound orbits, as we were rushed along toward that bar that was once a church. Compelling sounds ranged from hard rock to traditional Celtic and occasionally overlapped in sound gusts. These weren’t mediocre panhandlers with instruments; they played a high-level set of concerts verging on admission fees. For whatever reason they were all gone.

We stopped at a Catholic Church—St. Teresa?—I can’t remember. We simply sat in a pew and absorbed the space and relative silence in the midst of pandemonium outside on the street. The stained glass, the candles, the vortex between worlds…. That’s what these buildings are. It finally comes down to material reality not being as vast as true reality, so you stop and acknowledge it. I have always felt comfortable in that space and silence, more so in churches than synagogues because I have no ethic baggage to throw  off—and after all Christ was Jewish, a fact so obvious that overlooking or subverting it is a key to ideological Christianity. Lindy does churches well because they are in her background—her faith begins there—and she has no negative feelings about politicization and indoctrination, as I do about Judaism.

From Henry, we undertook the long hike back to the DART at Connelly Station. En route there, Lindy stopped to buy an Irish Times at a newsstand and ended up in an extended exchange of blarney, like a chorus of chant and repeat, with the proprietor and another customer. She quickly learned her straight-guy part and enjoyed playing along. It was ended by the proprietor saying he would teach her one word of Irish. He said, “Slán agat,” and asked her to repeat it.  After she did, he told her, “It means goodbye,” and he spoke it again and waved.

On the train we unwound through the city, along the coast, back to Glenageary, stop by stop. The view was mesmerizing. From there we tried to return to the house by a creative route but encountered multiple cul-de-sacs, making the journey three times its regular length, a setback for tired tourists already gone eight hours. Bad idea, but it’s what one does in strange places—take spontaneous vacations from habitual action.

 

July 5, 2017

Lindy wanted to work on the computer, mainly writing, in the morning, so I set out on my own to explore some of the key words on Orla’s scrawled list: Killiney Hill, Dalkey, Sandycove (the James Joyce tower), and Greystones. According to our host’s house notes, these were all (except for Greystones, at DART distance) in walking distance of her place.

I forgot to mention that we are on the side of Glenageary Road that has house names rather than numbers, an odd local phenomenon that baffled me from afar, as I tried to get her address from her. Amidst mostly ornate Irish names, our dwelling is called Martinez. Next door joined in a Siamese-twin duplex is Radharc na Mara. On the other side of it is Gort na Mona. The next ones in the other direction, a good four hundred feet away, are: Rowan Rock and Tinoran.  We derive our in-lieu number from across the street; our address is literally Martinez facing 142 Glenageary Road Upper.

Once again, I made a wrong assumption about direction and was walking the opposite way from Killiney. But I was using the cell phone’s map guidance for the first time and visibly departing from its blue path, so I turned around. After initially having crossed the nearby rotary at the juncture of Upper and Lower Glenageary Roads (where we enacted our Dun Laoghaire muddle the day before) and then having to come back across, each way a street at a time, I encountered the serious pedestrian danger of drivers operating on the left side of the road and the right side of their cars. When they come around a corner from your left, they are in your blind spot and you instinctively don’t cover it because you are not used to vehicles at that angle. But you have to. People drive very fast and many are on cell phones or texting.

Once I got going the right way, it was about two miles to Kiliney Park. I decided to at least scout the route and give Lindy some time. I reached the end of Glenageary at Killiney Road after a bit more than a half mile. I turned up it right another half mile to the next right, Killiney Park Road. I decided, why not go all the way, I could be there in a half hour total? I walked up the road, past the giant Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel (which has a big online presence if you check out Killiney Hill). Where the road diverged into a path up to the left and a continued street downhill, I queried the driver of a stopped bus, the first I saw (all along the walk I was considering a ride if one passed). I learned that he was the only driver on the route, circled once an hour, and you needed a prepaid card or exact change to board. He got off his cell phone to answer my questions and called me “mate” every phrase or sentence. On request, he confirmed the path up Killiney Hill, “That way, mate.”

It wasn’t steep by Acadia Park standards, and I got to a quick view over the sea. The top was marked by a centuries-old obelisk. For the last sector I chatted with a woman named Susan who was walking a dog. She declared herself a retired occupational therapist, now an oil painter and poet, and she gave me thorough information on all the places on my list to allow me to make an itinerary for the rest of our stay here. She had stories about prior American tourists, one trying to photograph the mist from Killiney top just to put something on her cell phone and a guy who told her he had read Ulysses twice in preparation for Dublin. She asked how long he was staying, and he answered, “One day.”

When we reached the summit with its spire, she explained that the white density reducing the view to nil was morning sea mists and would soon be gone. “With luck, you can see the mountains of Wales, as I did yesterday.” Within minutes of my sitting on a rock as she proceeded toward Dalkey Hill, the mists cleared, not all the way to Wales but substantially, revealing the village below and towns along the coast toward and away from Dublin. DART trains winding on their tracks at Lionel scale gave off a bell, then a sound like crashing surf. They looked vulnerable and cute down there, a different ambiance from their hefty, wheezing presentation up close.

The hilltop was crowded with dogwalkers, joggers, etc., but no apparent other tourists that early in the day. I stayed on the rock for about twenty minutes watching the mist continue to dissolve, until the sea and surf appeared along with Dalkey Island and other towns. It had that fairy skrying-pool sense common to Iceland also, and I sat in its spell.

I started to head back to Killiney Hill Road to report to Lindy, but there were several paths off the top, and I had been talking to Susan, so had not observed the way I came. I tried a trail which was soon alien, much too wooded. I came back and asked a middle-aged male dogwalker the way back to Killiney Hill Road. Unfortunately I slipped unawares into a Clancy Brothers lyric, calling it Kilkenny Hill Road. He gave me a serious deadpan look and said, “There’s no way from here to Kilkenny Hill Road. Sorry.”

Silence and a questioning look from me.

I was starting to say something when he added, “I can direct you to Killiney Hill Road.” I smiled sheephishly.

He had a better route than the one I had come on, for I had gone the long way based on my cell presuming I was a car. The better path was straight down toward Dalkey Village. I emerged from the woods at a playground with old-fashioned wooden climbing objects—a whirling knight, a horse-drawn wagon, a plank-like seesaw—plus giant wide flat baskets for swings (capable of holding four and five children at a time) plus dangling platforms on which kids floated suspended by wires from a line like levitators.

En route back to Martinez on street, near everyone I passed greeted me, and I said hello back. When I greeted first, I got back, “Lovely day,” said so fast and in different melodies so that the person was usually past me before I grokked the words.

 

After lunch Lindy and I set out together. We re-traced my second route, turning toward Dalkey Road rather than up Killiney Hill Road, and hangingout in the playground where we watched children play on the wonderful artifacts. Lindy remarked that America has become too liability-conscious to permit such a creative playground with so much wood.

Ireland is a land of red-haired cherubs and banshees of all ages, doll faces and pixie energy in children and teens. Here we watched children tearing about; on the DART at other times we saw gaggles of teen girls, whispering and giggling in Gaelic (a required school language here), apparently so that fellow riders wouldn’t eavesdrop. The boys tussled elsewhere in the car.

There was thick sea mist at 2:30 PM, more than in the morning, and I lamented aloud that Lindy could see little. Even as I spoke consolingly, the alembic cleared, magically bit by bit; we could see surf, then islands, then towns. They came into view invisibly, were suddenly there, until we could view the outskirts of Dublin itself.

Younger children chased on the rocks. Older kids stood rapping at the sea from a high rocky peak, a loudspeaker brought to accompany them.

We circled the obelisk and met its keeper, an old man with an accent so heavy we could barely understand him. He confirmed that the mysterious birds were a breed of dove or pigeon. The like-sized black-and-white ones ubiquitous on the hill, he said, were magpies, “no different than crows. They act the same way and are just as aggressive.” There were plenty of crows mingling with the magpies, and he was right about their behavior, though the black-and-white plumage made them more charming.

 

At the end of the playground Lindy and I debated whether the James Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove was within walking distance and, if so, by which of the three directions and streets available. We decided to ask a passer-by. Like many others he engaged in a long conversation about his years in the States as a businessman. He told us that the tower was in Sandycove past Dun Laoghaire, probably too far for us to walk. He put real thought into it, then advised continuing down the hill to Dalkey Village and taking the DART back three stops to Dun Laoghaire—we had come that far—walking from there to the tower. We took him up on it.

We exited the DART not far from where we had gone to Sharon’s office the day before and asked an old Joycean-looking guy with a cane where the Joyce tower was. We knew it was down the coast, but which way and how far? After pointing, he startled us with “a mile or two.” We had expected a few blocks. “If you get lost, ask for forty-four.”

I didn’t understand, so repeated it back.

He shook his head and we repeated the exchange, lost in translation.

Finally he pointed to his foot: “Forty-foot.”

We didn’t know what he meant, but there was no choice: either look for a cab or walk. We never saw a cab.

The jaunt was basically pleasant, as we took many breaks. There was a lot to look at and sniff: heavy seaweed brine, smoke, kids on rocks, dogs chasing in wild circles, poetry written on quays and seawalls, European Union projects explained by signs, a gigantic metal statue of a sea-urchin shell, teen-age boys teasing each other about girls as they romped, raced, and pushed on rocks around us and bumping into us, groups of corresponding animated girls with the usual complement of Irish types, probably not that different from before the English came. It took the better part of an hour before we arrived at the round stone building near 4:30, by then concerned it might be closed or closing.

We walked in the door into a crowded anteroom. Admission was free and visitors were signing a guestbook. No worry about closing. Suddenly a somewhat familiar figure popped out and said directly to me, “Is this the second time I encounter you today? I believe I saw you atop Killiney Hill, looking for a way down with an impression you were on Kilkenny.” It was the same guy, and he was wearing a placard now declaring that he was the director and docent of this little museum.

“I stumbled into a Clancy Brothers lyric,” I told him, “but how unlikely we meet again so soon.”

“A synchronicity that would have pleased Joyce,” he declared. “Would you like a tour? Say no if you don’t want one. I won’t be offended.”

Of course, we wanted a tour. So did a cinematic young couple that entered behind us. We four were the initial complement to whom he began a most prolix and theatrical introduction to the museum, mixed in with questions, riddles, and jokes directed at us. It was simultaneously a segue into a sort of Joycean diction and a parody of someone lapsing unintentionally into a spoof of Ulysses. In the process he determined that the couple was a guy from Belgium and a woman from Venezuela; they looked and were dressed like fashion models.

James, our self-appointed guide, posed unanswerable questions about Joyce and the tower, declaring that we were representing our respective nations in a game of intelligence. He also declared that his own name “James” put him halfway to genius.

No one guessed anything.

This performance lasted a full hour, as James loved an audience and the role in which he had cast himself, sort of like a pirate in costume on a pirate ship, only the ship was Ulysses. He stayed in character through three floors of a winding tower, and we learned a great deal, though relatively little about Joyce.

The majority of the narrative involved the construction of Martello towers like this one in the early 1800s along the Irish coast, meant to deter or fend off Napoleon, who sought a definitive confrontation with the British and saw Dublin as the ideal back door, given that the Irish were disaffected with foreign rule. The British fortified the coast with Martellos, based on and named after the original, ironically on Corsica, Napoleon’s birthplace, where they found it ingeniously difficult to attack.

We learned about the details of canon-preparation, the firing of canon balls, the defenses against an assault (rifles and scalding oil), the ways the men lived in the building, etc. All of these were repeated in variations as we ascended the coil and as more people joined our informal tour until we had about a dozen.

The Joycean elements were the more interesting. The second floor was a reconstruction of Joyce’s last of six nights there after he was invited to stay indefinitely by a local poet and wit, Oliver St John Gogarty, who had become the tenant of the tower after it was decommissioned. Gogarty already had another guest, an English lover of things Irish named Samuel Chenevix Trench. Trench elected to speak in Gaelic and could not be understood by his Irish friends, for it was not yet a required school subject. Joyce was twenty-two, recently back from medical studies on the Continent, beginning his career as a writer. He had just published a broadside poem entitled “The Holy Office,” mocking Gogarty and other Irish writers as ignorant snobs, so there was tension from the get-go. On the fateful sixth night, a story James told as he turned out the lights and stood in the center of the display, a sleeping Trench woke from a nightmare and thought he saw a black panther emerging from the fireplace. He grabbed his gun and shot at the beast. Then Gogarty took the pistol from him and, calling out, “Leave him to me!” shot down the saucepans from their shelf about Joyce’s bed. Joyce took it as disguised reprisal for the broadside and left in the morning, never to return.

It was all there: the pans, Gogarty’s cot, the table with its bottles and glasses from an evening of talk, the panther too, plus accoutrements of 1904, the year of these events.

Joyce did not begin writing Ulysses for another decade, and he was in Paris at the same, but its opening scene was set in the tower and loosely replicated some his sojourn there at a fictional breakfast.

James knew parts of the chapter by heart, as he recited sentences. “Stately plump Buck Mulligan” was Gogarty. Haines was Trench. Joyce was Stephen Dedalus. The whole point of the tower as a museum was not Joyce at large but Ulysses and its opening chapter where it met the tower.

James proceeded to tell many more stories, some about Joyce; for instance, the early publication of Ulysses in France and the US (the latter delayed by censorship); the arrogance of Joyce to think that the city of Dublin, if destroyed, could be reconstructed from his text; the role of Samuel Beckett as secretarial aid for the writing of Finnegan’s Wake and as a prospective spouse for one of Joyce’s daughters, apparently a bluff on Beckett’s part to get to be around master. More of the stories were about the history of the swimming spot below (Forty-Foot Beach—aha!), how his own feminist older sister liberated it from exclusively naked male bathing with a group of her friends, the architecture of the adjacent building mirroring and honoring the tower, and another Martello visible down the coast.

James clearly adored Joyce and the sense of language, local geography, and Irishness that he embodied in his work. After we descended the tower, I asked him about his own career; it was mainly as a business executive for American pharmaceutical companies in Holland. Retired, he had returned to his native village.

I had given him my card at the outset and he asked me about my work. I joked that I was anti-Joycean, but that that made Joyce relevant to me because you can’t be “anti”-something without being engaged in it. He asked how. I tried, “What’s interior in Joyce is exterior for me, and what’s exterior for Joyce is interior for me. But we’re both experimentalists, if you will allow.” Then I briefly tried to explain William Carlos William, Charles Olson, Ed Dorn, and Black Mountain.

“I think of Hemingway as the anti-Joyce,” he countered, ignoring much of what I said. “If twenty words will do, Joyce wrote a hundred and Hemingway three.”

“That’s along a different parameter, and I’m more with Joyce there.”
“How about Beckett? Wasn’t he an anti-Joyce too? I feel that

he was reacting against Joyce,”

“I think that he and Joyce had a similar reference point and ground, but they went different places with it.”

“What do you mean?” Lindy asked as I recounted the conversation during the long walk back to the station.

“Nihilistic surrealism, I guess.”

My closing words to James were: “Till the third time.”

He said, “Till the third, good sir.”

Following Lindy’s and my exit at Glenageary, we made a point of no detours this time. Lindy had walked eight miles by then, me twelve. Great not having a car!

 

July 6, 2017

I am aware that I have gotten into a level of detail that I said I wouldn’t. Even so, I am omitting a lot. We’ll see now it goes….

The deepest effect, the biggest impact of Ireland remains unconscious: deep sleep every night without waking for eight, nine hours—much deeper sleep than I have had for years—a whole different range of dreams, a shift in waking consciousness too having nothing explicitly to do with extant Ireland, more a new tier of tracking, a shift in phenomenology, a surge of deep images, a reduction in malaises, both physical and emotional. But it’s not purely upbeat and benign because, in the inescapable yin-yang cycle, the next thresholds and challenges replace as they morph out of the resolution of the last ones. I am not meaning to valorize or inflate Ireland, more speak of a shift in vibration corresponding to my own changing frequency.

 

This morning I decided to check out the vocal artist with the most CDs in this house, half the collection: Cliff Richard. I loved his stuff. Like Reggae John Holt (another favorite of mine), he has been a pop superstar in England, pretty much unknown in the US. Richard is poignantly post-Elvis, pre-Beatles, with the sound of both, and still going. He is like rediscovering an alternative fifties and early sixties with songs that were never released. I don’t have an iPod right now, as you know, but I put pretty much three out of every four Cliff Richard bands in my iTunes file. It was like finding a Rodriguez who was never really lost.

Retraction: this only applies to the Elvis and Beatles years. Once you hit the disco era, Richard is still singing, but it’s Saturday Night Fever shlock and totally uninteresting to me. After I put 75% of the early stuff on my computer (especially Forty Golden Greats), I put a perfect zero from the later CDs. They were a disastrous shift from effortless rock greatness to overproduced efforted rock mediocrity. Tom Petty, I think, would agree.

 

Today we took the DART back into central Dublin in order to visit the National  Archaeology Museum of Ireland. We picked out this one as our single-day limit. There is a temptation to try to pack in tourist sites like collectors of experience, but that becomes a hollow exercise, a mere affect of accumulation in a capitalism-defined meaning set. I say this not to be holier-than-thou but to confess my own tendency to think that if we are not logging the key venues during our stay, we are squandering the trip and the effort and expense that went into it. Another Be Here Now warning sign that should be posted on the DART and along tourist trajectories.

The museums are free. The best part of that State generosity is that it allows you to be there on the terms of the event and removes any sense that you have to get your money’s worth. You have no fiscal investment. Even if you did, it shouldn’t be any more compelling than having to max out venues—after all, a museum is a minor expense—but it plays at some level, at least for me. “Free” allows more freedom, an open-ended context and mood while viewing.

On the other hand, “free” means a mob scene: teen tours from Italy, Spain, and Portugal (my guess of nationalities from the chatter of the kids) abducted the space. It wouldn’t have been so oppressive if they had at least been involved in the exhibits. Almost to a one, they weren’t. They were engaged with each other, involved in dramas, pranks, and raucous routines. They weren’t even looking. You got the feeling that if a quasi-educational pretext hadn’t justified an expensive excursion, they could have carried out everything of importance to them in a schoolyard back home. They were unbelievably shrill and rambunctious. Collectively they flipped the museum into themselves being the most dominant exhibit. How could hand axes, gold bracelets, gold dress clamps, and old textiles, even carefully produced gold leaf, in their glassed silence, break through the commotion?

The DART ride there and walk through the streets was a significant part of the event. One is trying to see and track the mundane reality around which the tourist hoopla is wrapped. I found myself looking for where actual people lived and moved—as straightforward as that. The scan changed what I observed through the five or six stops leading across the canal and boat basin into central Dublin.

The most compelling exhibit was that of the intact bodies discovered in peat bogs, pulled up by cranes during drainage-ditch expansion. Initially thought to be recent murder victims, perhaps targets of Catholic or Protestant paramilitaries (who had been known to dump victims in bogs), they shifted from criminology to archaeology. Not only had the statute of limitations run out but their entire culture and its rules no longer existed.

The Clonycavan Man had been murdered and disemboweled, his skull split, his chest smacked repeatedly with a blunt object, sometime during the Fourth Century B.C. The body in its case was haunting. There were still eyes and a facial expression, though probably not his. He still had his hair, and it was done in a Mohawk style with pine resins, gels, and oils. His fingernails were manicured, so he was probably local nobility, killed for some reason we have no business knowing. Otherwise he was like a flattened piece of gold-gilded leather, a fossil of what was once a man and a soul. His fossil’s power was only partly its transmission of a human reality that was no longer present, it was that the reality was from the Bronze Age, a confirmation of our source and existence then.

One thinks: “Why him? Why me?” Of all of his contemporaries, he alone got excavated, his body recovered by a machinery and purpose beyond his capacity to imagine.

Other bog men under glass has their own looks, more skeletal and eroded—masks and costumes made of reality. After these, everything else in the museum was a bit stale, though depictions of Irish battles with invading Vikings around 1000 AD had the resonance of what it would have been like to experience those ships full of warriors descending on one’s village. We are very far from that and not so far at all. Technology disguises ongoing imperial entitlement.

Down the street was the National Library of Ireland. We had noted when passing it that it had a William Butler Yeats exhibit, so we stopped after the National Museum and got sucked in for more than an hour. The curation was complex and operating on many levels with videos, artifacts, hand-written texts, voices from the past, libraries, posters, and the like. One could sit in one enclosed area and listen to Yeats’ poems being read aloud, some by the author himself, while images were projected on the walls. Separate exhibits featured Yeats’ politics and relationship to the 1916 revolt, his liaisons with women (most notably the unrequited one with his muse Maud Gonne), and in two different areas his occult studies, including his initiation into the Golden Dawn.

Yeats initially decried and then celebrated the Easter 1916 rising in one of his major poems: “All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born.” When the uprising transcended personal connections and became ceremonial, Yeats could speak for the country as a poet; it no longer mattered that he thought Patrick Pearse a suicidal fool.

Maud Gonne bewitched him (the word “besotted” was used more than once in the exhibits)—she was six-feet-tall in an era when tall women were around five foot five—and some of the depth of passion in his work was traced to his attempts to reach her with the magic of language.

More significantly, Yeats trained the occult, drew Cabalistic talismans, painted the Tree of Life, studied rituals meant to break through the barrier between worlds, read tarot cards, engaged with his wife in automatic writing, and made the mystery of the universe hi mains life’s study. Yet it rarely breaks through in the poems. “The Second Coming,” however, is a clearcut revelation, like nothing else of his or of its time. To me it is equally a piece of interdimensional transmission or automatic writing and confirmation of the esoteric level he reached. He expressed it not in occult terminology but the musical roar of the secular world. Very little else in his written expression confirms the fruition of his practice. It was somewhat unrequited too. But this poem is absolute proof.

The exhibit was a chance to be in a Yeats spell. Lindy and I each identify with him and his work more than with Joyce. I could see myself in him—my own psychic studies, my tarot deck and skein of readings, my ambivalent flirtations and engagements with mystical and nether worlds, my own Maud Gonnes, my political ambivalences culminating in mythological transformation of civic events.

Yeats as a young man looks like young men I hung out with at the same age. His creation of the twelve-line “Lake Isle of Innisfree” from viewing a fountain in a store window is something I would have done: “While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, / I hear it in the deep heart’s core”: the bee-loud glade, the evening of linnet’s wings, the lake water lapping. By comparison, Joyce seems a bit of a wise guy, frat bully, and jock.

“Yeats” is the name we associate with the poet’s work, but it is possible that the more “rabbinical” lineage was that of his mother, Susan Pollexfen. The Yeats opus took on a different flavor when I viewed them as Pollexfen, even the same texts.

I will end this day’s segment with “The Second Coming.” Most of you probably know it, but you can’t hear it too often these days. It is one of those texts made more of energy than words, so its meaning continues to change occultly and in quantum uncertainty states as it meets the changing times.

 

We stayed on the DART past Glenageary in order to see the rest of the line all the way to termination at Greystones. There were five more stops including Dalkey, and the last two, Bray and Greystones, were far apart, as the DART ran precariously along cliffs over the sea. Down below in coves and cliffs and jagged rocks were huge numbers of sea birds, the grey and black stone coated with white dung.

Greystones turned out to be a wealthier town, likely the popular upscale destination from Dublin. It felt a bit like Martha’s Vineyard, as we walked the swish main drag. We went in part to visit a restaurant called The Happy Pear. It wasn’t nearly as yummy or legit as Cornucopia, where we had lunch both days in Dublin, but it was another creative vegetarian dining spot.

We had intended to get down to the beach, but it was late in the afternoon and we were tired. It had taken well over an hour to get from Pearse Station in Dublin to Greystones, so instead of attempting to find the beach with our take-out food, we sat in a park and watched a group of teens conduct a football (soccer) practice. What struck me was how much it was like a baseball fungo game or football or basketball scrimmage in the US in style, tone, and repartee. But the rhythm, skills, and terminology were all different, and these were also entangled with each other. The phrase that stood out for me was, “You menace!” It had to do with a particular kind of inaccurate but forceful kick or boot straight up in the air. The guys, of mixed ethnicity, were all acrobats with the ball, and it was pure anthropology to gauge how football skills here would be football or basketball skills in the US. We are all from the bog, and we have our moment.

Now Yeats, the tarot cards shuffling, Hanged Man and Tower, to admit Donald Trump, Tayyip Erdogan, and Kim Jong-un to the lines as they once admitted Stalin, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein—I am not being intentionally political here. You can throw in JFK and the Clintons too.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

That says it all!

 

July 4-7, 2017

Some reader comments:

“A cautious traveller appears and disappears, is attracted to and departs from the illusion of its own evolution, eternally nurturing the present with uncertainty.” Ed Lueddeke

 

“Good to keep as brief as possible, ha ha.” Susie Doyle

 

“Great that you’re taking the local trains.” Marilyn Handel

 

“Yeats, along with perhaps Blake, are the dual foundations upon which my own poetics is built. Your suggestion that the ‘Second Coming’ is an occult or inter-dimensional transmission is really interesting. To be honest, I’d also think of Joyce’s Wake as a text along those lines: polyglot polyphony, the weaving of the voices.” James Cook

 

July 7, 2017

We are now in Galway and once again facing the reality of the trip, of being tourists in the middle of nowhere that is somewhere. Maybe not strangers in a strange land but certainly away from base in a land where our habits, reassurances, and daily patterns don’t apply. The poet Robert Kelly had a poster: “Tomorrow possible because it is.” The notion also applies to place: Here possible because it is.

There is a feeling of: why are we here and not safe and happy at home? Does this trip make sense, to have spent so much money to be somewhere uncomfortable where it is unclear even what to do or what we want to do?

What specifically is difficult?

Crammed into a tiny room in a commercial bed and breakfast after having a whole house for the first five days.… Now we’re part of the tourist industry, commodities to the weary lady who processes check-ins, check-outs, runs the vacuum cleaner, makes the bed, and produces the junk-food breakfast that is sure to appear tomorrow (I see the boxes of powered milk and sugar). The place is high end for Galways accomodations (according to Rick Steves guide), but the tiny inn as no common area, just bedrooms and a dining zone.

We repeated our familiar geographical dyslexia this afternoon around 3:00 (15:00) when, after arriving and resting briefly, we set out with curiosity and apprehension in the direction of Galway Center and Eyre Square, said to be ten minutes walking distance, in hopes of at least a passably charming small city (and apprehension of what we got). We found ourselves walking alongside fast-moving traffic for twenty minutes, past shopping centers that could have been anywhere on the planet. The only distinctive item was a greyhound-racing stadium (close enough to our B & B that I can hear the roar of the crowd as I type). Hard to believe that people are cheering for running dogs, but it’s like a racetrack where people are actually cheering for their money. I’d rather cheer for laundry (as cynics of pro sports say we do when a favorite player is traded and becomes the foe).

We eventually got to iconic Eyre Square the long way around—forty-five minutes. It was a perfect Zocalo but occupied by such a dense, kinetic tourist mob that it was hard for me not to feel alienated as if from a mass hoax or scam—the industry itself with its tour buses surrounding the four quarters and planes leading to them and the bargains and websites behind those. Happily the greenbelt of the square was large enough to accommodate everyone, so we found a spot and enjoyed dueling guitars, general din, and graceful, small, gull-like birds that danced over us. It was a matter again of settling in to reality—We Are Here Now. It was never tourism as pleasure but puzzle and challenge.

We got up and walked the various streets around Eyre Square. I began to worry (unnecessarily as it turned out) about where the f— are we going to eat here? Our walk was a scouting mission, as we peeked into what there was—only bars and pubs in the initial reconnoiter along one quadrant—as I tried to make my peace with a combination of traditional Irish stew and Irish music and hope I could handle the ambiance, claustrophobia, and heavy whiskey stench. I have never been an avid consumer of alcohol, and I am nauseated now by the smell.

We still might attempt a pub another night, but it’s not where things led today. We turned down a side street to a spot that was almost an alley or cul de sac but along which bottlenecked traffic was stopped leaving town. We stared at the menu of a French place behind a locked gate called Le Petit Pois. It was pricey but listed free-range chicken and attractive vegetarian items—also not super-pricey. That was where we came back to for dinner at 6:15 after finding a number of other decent possibilities. Dinner ended up costing $85 US with the tip, and that included an exotic apricot crumble dessert with almond mascarpone and home-made apricot ice cream. Yes, it was a French restaurant in an Irish town, but it was frequented by quite Irish locals, and the food was worth it, especially a thick kohlrabi soup along the lines of potato soup.

After our first glance at Le Petit Pois, Lindy interviewed a well-dressed young man sitting at an outdoor cocktail table by a hotel in solitary contemplation. He directed us to Shop Street, a couple of blocks past Eyre Square in the untried direction, as the place for better restaurants and quirkier shops. We cut across to it and walked its three-block length. Ranging from antiques to novelties and featuring painted signs over industrial Palatino, it was a relief from the tourist civilization in the square.

 

I have been thinking all day about the decline of civilization. It sounds kitsch and banal, but I have had a particular angle into it that began with our cab ride from Martinez to the Hertz Rental office on South Circular Drive around Dublin. The driver—I wish I had taken down his name—was a man born the same year as us (1944) and a real Irishman in both the central-casting and human sense—educated, philosophical, working-class, elegant, kind, funny, a tad gruff, intimate without being inappropriate or intrusive. He was a rare local we met who hadn’t to the States. The farthest he had gone was the Canary Islands. He had no wish to see America, except he promised his grandson that they would drive Route 66 together (“No women allowed”) when he was 75. The boy said, “If you can still drive then, Grand-dad!”

After going to the address across the street (142 Glenageary) where I ran to intercept him, he suggested I hop in and have the benefit of the ride. I almost got in the driver’s side. Then after we loaded the suitcases, and I moved toward the left of the driver, Lindy laughed, “You’re not driving, Rich” (a different brainlock), and then she remembered.

He had worked accounting and bursar sorts of jobs for the government for a long career, retired, and was bored after two years, decided to drive a cab. He knew his literature, politics, and sociology, though that was implicit over a wide range rather than any particular thing. The discussion I most remembered was after he queried me about my writing, he said I was just the man for a bunch of questions he had. It started with why humans had never returned to the Moon, given that once we got there multiple times, the goal should have been to put down a dome and build a city. I suggested the jump in economics and technology required, and we agreed that the world had become corporate since, not interested in long-term planning, just short-term profit and political expediency.

That led to discussing Mars and whether it was really habitable. I said that there was no air to breath—zero—every breath had to be artificial. He said that people going there would learn to live with that reality; they wouldn’t expect to come back; they were going to colonize.

From there it got more interesting because he grounded it back down on the present Earth and wondered how fast we were moving now, other than the cab’s motion, which was trivial, given that we were basically at rest. You had to add the speed of the Earth on its axis in orbit around the Sun, the speed of the Sun pulling its planets through the Milky Way, the speed of the Milky Way in its supergalactic cluster, and the speed of the supergalaxy in this sector of the universe. He didn’t know this precise hierarchy in detail, but he had the basic idea down. “All this motion,” he said, “and we can feel none of it. Does that make sense? Does it seem right?” He shook his head as we negotiated traffic through the parts of residential Dublin I had wanted to see anyhow. He concluded it was crazy, but here we were. When asked to put a number on it, I couldn’t remember cumulatively, but I guessed it was something like 450,000 miles per hour.

The convergence of that discussion with the one about the habitability of the Moon and Mars led to shared speculation about other life in the universe. That gave me an opportunity to discourse on curvature as a basic feature of our plane of reality, more basic than matter or energy. “That’s why everything is circling and in orbit. It’s expressing an original state of curvature.” I made an amateur attempt to tie that to string theory as part of a discussion of the alien life in the universe being located on other planes connected by tiny tiny fibers.

Another discussion involved aging. He thought Lindy and I looked young for our years and surmised, among other options, that the fact we didn’t drink played a part. He thought you could see the alcohol consumed in a person almost like tree rings.

As we continued the assessment, I teased that he was older than us because he was born in March as compared to Lindy three days ago and me in November. Then he coached us on left-side driving and promised we would get the knack. On departure I gave him my card and he said he would look up my journal and critique it. If I hear from him, I’ll let you know.

I have nothing against cabbies from Pakistan or Bangladesh, nor for that matter the slick neophytes cruising for Uber. But this guy was literature, civilization, age, and culture, and it’s dying. When ISIS blows up Assyrian statues and smashes ancient artifacts, it is not just speaking for its caliphate, it is speaking for Amazon and modernity too—the replacement of history and meaning with The Idea. For Amazon it is the algorithm. For ISIS it is sharia. Neither side realizes that they are allies in an attempt to obliterate Yeats, Joyce, literature itself, and this journal from the face of the Earth and insert their sterile regime. Donald Trump, in conversation with wily Vladimir Putin today, does not recognize his own collusion with Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism (as he wants to call it) in the attempt to create the all-purpose fascist state. They want Allah; for him Allah is the sum of all currencies and bank accounts. They want Mecca; for him Mecca is Mar A Largo and Trump Tower. Babel either way. Today’s militias are tomorrow’s jihadists. They all want their own caliphate.

I read yesterday that Mills College had fired tenured professors of philosophy, history, and physics, ethnic studies, and their poet, etc., as move for what they called financial stability, in order to fund more MBA-type courses and hire more coaches. This is not an incidental matter. The distance from Mills College or al-Raqqa to the streets of Dublin is imponderable, but one of Tim Morton’s hyperobjects is falling like unseen rain on all of us. The same implacable civilizational dissolution that brings us Trump and Brexit and suicide bombings and Tea Party anti-intellectualism means to make that cab driver as extinct as the Bog Man. It will ignore tenure and erase not just our works but those of Melville, Blake, Bob Dylan, and Shakespeare. It’s a sad time—so when I stared at mobs of teen tours and wandering upscale international tourists (ourselves included) in a world of this ilk, I was brought back to something my friend Ellias Lonsdale, psychic and astrologer, said to me on the phone the day before we left: “At some in the history of existence, we will fathom what’s going on now; it makes no sense. Some bizarre twist has been put on things—and who can track it, who can make it congruent again?”

Once deposited at Hertz on South Circular Drive, we had to deal with driving issue. I was the guinea pig. We did it almost twenty years ago in England and Scotland, but it seemed totally novel. Plus this was a shift car—automatics cost twice as much because that’s what tourists want.

In the parking lot with little maneuvering room, I confronted four things simultaneously: shift, shift to the left of me, driver on the right side of the car, traffic on the left side of the road—and a fifth issue: mounting, setting, and reading the GPS while driving. The lot attendant, a young man from the Middle East, gave me a cue: forget everything else; you yourself are in the center of the road. He had to help me find reverse. It was operated by a separate ring under the gear handle, I guess to prevent it being accidentally engaged while in forward motion.

The turn left into traffic was a bit surreal and light-headed-inducing, and then I had to stay in my lane as the GPS called for continuous turns en route to the highway to Galway. The hardest were the ones to the right because there was a strong tug to go into the right lane.

The other difficult thing was locating the right and left sides of the car. That was was where I courted the most danger, both en route to the highway and on it. I tended to think I was over the dotted white line and about to engage traffic to my right, so I put the bulk of the car out of its lane to the left where it risked encountering parked cars, bicyclists, and entering and exiting traffic on the highway. Lindy told me fifty or more times to get over before we got to our bed and breakfast three hours later. I finally had to override the optical illusion that I was too far to the right and bring my imaginary vehicle back to the left.

I enjoyed the challenge. Lindy was a wreck. Between worrying that I would hit someone or something, that I wasn’t in the right gear, and that I didn’t have my foot in the right place to stop, she wanted and dreaded her turn, which will be another day.

The two and a half hours on the highway were relatively easy, with passing trucks being the main challenge. I didn’t want to risk being out of my lane at high speed and massive objects around (curvature aside). Entering the vicinity of Galway imposed a bunch of new challenges simultaneously. We missed a turn because GPS Gaelic was different from the road signage. We were in two traffic jams where our car killed out and I provoked horn-honking and road rage when I was unable to get it going at a just-turned green light. I also came precariously close to the sidewalk and barely caught myself on a right turn from going into oncoming traffic. This was not leisurely, think-your-own thoughts driving. This was highway zen.

The sun sets late here in the north. It is still daylight nearing 10:30.

 

July 8, 2017

We spent the day around Galway, drifting and improvising. Our bed and breakfast is a fifteen-minute walk into town (as long as we walk in the right direction, not past the greyhound track). After breakfast we stopped at the Irish Tourist Center, waited our turn, and got a number of explanations, clarifications, tips, and a marked map from a patient, knowledgeable young man. We may only follow up a small few of his ideas, but it is useful to have a frame of reference in all directions. One of our challenges is what to do after Galway, Ennis, and Dingle—our itinerary of  confirmed reservations coming up. We were going to spend a day or two in the west, a precise location to be determined, then go to County Meath for four nights. But Sharon, our exchange partner in Dublin who offered her house in Crossakiel for that period, expressed late reservations: she just bought the place in January and now worries that it is too isolated and unequipped, and has no sources of help anywhere close. She asked us to have a “think” about whether we really wanted to go there.

The best alternative option is a combination of spending more days in western Ireland and then taking our time getting to Portstewart in the North where we have a simultaneous home exchange for two weeks—Roisin McCaughan (whose house we will be in) is coming to Portland. At the Tourist Center we got a list of possible alternatives pretty much countrywide, also directions locally to the Farmers’ Market and a list of training sessions of Irish music this weekend.

Lindy was carrying her backpack with computer because wanted to work in an Internet café and have me explore on my own. En route there, we crossed Eyre Square a block after the Tourist Office and were drawn to the busker playing guitar and singing at the Square microphone. There is usually someone performing at it but on the level (for our taste anyway) of—stop fifteen seconds, get enough, move on. This guy drew our interest magnetically the way song and voice can haunt. We sat and then moved closer.

He was covering American songs, all of which were familiar but not all of which I can name. He had sophisticated voicing and phrasing, the vibe of someone with soul who also knew what he was doing. He did a spectacular job with “The Gambler” (made famous by Kenny Rogers), better by my standards than the hit version—You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away And know when to run….” I liked his “Poncho and Lefty,” the Townes Van Zandt song covered by Willie Nelson, less well.

Lindy thought he was American and looked familiar. He did seem like dozens of guys in our life all the way back to Ann Arbor days: medium tall, thin, dark very curly black hair, older middle-aged, eyes close together, furrowed brow, sharp features, a slightly worried, uncertain look. During a break between song we went up to talk and he proved as Irish as his heavy brogue, not always easy to understand. His answers were warm but terse and with unfamiliar phrasing as well as pronunciation. His name is Michael O’Connor. We quickly bought one of his two CDs, the new one called “Market Plaice” (sic), not of covers of others’ song but his own. I found this later online from a local paper:

“The new album’s title track Market Plaice is based on how a fish feels, breathing its last breath in a market stall and relates to animal cruelty. Another song is Sanctimonious-ness, for which he won the John Arden award at NUIG when he wrote it as a poem. It’s based on religion—Mike goes to Mass chiefly for the music but has ‘good time for God.’ Pet Named Lyrics asserts that the music business is more cut-throat than butchering.”

Being a butcher was his career for more than twenty years before he took up music full-time about fifteen years ago. He drew from a mixture of Irish ballads, John Prine, Johnny Cash, and American pop. Later I played part of the CD and like it a lot. He is even more interesting writing pop and folk in a traditional Irish context and lyricizing it in brogue.

Our conversation had a curious drift to it in which he seemed to answer one way and then another. For instance, he said he has a brother in the States, in San Francisco, “ocean side,” and he wondered what we thought of the area. We commented and asked if he thought of going. “Oh, I’ve been there. Four times.” A was either ongoing with dialogue or an indication of lightly playing with us.

He said he’d be there till one, an hour and a half off, so I told him I might be back. After we walked off, Lindy described him as wistful. Best single word for his presence and music. More wistful than sad. Definitely serious, dense, and with soul.

 

After rejecting three establishments as too noisy or claustrophobic, Lindy chose a place called Café Temple quite a ways down St. Augustine Street from Eyre Square. It was as much a social-justice, eco-gathering spot as a café, quite spacious and compatible, as it spread into the indoor part of a mall.

Leaving her there, I went off on my own looking for the Farmers’ Market and quickly found that Galway Town down to the River Corrib was far vaster than in the direction of our B&B or than yesterday cued us. I went down Quay Street to the Wolfe Tone Bridge, walked along the water, passed a small waterfall, gardens, parks, saw long eels as well as good-sized fish among the underwater plants in the shallow waterway that ran on the other side of my path. It was pleasant, sustained by good feng shui. Only problem was that the map showed I was headed away from the Farmers’ Market, and I did want to see it. When I tried to circle back by a different route and thought myself still six or eight blocks away and uncertain I even cared anymore, I found myself right in the middle of it. That’s so typical of how things go when you’re a tourist: you look painstakingly and unsuccessfully. Then you give up and there you are!

At first it seemed like just commercial merchants, but it kept winding and expanding around a church with a “mediaeval cities” feel to include a display of local fish on ice with a rich salt smell, vegetable and fruit stands, bakeries (from one of which I bought an organic spelt-rye loaf and a blueberry muffin), wools, Irish linens, clothing, Claddagh rings.

As I headed back toward Café Temple, or at least where I thought it was, I saw lots of busking: child musicians playing traditional Irish tunes, women clogging and step-dancing to spontaneous crowds, and many other performers, male and female, traditional and punk, including a girl with painted hair dressed like David Bowie and singing his songs. Hordes of tourists included many groups of teens dressed in the same blue or yellow shirts. It was continuous immersion in a visually and auditorily alive landscape.

I eventually made my way back to Eyre Park, Michael O’Conner still going at 1:10. After he finished a song, I walked up to chat some more. He said it was his last number, but then it wasn’t because he offered to play me one of his own, so I sat in the grass, an audience of one, and listened. It was about celiacs needing a special sort of dough. After he finished, I commented that a butcher with celiac was almost an oxymoron. “But it’s a metaphor,” he said, “double meaning. Dough is ‘money’ dough.”

“Do you have celiac?”

“Thought I did. Don’t.”

I asked him for some ideas about places to hear music and, as the conversation segued in and out of his suggestions, he reminded me of my half-brother Jon, dead at his own hands in 2005. Lindy confirmed later that he looked like Jon, same cameo somehow. But it was more than resemblance. He rode a similar edge to my brother but a more functional version of the genre: Irish, lower-class, not an intellectual, knew enough to have a hard calling and keep himself alive. Being around him brought back Jon’s presence and I had a feeling that something psychic and beyond me was taking place—the energy that was Jon had found a way to check in and say a brief proxy hello.

 

After reconnecting, Lindy and I went to the Farmers’ Market, lingered at artisan stalls, tried the cake and bread samples at the bakery I had patronized (which meant pear breads, pineapple coconut cakes, various spelt mixtures, and delicate chocolates and lemons. We walked along the river at greater length, sat beside it for a while watching pedestrians. The astonishingly diverse lot included toddlers with ice cream cones pressed in bliss-trance all over their mouths and lower faces, dancing little girls in costumes, red-headed brothers holding hands, and then their doppelgangers pummelling each other. There was a full range of languages, dress styles, tattoos, lettering on shirts, and backpacks.

It took a lot of energy to get back to Eyre Square, trading off on Lindy’s backpack and there we plopped down, at in a different sector, because six young men with instruments had set them in the grass and were getting ready to play. They were apparently known because a small following was gathering on steps and under trees. These guys were fabulous, so we stayed a half hour in the grass, then on the steps. I imagined them as university students, though I don’t know. One was a central-casting hipster with the requisite look: beard, cap, jiving and bouncing in place, weed. Each of the six also seemed from a different band and nationality; they were a motley, but bands are until they play. Their instruments were base, drum, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, and what might have been an oboe, and they produced what I, as a total non-expert, would call a combination of New Orleans gospel, high jazz, and Matthias Duplessy “Crazy Horse,” converting their instruments to unconventional percussions and unlikely interactions at times. If any of my videos come across, know that they were shot from the steps with most of the audience behind me. I may also have to send them separately.

In many ways it was a perfect moment—where we wanted to be, i.e., nowhere—relaxed, engaged. Children played in the fountain beside us, taking great pleasure in crawling over spouts and finding ways to wrap themselves around them. It was a fountain made for kid-play more than civic landscaping. “I could watch them playing in a fountain all day,” Lindy said.

 

Our slow adjusting to the time-zone shift plus the delayed sunset make for late evenings. After dinner on Shop Street at ten, we had the gumption to find our way to an Irish Cultural Center called Aras na nGael on Dominick Street. I say “gumption” because we had to walk a number of blocks in twilight, some of them semi-deserted, cross a bridge over the river, and make our way through raucous carousing crowds, mostly male, to a dark alley, find only locked doors, continue walking to a courtyard, and enter a small jam session of twelve musicians, seven men, five women, in a pub-like setting. The audience was about eight, including us. The players ignored us, working on different melodies and themes among themselves with the leader indicating who started each time. Some of the women played long thin flutes (which I later discovered are called whistles); other musicians had violins or fiddles; there was a banjo and other wind instruments. The music was low-key, repetitive, and unfinished, but it was an actual sound without dramatic amping or instrumentation: butterflies and crickets instead of the proverbial wall of sound. The alternative was countless bars advertising traditional Irish music, but the sound booming out of them, as we returned to our bed and breakfast, was commercialized noise, nothing like the light, mysterious, primeval themes in a quiet space. They said, this is what it is, and it is okay, all by itself. It always has been, and the time haven’t changed. We were lucky. Afterwards I thought of it like reggae, the same theme with infinite possibilities and states of uncertainty and variation.

 

July 9, 2017

Chilly day, light rain, after bright sunny yesterday. The weather changed our plans. No Michael O’Connor on Eyre Square though we arranged to meet him there and hear some of his own songs.

We didn’t set out until early afternoon with a goal of maybe exploring the other side of the river. We never got that far. The hike down to the bridge in the drizzle led, unexpectedly, to the Galway City Museum, and we decided to check it out. At first glance on entering, it looked as though it might provide a quaint exhibit of local history and artifacts, fifteen minutes worth, but it opened out into a significant cavern of curation. We did not plan on three interesting floors, each of them very different. We spent almost two hours there.

The main item of interest on the ground floor was a touch screen on which one could press icons over a map of modern Galway and see that part of Mediaeval Galway—not only see it but be taken through a detailed 3-D reconstruction of it, street by street, through gates, over walls, and around the shore. A super-realistic videogame-like reality. The river had water moving in it and Viking-like ships of the era rocking, even a “live” mouse on one of the barrels on the dock. Smoke poured from stone chimneys. The main sense it left me with was how Galway was a classic Mediaeval walled city in which “inside the wall” was distinct from “outside the wall.” Fire too had led them to stop building with wood.

Like a cell, Galway not only had an exterior wall but rings of continuous and discontinuous interior walls, all represented in minute detail in the moving display.

Contemporary Galway arose from an English-Norman fortification after 1000 AD in the territory of competitive Irish kings. Basically the museum’s first floor established Galway as a Gaelic homeland to which the British came and imposed their authority, taxation, protection, and commerce, accelerating western Ireland’s transition out of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. The second floor skipped ahead to the role of Galway in the 1916 uprising and World War II (with a side tribute to championship local football teams). The third floor was a modern museum of the sea with maps and interactive exhibits, including a microscope projecting samples you put under it onto a screen. It emphasized oceanography, underwater geography, Ireland’s territorial limits, species interactions, fisheries, shipwrecks, and litter (with an indication of how long it would take it to be absorbed, from a couple of weeks for an apple core to six hundred years for some fishing twine on a reel—450 for a disposable diaper). That’s a partial list.

 

Today the aspect of travel that struck me was the music of voices, the sound of brogues mixed with foreign dialects, the local father with two little boys who walked with us a ways as we chatted, his heart-felt “welcoming to Ireland,” the songlike quality of directions given, almost always in bardic excess, when strangers were queried.

I have tried to be upbeat, but Lindy and I are also critiquing ourselves on this trip. After the museum, we were too tired to do anything more, yet depressed by having to return to the room. This bed and breakfast is claustrophobic, the lack of space oppressive. We are crowded into a tiny room, and there is no place to go in the building itself. It turns out to be quite expensive by Galway standards. From faraway we overpaid for a place that is basically churning guests through—not much nuance or texture.  Also it is a hefty walk to the outskirts of the real town, meaning you can’t get breathing room easily by going out and walking somewhere. It’s all residential or institutional with cul de sacs.

The overall scene is also too touristy. You feel part of an event like a continuous parade because there are massive crowds pretty much everywhere. Where there are crowds, there are street hustles, faux events, hyped extravaganzas. I haven’t begun to cite all the “shows” we passed or the times we were blocked in streets in a crowd-jam like leaving a theater or stadium. We have seen leprechaun-imitating clowns, makeshift street musicians, kids dressed up like Irish Disney characters, contests on the street, for instance people paying money to chin themselves up on a bar for a certain length of time for a prize while a crowd cheers. Crowds also gather around blokes doing tricks with a soccer ball like seals.

Add to that a feeling of why Ireland? Abstractly I love Ireland and the Irish, always have. I feel an infinity with them on many levels, but this is July and every day but one has been chilly and overcast. It’s still interesting, and the landscape and culture are what have arisen in this climate, but we also would like a break—a different pace and mood. Beneath the surface of festivity and fun and optimism is a severity, both that this isn’t the “real” world (though of course it is because how could anything here not be real?) and that it hides its own deficits and the deficits of more troubled places in the capitalist façade.

It is an ongoing question: How do you do your life? Where do you choose to be and why? Choices so often involve breaking the surface of an image so that you get to see where you really are. And that’s what I feel about the trip right now. Until we travelled, until we made a choice of Ireland and broke the abstract, many other choices that face us didn’t fully take form.

Tomorrow we move on to Ennis and then Dingle—and try to decide what to do after that before we head to Northern Ireland on July 20.

 

July 10, 2017

We are in Ennis in a happily large room in a hotel with a lobby. It feels like a castle after the cramped time in the bed and breakfast in Galway. We are only here for one night, though, because we viewed Ennis as a break in the drive to Dingle. We now see that it would have been better to schedule two nights and two in Dingle, but it is hard to foresee what things will actually be like. Ennis is no mere village; it is a small city, uncrowded and intricate so that viewing its urban idiosyncrasies would take push longer than we have.

For me last night was hard. I had a terrible headache and no aspirin, so I didn’t sleep much and had to attempt other ways than a pill—breathing, herbs, self-craniosacral massage—to try to settle. The fractured night made the hours ahead, a driving and transition day, look like a monumental task with an uncertain outcome. Long sleepless nights are a test of one’s own limits, especially travelling. When you are young, you challenge your limits without thinking. When you are older, you worry whether you are capable of what you planned. It is a realization that creeps up on you. After all, in Dublin I was running full-speed (at least for me these days) for stretches on streets leading to and from Killiney Hill. Now I was dragging myself around.

On the way into town to get aspirin and cash at the automatic teller, I passed another of the posters I had been seeing for an event we wished we hadn’t missed. Among the sessions: “Decolonizing Feminism,” “Reclaim the Night,” and “The Witches That Could Not Be Burned,” the latter a punk musical comedy. As everywhere, the Gaelic appears under the English.

 

I had been trying to contact Frank Fahey for months unsuccessfully. We met him on the train in Colorado in 2016 when we took Amtrak from Boston to Berkeley. There was no wifi in the West, so on his request—he was seated across the aisle at lunch—we provided a hotspot off our cell. In thanks, he offered us a free tour with his sightseeing company if we ever came to Ireland. That was nowhere in the wind at the time, so I filed it away and soon forgot it. It jumped into mind, as the neurons of our planned trip and the Amtrak exchange found each other one morning.

When I originally wrote Frank in February, three one-a-day emails each bounced back, so I gave up. I reconsidered him only on the day before we set out. It was because I looked at his card and saw that he was based in Galway (not Dublin as I surmised), which meant more because it was a smaller place we were also visiting. I sent off another email. He got this one and wrote back saying he’d love to see us. However, he was in China and would not be back in Galway till our last evening there. Our intermittent exchange finally came round, once he had arrived back, to his suggesting we meet at a restaurant near our B&B at 11 AM, just down the road on our way out of town in the greyhound-track direction.

By the time we connected in person, we were avid if not desperate for help. Yet we didn’t know what to expect: a gratis tour, some ideas, a trip parley. He far exceeded all expectations.

We recognized Frank immediately, as he stood to greet us. He was a different man: an Irishman in Ireland rather than an Irishman on an American train. He seemed to know half the people in the restaurant, as he hugged and shook hands and told many an acquaintance about his being in China. It was about ten minutes after he greeted us and pointed us to a table before he joined us there. I had forgotten what Frank told us about himself on the train; he was a politician, a member of Parliament, before he went into the tour business, so he was well-known—a local celebrity and long-time networker. Now his travel business was tied in with Irish education so was a partial extension of his political career.

Frank quickly took charge of our itinerary, though it required a number of passes. In his haste and enthusiasm to convey information and bring his expertise and experience to bear, he was frustrated by the specificity of our reality—what was set in stone (or confirmed reservations) and what was still up for grabs. He finally got clear on where we were going and what time period we needed to fill. Right away he said he wanted us to come back to Galway after Ennis and Dingle and have us take two tours with his company, one of which would be free. He also wanted to help find us better lodging, in Galway and after.

He had a surprising but sensible idea, that we not return to Meath in the east (as planned) before heading north to Portstewart in Northern Ireland but go directly north from the west into County Donegal before cutting east in Ulster. That way we would see new things and get more direct experience of best part of the land: rural west Ireland.

We spent over an hour in the Hunstman Restaurant going over and continuously revising possible itineraries, as Lindy and I did not have quite the same priorities. Then he offered to call around and get us good lodging and rates after Galway too, in Westport and Donnegal.

Next he wanted to take charge of our hop to Ennis, which was only about an hour. We had thought of it as something to get done quickly. Frank would have none of that. The road passed through his native village of Gort and he felt that stopping there was non-negotiable, especially for writers, since it was the home of Lady Gregory, Yeats’ patron and theatrical collaborator, hence the site of Thoor Ballylee, the remodeled Mediaeval tower she helped procure for Yeats and in which and his family summered as he wrote some of his key poems. Ballylee was his favorite place, a sacred site on Earth closer to the higher planes than anywhere else.

It was difficult to picture what Frank was proposing we do and setting up on his cell because he spoke so fast about so many stops on a map he drew in Lindy’s notebook, as he made several phone calls. He was trying to hire us a guide in Gort, “all costs covered by me,” he said, because he thought it would be difficult for us to find the tower ourselves. Then he arranged for a private tour of the Kiltartan Gregory Museum.

I was concerned to get to Ennis early enough in the day because I wanted to sleep and wondered, gently, why the museum was that important. I only trigged Frank to burst into lavish celebration. Why if we cared about Yeats, we should care about Lady Gregory, and this was a museum set up by her husband to represent her life and works. No lover of Yeats would miss such a place. Furthermore, it was designed concomitant with a school that Lady Gregory was sponsoring Ceylon at the same time, but the plans got switched, so it was a Ceylonese building in Ireland. A total “can’t miss.”

Though it was hard finding a guide at the very last minute, Frank succeeded and then sent us on our way with oft-repeated directions involving two key railroad crossings in Gort. I hoped we would notice them. “Oh, you absolutely can’t miss them and, if you do and find yourself through Gort, call me, and I’ll guide you back.”
When I said Frank was different in what was probably one of his regular hangouts in Galway than on a train in the Rockies, I am reaching for something hard to put my finger on. He was of the same vintage as the other older middle-aged Irishmen in the Hunstman and his high spirits, heraldry, incessant praising, and greeting matched the chummy, charged vibration of the place. Happy Ireland and Sad Ireland were the same energy run at different pitches.

On the train tamed verbally by his wife, Frank seemed a tad ornate and hyperbolic. Not here. He was part of the noosphere. Then there was his outright generosity. More than that—I felt that any of the men he greeted (or didn’t) might have been as generous if we had met under similar random and unlikely circumstances in the States or Ireland and then met again. The natural enthusiasm and generosity of the Irish is partly drew us here—that and the indefinable combination of bottomless sorrow and equally bottomless joy. Of course, everything has a shadow side. We do too. The goal is not to elaborate or overdo weakness but to praise and offer as we can, and Frank did that, many times over. We are now in his care. We are in the care of Ireland and the Parliament itself. And that feels different.

 

Lindy began her first driving stint out of the Huntsman. It was into a rush of traffic on Dublin Road, and there was a lot to master: lane, gear, car position. She wavered but managed. I was as much a disaster as she was when I was driving, shouting that she was drifting to the left, that she wasn’t in her lane, that she was in the wrong gear. We killed out twice in traffic. It was baptism by fire, made more of a gauntlet by the fact that she was faced a roundabout every two or three kilometers out of Galway, maybe eight in all, some of them serious puzzles. Roundabouts are the hardest for right-side-of-the-road drivers because you have to enter them clockwise, stay in your lane, and depart to the left at the appropriate exit. She wasn’t always in a lane or quick enough to make the exit, but the GPS corrected and we returned three times successfully to the road to Limerick and Ennis. After a while she got the hang of it, picked up speed, and stopped killing out, though we got some honks and one finger from an orange Northern Irish license plate.

Gort came up, as promised, forty-five minutes out of Galway. We overshot the sudden turn off to the Kiltartin Museum and had to turn around on a narrow side road. Lindy was intimidated by having to turn around in a small space and cross fast-moving traffic from there. She suggested parking in a nearby school and walking along the road. That was pure highway panic and was more risky than driving it. So we switched drivers. In a stretch of a few hundred yards I managed to skirt the side of the road, kill out once, and go down the wrong driveway where an amused or not so amused farmer and arriving pre-teen daughter watched me take a global route to get the car turned around. Maybe he was smiling.

The museum had no obvious lot, so we parked on the road.

Frank was right. Walking into Kiltartin was an act of time travel. The museum was a reconstruction of an actual schoolhouse, the space filled with artifacts (furniture, crockery, programs, notebooks, etc.) from Lady Gregory’s life (in one room) and the reconstructed schoolroom (in the other) complete with a manikin of the teacher elucidating a lesson on the board.

No one thing in the museum that was spectacular; it was the overall integrity of another place, another time. The little poetry and theatrical magazines, stapled hand-decorated pamphlets in which Lady Gregory published her work looked very much like the Yugens and Poems from the Floating World Lindy and I looked up to when we discovered the avant-garde poetry world during college years.

Our host was Theresa Nolan (last name to be checked), and she was elegant, charming, and erudite, a real old-school grand dame. It was her with whom Frank had his conversation about us, describing us as very important old friends of his from America. She received us gently and without fuss, allowing us to enter the room at the exact pace it dictated. She matched the aesthetics, which made sense because she had gone to grade school in this very building. I assured her that we weren’t nearly as important as Frank said

We spent about a half hour in the museum, taking in the ambiance, though I talked a blue streak with Theresa about my affinity with the occult part of Yeats, describing my early days at Berkeley Psychic Institute learning the ground cord and my experience with Sali Crow, a half-Irish, half-Blackfoot psychic medium, in Vermont a year prior. I was trying to explain to an aficionado of Yeats how his interest in the occult was dead-on, an intuition of the hidden reality all about us, also that he would have had much greater access today to the esoterica and secrets he sought through the Golden Dawn and his experiments with tarot and Rosicrucian astrology. She was a very gracious or very receptive audience. She said I was a brave man; she would not toy with the spirits.

I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know the name of Theresa’s colleague, who dashed a planned day in Galway while on the road at Frank’s summons, to turn around her car, return, and give us a tour of the tower. I will fill that in later. Also an alumna of the Kiltartin Kindergarten, she joined us there, as we were hanging out with Theresa. Then we followed her car in ours, back a mile or so toward Galway, turning into the countryside at a sign for the tower. We passed thatched cottages, meadows, and stone walls along the one-lane road. The tower stood tall above the countryside, a 14th-century fortification remodeled by Lady Gregory for Yeats’ use to the poet’s specifications.

Once inside, she took us on a tour of five levels, concluding on the turret’s circular walkway. Each level contained a large room, sometimes a smaller room too. A couple of them were refinished to the standards of the early nineteenth century, Yeats’ time, and the rest were what you’d expected for unfinished cubicles in a stone castle. The inside of one of them was painted a deep indigo-like blue that (she explained) Yeats thought might attract spirits. It was sixth-chakra blue, third eye, and I felt the most attunement there, though I was not nearly subtle enough to pick up anything concrete.

The focus was elsewhere. Our guide eloquent with information about Yeats’ life, garrulous and anxious not to drop a detail. We were joined on the informal tour by a pleasant young couple from Houston. They looked and sounded American—though she had a bit of the Sali Crow necromancer look. I could have imagined them, with a costume change, characters in world of Yeats and his colleague Helena Blavatsky. The two did not seem anomalous Texas extras. Maybe they were spirits posing as Texans.

Where Yeats wrote during many of his summers, he had the tiny window of the fortification widened by Lady Gregory so that he could look out on the stream. I saw not only Yeats poetry flowing in it but that of England’s Lake Poets, a stream that flowed mirror-like, then a sector of picturesque ripples, then smoothly again. The overall presentation was a postcard, but it also held an unwritten or ceaselessly written poem.

The tower was a classic round stone fort, of the sort that dot the countryside from days of English-Irish strife, many of them now renovated like Ballylee as dwelling-places.

We saw the room where Yeats wrote a poem about his daughter being born that very night, a bedroom with a modern-seeming double-bed where Yeats and his wife George slept. As our host narrated, I realized how much of solitaire poet he was, in his commitment to language and rhythm and in his innocence and provinciality regarding the world around him.

She told us how her father in his early twenties would hear Yeats walking by his farm, trying out lines aloud, reciting and singing as he walked, both during the day and under the stars. Her father could hear the words—a magical leprechaun-like thing, but he never dared disturb Mr. Yeats, and Mr. Yeats made no contact with farmers and local laborers and folks during his sojourns. He got the information about them for his poems in which they seem most intimate from Lady Gregory, who was his interlocutor as well as his apologist.

Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lees, twenty-seven years his junior at age 52 in 1917 after Maud Gonne turned him down for the fourth time during a visit to Paris (an online narrative says that he proposed to her daughter Iseult after numerous rejection, so either the guide or the Internet source has the information slightly jumbled). In any case, Maud told Yeats (if not then, then at another time) that she preferred being the inspiration for beautiful poems than a partner in a boring marriage.

Informed by spirits that it was now or never to raise a family, he went straight to England where, with Lady Gregory’s encouragement, he romanced Georgie, proposing to her three months later. She proved a worthy mate if not a muse, as she evinced a new skill in automatic writing soon after the marriage. Through her, the spirits told Yeats, apropos a general speculation, “No, we have come to give you metaphors for your poetry.” They also told him that it was more important to have a happy sexual life than an unrequited one with a romantic inspiration.

The view from the top of the tower was pure vertigo, the brook reduced to an aerial view. Fields stretching to all horizons spoke to the vastness and possibility then and now. I couldn’t find the vibe, meaning Yeats’ spirit or ghost of then, but I had begun the only process that connects the living and the dead, though I would not continue it in in Thoor Ballylee.

 

We drove the remaining twenty-plus kilometers to Ennis and found the Old Ground Hotel, a sprawling complex in the town center next to the monumental Parish Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

In the evening before picking a place for dinner, we engaged in one of those quiet ravels for which travelling becomes worth it: we walked the streets and alleys of a twenty-first-century Mediaeval city, slowly in and out of courtyards, past churches, old and new statues, on cobblestone and pavement, looking at curios, store windows, other people at walking, listening to the traditional Irish music coming out of bars. To do this you have to go. It’s perhaps not the greatest pleasure in the world, but it has a quiet depth and security, like falling into history while strolling through the evening, but you have to get yourself there to do it.

We walked a different labyrinth at twilight after dinner till we sighted the church spire above the landscape and used it to guide us back to our hotel.

Downstairs in the bar called The Poet’s Corner we could hear the sound of traditional Irish reels. “If you’re not allowed as hotel guests,” said the lady at the check-in counter, “well I don’t know who is,” We wondered if we could just go listen without ordering.

It was four players, two men and two women, and, like any other drinkers or diners, they were seated at one of the customer tables around the establishment that surrounded the bar, itself (by the way) attended by three young Irish women. Above the performers table was the iconic picture of Yeats as a bespectacled youth, looking like any graduate student.

The playing was enough like the jam session in Galway to make one think that Irish music is often played jam sessions like jazz. The musicians sit around, chat among themselves, talk politics, weather, the way the piece goes; then eventually one of them starts something, a second one recognizes his or her part and joins in; then they all begin playing. The piece ends. They drink or order beers, they pick up the conversation; eventually one of them starts again. I could overhear how much the conversation was directly about the music they were about to play and about anything but the music they were about to play. It was as if it all the talking goes into a build-up and hte eventual spirit and vibe of the song, like feeding it various street foods so that it hops to life with some body. One man had an accordion, one man and one woman had those sideways flutes that are played piccolo-like. The other heavier, darker woman had no instrument. After a few numbers—we came in during the latter part of the concert—the man with the accordion (who looked like former pitcher Don Sutton), clinked his glass many times with a spoon until the rowdy bar was relatively quiet and everyone was ready. Then he announced that the woman without the instrument would sing.

She started out softly, so softly that I could barely hear her even though we were seated five feet away, a mournful melody typical of Ireland and the troubles. It built and built in her voice, and the second woman joined her; then the flutes found their places in the melody, and drinkers and audience members joined until there was a chorus:

‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave
‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh, hard times come again no more.

 

It was worth being in Ireland for.

 

July 11, 2017

Our day was spent mostly in getting ourselves from Ennis to Dingle on the left side of roads. That was a three-to-four hour southwest drive that started out with countless roundabouts out of Ennis, then onto successive highways and two-lane roads with plenty of additional roundabouts, and ended up on narrow coastal roads such that the matter of locating the car in the center became more critical, as tourist buses and RVs coming the other way left no room at all and there was nothing to the left but the cliffs over the ocean. Although the focus was necessarily on the road—and it took two people, one to drive and the other to function like an instructor—the sense of magic that people attribute to the rural West of Ireland was palpable in a landscape of green fields and then sea with dark mountains, much like the world of Tolkien. I started, Lindy drove the large middle section, and I got the long curvy road through the mountains onto the Dingle Peninsula. My pitfall was still avoiding the onrushing traffic in the center, hence risking the shoulder. Lindy’s was finding first and second gear (ending up in third and fourth) on stops and roundabouts, and keeping her position and place in the order in the roundabouts. We both had moderate close calls, nothing too serious, but certainly worth exclamations.

We made one significant stop along the way: Bunratty Castle between Shannon and Limerick, about a half hour outside Ennis. What can one say about a theme park centered around a giant castle? You can supply the memes and clichés; I’d feel foolish replicating them here. It is because of their tyranny and the potential remorse of missing out that one submits to the “castle” at all. Bunratty had been talked up as a “must” from guidebooks to the Galway tourist information office to idle chatter of fellow travellers. At the tourist office we were told that if you were going to see one castle, it would be Bunratty because it offers a whole reconstructed village around the behemoth. I pictured a Renaissance Fair, though happily that was not the case. There were very few actors, and those that there were (a baker, a blacksmith, three young female musicians, and many goats and chickens) were less thespian than utilitarian.

Bunratty was negligibly off the road, though we still had to stop and ask directions because, for such a Disneyland-like attraction, there was virtually no road signage. Hard to believe—we took the right exit and saw only danger signs warning us of entering a quarry. A workman unloading a vehicle reassured us with good humor and irony, though I can’t remember his precise phrasing. Lindy was driving and had difficulty making out the Gaelic names of things he ticked off, so she spoke back some irrelevant Anglicizations, to which he responded along the lines of, “It’s just words, a manner of speaking.”

Americans we have talked to along the way remark affectionately on the friendliness of the people as a reason they are here, which sounds like another gratuity, but they are referring to something real and substantial. In the course of many interactions, some of which might have led to irritation, grumbling, or light “road rage” in the States, I have been struck by the politeness, elegance, and kindness of Irish folks’ comments. In the Old Ground Hotel lobby in Ennis, tight packed quarters with movements on conflicting trajectories, on the crowd-filled streets of Galway, in Dublin trains and stations, accidental bumps and aborted head-on pedestrian collisions are marked by excessivley humble apologies that would not be bothered to be spoken by most Americans. Some barely intrusive passings in tight space are accompanied by “Pardon me” or “Never mind, you’re okay.”

You can tell the ubiquitous Yanquis by their voices and their preference to establishing right of way and pecking order over the small dramas of deference and ritual humility. As these are carried out in a musical brogue and with earnest language, they create countless extremely short plays that are finally more memorable than castles and narrow roads. The same occurred in Dingle when we were lost because our GPS would not recognize Goat Street (as it had not the main O’Connell in Ennis). As we stopped along the shoreside, a random male pedestrian who did not look at all like the type to expound, expounded in afore-mentioned bardic style to sing an alternate route (since we were just past where we should have turned), concluding, “And that’ll get ye there just as well.”

I don’t think I am inherently brusque, impatient, or irritable, but by comparison to Irish folk, I am all of these. I am rude.

 

 

Admission to Dunratty Castle was set up confusingly because, in fact, there was no path to the tickets except through the souvenir shop, assuring a shot at commerce. With a substantial senior discount, it was only ten euros each. I have not mentioned that the Euro is a bit stronger than the dollar, so we lose on every purchase (plus merchants differ on whether we are better doing credit-card transactions in Euros or dollars, but I figure there is no way to win between the bankers and exchange rate, so we’ll surely see the “damage” on the other end).

The various small huts and houses around the castle were confusing as to what era they were meant to represent. They unabashedly covered a sweep from sometime around the fourteenth century to the nineteenth and early twentieth, which was probably not inaccurate to the situation on the ground. For people in the Irish countryside, not a lot changed over five hundred years. The Middle Ages turned into the Renaissance and then the industrial era, and the feudal barony became a farm, the lord a capitalist—but the harvest was still the harvest, and labor was still labor.

Buildings ran the range from those of poor farmhands and fishermen to those of wealthy land-owners. What struck me, regardless of the relative degree of wealth, possessions, and luxury, was the sense of a world before modernity. It didn’t matter if it was 1350 or 1910; life was quiet, sheltered, and profound, deep in the material earth in a way that this era of robotic convenience, virtual realities, and automated labor cannot enhance, though the oligarchy makes every attempt to establish its historical superiority and our privilege to be in this time.

In fact, the phenomenology then was simply deeper. One can smell the slowness of life in the exquisitely nuanced and flavored musty air inside these buildings, the long-standing aromatic herbal plantings and vines close around them, the smell that apples being cut for pie (a baker producing thin slices with quick adroitness of her hand in one hut). One can hear it in the random sounds of metal and wood as people pass through, the playing of harp and flutes by young girls in an ancient entry room, the calling of baby pygmy goats. One can see it in the pragmatically fractal uses of space, the deep thatching of roofs such that thunderstorms and weeks of snow could not soak through dense layers of interwoven mud and stems, the coziness of cubbies and tucked-away sanctuary spaces, the way giant canisters, basins, and barrels were stored up in niches near the ceiling, the way beds were like lairs that small creatures tucked themselves into. You could feel the sheer sensuality of incarnation in a way that has been intentionally stolen from us as if a burden and a lesser state of beingness.

The bed of a poor laborer in the fields was little more than sacks tossed on the ground until they grew into a de-facto sleeping pallet. His one-room cottage had virtually no possessions beyond an urn or utensil, a net and old-twine lobster trap for the fisherman, while the beds of nobles and property owners were ornate and canopied, their rooms filled with textiles, glazed decorated pottery, plenty of food and drink and haberdashery. Yet one thing about them felt the same: no video games, no reality TV, no diminishment of bodily habitation or the profoundly incremental flow of time. They lived in acts of caring for their creature selves and took the dense aromas of those acts for granted.

Yes, there was unspeakable disease, violence, and cruelty, a fact disclosed only almost cartoon-like (though deadly real) in the castle dungeon at Bunratty, but these too were part of the phenomenology in which folks were entangled, and they did not see beyond or care to see. We who see everything, including ostensibly them and their planetary epoch and lives, see virtually nothing, as we ourselves ourselves have diminished artificial and synthetic lives by comparison, though we time-travel to perform our wake over their centuries while we revive them for bargain entertainment.

The castle itself was difficult to encompass and assimilate, as one moved through it in mobs, and the winding passages up the levels were blocked by people going both up and down, causing tight squeezes into corners. It was a castle, a very large castle, and, in that sense, a city crowded into a single building. Because the city was almost entirely indoors and accessible to adornment and the perfection of space (and the spaces were on a very large scale), the epic of life in this building came across in its sheer scale, though the packaged tourist event attempted to compartmentalize and attenuate. The ceiling of the library itself looked like an upside-down church with its spires projecting deep into the room. The robing room and meeting room were on theatrical and parliamentary scale. The dungeon was as raw and inhuman as countless Hollywood reconstructions of its simple essence: an inescapable, unadorned hole in the ground for housing captives. Our species has, no surprise, been most inventive in its projection of the enemy from an elusive shadow within onto the vivid other, so that the depth and power of the psychic terror with appear in the immediate world in the semblance of confronting and defeating its external reflection.

 

We spent the morning in Ennis, which included an unsuccessful search for an audiologist to repair one of Lindy’s broken hearing aids and a visit to the health-food store and chat with the proprietess about the local state of things—the craniosacral therapy office was directly above. I might schedule a session later in the week, as we discovered that our booked time in Dingle was two, not three, nights, and we were luckily able to get a room on the 13th back at the Old Ground Hotel (the 14th, which we initially tried for before the discovery, was sold out). That changed the pacing of our upcoming return.

We got to our bed and breakfast at 5:00 (17:00) on the nose, as I had been prophetically predicting all the way from Bunratty when the GPS set our arrival at 4:25. The biggest losses of time were a traffic jam through a small town, a temporary red light for construction (which detoured us onto the normal familiar side of the highway but not before a digital clock ticked off 400 interminable seconds—no, it did not go from 300 to 259, it went to 299), a stop to view the ocean and mountains where we killed out anyway while trying to avoid three oversized tour buses turning onto the road, as oblivious to cars as to flies), and our initial missing of the turn to Goat Road.

Dingle is another postcard that is hard to send you so that you would see it. Buildings are connected in aesthetically pleasing rows with startlingly bright blues, yellows, reds, indigos, purples, magentas, teals, violets, and powder blues for doors and façades. We walked the town from five-fifty to six-thirty when we finally picked a place to eat. We saw the various shops, about three-quarters of the names written in Gaelic with the accompanying silent music the spelling makes on the streets. Two huge renditions of the crucifixion stopped us for meditation on the immanence of the sacred. These were comprised of human-scale, realistic pale statues of the participants set in stark relief against a dark background. They reminded me of the power of a single event to change the aura of the planet, also of the fact that we are in Irish Catholic Ireland now, more removed from the English regency.

We chose Fenton’s Restaurant, an impulsive, intuitive stab off the beaten track (as did actor Bill Murray once, from his signed photos on the wall). We had planned to return to one of two we had selected before the detour there. The women running the place were as sweet and caring as welcoming family, even for Ireland.

The food the last three days, without the benefit of natural, organic, vegetarian, or ethnic restaurants, has been unexpectedly good, including organic lamb from local Irish farms on even the most provincial menus, plenty of local fishes simply cooked (turbot, monkfish, salmon, cod), and scallops. Though we tend toward being vegetarians, we are not. I will not eat industrial meat for reasons of treatment of the animals, including the chemicals and vibrations of suffering passed through them to us. Yet we had decent meals in Galway, Ennis, and Dingle because there wasn’t a huge distinction between the organic and the commonplace here.

These journals are keeping me up late at night (now 11:30) and, though I am not sure I am finished with today, I do need the sleep, so I may continue tomorrow or move on to the next day.

 

July 12, 2017

In the morning made separate journeys from Bolands bed and breakfast into the town of Dingle. Actually we are in the town, but it is a walk of a few blocks equivalence on a residential downslope, a few medical and legal offices and a kid-filled green of cricket and soccer playing sadly about to be made into a housing development (according to a giant self-congratulatory sign), before one encounters shops. I headed down to the waterfront to find the tourist information center and get information for our planned afternoon circle route around the edge of the Dingle Peninsula.

My passing along the piers brought plenty of flashback to my days studying fishermen (1969-1970) in Maine. It’s a feeling that only comes from working piers and their boats and pro trawlers and the like.  I saw a curious street performance there. A large leprechaun-dressed man stood over a collection of six hobbit-size wooden dolls in motion and playing a mournful Irish tune. A small barrel was set alongside for donations.

At the office I received a map, some coaching, and a printed list describing sites along the way.

Back up on Goat Street, the main drag, I made two significant connections. First I visited the health-food store. In these travelling circumstances I expect to re-stock on snacks and perhaps let the principals know about the North Atlantic Books list. What I was not prepared for was the clerk, Irene Ni Fhlannura (Flannery) to declare herself as a writer with a couple of interesting health books in progress. I joked later by email to staff that she was the Irish Paul Pitchford lite, as she was familiar with the work of our most important long-term author, styling her own book a bit after his though she was not attempting anything so encyclopedic. We talked about her project and arranged to meet again after 5:00 at the holistic-health center (of which she was director) a few doors up Goat Street for me to look at her manuscript.

On the other side of the street I poked into the herbalist’s quarters to find q wise female elder and her young pupil or helper working busily on formulas, unconcerned for commerce. As the only visitor in a space that was half shop, half laboratory, I opened a discussion and learned that the mentot, Deirdre, she had recently attended a lecture in Cork by a new North Atlantic author of major herbal compendia, Thomas Easley. She and I continued into a discussion of approaches to herbs, ranging from homeopathic microdoses and tinctures and essences to what she prefers: “I’m an earthy type. I like to work by getting my hands wet and dirty.”

I quickly remarked that I respected that too and figured each person found their own natural frequency on which to practice and heal. “That’s what it is,” she said.

I discussed some herbal interests and needs, and Deirdre offered to prepare formulas overnight for Lindy and me to pick up “half ten” in the morning. I wondered if that meant half before or half after. It was the lazier half hour.

In the enthusiasm of the interactions I ran back up Goat Street and realized I was back to the mood and well-being of the days on Glenageary.

 

Slea Head Drive (Slí Cheann Sléibhe) is a coastal drive clockwise at the end of the Dingle Peninsula. It begins in the town of Dingle (Daingean Uí Chúis), goes to the end of the peninsula at Slea Head, continues north to Blasket Sound, site of the mostly abandoned Blasket Islands and prime fishing territory for Dingle, north of which the shorter version of loop bends inland, continues north along the coast, covering the opposite shoreline to Dingle, and then winds more sharply inland eventually over a large grassy hill back to Dingle. The whole route was supposed to be fifty kilometers (about thirty miles), but we cut a portion off of that. It was still hours long because of the caution with which one had to proceed.

The driving part of this experience was so exorbitant and dramatic that it was difficult not to let it dominate. The road was narrow at best. In its ampler stretches it provided enough space for two cars going in opposite directions to pass each other harmlessly and without freakout at about twenty-five miles per hour, as long as each one stayed on a track as confined as a train’s. In its less ample stretches, there was still enough room, but both cars (or at least one car, ours) had to slow and squeeze by. At its worst cars in one direction had to edge onto the shoulder to make space for those going in the other. In one instance, there was so little room that some drivers got out of their cars and instructed those going in the other direction how to inch by. It came down to a few inches clearance, a couple of inches, at a time with lots of shouting and repositioning.

Other perils included portions of the left side (ours) facing a bare or minimally protected ledge with a long, steep drop to ocean level; giant tour buses, farm equipment, SUVs, and confident, fast-moving drivers (probably locals) either straying over the center line or bullying over it from sheer girth; the disappearance of all lines from the road for long stretches concomitant with narrowing and leaving no marks for gauging location; dramas with steam shovels and tractors stopping all traffic as they attempted to clear roadside and relocate giant boulders; and impatient or passing drivers—passing was Russian roulette, but people risked it and somehow lived.

At the tourist office the woman advised committing to the loop because most traffic flowed clockwise. If we bailed and tried return, we would encounter a steady stream in the other direction. I couldn’t picture the situation until we got onto the first of the narrower sections and found that we had to drive pretty much down the center of the road—it was a blessing that there was virtually no traffic in the counterclockwise direction. When there was, I had to downshift to first gear and either stop or almost stop until we squeezed past. There was probably one car going counterclockwise for every fifty going clockwise.

I never went above third gear except by mistake. I drove most the way in second gear, a convenient instantaneous brake for the stops I had to make. The problem was that one was driving between the proverbial rock and a hard place. To the left was the shoulder and, for stretches, the cliff. To the right was other cars or the potential of other cars. When I got too close to the left shoulder, I was just as terrified as my passenger. She said her fingers tingled. When I got too close to the centerline on the right, I held my breath every time a vehicle passed while going in the opposite direction.

Sad to say, Lindy didn’t drive much. During her one brief stint she got too close to the shoulder where the cliff was and when I reacted big, she veered back to the center too sharply and had to correct toward the cliff. That was all I could take. She is as skilled a driver as me, in fact more so, but she gets phobic in situations like this, plus she worries too much about courtesy to the other drivers. This is a matter of courtesy be damned, let’s survive. She pulled over at the next opportunity, a parking area for a view, and told me I was driving henceforth.

We stopped later at a spectacular overlook where we chatted with a middle-aged British woman selling amulets with Celtic letters and runes and bought vegan cookie squares (one currant, one apricot) from a younger American woman in an adjacent van. I admitted aloud to spending a fair amount of time driving down the center. The Celtic-amulet lady told me that that was way dangerous because of farm equipment, curves, and locals used to going eighty kilometers a mile on a road not made for it. Still smarting from her misadventure, Lindy declared, “See, I told you. You aren’t the perfect bigshot driver.” Her implication was that I had cheated, though I protested that I only drove down the middle when I could see ahead that no one was coming. I was still chastised by two women in sudden solidarity, though the rune-maker said she wanted no part of a marital dispute. The hippie cookie-maker reclining in her van and listening to Enya could have cared less.

Back on the road, Lindy insisted I adhere to the rules, so I moved closer to the left edge and bore down in rapt attention. That truly terrorized her, as she shouted for me to move to the center. I was laughing, which was kind of mean, but it was because she had just lambasted me for driving down the center. When I moved to the center, I pointed out that I was back where I had been driving all along. But then a car came and she said, “See, you were warned about this.” I moved closer to the edge—well, you get the picture. There simply wasn’t enough room for anything but an expedient gesture at every opportunity, and that’s the way it was for the duration.

 

No one made clear when we started out that there were numerous stops along the way, probably around fifteen, and few were free. It was anywhere from two to five Euros per person to look at pretty much anything: Celtic remains, Druid remains, beehive houses, old forts, Celtic shrines, tiny museums, larger museums. We could have spent $100 or so if we stopped at everything. Initially we made two stops, but after a while we just drove, which had plenty of entertainment for one day, looking at epic views, the mountains of the Ring of Kerry, the three-and-a-half-times-as-long tourist drive to the south providing an awe-inspiring, Mordor-like backdrop across the sea. I loved what we saw and did, but truer pleasure consisted of getting back to Dingle and no longer having to drive the road, so the excursion was a mixed blessing.

We did not initially realize that there would be so many invitations to stop or that every one would come with a fee, so we stopped at the second one offered and were glad we did. It had an irresistible summons: Faery Circle and Sheep Petting. This combination was the consequence of a faery circle on a sheep farm, and an enterprising farmer. The freckled blonde girl employed to collect money, possibly not American driving age, told us, when we questioned her as we were leaving, that it was her grandfather’s farm and one of her two summer jobs. She had done it for many summers, sit in a tiny hut, collect three Euros per person, and hand out small round plastic containers of sheep and goat food, which made the friendly animals even friendlier.

The sheep and goats, many babies, certainly knew the routine. Those inside the pen were clamoring with noses stuck between wires. Those outside the pen romped right up to us and nosed at our legs. One black goat was so aggressive that I could barely feed the sheep without its mouth shoving in the way. It could not be pushed into a different agenda or otherwise deterred, and it almost knocked me over a few times. There were mainly sheep, and they were very tame. Initially I was squeamish about holding out my hand with food and dropped it on the ground, which was useless because they didn’t see it. After that, I followed Lindy’s example. My whole hand got licked many times by giant tongues and lips, but I never got bitten. It was quite a challenge getting grub pellets to the less aggressive ones: I held out a laden hand and the alpha sheep and goats were right there, knocking pellets loose.

A few had wandered into the faery circle, and in one instance, I petted, then full-hugged one very affectionate sheep, my head on it, after watching children do that. If it was a cat, it would have purred. It was a very solid animal under the cuddly wool, but quite receptive to attention. I remember the artist Andy Goldsworthy saying that the sheep who shared his farm may have looked playful and fluffy, but that was misleading; they were incredibly strong, willful creatures.

For all the literature that the gate-girl provided, I couldn’t tell you who built the faery circle or even whom archaeologists thought built it. “Druids” is a catchall for shamans of unidentifiable epochs, so to call it “maybe Druid” and even to question whether it is natural or artificial (or maybe later Celtic) begs a question already begged. It was clear that neither the caretakers of the site nor the American tourists viewing it with us believed that it was anything more than a primitive Halloween haunted house. They treated it as lore, manga. A terrifically overweight American family of about seven were loud, make stupid jokes, pretended to haunt each other, and posed for every kitsch arrangement available while discussing computer terminology of an obscure sort having to do with picture-taking.

The literature said not to be there between 1 and 5 AM or your death would soon follow. That made for much ribaldry among the Americans.

The circle itself consisted of a raised round hillock-like mound in a deep narrow round pit of, necessarily, slightly greater circumference. The whole complex was approximately the size of baseball infield.

The prospect presented a challenge to me. I had come to Ireland partly for fairy landscapes—fairy houses and fairy passageways—and this was the first clear opportunity, but was it an active circle or the fossil of one and, if only a fossil, what energies did it yet conduct?

I tried not to be superior or silently boastful, to stay ordinary and shift unobtrusively to the astral plane. That was a complete debalce. I wasn’t listening; I was showing off to myself and, by implication, to the supposed blasphemers of the ring. Who was I to judge? They were happy, imbibing the higher energy in their. All I did was make myself a bit dizzy. I needed to get humbler

I walked deep in the outer pit and then began the high mound. I deepened my view, accepted the tourists as who they were, widened to listening. Immediately I felt an impulse to sink, to go down into my feet and then below the earth. I sensed that that was where any operating energy was. It had a density and murk to it and pulled. It was very, very subtle, but it was real. As I tried to enter the transdimensional field, I felt blocked at every portal. More than that, I felt intrusive, unprepared, uneducated, a bit of a dunce. I was an interloper in a graduate course in higher physics. I hadn’t learned the charms or runes or means of induction. I also seemed to be a conversation in a language that not only was I untrained for but that had nothing to do with me or my life, even at its most mythic and esoteric.

Later, before leaving, Lindy and I both sat in the circle quietly, the Americans having soldiered out. I closed my eyes and looked. There was motion and an occasional clearing. I felt seen and taken care of. I sensed that I was being told I was acting respectfully and would be gifted with what was in their power to gift. It wasn’t that that was little instead of much; it was that it was unknown and it was left up to me to discern and use it. It could be very much. It depended on how much I deciphered, probably unconsciously, and transferred into my own operating system. It spoke directly to my sister’s December suicide from an eleventh-story window, a falling girl received into a cosmos ultimately more Druid than New York for all its dominion and size.

On our way out, the girl gave us a bottle of disinfectant to wipe our hands with. “The sheep slobber,” she said, “and it’s best to clean up after feeding them.”

 

Next came the beehives. I knew I wanted to see those and I suspected up ahead that it came with a fee. Lindy thought not, but the set-up was clear. An older man in a booth was collecting three euros each, but when I gave him a ten, he gave me back a five with a smile and said (because he had overheard our discussion), “That’ll do for seniors.”

The beehive huts (clochans) are tiny buildings constructed of layered large flat stones, much like stone walls except with the individual components stacked such that the overall result is circular, though occasionally a cupola on a square base. Tight stone walls are works of art themselves, but to round them means piling the stones in gradated fashion, using space fractally in three dimensions, turning a line into a circle and then a circle into a sphere. These types of dwellings are found almost exclusively in southwest Ireland. They are iconic and traditional—even street garbage cans in Dingle are tiny clochans, though this represents tourist branding and civic aesthetics as much as a continuity of tradition.

In truth, the source of clochans is nearly as mysterious as of faery circles, though more substantial and likely Celtic rather than of unknown Stone Age (Mesolithic or Neolithic) vintage. According to literature from the tourist office , the tradition of stone corbelling stretches from the oldest huts dated at 3100 BC to the most recent, built in the 1950s.

To reach the ones in the local town, Fahan, we climbed the hillside with other tourists and then were able to go into clochans and along the walls of collapsed and dispersed ones. Apparently there was once a whole city, more than 400, here. If you looked up along the hillside, the remnant appearance was more like dotted lines or roches moutonnés bar code in the distance: stones rather than live sheep grazing. The well-preserved beehives in the fenced-off tourist site had connecting tunnels, suggesting a stone fort complex, perhaps as protection and/or a retreat site against invading Normans around the twelfth century (tourist literature). Tunnels both human and animal size connected the various small rooms.

The closure and darkness within conveyed a sense of sanctuary andprotection in a Gaston Bachelard phenomenology as well as a slight claustrophobia. To stare from within at the individually stacked stones at close range was to look at time on a planetary scale, at least as far as the Pleistocene and Holocene go (lots of Earth time prior to primate ascension, though). The clochans may not have been as skilled or labor-intensive as the pyramids, nor obviously at that monumental size, but they spoke to the brilliant technology of the same epoch and carried the vibration of similar sparse Irish stone ruins in North America as well astronomical stone circles across the sea like Castlerig and Stonehenge.

We stopped twice again on our circle, once for the overlook where we visited with the two women and their van markets, and then at the Blasket Islands visitor center, a large modern museum with a cafeteria at the site of boat trips to the Blasket Islands. Most other spots with great views or Celtic and Christian artifacts were too packed with cars een to venture parking.

The rich fishing territory of the relatively large Blasket Islands made them a distinct and isolated fishing culture with its own folkways and Gaelic dialect. They were, for all intents and purposes, depopulated in 1953 when the Irish government oversaw resettlement in Dingle. The population has declined by then, and the remaining folks were having trouble with the stringent conditions. A large contingent of them moved together to Springfield, Mass.

The lady at the tourist office had recommended hiking out from the museum if we wanted a mild stroll, but we never found a real, manageable trail. The available one went across the road wnet up over a steep hill and was more than we preferred or had made time for. I searched the adjoining fields while Lindy got a bite in the cafeteria. A number of individual families were also wandering there. The land had a pleasant, sweet feel to it, brightly colored wildflowers, a mild, salty breeze off the sea, but there was no access to a trail, as the only one lay on the other side of a barbed-wire-topped fence. Heading back to the museum, I stepped on ground that looked solid but was so boggy my lead foot descended into pure liquid. I was wearing five-fingered shoes, and the dipped one dried off quickly.

After her lunch, Lindy and I walked along a path that turned into a dirt road parallel to the shore. We spent about a half hour on our mini-hike. The wildflowers, possibly parts of abandoned gardens, were in such rich, luminous patches of blue and yellow in spots that looking into them engenderd, at least for me, trance-inducing moirés. I am a bright-color devotee, so the flowers alone rewarded a hike otherwise reduced from what we had hoped for. The patchwork farmed hillsides in the distance, sea breeze, and subtle west-Ireland vortex also added to a calm delight. Not all journeys are epic; the most meaningful ones aren’t. The wisest vibrations are subtle.

The fact that we were on a live road was demonstrated an the Irish Post vehicle that forced us to climb onto tight embankments, a friendly wave delivered by the postman (and returned) in both his directions.

You already know about the road, so I won’t belabor the rest of Slea Head Drive. We stopped for instructions for the shortcut back at an inn/pub. I considered their quirky male deliverer entertaining and droll; Lindy thought him nasty and rude.

 

Soon after returning, I walked down Goat Street to the Holistic Health Center for a book meeting with Irene Flannery. While waiting, I sorted her specialties, as advertised in the window, from those of fellow practitioners. She tended toward multiple avenues of nutritional diagnosis and therapy, while her sisters did angelwork, bodywork, and aromatherapy.

She and I sat and talked for about an hour, going between the manuscript on her computer screen and tales of each of our lives. The tragedy of the loss of her older sister Ursula to cancer had led her to alternative medicine and she had returned to school to study nutrition. She had run a restaurant prior to that. Our son Robin’s age, she had both younger children (six and nine) and a twenty-six-year-old.

In spending time with her, I was able to feel her presence and nature, like watching a person on stage in a play come to life as a character. Of course, this is always true of meetings. I guess it stands out because it happened imperceptibly around a discussion of her book on nutrition, herbs, and cancer (prevention and treatment). I gradually realized that editing tone was an issue in a situation where the indigenous Irish personality, a blend of mournful determination, community and family closeness, and high humor, was different from, say, Paul Pitchford’s cheerful, dry Healing with Whole Foods. We talked about possible directions she might take in her next pass. The ground here is a larger topic not for this journal.

Lindy and I had quite an evening walkabout before settling on a place for dinner, partly as a way to see more of Dingle in night bustle. We discarded a number of places as too pricey, meaning 40 to 60 Euros for a main dish, or more bar than restaurant or with a rowdy drinking-and-smoking gauntlet to pass through to enter. I meant to take the Rick Steves guide with us but forgot, and so the fact I remembered the name of his highly recommended Out of the Blue restaurant and others surrounding it was an imperfect compass, I was missing the address and directions. Safari searches on the phone were of little help because the direction apps on my cell phone refused to recognize Waterside Street, sending me alternately to Scotland, Massachusetts, and somewhere in Scandinavia. Waterside turned out, not surprisingly, to be by the marina. The guide had said that Out of the Blue was developed and run by fishermen and featured a bare-bones fish menu, always fresh, the day’s catch.

It turned out to be a reclaimed, brightly colored blue-and-yellow shack with a fully decorated and packed interior, a wait unfortunately of at least an hour. However with the sudden departure of a group of customers, there was the option of eating outside at the picnic tables, and we and a number of other tourists took it. It would be daylight till after ten—another two hours—but the last patch of sun was disappearing, as the waitress cleaning the tables pointed out, behind a very blue stone building across the street. It was also windy, blowing down menu signs she tried to stand up. Yet it was a quite serviceable solution at a very busy hour—we were lucky to get the seats.

The whiteboard menu was like a great glossary of local fish. One could mix and match sauces, so I got almond-lemon hake and Lindy got red-brandy-flambéd scallops. The sustained care, dignity, and lightness of our older waitress was more the norm here than the exception, but it still stood out. Though kept fully running around among her tables inside, she attended to the outdoor folks with diligence, inquired with an empathy that made her utterly unintrusive, in fact delightful (autopilot-“how are things” waiters and waitresses can all but ruin a meal).

After dinner we walked back through town and up the hill to Fenton’s, the site of our meal the night before, for a repeat of dessert and equally warm staff camaraderie. I wanted another gooseberry and elderberry crumble with light whipped cream—how often do you get either fat sour gooseberries or sweet winey elderberries well baked into an ample dessert, let alone both at once? Lindy decided on the strawberry-rhubarb crumble. We sat at the bar and exchanged thoughts with Maev, our hostess of the night before. Somehow she made it like a friendly conversation at a party, though preparing drinks, running credit cards, and providing glasses and silverware to the owner on call. I don’t mean to inflate unnecessarily, but the people we encountered changed the evening into its own cordial social event beyond mere food.

We had planned on Irish music at a pub, but this was a case of discretion the better part of valor in tourism. We were too tired for anything more on the day.

 

July 13, 2017

Sad to be leaving on the day. Each of these Irish stops is like a lifetime, a world found and then lost, new friends and familiar sites. Strange how these come and tjen fade—Dublin, Galway, Ennis, and now Dingle already behind us, deep into Ireland.

Our B&B host Rita is an original, full of emotion and care. She has a gesture, a touch of her hand to your arm with a bashful or diffident toss of the head to indicate abrupt topic cessation, that she had gone down a perhaps-tedious route. Rita corrected us that the “Stunning New Residential Development” was what we already saw, the houses across the green; the green itself was not in danger. The damage was done. She said that she saw online that Rick Steves was in town but he never visited her. We offered to put in a good word. We also discussed how booking.com hijacked reservations and stole an unnecessary middleman cut from both of us, how hard it is to prevent that. Watch the tricks the next time you try to book online. My mistake was that, after getting on B&B or hotel websites, I clicked on, “free cancellation.” That took me to the booking.com website.

Before heading back to Ennis, we stopped in town for Lindy to meet Irene Flannery at the health-food store. As we told her about our evening, we learned, to our astonishment, that she was the founder of Out of the Blue, beginning with an abandoned shed and a couple of tables. Then she sold it to the husband of her niece after three years when she broke her ankle. We learned too that her childhood was spent four houses  up Goat Street from Bolands B&B.

After that visit, we crossed the street and saw wortwoman Deidre, who had made a slippery elm and thuja combination for skin for me and a lip balm of chamomile and beeswax for Lindy.

 

On the roads from Dingle to Tralee to Limerick to Ennis (3+ hours), I realized something obvious, but I had not focused on it earlier: the soft rectilinear contours of the fields comes from the fact that rows of trees or hedges separate them, so they are sharply divided but not sharply. They are also bent on hills so have a slightly Escher look. Small towns are really compact, like cubbies within a green. Each town has a shape and a boundary. When it ends, it ends, virtually no mini-suburbs—a page in a children’s picture book

On the radio, Lindy found the Gaelic music station while I was driving. It reminded me of how, over fifty years ago, I turned on the Navaho station while crossing the reservation in Arizona. You want to hear the spoken word, especially of a strange language that is rarely eavesdropped on. Navaho and Gaelic each speak to mystery worlds, shamans and druids. Unless you are more of a linguist than me, the phonemes are not a clue to anything objective, yet languages, like cultures, have their own character. An hour of Gaelic sounds very different from overheard street talk in Dingle or the occasional phrase for effect. I feel as though I can hear its Central European Bronze Age origin, a Germanic ring separating it from Romance languages, from even the English brogues of Irish people. I hear a Bronze fallback or echo. I also hear, fancifully perhaps, a tad of the nasal, glottal-stop quality of some Amerindian tongues, an occasional slide across Chinese, and a Hebrew cantorial chant. This is hardly Morris Swadesh glottochronology, but it’s in the spirit of his global vowel and consonant shifts—an inexplicable unconscious happening across cultures and dialects. Who is switching sounds? Members of the separating culture continue to hear their own speech as normal, members of the source culture likewise, but both are drifting apart from each other like galaxies of relationship between sound and meaning.

The radio music was also varied. Though there was plenty of what I think of as almost dirge-like Irish music, a lot of what was played had a very different sound, more like bossa nova or musicalized bird calls in Gaelic.

 

We arrived in Ennis to Ireland’s native alchemical rain materializing in fine droplets out of a gray sky—none of the mood of rain, more the mood of an invisible rainbow.

It was nice, for the first time, to return to a known town and walk streets with which we are familiar.

I had discovered a craniosacral therapist in Ennis above the health-food store, Patricia McMahon, and wrote her from Dingle. For some reason she didn’t get the email, but she scheduled a short-notice appointment at 5:30 today while we were en route to Ennis. We got in at 3:45, ample leeway.

Every practitioner is different. There wouldn’t be much to say if Patricia was a standard bodyworker with conventional techniques—I mean she was, but that wasn’t the interest. As Upledger-Institute-trained therapists go, she was light on the more complicated techniques and had not taken the visceral-manipulation classes, so was pure cranial. She stuck to basics—release of sacrum, pelvis, throat, neck, cranial vault, cranial rhythms of liver and intestines, etc.—but she did those with commitment and patience. She spent ninety minutes on the treatment and hung out for long spells in place, deepening, letting points go through full releases and therapeutic pulses and even the occasional laser-like reverberation of subtle energy through v-spread technique, one hand on belly, one on back. This more than the advanced rigmaroles is the true art of the system. She had mastered CST 1 and 2. In a was, that was sufficient for a vast treatment; you can always do more and better and more sophisticated and eclectic, but the client’s mind-body-spirit system won’t necessary receive it usefully.

Some of you may not know CST, and this is not the place to elaborate. I will just say that it is an idiosyncratic blend of cranial osteopathy, polarity, Chinese medicine, and practitioner-honed modes of manual medicine that were popular and respected before the AMA established its own guild and determined which brands of therapy were legitimate.

Patricia’s strength was in being a true healer. She worked from her core, had warm, charged hands in a faith-healing tradition, and was a practitioner of Reiki and reflexology before she took up craniosacral, She said wanted something “a bit more backed by evidence.”

My sense was that she transmitted a singular energy through different matrices, CST being the current one. Slight in build, with reddish hair and complexion, indefinably in her fifties or sixties, brief and succinct in words, superficially shy but definite, she was always interesting and curiosity-inducing in her hands-on work.

Where this vignette meets the travel journal is that during the ninety minutes of the treatment, my whole trip through Ireland played out at a deeper level. I travelled back through it under the surfaces. I realized that there is such a thing as Irish energy healing different from American energy healing, and it can be transmitted by a person of Irish roots and sensibility. The landscape, the tenor and character of the native people, the traditional music, the sound of Gaelic reprised themselves as something else in the course of the session, so it was more than craniosacral, it was a psychic transmission. That “something else” was in no way a picture postcard or folklore; it was prelinguistic, pastoral, and played through the chakras at one below where she worked, so that I experienced a vibrating interior orange-red glow at the belly. It had a Vulcan mind-meld quality, except for there being no attempt to “speak” in semantic units. It was more like John Upledger’s cell talk but of the tourist variety.

Patricia transmitted Ireland while doing regular cranial work and, since it was me receiving it, I experienced deeper emotional and esoteric aspects of my sister’s suicide seven months ago. What the treatment felt like was regular releases and trance states incorporated within a telepathic conveyance of Irish heritage and ambiance, making me briefly Irish. Since my sister was raised by an Irish nurse (who was closer to her emotionally than her mother and also a major figure for my brother and me in our childhood), the Irish theme fused the two together passionately, and the trip to Ireland became a processing of the recent tragedy.

Patricia didn’t have to be consciously aware of any of this. She just had to do her practice. The practice was the transmission—even as in Zen, the posture is the message. It is not a way to the meaning; it causes the meaning.

Now that Ireland was dreamed on a different tier I walked back to the Old Ground Hotel, seven PM. A half hour later Lindy and I went to a restaurant that Patricia recommended, The Dining Room. Afterwards we tried the Irish music in the hotel bar, but it was standard jigs, very crowded space, and once again we were too tired.

We are headed tomorrow to a hotel Frank found for us outside Galway in Athenry. It’s a bit pricey, but we have entered the open period of trip. Having eliminated Meath, we need to come up with alternative agendas until we are due in Portstewart on July 20.

 

July 14, 2017

We walked around Ennis, each on our own this morning. It is special to walk in another country, no agenda or touted sight, just all the small details encountered: faces of adults and children (many of them classically Irish so it seems cinematic), sounds of conversation (pitch and brogue), posters, graffiti, clothing styles, tiny modern statues of animals, a large modern statue of market day on Market Street, street musicians, churches, lamp posts, cats and dogs in windows, flower arrangements, , mail boxes, bright painted doorways, devout Catholic prayers on walls. They’re all original and indigenous to the moment and place in their way

There are probably only about five or six streets in the center of Ennis, though they are entangled in such a way that it is easy to get lost. The grid is inherited from a Mediaeval city. If you walk long enough and keep circling, eventually something familiar will reappear. I visited the computer store for dialogue about a few issues (very full explanations from the tech), had a small adventure getting a stamp to mail a document that had to be printed and signed, and enjoyed liked lost and seeing different shops and small street incidents.

Actually last night while heading back from the craniosacral session, I saw something not so small that I don’t think I have ever seen before: two young men fist-fighting for real on the street, one trying to bash the other’s head into the pavement. It was either quite serious or a well-done performance. I think the former, but I have seen such a fight so often in movies that it is hard not to think of it as fake. Spectators tried to pull them apart with no more success than if they were pit bulls. The guys reengaged as agilely as acrobats in a scripted modern dance, shouting in rage, each as determined as the other to tear his adversary apart, As I continued down the street, I saw a yellow-coated policeman running that way. Probably real.

Interesting reading the Irish Independent at breakfast. The new IRA seems to present a rising danger in an age of creative terrorism. An Iraqi doctor claimed that she didn’t stab her baby to death; her hand did, it was controlled by an invisible power. A dangerous mafia hitman was released from jail and was sure to murder again—no explanation of why he was released. The equivalent of Social Security was to be raised to age 70. A woman was grieving her husband, killed by a gunman dressed as a woman—apparently a mistaken victim, no back story. The sporting event that was on the TV bar silently while the musician played in the Poet’s Corner the previous evening was fully covered on the back page. I cannot tell what sport it is when men with paddles aim at goals and tackle each other; it seems like a combination of field hockey, lacrosse, European football, cricket, and rugby in about that order.

We drove to the hotel Frank found for us, in Athenry, a rural suburb of Galway. Driving is always worth a story or two. In this case, drama happened early.

The most common instruction on the GPS is: “In X kilometers (or meters) at the roundabout take the first (or second or third or fourth, etc.) exit for wherever”: a street or road or highway like M386. Roundabouts are as common as traffic lights. But the signage on the road doesn’t always correspond to the names spoken by the GPS. When disonance happens, it usually isn’t a problem, but if you’re supposed to take the third or fourth exit and there is a lot of traffic in the roundabout, and the name doesn’t correspond, it is easy to pick the wrong exit. That is what happened to us not far from Ennis, and it was very difficult for Lindy to pick up a recalculated sidestreet for correction because the GPS was slow to alert us, and it was usually already passed. We finally ended up on a rural lane that seemed very unlikely to get us back and had no GPS name except “road.” We were arguing about whether to turn around or continue to follow the instructions when an older man on a motorcycle pulled up and signaled for us to roll down the window. After a discussion established our situation, he said he would lead us to the right road to Athenry, I believe N85. We all made U-turns, and he got in front, a combination pulling guard and good Samaritan. It was a goodly distance, about ten kilometers to we were clearly not only on the highway but separated from Limerick traffic. I have no idea if the cuclist went out of his way, but it was very generous of him. In fact, Lindy joked that she hoped he’d lead us all the way to our hotel.

The last fifteen or so kilometers, after we veered to instruction out of Galway traffic, was very tight roads, a stone wall usually on the left, and many roundabouts and turns before we reached a modern hotel facility in the countryside, more like a golf resort than what we were accustomed to. The scenery featured old stone cottages, stone walls both on the roadside and in the far distance up and down rolling landscapes like an exhibit of archaeological relics, sheep, hills, trees are elegantly cut to allow telephone lines to pass through them without harm to either—vintage Ireland. I sometimes have to remind myself where you are.

Later in the afternoon we made a test run to the Athenry train station. The woman at the front desk said it was five minutes walk. Lindy questioned her on that that, as distances have been regularly underestimated. “Why the town’s only ten minutes,” she said. Despite a brisk pace, it took us twenty-five minutes to get to the train tracks and another five to the station.

We checked out the set-up. Nothing was obvious. What we thought was the station beside the parking lot for the trains was actually a tiny private hut with dinner on the table (as spied through the window). We finally found the station itself and ticket machine and had a droll dialogue with an older woman and some teens waiting for the next train to Galway on a long bench, as we tried to ascertain the ground rules. The woman was pedagogical, for instance insisting we use the parking lot or we’d get a ticket (although there seemed ample spaces on the street): “It’s only three euros,” she deadpanned. She also warned us to be on our toes, “You only have a few seconds. The doors open and close. They don’t dawdle.” We got the side of the tracks for Galway, found that we needed Euro coins to park (no credit cards), and (of course) that we better not walk if we wanted to make the tour in the morning. On the way back we stopped to watch the Irish Rail coming from Galway pass in the distance.

 

July 15, 2017

This was one of the hardest days ever. Not on all levels but in terms of physical crisis and degree of challenge—physically and socially. I have been preaching all along in this journal that travelling has to do with learning about yourself but, like most tourists, I have tried to accrue positive experiences, fulfilling events, signature sites, and friendly, neutral interactions. I have been the innate capitalist, acquirer, and spinner I endemically am for being raised in the post-War US. Then something happens to knock that away and expose a deeper reality. All the rules change. The score changes—the pinballs stop, and all the points are wiped from the console. The game is a different game. It is not an unfamiliar or unworthy one, but it ends tourist acquisition and amelioration. Things get unbearably and irrevocably real.

The issue here is motion sickness. I am very susceptible to motion sickness. I am probably far out in the tenth-of-percentage-point percentile of people in terms of susceptibility, but I have managed to navigate so successfully that I have maybe a dozen to twenty experiences of acute motion sickness in my life. Though I wrote my PhD anthropology thesis on fishermen, I only went out in a fishing boat once, with my main “informant,” Wendell Seavey—that was one of the twenty acute instances.

I have usually been able to extricate myself before it got acute. And those instances have almost always been with only Lindy present, and driving, or able to drive, and us able to stop and take a break, or not far from home. Only once that I can remember did I get carsick while driving, about twenty years ago after taking a homeopathic remedy for motion sickness while driving back to Berkeley from the prescriber in Mill Valley. Homeopathic aggravation?

Yet I have never found a successful remedy, homeopathic or other, though I do have an effective general nausea remedy that our daughter Miranda got me for Christmas a few years ago from a local company called Herb Lore while we were in Nevada City, and I carry it around as a virtual cure-all for a wide range of conditions: headaches, digestive difficulty, motion sickness, migraine auras, etc. It is a blend of chamomile, dandelion root, fennel, peppermint, red raspberry, wild yam root, and ginger root. I have had some success with electrical bracelets that shock acupuncture points on meridians passing through the wrists, but the last one I ownded broke and I haven’t found a replacement.

Motion sickness is like nothing else I knew. As a friend once put—and she got it from a classic maxim—“First you think you’re going to die. Then you’re afraid you’re not.” I read an article years ago about a NASA study of motion sickness, as it was a deterrent in the manned space program. It is a disease of the brain when the brain itself malfunctions in terms of orientation—cognitive direction or perception of motion in relation to real direction or motion—and it isn’t just a matter of a brief mis-read that self-corrects. That happens continually. It is a global error that locks and distributes itself throughout the nervous system and viscera such that basic somatic and psychosomatic networks cease functioning normally. Yes, it feels like hell: nausea, dizziness, upset stomach, hot and cold chills, sweating, spasmodic shaking, core weakness, restlessness, a heightened sensitivity to sound and light, an inability to organize neural input properly (adding to the dizziness), and a Tourettes-like loss of control of voice. It is illegal torture, except coming from within. The brain not working and not being able to be summoned for help is a major impediment to amelioration.

I never had acute motion sickness before today in a public situation or in a situation that I couldn’t, to some degree, control and escape to recover. If I can get out of a moving vehicle quickly, or stop moving (in certain head-hanging yoga postures) right away, I can reverse it before it becomes acute. Once it crosses an imperceptible line, it is like a ball rolling downhill; the hill controls the ball, and there is nothing to do but wait for bottom. It is terrible if there is no foreseeable bottom.

Oliver Sacks treated motion sickness as a migraine and epilepsy equivalent, a similar brain disorder, but with nausea and dizziness instead of pounding pain or fainting spasms.

No one with susceptibility to acute motion sickness should have gotten on a bus about to travel the Connemara loop. It was a reckless and foolhardy thing to atempt, but when you aren’t motion sick, you feel immune to it despite past encounters. And everything was leading us onto the loop: Frank’s promised adventure, our desire to see Connemara, our greater Ireland quest. I was blinded by a wish to be normal, a touch of bravado, and a supplanging of my own reality with the descriptions of must-see places in the tourist literature. We were offered this trip as a gift, so we took it. I should have looked more closely at what I was accepting and what the risk-reward ratio was.

 

The day started off happily and spotlessly enough, an early rise to a rainy Saturday, proper preparation with boots and raincoats, a short drive from Athenry to Galway (about twenty-five minutes to where Frank said to park on Dock Street across from the Don Aongus orange and yellow apartment complex facing the marina). he had asked for our license plate, saying parking was free. Lindy drove in by the GPS, as we found ourselves back in familiar surroundings: Eyre Square, Le Petite Pois, streets we were pleased to see again. We weren’t prepared for the parking machines and warnings of a clamp for illegal parkers. I texted Frank. He wrote back, “No money required. You are a guest of the mayor!”

We began the seven-minute walk to the pickup spot he texted, a hostel just off Eyre Square, luckily falling in with a couple from Littleton, Colorado, heading for a different tour at the same spot, just as we were beginning to doubt the GPS on my cell, or more accurately, as it began to reject its own direction. We hung out in mobs of different tours, found our bus, one of the smaller ones, and boarded.

The day stretched before us was eight and a half hours of the Connemara loop: leave at 9:00, return at 17:30. The bus drove through Galway suburbs as our driver, Seamus, a big gentle-giant, older middle-aged man spoke through a microphone, talking about a variety of things, from the changing history of suburbs to the recent record in the qualifiers of the Galway Football Club called the Tribesmen, and then why they were called the Tribesmen (from the original tribes founding the city). It was a partly-dedicated, partly-free-associative loop that was occasionally intrusive in its insistence like a radio left on but mostly affable company. Greenery and stone architecture dominated, the ocean to our left shrouded in fog, the beach and surf visible, fairly amazing stone houses of all sorts, many of them new.

The stone walls were particularly notable and an indication of where we were: Gaelic country. Along the roadside, their ubiquity and seamless design despite the irregular mosaics making them up spoke to a history of artisanry, also the thatched roofs which, Seamus said, sadly insurance companies had sent into decline. A bit down the road he pointed to two new cinderblock-type houses with different weaves of thatch as defiances and real expressions of both luxury and taste.

The walls in the fields were so varied and various in their distribution they made me think of membranes inside cells, a distribution of Golgi bodies and mitochondria. Many of them were abandoned and discontinuous in their current form but left as remnants. There were also plenty of abandoned stone houses—corpses of stone—usually roofless and often missing part of a wall, in various states of disintegration.

As we turned inland, the landscape changed: wide-open fields with lots of stone outcroppings and boulders, habitations fewer and farther between. We eventually stopped in the parking lot of a visitors’ center for the summer home of patriot rebel Patrick Pearse, the eloquent spokesman of the 1916 uprising. In lead-up to that, Seamus reprised a series of rebellions and the war for Irish independence, I believe in 1919-1921. He said that the execution of Pearse and his colleagues ahd ignited the Irish people to fight full-on for their independence from the British, hence had backfired. He went on to talk about the remaining six counties in the North in which the Protestants chose to remain part of Britain. He tiptoed around the politics with assurances of everyone wanting for peace, the orange and the green alike, but the Republicans were still active and perhaps not entirely satisfied with the current situation.

We were let off to walk about for twenty minutes. Pearse’s tiny cottage was far enough up the hill that you could barely get there and back in that time, so the information, announced at least five times, that it would cost you four Euros to enter the cottage but you could go anywhere else, gave little incentive to enter—to pay four euros for what? A minute or two. Lindy went into the visitors’ center, while I chose to walk up the hill in a group headed for the cottage. I soon fell behind because I was more interested in the fields: rocky outcrops of great size and in more abundance that I had ever seen, erratic boulders strewn everywhere, a soft peat underfooting in most places with water running out from under it such that I felt in a bog with a danger of stepping onto a spot that descended into water. I had done so in the Dingle peninsual when I didn’t have boots, but not here when I did. The botany was boglike: pitcher plants, moor grass, rose, heather, and patches of tiny flowers among leaves looking like garden herbs such a rosemary, chamomile, and thyme but were of a wilder and less known variety. It was a place I felt akin to, where I could spend happily spend time. I liked the sparseness, primordial stoniness, and herbal-apothecary smell.

The sense of a landscape that was part peat bog and part soil proceeded for subsequent bus miles through fields, leading to Seamus’ discourse about the use of peat as fuel. Bodies of water looked like usual small lakes and ponds, but they had so many islands in them, ranging from ones soccer-ball-size to somewhat larger ones that were home to a single tree and a few that could a hobbit cottage, that they were more like bogs that had taken on additional water than lakes. Ground foliage wrapped around the small islands down into the water the way it does in a bog. Seamus stopped at one spot for claiming of a chunk of peat to be passed around the bus. He said it wasn’t a very good one for burning, those were deeper in, but it had a solid, crusty dung texture. We later passed wagons loaded with folded strips of peat.

My concern about motion sickness had diminished. I was handling the road well. It was winding, with constant stops and restarts because it was also narrow, and becoming narrower as we progressed—we had to avoid and permit the passage of bicyclists, walkers, and vehicles from the other directions. I had texted Frank my concerns at the start and, while he acknowledged them, he replied that it wasn’t a problem on these tours and to have a good time.

That all changed suddenly and unexpectedly. I was dozing for a period of a few seconds because of the soporific motion of the vehicle. I awoke from the catnap with a start, and felt, without explanation, the first unmistakable signs of motion sickness: clammy hands, a light cold sweat on my forehead, a sense of being unable to find my ground in my body, light dizziness. I shot a few drops of my herb from the dropper, still confident. I had often been at this juncture and had it dissipate and retreat. But the motion and path of the bus were an overwhelming counterforce. We were now on a single lane road, winding continuously, stopping and starting every minute or so. I was in over my head.

We reached the first town stop on the loop, Roundstone. I got up shakily and headed for the exit in the traffic of bodies, desperate for air and to be off the moving object. It was in Roundstone that a number of crucial mistakes were made and failsafe points. I was aware that the ball had begun rolling downhill and, if I thought this motion sickness was going to diminish, I was delusional. But then I had never been in such a stringent situation before. We still had seven hours to go and were far from Galway—over seventy kilometers—and no obvious way back. I said to Lindy, “I think I’m too motion sick to continue this tour.” I spoke this, though, as words that were unreal even to me, more like a musing than a commitment.

She said, “You have to get through it. We’re on this tour for the whole day, and the bus is the only way back.”

I texted Frank. He texted back, “Go to Clifden. Speak to Seamus. There’s a bus back to Galway from there.”

I went to see Seamus who was standing beside the bus up the street. He expressed quite sincere sympathy, no annoyance, and said, “We’ll seat you upfront with me. I’m sure the lady there won’t mind switching. Maybe you’ll be fine then.”

I should have been definitive. I shouldn’t have even tried to make it to Clifden, an hour away. Instead, while the others grabbed a coffee, tea, or snack down the street, I stood in a stone play area next to a playground and did chi-gung-like and stretching exercises, emphasizing exacerbating the motion sickness, something I had never tried. I was feeling desperate, and necessity is the mother of invention. It is always a good rule for unwinding to work counter to habit and impulse.

The exercises were helpful. I felt nauseous while doing them but better afterward. I got into the front seat with hope. I remembered that Wendell had said, “It took courage for you to get on my boat, knowing how sick you were likely to get.” This was that moment all over again, and I wanted the courage he had given me.

Everything looked different coming at me in the big front window, despite our continuous turns. It was fascinating to see us almost dangle over the left edge as we wended along through fields. I wasn’t any better, but I wasn’t getting worse, which is what I told Seamus when he inquired. I was looking at rocks in the fields as maybe faery homes, for they seemed to shimmer and shape-change in my sight. Synchronously just as I saw that, Seamus began talking about faery forts reported here and how, if one was in a farmer’s field, he didn’t disturb it.

We stopped at the sea. I realized how much dizzier I was than I had thought as I waited for everyone else to debark first before I attempted to stand. I could barely get up. I walked down to the beach and walked in my boots through the edge of the water. The sea was a luminous shade of shifting green and blue-green like malachite jellies. Realizing how wild and primitive my state was, I edged into the water, even past the capacity of the boots to keep moisture out, and cupped seawater and poured it on my head.

Tasting salt and wiping sand off my face and out of my ears, I reboarded, a near crazy person now. I had to walk through the gauntlet of passengers getting their last drag of cigarettes outside, an immediate amp of nausea. Very soon after the ocean we left the road to go up and down a small hill to see the monument to where the first plane crossing the Atlantic from America had landed. They were aiming for England but settled on a more immediate option that presented itself. “Nineteen hours, could you blame them?” Seamus said repeatedly, as though reclaiming the perception. I didn’t go to the monument. I sat, breathed, meditaed, and resumed my seat upfront. The short bumpy serpentine run up and down the hill had removed the last coat of protection and illusion. The rock of motion sickness was in freefall down the hill.

I can no longer report on the tour after that, though my state was also Ireland, just not on the docket. I got sicker and sicker until I was no longer human—well, I was human but no longer fit for civilized society as it is presently constituted.

I am reminded of a science-fiction novel, an exchange between a normal Earth-dweller and a figure who changed planes between identities, not at his will. The Earth-dweller asked him, “Are you human?”

The guy answered, “I don’t think so.”

I know I’m not normal. Suicides by my mother, brother, and sister tell me where I come from. I am passable, but my system is extreme and hyper-sensitive. That’s why I’m way out at the edge of the bell curve on neurological issues. It is not a surprise that I have such acute motion-sickness because my personal realm is acute. It cues my writing and practices. I get to hermetic and strange places pretty easily, but the sheer wave and wall of reality is overwhelming. Most of the time, as I said, I handle it, but there is always a part of me not handling it. That part has a systemic correlate that grounds psychic and emotional states in the physical counterparts. And there it floats, a spirit tied like a balloon to the microcosm.

Fellow passengers, from several countries, were becoming aware of the crisis and many offered me gum or mints, which I put in the pouch of my raincoat and tried at desperate times. At the monument a nurse found me a pill she had, telling me she could never be on the bus without it. She said it was much stronger than Dramamine without the drowsiness. I knew better than to take pills from strangers, especially in the pharmaceutical realm. I drank it down. It didn’t make things any better and probably them worse because it was either psychoactive for me or I imagined it so. I became roller-coaster-like dizzy and a bit light-headed.

The road became windier with more stops and starts. Rain and fog had clouded my side of the windshield, untouched by the wiper, so I couldn’t look out that way without seeing kaleidoscopic patterns.

I was gone. Only motion sickness remained. It cried and moaned and chanted its own voice. I knew that I had become a spectacle. One can’t moan and cry in public without becoming a spectacle. When Seamus, in great tenderness and mercy, spoke to Richard, the name itself was unfamiliar. I had left that person and gone elsewhere. I barely heard most of his pep talks and encouragements, but I did hear, “We try our best, but what can we do, Richard?” It was not a minor statement. It was a real man, an Irishman, apart from the scripted drivel he was required to say. That statement contained an entire philosophy of life and penetrated me like a syringe. This was all Ireland, all enchantment, all faery. I just wasn’t ready for it on this frequency and didn’t know how to process it. Or I did, and was doing it. Motion sickness performs its own dance and speaks with its own voice.

I wasn’t moaning and crying, Richard was. The moaning—it felt more like chanting, a repeated Om—and the cries were the only things keeping me out of the cyclone. I twisted myself about from position to position, each providing brief relief, feet occasionally up on the dashboard for which I asked permission. I was pulling at my hair, clawing at my body—no way around it, it was horrible, a grim, piper’s jig. “This was major,” Lindy said later.

Major it was, and public.

Seamus periodically said, “Sorry, Richard, but there’s a bad stretch up ahead.” Every second was bad, and the worse parts made me think about prisoners at Guantanamo. I don’t want to inflate my circumstance, just account my imaging.

This purgatory went on for an interminable spell. We drove right through Clifden. I had no volition and we didn’t stop there—I guess because the next break was for two hours, and we might as well get there. I was in no shape to take a bus from Clifden anyhow. I felt that it was endgame and I had no good options.
A very powerful insight came to me during this time. It served too as a rationale and defense. North Atlantic author Stephen Jenkinson, a hospice director for a long time in Canada, wrote a book we published called Die Wise. He lectured in Portland at the Unitarian Church to a packed room. One of the things he said that night really surprised me. It was important new information. He said that most deaths he had observed were bad deaths—I hope I have him right—the person tried to leave the world and go into themselves and perish in isolation. Our institutions also encourage that. But in so doing what he or she thinks is appropriate, the dying person removes himself (or herself) from society and connection and the people he most needs and who most need him, to be present for them and to teach them about dying. Jenkinson said that the system was set up to deny death and defend us against its intrusion and presence, and the dying bought in, taking drugs and turning inward. To die a good death, you had to be willing to reveal and share yourself and what you were going through

I wasn’t dying, though it felt as though I was. I was in torment, and I had no out, no choice but to display it. I hoped that people understood. It was a terrible gift, but the only one I could give, and had to give, and it broke all rules of conduct and propriety. I made motion sickness public in its ugly glory and thus gave the equivalent of an unwanted performance or reading from my core work, my baseline chant. I wasn’t trying to do what Jenkinson suggested. I was there without choosing. Motion sickness is one of those diseases that is not uncommon but not fully acknowledged, understood, respected, or served communally. You are alone, absolutely alone.

I thought about Miranda whose performances threak through taboos and usual audience-performer boundaries, to enact difficult topics. Sometimes she sang, though not much of a singer in a conventional sense, when words were the expected currency, as on a panel. I wasn’t much of a singer either. Sometimes the performance and reality are not that discrete or distinct. I certainly tried to maintain some smidgen of art, finding Om in my groans and keeping good humor to answer Seamus’ encouragements and warnings of rough road ahead.

Lindy said later, “All the people on the bus were rooting for you.” I felt like a guy who kept popping up or striking out with the game on the line. And her comment turned out not to be entirely true.

We had a choice of the Connemara National Park or Kylemore Abbey finally. I picked the Park. It was sooner and it sounded like a space where I wanted to me, hopefully to be let loose onto the land never to return to the bus.

I am vague on what happened on arrival. Two men helped me off the bus. I couldn’t stand up. I lay right down on the grass in the rain; they got me up and helped me to the visitor’s center. They had no facility for this. An ambulance and summoning a doctor were discussed but rejected as impractical since I was only motion sick. It is hard to believe I could be in this state and a few hours later as as if it had never happened. That’s how acute and transient motion sickness is. A few events down the road, literal and figurative, when Lindy couldn’t back the car and the GPS had lost its bearings entirely outside Athenry, making absurd choices regarding places where we weren’t, I backed it up, then took over the driving. I had very recently not been able to stand up.

Motion sickness is agony and voodoo-like possession, but once the ball stops rolling downhill, it is gone, leaving only a mild hangover. It that sense it is a fit, an epileptic-like fit. Of course, NASA put its astronauts in anti-gravity to elicit it. I was more prone than they, so I experienced anti-gravity on mundane Earth.

At the Nature Center I was too dizzy, weak, and disoriented to walk, no sense of up and down or left and right. They decided to open a nature study room below, stuffed animals all around, mostly foxsize, like a museum. It was musty and acerbic, but that wasn’t a drawback. They said they had no cots. I flopped right on a table. It was heaven, no motion, pure ground, hard though the movement of the road continued behind my eyes. I heard their discussion with Lindy about blankets and a pillow, and I communicated I needed nothing. Still the folks in charge were creative. They got a backpack for a pillow and a foil blanket, sweatshirts from the gift shop atop those. I slept.

Forty-five minutes later, I woke and tried to walk. It was difficult. A few steps at a time were all I could manage. Over the next hour I walked around to the start of trails, saw water running, smelled moss and dank woods. I mostly sat on a bench watching tiny red birds (wrens?) dart on adjacent benches and around me, unperturbed by my existence. They pecked invisible crumbs right up to my feet. My vision was crystal sharp, discrete, and undistractable. Everywhere I looked I was drawn into imagery. If motion sickness had been a shamanic induction, it was working its transformation of consciousness, but there was no open territory in which to let it play out.

Getting back was a major dilemma facing us. When Seamus returned, I couldn’t board the bus and return to the swerves or being a spectacle. There was no place nearby to stay overnight, and we had a room in Athenry. The best choice was a taxi back to Galway, seventy or eighty kilometers. At least I wouldn’t be in public and we could stop if need be. It was expensive, about $150, but Miranda had also advised us to spend money when we had to. That was a reassurance, but I would have done it anyway. This was a desperate moment. I didn’t want to be in a car, but it was far better than a meandering bus with an audience.

The driver, Chris O’Brien, came at 5:15 from Clifden. I had had more than three hours by then to recover and, though still in a whirlpool of nausea, put my will into it, strode with purpose, and plopped in the front seat, apologizing to Chris in advance for any sounds I made. He said he would drive as carefully as he could, and much of the way till I stabilized he went about twenty kilometers below what he would have.

I remained in a steady state. At times it got worse and I chanted. Most of the time I just drifted through degrees of nausea and wanted to be anywhere that wasn’t moving—why can’t we just stop moving? It felt like a drive of many hours. In another sense it was condensed into a moment. It took two hours real time. Chris said he had once been seasick, so knew what I was going through. It was still hard to have an unhappy passenger. At one point, I apologized for a brief Om, and Lindy said, “Chris O’Brien doesn’t mind your sounds.”

About thirty kilometers from Galway the road improved and I thought of the herb. I pretty much used up the bottle, and I suddenly felt better. I began talking. I had a core and ground internally to lean against. Even the traffic in Galway causing a long entry to the town, even the last-minute crisis caused by Chris not taking credit cards and us not having the cash, so having to go back into town for an automatic teller, then return to the marina, was a major problem. I got better, even in motion. The ball had stopped.

Everyone all along was so thoughtful, empathic, and involved, from Seamus to the folks at the Nature Center to Chris. They were not just normal-nice; they were involved, interested, engaged. At the Nature Center they got Lindy food. They continually checked on me and someone, unknown to me, tracked my motions when I got up and walked. They found a cab. When we left, people commented on how much better I looked, how green I was when we arrived.

Travelers remark that the reason they come to Ireland is the people. I agree. But it is not a rote cheerfulness and affability; that would be like a gratuitous, fast-tiring act. This sense of humanity, camaraderie, and something else—a mythic apprehension of the human dilemma apotheosized in Yeats and Beckett—is communicated continually. There is a faery presence even without faeries, a cosmic leprechaun pervading the mundane.

 

I was lying in our room to nap when the phone rang. Lindy answered. It was the operator. Frank was in the lobby. I expected anything but what happened—sympathy, concern. As Lindy put it, he dressed me down. He said that passengers had complained. I had embarrassed him. His boss had reprimanded him (all along I thought he was the boss of the company). He repeated a litany over and over, “You were out of line, way out of line. Your behavior was unacceptable.”

It was fruitless to debate. I knew that right away. Frank was a wonderful, generous guy, but he had his limits and he was overextended, too many constituents and perks and games in play at the same time. There was a bargain in each of them, and he didn’t bandwidth to micromanage. I had broken my part of the bargain. It didn’t matter that I was sick, that I hadn’t done it on purpose, as Lindy kept protesting to him.

“Then you should have got off in Clifden like I told you.”

We did this circle a number of times. The fact that I was back to normal and not seeming sick was more real to Frank than my tale of having been a creature in agony. I finally said, “Frank, look at me.” He did. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m really sorry. I feel terrible. You were nothing but gracious and I failed you. I should have stayed off the bus in Roundstone. I had no business getting back on.”

“You didn’t, did you?”

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t take the time to think it through. I thought I had no other option. I made a bad decision on the moment. After that, I had no control over my behavior.”

“I would have sent a taxi for you. I would have gotten you back.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“You made a bad choice. Seamus and the passengers said you were disruptive. You were misbehaving.”

“I wasn’t disruptive. I was sick.”

“Well, I’m not blaming you. I’m just telling you how it was, man to man. You wouldn’t want any different, would you?”

“No, I appreciate that. I want to know. I have to know the consequences.”

“Then no hard feelings then? We’ll let it go at that. You can write a good review online, say it was a wonderful trip, that’ll it do it for me.”

We said we would.

He got up, hugged Lindy, shook my hand, and left. It wasn’t okay. Even with Jenkinson’s riff, I knew that. You can’t suffer in public.

Frank was nice, very nice, given how much I had pushed him outside his comfort zone. But this is also a conservative Catholic country, a country that has warred hard and suffered much, and still fights for its life, behind the façade.

 

July 16, 2017

We drove into Galway mid-day and parked in the same row as the day before by the Marina, (this time not a guest of the mayor), putting three Euros, the only eligible coins we had, into the meter when the machine wouldn’t accept my credit card. They gave us two hours. It was a short walk to Eyre Square Mall, a modern American-style shopping hive we had missed on earlier peregrinations. We found the audiologist in the mass of teenyboppers and thumping music, but the hearing aid could not be repaired.

Up on Abbeygate Street we chose the first passable restaurant, Cooke’s, for a late lunch: Irish stew finally. Busker Michael O’Connor joined us there once I phoned to say where we had landed. That began an afternoon of informal hanging out. At lunch we began by taling about the traditional Irish folksingers playing on the speaker there, then other musicians.

He had just watched The Motorcycle Diaries about Che Guevara and confessed that he never heard of him before the film but thought he was pretty important now. “Did you watch it on Netflix?” Lindy asked, forgetting where we were.

“Bought it for twenty cents at the charity shop,” he laughed.

After lunch we wandered into the Farmers’ Market to try to buy a cake from the same baker I had patronized a week earlier, Michael’s favorite weekly sweets hit it turned out (“Shouldn’t eat sweets, but I do. It’s better if it’s healthy. Well, life is short”). The baker wasn’t there—“sold out or never came,” Michael presumed. We headed back to the marina to find our car, a real meander as he led us through back alleys to avoid the crowds of tourists and tour groups. More than a half hour late for the meter, we were happily unticketed. Michael got in the front, Lindy the back, and he directed us to a bakery where he popped out to buy a carrot cake while we hovered double-parked; then he got back in the car and we wound precariously through Galway to his house in a residential part of town well beyond where we had walked in that direction, teens hanging out on a wall adding a Ken Loach flavor to streets that faced the back of the greyhound racing park. At one point, Lindy mentioned “driving on the wrong side of the road,” and he took out a scrap of paper and wrote it down for a possible lyric.

Aside from Michael divvying the carrot cake and making tea and then our eating and drinking, we sat around the kitchen table exchanging stories for a couple of hours. It turned out that Michael was our daughter’s age, had lived in the house for twenty-two years since he bought it at twenty-one. He insisted that the bank owned it “until the mortgage is paid because they could take it at any time.” To keep up his payments, he had not only been a butcher (ten of the years in Galway in turned out) and busker but a gardener, house painter, and currently a mover of props and furniture for a theater company, most recently for a play set around a gas pump about a woman who pumped gas (“That’s all I can tell you about it from what I know”). We heard about his studies in philosophy at the local college (Parmenides, Kant), English literature, and theater, performing since in fourteen plays; how he wrote lyrics (he showed us sheets of painstaking lists of words he was developing for every letter of the alphabet, most quite long but only xanthine for “X”), how Lindy and I begin writing (a question he posed), his natal family of nine (six boys), his place in the birth order (pretty far down), his parents now both dead, his thoughts about women, his four trips to San Francisco to see his brother (strange he that he didn’t pick up that we Americans drove on the right side till he asked in the car), busking a bit in the Bay Area and breaking his guitar by closing the case on it with the money in it, abandoning it in California (his brother gave it away), being hustled by prostitutes in Thailand (which segued into a discursion on his poems about it, Swedish film-maker Luke Moodysson’s Mammoth, then Lilya 4-Ever and We Are the Best for its reference to punk teenage bands in Sweden), Ireland in the general scheme of the universe, Irish poets, Irish lives, life—all with Michael’s gentle energy and a sweetness that, in my sense of how friendships mysteriously are made, provided the fabric. He is a light, funny guy, and a serious, earnest seeker, a man of few words but great open-ness curiosity.

Connecting was hard and easy both. We were keeping up the connection without a clear sense of how we connected, only the feeling of rapport, a hunger for contact, each for our own reasons, and a kind of indefinable mutual empathy, transcending age, money, nation, and daily pursuits. The goal was to transcend the things that separated us, in the way that primates from different bands have long met on the plains to exchange greetings. We were far into Homo sapiens and urban culture, but it didn’t change the basic impulse.

It was difficult in part because Michael was equally literal and playful, understated, enjoying a pun and a rhyme, and noticing simple details we often missed, from directing us through the flow of traffic with attention to lanes, quirks of specific traffic lights, response to pedestrians, right of way; then the arrangement of papers on his table and the way the stove worked; his lists of words and lyrics he tricked together by running A, B, C, D, etc., or F, G, H, and Y words together in Joycean lipograms. We hashed over my experience on the bus and talked about dozens of other random things that that led to before we exhausted it—those little things that hold the beads of life on its string. It was the sort of easy-going interaction with a deeply situated local that we sought on this trip, making friends with a stranger for no particular reason in a foreign city, connection not monuments or sites and vistas, a sense of the existential depth of the place, of being there, of living a full unique existence there, of figuring out what to do with a life.

We shared our own stories too. Of the pop-culture items we told him about he seemed most interested in looking at our daughter on youtube, watching Searching for Sugarman and the Rodriguez story, which he didn’t know.

You can get a glimpse of the performer in Michael on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmDgtMJeKek. It’s a taste of Galway, Ireland too. Some of his wordplay is revealed in a simple video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUOoTwKuo5s. The video at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inj02h4UdQQ has the wistful quality and Irish brogue that Michael brings in the sound of his voice and melodies and the arrangement of artifacts in a house in Galway which the bank owns but on which he has being paying off a mortgage for twenty-two years. As we left, he pulled out and showed us a newly bought banjo he was teaching himself how to play, demonstrating its sound in a few notes.

Heading off Michael’s street out of town, we came upon a spectacular cemetery like ones we saw in Prague and Berlin—lots of closely crowded marble crosses and many statues of Mary, Jesus, and various saints.

 

The fact that I have not seen a single so-called chemtrail in Ireland speaks to their more likely reality in the US. Ireland is not dumping heavy metals in the sky—just nice thin dissolving lines.

 

You need your room key to keep the lights on and the plugs charging in hotels. Once you remove your remove key from the slot, all the power goes off, a way of saving electricity while you away. Either leave a key in the slot or charge while you are there.

 

Tipping in Ireland. I was giving 15-20% for a while until the waitress at Out of the Blue said, “You’re all too generous.” Afterwards I checked online and asked our desk clerk here and found out that Ireland does not have a tipping culture like the US. Tips are not expected and not usually given; the service fee is included in the price on the menu and servers are paid appropriately. Two euros as a compliment and thanks is fine.

The first night at the Raheen Woods Hotel in Athenry I apologized to the waiter in the dining room, saying I was switching off the American system after mistakenly overtipping. The soft-spoken, formally-attired young man assured me that he understood—anything we left was fine. The previous night, he apologized for the slow service by giving us desserts and tea on the house.

Tonight we lost power after removing sockets with voltage convertors and plugging back in the lamps, part of the cycle of charging phones and computers. Since it was Sunday night, we thought it would be near impossible to get attention on the problem, but the woman at the desk sent for the hotel manager and he appeared at once. It turned out to be our waiter Mícheál [pronounced mee-hawl—true for our busker too]. “Do a bit of everything around here,” he explained, as he reset the circuit breaker and fixed the lamp sockets and plugs, apologizing for the inconvenience, though we had caused the electrical disruption.

 

Athenry regrets: the dining part of the town closed by nine, and we dawdled too long in the room to get dinner there. We drove through anyway at ten, just to see it and get out. The restaurants may be been closed, but the pubs were alive with music and drinkers, pouring out onto the streets, more vocal carousing females than males.

It was a Mediaeval template: narrow winding streets, a giant arch leading out of town, the sense of a city built on an older city, itself built on an older city, and so on. Modernity was evident but could not transcend the older megaliths, especially at the bewitching hour after dusk.

The vast fields beyond the wall across the street from our hotel also had a powerful sense of Ireland and its magical faery country. “Unlikely we’ll ever be here again,” I said. “Good to take it in and appreciate it.” Small moments so much more the building blocks of psyche and phenomenology. The large things lay flat or overwhelm.

Lindy thought so too, as we stood in the cool night air. Each moment is eternal, whether standing there in the last blue embers of sun before fields that dwarfed us or sitting around Michael O’Connor’s table in Galway or walking among heather and moor grass on Peat in the Connemara Loop. We had truly done this trip. We were in Ireland.

 

Reader comment from Mary Stark in Montreal: “Sounds grim. But you got through it.

“Frank was actually out of line, IMHO. I doubt he would have scolded you like that if you had been a paying customer. Unthinkable. The “freebie” aspect was always in the back of his mind, and it shouldn’t have been. That said, he was right about the fact you should not have pressed on. But that was hindsight for everyone.

“I genuinely appreciate how you can always find a way to think about and elevate even the most mundane experiences, and I guess wanting to barf on a bus would qualify.”

 

Reader comment from Meryl Nass in Ellsworth, Maine: “I am glad you are better now.  You wrote this beautifully. I think I leave me body when it gets really bad, zone out.

 

“My first year in med school, I had to take histology, which required me to lok at slides under a microscope. However this gives me motion sickness, and if I persist, I am ruined for the entire day.

“Well I was forced to do it, sent to the doctor (no known treatment then) and had to take the final, look at 50 slides in an hour. I did not quite make it to the end.  I vomited all over the floor of the exam room.  I think I missed the microscope.  Then they told me I would have to take the exam over.  Then a couple days later they said I had gotten enough of the slides right to get an A, and I would not have to do it again.  The professor concluded that I should not go into pathology.”

 

July 17, 2017

In the morning I set out to walk into town while Lindy worked. Right away I changed plans. I realized that there was a tiny road through the field across the street from the hotel. I entered it hesitantly because of a sign marked “Agricultural and Food Development Authority”—“This is Not a Playground, No Unauthorized Entry.” As I walked somewhat hesitant, the Raheen Woods became smaller in the background. I was in open country, a huge farm with sheep bounding across, among the Golgi-body walls and wildflowers. I could see the Irish Rail between Dublin and Galway wending its way with the silence of an earthworm in the distance. Cars on the faraway N6 gave off a faint murmur.

I approached a modern barn-like building where sheep were enclosed. I could see people working. I was concerned about being a trespasser.

I needn’t have worried. A man in an official costume crossing the road with sheep encouraged me to continue, pointing out that at the far loop just before the overpass crossing N-6 was a trail to the left that returned in a circle to the lane on which I had entered. I watched the sheep in their enclosure, how they moved in waves like a single organism.

As I continued beyond the building into open space, I shifted into a euphoric pastoral state. My mind went back to childhood and Glocca Mora, make-believe Ireland. I was walking through the opening scene of the first Broadway musical I had ever seen, Finian’s Rainbow, age nine. One of my favorite passages from my own nonfiction novel about childhood touched on a feeling like this moment:

“Jonny and I would run along the Nevele solarium, building little piles of snow on the railings in an effort to thaw some of the winter away in March while Debby splattered in her red rubber boots among puddles at our feet. Mommy sat on a lawn chair, her eyes closed, a silver reflector about her neck capturing the nearest star. Clump after clump of puffy cold was placed on rusty ledges as Jon and I called to each other to check the progress of the melting at either end. This industriousness would arouse a sense of the profoundest well-being in me. I’d be thinking about where I was in my latest science-fiction book and how later I’d lie toasty by the radiator and read it—then we’d eat dinner; afterwards, we’d have a plate of chocolate horseshoe cookies … and suddenly the song would seep through my existence: “Follow it over the hi-ill and stream.… ” I twisted the vowels in “follow” and “hill” and “stream” until they were barely English in the back of my mouth. There was a tenuous point, before they became garble, at which they held the whole mystery, the fairy tale, Bridey’s Ireland.”

 

Bridget McCann was my sister’s Nanny. I realized that the esoteric part of this journey was my pilgrimage to bring a few of my sister’s ashes to her nurse’s grave. I imagined myself there in Belfast, “Poor girl, I am bringing your ashes home.” As in a mythical journal I had passed through signs: my brother Jon’s chimera in a busker, the death and rebirth of motion sickness.

I saw clumps of a favorite flower, purple clover, so large and deep-hied. Flowers in Ireland do seem brighter and more colorful, hydrangeas in gardens almost neon blue; these clovers, so much red in their purple…. I smelled Queen Anne’s Lace in the fields, sweet like honey here as in Nova Scotia. I thought of Finian’s Rainbow, “Follow it over the hi-ill and stream….”

            The sheep in the fields moved in tandem as I approached.

I never should have gone on that bus. I never would have gone on that bus if it hadn’t been a gift. Beware the Irish bearing gifts, Troy!

Then I had a ridiculous fantasy, crazy fantasy, but I have to tell it. Christ was Jewish, I am Jewish. This is a Catholic country. Christ on the Cross cried out, “Father, Father…., ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ …why have you forsaken me?.” Frank Fahey stood before the Cross saying, “You’re out of order, you’re misbehaving.”

It was only a fantasy, marginally blasphemous but also with an element of truth: suffering comes in all forms, you can’t use liturgy and biblical passages to pick and choose your spots to be holy and a good Christian. You have to live it.

My cross was the cross of industrial tourism and I have placed myself on it by my greed for freebie. I never wanted to be there. I wanted to be with Finian and Bridey in this field.

 

Before leaving, Lindy and I set out down the same road an hour later. Almost immediately we encountered, over the stonewall to the left, one Jarlet Cochrane, as we were later to learn. A pleasantly unshaven middle-aged man appeared from behind a pile of wood and announced himself by, “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” That began a twenty-minute conversation, mostly between him and Lindy, initiated by her asking him about the huge field I had walked earlier and toward which we were headed. “It’s what you might call an agricultural college,” he said. “All this land used to be estates, and then it got broken up into farms. This is a bigger plot than most, four hundred acres.”

“Do you own it?” Lindy asked.

I do,” he laughed. “No, no. Not personally. The people of Ireland do. I just own my acre and a half here.”

“How long ago did you buy it?”

“1996. You can see, it’s grown up since. It used to look like that across the way, all grass. First thing I did was plant trees.”

“Amazing how much they’ve grown in a short time.” It looked like a tiny forest over there, his greenhouse and firewood in the foreground, the sound of his chickens. On one side of the lane was vastness, on the other, entanglement, intricacy, a complex garden

“What happens over there?” she asked, pointing to the acres.

“What the agricultural college does is they have all different kinds of grass, then they bring in different breeds of sheep. They mix the sheep with the grasses and find out what kind of wool they get from each combination of sheep and grass. They try them all out Then they provide that information to the farmers.”

“Is the grass here part of the experiment?” she asked, because it was the only sheepless part.

“Yes, it is, but don’t ask me what kind. It all looks green to me. I think this here field presently is being used for sillage. They don’t feed livestock here the way they do in the US. They cut the grass and store it in those big black bundles you see down the way. Then they age it and it ferments. They feed it to the livestock all winter.”

“And it stays good?”
“The fermenting keeps it; it makes it very sweet and tasty. And it’s healthy grass, none of the chemicals in it.”

“The land wasn’t owned by companies like Monsanto here?”

“No, no. They haven’t come here yet. But they will…and they will.” The iteration had a musicality hard to reproduce. “But they will” was said the way you would expect it to be said, emphasis on “will.” “And they will” was said quickly with an emphasis on “And,” making almost a diphthong with “they.” The phrase sounded like the finish to the chorus of a song: “But they will…and they will. No way to stop them. A farmer finds a cheaper way to do the same thing, that’s the way of things; what can we do?”

“There’s no law against it?”

“No law, but if the butcher knows it’s eaten pesticided grass or that genetic modifying or has had hormones fed to it, he won’t buy it. So that’s, I suppose, the effect of law.”

We heard about Jarlet’s trips to the US, driving Death Valley, driving from San Francisco to the San Juan Islands, details ranging from how little it cost to stay places (compared to Ireland) and the couple who died in their car in Death Valley because they ran the air conditioner in the pared where they were supposed to turn it off (urban legend?). He also discussed using wood instead of dried peat to burn, “usual in the States but unusual for Ireland,” and queried us about where we had been in Ireland and where we were headed, then had comments about the places.

I finally got up gumption to ask if there were any faery sites around here. “Why just right here,” he said, “no more than ten meters up this road. There’s a mound. No one can explain how it got there or what it is. If you’re close to the land, you can feel the faery energy.” I was impressed—how immediate “faery” was throughout Ireland. “This is more what my brother Midie is involved in. Twenty-five, thirty years ago he was off to California. Totally changed by it, way before anyone else in these parts. He came back drinking that green stuff, swore it would make you healthy. What’s the name for that?” He tried to think.

“Spirulina?”

“Yes, that spirulina drink. He studied with native Americans, sorcerers and the like. He went to India, I can’t count how many times. You should look him up. He’s on the road to Westport where you’re going.”

We decided that he would pass my phone number and email on to Midie and maybe he’d get in touch while we were in Westport.

“You know, Jarlet,” I said, “as we stand here, I’m sad to be missing a gathering in Maine. It’s native Americans, Maoris from New Zealand, Africans, all sorts of indigenous people from around the planet meeting to open a portal [I gestured with a sweep of my right hand] into a different consciousness, to try to bring that and more peace onto the Earth.”

Jarlet looked impressed, almost beatific.

“We’d love to be there,” Lindy added, “but we made our plans to come to Ireland before we knew about it. You can’t be two places at once.”

“No. That’s not something we can do, even on a lovely morning.”

We took leave continued a bit farther down the road. We saw the faery mound, something you would have missed if you weren’t told about it—I didn’t come close to seeing it on my hike. It was much smaller and less complete than the faery ring on the Dingle Peninsula, but it had the same premonition of an Earth-energy formation, like a crop circle, with energy underlying it. A bulldozer could have done almost the same thing with the same effect, but it had a natural roundedness and concavity that made it an artifact in its own category. Jarlet had confirmed something: much is said about faery rings and forts, and are all over, but no one knows who or what actually made them—and they are respected.

A bit further down the road we passed the giant bales of sillage wrapped in black plastic, stacked like peat or sod. I remembered the rich aromatic smell passing them on my solo hike. I thought of it then as fertilizer Now I realized it wasn’t that at all. The fermented grass smelled like dark, rich beer.

 

We set out on the road to Westport, choosing highway N17 over the more direct but windy M84, not only because of my recent bout of motion sickness but at the recommendation of the desk clerk at Raheen Woods. According to her, we were going to zoom to Westport in an hour and ten minutes. Lindy did the driving, and it actually took three and a half hours from Athenry to the Ardmore House in Westport. About ten minutes was following N17 signs out of a roundabout in Tuam only to find ourselves shockingly at a dead end on the highway facing big concrete barriers like something out of The Truman Show or The Prisoner. We had gone 250 meters onto an unfinished portion. It was completely unmarked and we were the only car that went down it. How did everyone else know? We turned around and did the someone terrifying thing of driving the wrong way on a highway, but no one else copied our mistake. At a carpet store at the next exit after we reentered the roundabout, a young man said simply, “This is N17 right here.”

“What’s that we went down?” Lindy asked.

“That’s N17 too, but it’s a section that’s not been finished.” He told us to continue the way we were going.

The second delay was soon after that and for about forty minutes a few kilometers before Ballindine. Most of the time we weren’t moving at all. Sometimes just one lane went. We finally reached a sign: “Major construction, Expect Long Delays.” Just past it we entered the chokepoint. Most of the time the crew worked as if there were no cars on the road like the unfinished section we had just visited.

The other hour and a half of extra time was, astonishingly, after reaching Westport. The first problem was that we didn’t have an address for the Ardmore. The second was that the town was packed with traffic moving at a snail’s pace and, whenever we took a wrong turn, figuring out where to reverse it and then reversing it were major events, sometimes taking ten minutes in themselves.

Searching on the Internet for an address didn’t help, even on the hotel’s own website, though eventually I found one online: simply The Quay (pronounced Key, Ché in Gaelic). Ireland is not big on house numbers, often not on street names either. Most times the address was simply Westport, County Mayo.

We asked directions nine times in all in Westport and, to a large degree, went in circles, but eventually wound through the town down to The Quay. Westport is a beach town, somewhat reminiscent of Camden or Belfast, Maine, but much larger.

Finding Quay Street was just the beginning. There was Quay Street, The Quay, Upper Quay, and Lower Quay. We didn’t go down the correct side road because a sign for three establishments, one of them ours, had the one for the Ardmore House pointed forty-five degrees away from the others, back in the direction from which we had come. I finally phoned, difficult in itself because it still takes many combinations in codes and prefixes to get it right, and it varies by where we are in Ireland. I was told that the road with the sign was correct. When we got there, the young female hostess said that it must have been disturbed earlier in the day by someone working on the other two signs who hadn’t put it back right, or maybe vandals twisted it.

It was past 4:00 and we hadn’t had lunch. We were too far out of town to just walk back up the road, and we didn’t want to drive back into traffic. The hostess encouraged us to take the Greenway back into town. She said that it was much more direct than the road, only three kilometers, and very pretty. We also could have tried to get food at a nearby pub called The Quay but decided that was drab after a day of driving and elected to find the Greenway.

We got lost again. Such is the way of the tourist. We didn’t get lost in any major way, but we walked down three long driveways to dead ends before getting directed to a much more distinct paved pathway that took off from the Quay School. Three kilometers isn’t a short walk, but it was delightful, the sort of leisurely stroll travelling is made for. We were among groups of local people walking dogs (their droppings placed in what were called “depoos), others riding bikes, walking baby carriages and kids on scooters and trikes. We chatted with a few of them for stretches. At other stretches we were alone in the country. A brook ran alongside periodically, deep in the underbrush, adding its trickling to the feng shui. Sheep grazed on the hillside with their usual symphony of irregular baaas. We passed by old walls, through a couple of tunnels, past castle-like structures, under the outer swing of a giant derrick crane hoisting a few kilograms of concrete over the city, and finally emerged, like magic, above the center of town on a residential road. If we had followed the road on foot, we wouldn’t have been halfway there.

We plunged down the first available street and looked for a viable restaurant. Since we knew by now that pretty much all meat and vegetables in Ireland were if not officially organic at least unpesticided, I had become less picky. We were eating at most places serving Irish food and advertising local vegetables and Irish lamb or beef. We passed some acceptable candidates, but it was 4:40, and none of those was open. The first feasible option was a wood-fired oven pizza place—that was its name: Wood Fire. An enthusiastic young man, dark-haired, intelligent-looking, a visor-like hair-do, charmed us inside with the announcement that they had just opened and we were the first customers of the evening. He soon admitted that the restaurant hadn’t been here that long and the staff was still figuring things out. He was a college student, third-year, at a summer job. He directed us to a booth with the phrase, “Down to you just now.” (I decided to collect distinctive Irish-English phrases when I could by typing them on my cell phone.) We were surprised to learn ten minutes later that the pizza still hadn’t made its way into the oven—they were still setting up—so I went for a walk in town, while Lindy stayed and did stuff on her phone. Lots of shops, lots of street traffic, I was lucky to find my way back. It seemed obvious onleaving, but when so many different streets lead into the same circle, you can get turned around and not know where to go pinning the tail on the donkey.

After finishing a smallish vegetarian pizza, which was improved by uncooked salad greens atop the melted cheese, Lindy and I engaged in separate conversations with young people either running the place or hanging out with people running the place. I talked to guy who walked us in. His name was Josh, and his field in Dublin was theoretical physics. That led to a convivial conversation about quantum entanglement, his probable topic for a thesis, then the relation between physics and metaphysics. Josh had admirable skepticism for fundamentalist materialism, remarking, how can you deny spirit or God when your universe came out of a Big Bang?

“…that occurred in the middle of nowhere for no reason, was smaller than a dime, and now is this gigantic continuum. That’s metaphysical materialism.”

Josh’s other possible thesis topic, as a surfer, was waves: all kinds of waves, water and light and other, including tsunamis. We discussed surfing for a while—Ireland was a friendly, intimate place to surf, no hankering for Northshore Hawaii here, and Josh knew of the author of one of our long-ago out-of-print surfing books. He mentioned that his mother would likely be interested in the topics of our books and my writing. He had my card to pass on. He would try reading the current piece I am posting on my website: Bottoming Out the Universe: Karma, Reincarnation, and Personal Identity and would email me thoughts.

            Who started out as the pied piper of pizza—and the modest unabashed amateur at the wood-fired over—became a fellow grand seeker in a strange universe.

From other young folks at the Wood Fire we collected a bunch of ideas about where to explore tomorrow.

 

By the time we left the restaurant we realied it wasn’t feasible to walk back and forth into town for each meal. We would hang around till something like dinner time. Lindy got an ice cream. We tried out a store marked Health Food; it was basically a pharmacy with some dried fruit, natural sodas, and Irish cookies. We returned to a street scene passed earlier: three young children playing traditional Irish music on the sidewalk, Lindy wanted to film them. I filmed her filming them. The girl in the trio with her whistle was so dominant that the boy with the fiddle stopped playing, while the drummer followed her instructions. It was pretty cute.

Looking for a place to sit, we circled the tall octagon monument in the center of town, which had four benches around it, and landed on one where a young man was eating lunch—the rest were full or in direct sun and about a foot from the flow of traffic, alternately jammed and speeding. I say “young man.” I thought he was a teenager and might be irritated by our crowding his bench. Once Lindy started up a conversation, he turned out to be an MD named Richard Michael Brown (“It couldn’t be more English,” he sighed), a GP from Nottingham, trained in London, who had come to Ireland to practice because it was in need of doctors. “Most of my fellow students went to Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “That’s what’s popular now.” He had just moved from Galway and was carrying two rubber door stoppers for his new place.

We had a pleasant conversation that touched on lyme disease (now in Western Ireland too), motion sickness (with an encouragement to check out my journal entry), medicine in general, Ireland, Maine, and California. He very much wanted to travel in Maine and was grateful to have a contact as he set off, waving the door stops as his next task.

By now the whole town adventure, from the Greenway to the Wood Fire to the Octagon, felt right.

We tried the park by the Westport House on Richard’s recommendation. It had closed at six, but we walked a little way in, as the gates were still open, then left from concern we might get locked in. We lay in the just-mown grass on a hill overlooking a playground. At 7:10 it seemed late enough to try to eat again. We found a slow-food restaurant with many organic and range-fed listings just out of the park and discarded thoughts of two others we had passed earlier. We decided to split one entrée, mixed fishes of the day, because we were minimally hungry. Breaded and surrounded by clams and home-made shoestring potatoes, they made a decent meal of the right size.

We hiked out of town up a steep hill and, after getting directions (“Carry on down,” said an old man with a cane, as he pointed to the other side of the street we had climbed), found the path to the greenway. and joined other evening strollers. Now I sit on the patio of the Ardmore, looking across the water at the sun setting behind the mountains in the far distance, almost 10 PM. To might right is Croagh Patrick, the pyramidal mountain of St. Patrick’s pilgrimage. It feels like hobbit-land again.

 

July 18, 2017

By late morning (11:00) Lindy concluded that she’d rather hang around the hotel and work and I should go off on my own if I wanted to explore. I was apprehensive about driving without a co-pilot to warn in time of mistakes: too far to the left, too far to the right, and the worst: making a throwback turn onto the right at risk of oncoming traffic.

Initially it felt like my first day driving but, within a few kilometers, it normalized. I had thought to look for a forest trail described in a pamphlet of Westport walks that the manager found for me—most guests are looking for something more ambitious than local trails, so the literature wasn’t immediately at hand. My second choice was the beaches, to scout them for later. I had the wrong road for the former and a misjudgment as to the distance of the latter. I expected to hit the beaches in ten minutes, but the driving time was more like a half hour.

What I did come to within ten minutes was totally unexpected, a parking lot for hikes up the sacred pyramid mountain. I drve past it, then when things looked dubious and impenetrable further down the road, figured that I might as well go for the bird in hand. I made a difficult turn across traffic, got back, crossed traffic into the lot, stuck a 2-euro coin in the parking machine, and had a dashboard slip giving me until 13:29, two hours.

The mountain looked imposing. It was a modest 2600 feet, but it had the look of Meru, a passage from a lower summit to a higher alien, sparse peak, the sharp-edged tetrahedron. The literature in the visitors’ center described annual pilgrimages up the mountain, penitents making the climb barefoot. Croagh Patrick has a clear Ash Wednesday processional history, and even today in secular circumstance a mixed row of mostly tourists and a few Christian suppliants were making their way up, the latter with beads or stopping to say prayers.

I walked up an hour. It was strenuous initially, and I took frequent breaks, but I gained breath and stamina and ascended fairly quickly to a panoramic view of Clew Bay with its many islands deposited by glaciers. Wildflowers and a gurgling brook were good company, and the large numbers of people were entertaining with their various styles and conversations, many in Gaelic, lots in brogue. With so many people climbing, the scene had a music its own.

A gate at a few hundred feet marked a transition from a simple climb up a small mountain, much like the ones that the Footloose Friends group on Mount Desert does every Tuesday—and this was a Tuesday, so they would be starting in three or four hours. On the other side of the gate, the pilgrimage became more palpable. The trail narrowed, and one could observe how it grew even narrower in the far distance where hikers filed between peaks. The gate indicated passage onto private land, as a sign on it stated that we were welcome guests of a working sheep farm but needed to behave. No litter, no leaving the trail to go among sheep, and no dogs. About that matter, the placard said simply that dogs would be shot on sight and urged climbers to inform anyone they saw walking with a dog. Dogs and sheep don’t mix, unless they are sheep-dogs specific to the flock.

While ascending, I noticed that many of the people going the other way were walking on the grass along the trail’s sides. This was because the stones on the trails rolled precariously under the weight of hominids striding down. I resolved to keep “tai chi” mind on the descent: sensation under my feet, attention below the earth, conscious weight shifting. It was a good practice. I skidded only once.

The hike up gave me a chance to meditate on many things in my life, and I ran a gamut, from my writing to my sister’s suicide to the core dilemmas that reasserted themselves. Croagh Patrick had an innate devotional quality. St. Patrick only Christianized a millennia-long holy vibe. Druids and no doubt Stone Age tribes walked it to their own shrines. The mountain, by any name, had energy and intelligence. I didn’t try to contact it. I simply let my thoughts wander, and they always deepened and taught me new angles. It was psychoanalytic transference by mountain. At 12:15, I figured it was time to descend so Lindy and I could plan the afternoon. It was almost 13:00 when I made it back to the car.

 

We set out on a joint exploration without lunch at 1:30. We had instructions from Susan, the day manager and daughter of the woman who ran the hotel, for how to get to (one) a loop around a graveyard, (two) the wooded area I was looking for earlier, and (three) the beaches. We visited the sanctified and crowded Catholic cemetery and walked down a country lane. We never found the loop or the forest walk. Instead, we had to get turned around on a one-lane road to extricate ourselves.

Those were a short way down the left side of the T off Quay Road. The right turn took us toward Croagh Patrick, as we replicated my drive of the morning. We expected to come upon the beaches fairly soon, by advice, after passing the base of the mountain, and it wasn’t really that far, just much farther than we thought: a half hour rather than ten minutes. A half hour on an unknown winding road with no margin between yellow and white lines—the sparse foliage-covered shoulder of the road one way and oncoming traffic (some of it trucks, farm equipment, and tour buses) the other—can feel interminable, especially if you are unsure you are even on the right road.

Our doubts increased after we passed through the town of Louisberg because that’s where the beaches were supposed to be, on its other side. Instead we had to make a choice at a fork, took the straight line and the road tightened a even more afterward, not a good sign. We got a few kilometers further before we stopped at a large mower along the roadside and asked directions from the man in the cab. We were looking for Carrowniskey Beach, recommended by the young folks in the Wood Fire and seconded by Susan. He reassured us that we were on the correct road (whew!) and it was not the first but the second right a couple of kilometers down the way. We should taken him literally, and almost did, but the second right led down a one-way lane marked by signs as “Extremely Dangerous Curves.” We presumed that that couldn’t be it (no sign to the beach either). We turned around at the first opportunity, an abandoned stone structure, and continued another three kilometers to where we pulled alongside an occupied car in a church lot. A sweet older man who could have been played by an Irish Morgan Freeman directed us back to the left after the bridge, which we had already tried as the second right from the mower in the other direction. The tight lane wound through fields, eventually past civilized houses to a parking lot and a populated beach. Twice cars came from the other direction, but they somehow maneuvered up onto the bank enough to let us through. There were regular wider spots, and the locals apparently knew them, signaling for us to halt while they made way.

When we left the beach later with Lindy driving, we twice had to find such spots, and a third time a car coming our way had to back ten meters and turned around by the abandoned stone house.

We spent an hour on the beach. The water was the coldest I have ever experienced, true glacier-melt. I had worn a bathing suit under my pants, so I waded in little by little, legs adjusting to the cold, finally up to my hips. It was emotionally and psychically transformative; everything in my mind changed, and that was exhilarating.

Our fellow beach-goers were a mixture of kids, many of whom went right in, and teen surfers and kayakers in black wet suits. It didn’t have the feel of any American beach. It wasn’t like Long Island, Maine, the Bay Area, Hawaii. It was tight quarters, rocky, a thin strand of sand, a laissez faire mood. What most typified the scene was a young woman on a horse, impeccably dressed in jodhpurs, English saddle, and female jockey’s riding helmet out of which a long braid hung down. I never saw her face, but her presence was charismatic, and she was by her own meme beautiful. She led her horse right down to the water, into the surf among kids bathing, then continued away into the far distance through the shallows, identifiable only as a tiny shape rising and falling at the end of the focal plane. A few minutes later she came tearing back through the water in a trot that, right in front of us, became a majestic full gallop, water flying up from the hoofs. She repeated this routine a number of times and was still at it when we left. She wasn’t Lady Godiva, but she was.

My own highlight was my second (and last) wade. I cupped water in my palms and poured it onto my face and head. To my surprise, every splash ignited a brilliant internal indigo in my forehead between my eyes. I repeated it more than a dozent imes to see if it had an objective reality. It did. Since the third-eye chakra vibrates at that shade of blue, I was delighted with the effect. I took it as an opening.

As so often happens, the return trip to the Ardmore seemed much shorter.

 

We set out at 19:00 on the three-kilometer walk along the greenway to the town center (marked Lar an Bhaile in Gaelic, a sign we have seen often on this trip). We argued briefly over where to eat, Lindy preferring to search for a brand new place, me wanting to return to the tried and true. A brief search around the Octagon brought nothing but pubs and lesser establishments. The Pantry and Corkscrew, our organic, local-farms, slow-food, marginally gourmet spot from the previous evening, was right there off the Octagon and at the bottom of the earliest from the greenway, the one we had left by the previous night. We ended up back, same table, same waitress, and neither of us regretted we did.

Toward the end of the meal I overheard a debate about science, humanism, and God at the next table, three women and a man, one woman’s voice louder than the others. They were about our age and in brogue. She was declaring her position passionately: she didn’t believe in God, she didn’t believe in science; she was a humanist. I could only hear her statements, but they so perfectly matched the doubts that I addressed in Bottoming Out the Universe that, on our way out, I handed her my card with a reference to the piece.

“Thought you would come to my defense, did you?” she said.

“Yes, but I could only hear your portion of the discussion.”

“That’s because I’m so vehement!”

At the start of the greenway we stopped briefly to view a teen football (soccer) game, like US Arena Football for being contained in a fenced area so that there were no out-of-bounds and the energy was condensed and fierce. The fact that the players were shouting in Gaelic made it operatic, so we stopped to watch. From there it was a twenty-five-minute stroll into the setting sun, intricate layers of late cumulus portending the morrow’s rain, planes straight as the dissolving lines behind them.

 

July 19, 2017

We set out from Westport toward Donegal in the rain,  a drive of 164 kilometers estimated at anywhere from two to three hours (with Irish drivers on a dry day). The day alternated among light drizzle, heavy drizzle, and blinding downpours, with a few rainless spells. We took a variety of highways, some very narrow, some spacious and divided. From Westport we went east to Castlebar, then turned south in blinding rain, east again via a thin cut-through lane through fields with a designation something like N1102, a GPS choice that we questioned at once but took for lack of an alternative except staying on the highway toward Dublin. After eight kilometers led to the main road north to Sligo. I can remember all the N’s—reassuring low numbers like 15, 5, 17, though some of them were narrower than the cut-through, which passed through Charlestown, a modernized Mediaeval village with the requisite monarchal church. At Sligo, Lindy took over the driving for the remaining sixty-five kilometers to Donegal. The whole route went smoothly, especially given the weather and quantity of big rigs on the roads—no bad moments. We saw vintage Irish scenery: more huge churches and Mediaeval-relic towns, castles, countless stone walls, vast meadows, tunnels formed by trees over the highway. It is still a bit of a waking dream. Very narrow roads were followed by wider ones, and occasionally a superhighway suddenly manifested deep in countryside and vanished as suddenly into almost single lanes coming out of small cities like Sligo.

Once again, the lack of an address meant loss of directions when we reached Donegal center. The streets were crowded, and traffic was stop-and-go around the center. The Central Hotel did have an address, which the GPS rejected. The Diamond. The Diamond turned out to be the central rotary of shops with monument in which the other streets fed. It was was vaguely angular, diamond-shaped, but we went past the hotel. After leaving the town, we had to ask. directions at a modern hotel. I took over driving, as we returned through town; then Lindy had to run out into the hotel to ask where parking was as I conveniently paused behind a waiting cab blocking a lane.

The lot for the hotel was two blocks away at the town entrance by the water, which was the River Eske flowing dramatically into Donegal Bay. She held a slip to put on the dashboard. We managed to get our things into the hotel in between major downbursts.

We spent the next couple of hours in the town, eating at the one quasi-health-food restaurant and store together, and then going separately. For my outing, it had stopped raining, so I decided to skip an umbrella. I had a raincoat and boats on, but my pants got soaked, and the raincoat was so wet that my shirt got wet too. Over the Eske, the rain was travelling in visible horizontal trails.

I was bringing our two bags of food and water back from our car, and the paper one got wet and broke, so I had to collect packages of brazil nuts, currants, and crackers from the sidewalk and get it all in the other large plastic one, which we had had for the purpose since Dublin. I didn’t realize till later that our best map had washed out the bottom of the paper bag before the heavier stuff.

When I did discover it missing, I went back to the site to see if I could retrieve it. The rain had divided into sections in separate spots on the sidewalk. Across the water in the trees was a swarming of more crows than I had ever seen at one time in one place. Their collective cawing was magical, irresistible. I abandoned the map and stood to watch.

 

My only sense of Donegal beforehand was a favorite song from early childhood performed by Bing Crosby, a star of the fifities most of whose records our family had: “Three years ago this very day / I left the port of Cork / And on a ship from old Erin’s isle / I landed in New York. / Without a friend to meet me there / and a stranger on the shore, / but I wore an honest Irish heart, / and fortune came galore.”

            As the lyrics continue, he has returned to Erin’s isle and is met on the quay by friends, relatives, and neighbors, some of whom he has forgotten. His mother introduces him: “Shake hands with your Uncle Mike, my boy, / Shake hands with your sister Kate, / And this is the girl you used to swing / down on the garden gate.” At the end of the chorus he is told, “You are as welcome as the flowers in May / in dear old Donegal.”

            There is a party, an Irish reel is played to greet the Yankee boy, and the time frame has changed. He is looking back three years to his arrival and about to marry his colleen, sweet Biddy McGee, for she was true and faithful during the years he was away (“I’ll hug and I’ll squeeze / as much as I please / the girl on the garden gate.”) A long rhyming demography and genealogy of Irish surnames (Branigan, Flannigan, Milligan, Gilligan…Fogarty, Hogarty, etc.) attending the wedding follows. Then the song concludes, “I’ll live content / and pay no rent / in dear old Don-e-gal.”

            In reality, Donegal was far from pastoral. The streets had a mixture of large numbers old folks moving slowly, hordes of tourists (too many for the spacing), and disaffected youth. Rap and hip-hop blasted from open windows, and a huge Goth Zombie Dollz Tattoo Parlour dominated the central Diamond. Cars tore through the diamond, making crossing the streets a hazard. That problem had been recognized, for wording on the sidewalk said to look right or look left depending on where you were in the diamond.

The Central Hotel had a 1940s-50s feel like something in New York’s Times Square then: ancient carpets and furniture, clanky elevator which never landed level or closed without a late acceleration and thud, musty smell, dim-lit hallways, tiny room facing dark courtyard. Yet it wasn’t unpleasant; it had a cozy nostalgic feeling, reminding me of how the fifties were protective compared to now.

Because we ate lunch again late, we didn’t make it downstairs for dinner till 8:45 and chose the lower lounge because it was more informal. It also happened to be where Irish Night (every Wednesday) took place. This was basically a group singalong of Irish ballads with a songbook beginning at nine. As we were seated, we were asked if we were there for Irish Night. We were the only ones who wanted dinner and were glad to watch. “You better be prepared to sing too,” the hostess said.

As our order was taken, I realized how much we had switched movies. The forties bar was out of Casablanca (and innumerable other World War II movies, especially British ones). When the singing began, I thought of the theater scene early in Random Harvest, a 1942 movie based on a James Hilton novel of the same title. Elsewhere I wrote: Charles Ranier (played by Ronald Colman) is an amnesiac who loses his prior history after becoming shell-shocked in a foxhole during World War I. In a brilliantly entangled plot, he recovers his previous life after being bumped by a car but, at the same moment, surrenders his three years of “amnesiac life” following rescue from the foxhole (which he remembered in normal fashion as its events elapsed, giving him a three-year-long adult life without a childhood or pre-shellshock past, including a marriage to a woman played by Greer Garson).

Returning in confusion to his original residence after the street accident (because he knows where to go and doesn’t recall his second identity or his address or wife any longer), he eventually ends up married twice to the same woman under two different identities, neither of which remembers the other until the final scene. In the double-amnesiac’s second marriage, neither husband nor wife can fully commit to each other because they are each in love with another person, who happens to be their partner!”

I could feel the switch to Northern Ireland and the UK even though we were still in the Republic. The waitress greeted every choice we made with “brilliant.” The accents were slightly more English. Two retired ladies (nurse and kindergarten teacher) in their sixties, seated so close to us that we were effectively at the same table, were on vacation together from Northern Ireland. Their cadences, language, and tone and style were poignantly familiar to me: it was Bridget McCann! Our family mainly knew Bridey, and knew her like one of us, but she represented a whole culture.

As we chatted with them, we were flooded with tips about our upcoming time in Portstewart and the greater North until the music began.

The master of ceremonies and singer turned out to be Eamonn Gillespie, who announced himself at once as the hotel manager. Like Frank Sinatra, he was doubling as house singer. He was accompanied by an enormous woman, back to us, on a piano bench. S/he was genderless for a long time.

Eamonn wasn’t just a hotel manager doubling as a singer. He was a singer with a day job as a hotel manager. When he got to crooning, he was pure showman—all arms, knee bends, head thrown back, mike like a tiny dance partner. He loved to slow the ballads down and milk them, to stop in the middle of song and whisper or speak a few words without melody for drama. He went into the audience and held the mike to people’s mouths and let them sing, calling repeatedly for applause. He was Buddy Greco, Al Jolson, Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin (he looked like a more compact Alec Baldwin). Most of all he was Richie O’Shea, the late great New York club singer—because he was Irish through and through.

We sang–actually Lindy did (using the songbook) and I didn’t: “Rose of Tralee,” “Sweet Molly Malone,” “Galway Bay,” “Fields of Athenry” (twice), “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “Story of County Down,” “Blooming Heather,” “Hills of Donegal,” and “Isle of Inisfree” (twice). That’s a partial list. Most of these were not in the songbook, including Eamonn’s version of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” in which he planned to suck more out of the song than Elvis with slowed-down milking of it.

There were about twenty-five attendees, some of them Wednesday regulars. You could see how transported they were by the nostalgic journey and crooning of ballads. Most knew the words. They threw themselves into each one and the memories and feeling it evoked. The audience was somewhat reminiscent of an old folks’ home, somewhat cabaret or karaoke, but it was lovely, full of heart. Eammon periodically stopped mid-verse, held out his hand, and let “us” carry the lyrics while he struck a dramatic pose. He continually asked for applause from the audience, for the audience.

A lady was invited up because of her beautiful voice when the microphone was held to it, and she led us in three songs, including a stirring “Danny Boy.”

In the middle of the event, three fancily-dressed kids—two girls and a boy—came up and did a mixture of clogging and tap-dancing, two sets each alone and then a stirring, rhythmic set all together. The audience clapped in time. The kids looked polite and earnest, though the boy’s modified Mohawk reminded me of a book we never published (because it was never written) Bob Callahan’s Punks in Kilts.

Eammonn said six or seven times at least, “And only nine years old, folks. From right here, born and raised in Donegal town. Give them a hand! You can do better than that. Give them a hand!”

He closed with a Phil Coulter song about “The Troubles” and the hope for peace. He said that he had the honor of singing it once with Phil Coulter in the audience. Its composer came up afterwards to thank him and also to say that he didn’t recognize his own song. “I put my heart into it,” Eammon said, “and I suppose that was my right because I lost friends there too. I made it mine.” I could only guess what the original might have sounded like. Eammon’s version was “Danny Boy” with different words and tune.

We were one step from Northern Ireland.

 

July 20, 2017

Bright sunshine. Folks gather in the semi-circular Diamond mall by the four-sided obelisk called Four Masters in English, an old Celtic Cross high along marking its continuum, though the monument itself dates only from 1938. It commemorates four seventeenth-century Franciscan monks, authors of an old annals of Irish history from the Flood to 1632, one monk per quadrant. Skulls gleam in the window of Zombie Dollz. Sun flows through the stained glass inside the Church of Ireland, Donegal branch; across the street from it, the castle, a vestigial dragon. Yesterday’s swift-flowing Eske has been reduced to mud by the tide, but it is beginning to flow back from the bay in rivulets. Seagulls populate its grass-covered mudpies come up from their dunking. A nearby speaker blares “Okie from Muskogee” from a riverboat launch preparing for tourists, piped music to be heard town-wide, mixing with heavy metal from open windows. The vessel is grounded, akimbo on an islet of mud. Its floating advertising buoys litter the delta. I prefer the sea-and-mud aroma to modernity.

The streets of Ireland are filled with characters from Thomas Hardy novels as well as young women from mythic times, as if the Fair Folk or Fairy Folk, many of them blonde and red-haired, descendants of Damona and Sirona, are being cloned anew from nomadic Mesolithic genes. Now they carry the mark of Zombie Dollz.

I spot Eammons at his day job behind the front desk. I tell him about my description of his performance in my journal and how to find it online. “I hope it’s all positive,” he said.

“It is, but I captured your showmanship, so you might take issue.”

He beams. I try to explain about my family’s hotel; it draws quizzical looks from him and the ladies at the desk.

The tide has filled the river now. It wasn’t grass on those mudpies, after all. It’s a form of seaweed flourishing along the banks. The riverboat is now afloat, and a surprising queue tourists is lined up already.

 

My primary agenda for the morning was spending our remaining euros on groceries for Northern Ireland, the only item we really needed. I did so at Simple Simon, the health-food store. I still had two euros and three cents. It was way compulsive to spend them at a gas station outside of town (we had filled up en route to Donegal, so didn’t need much petrol). It turned out to be the right choice because we were on the backroad to Derry courtesy of the sat-nav (as they prefer to call it here), and it would have added numerous hours and curves to our trip. The attendant who set us on the right course said, yes, I could buy two euros three of gas, and he came out to pump it himself. I complimented him on landing precisely on the amount with only one prior stop. “Years of practice,” he said.

We set out from Donegal just past noon in sunshine, but we were in a downpour as we left the gas station to engage the first of many roundabouts on the day, most of them in series two or three kilometers apart. The day alternated sun and rain all the way.

It is about 130 kilometers from Donegal in the Republic to Portstewart in Northern Ireland, and we were told to expect something over two hours. Of course, it took more than three at our speed and caution.

Our last two-plus weeks in Ireland will be in the North and as half of a home exchange with Roisin McCaughan, who will go with three women friends to our house in Portland on Saturday. I believe she initiated the exchange on homexchange.com, fortuitously just at the moment we decided to go to Ireland, which allowed us to plan from the get-go to split our time between the Republic and the North. Tonight she will stay with a friend, allowing us to have the house a day early—that way we get to meet and talk in person about both sides of the exchange. No more hotels unless we go on longer than a day trip, at least until our last night at Dublin Airport.

Roisin recommended stopping in Limavady, a village halfway between Derry and Portstewart, to buy fruits and vegetables, so that was the plan (Derry itself is 54 kilometers from Portstewart).

I had been told that the border was nonexistent and will be at least until enforcement of Brexit. A spot at which police once checked under cars coming from the Republic with mirrors now didn’t even require a passport; it was all European Union. I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was no border marking at all. I can’t say when we actually passed into Northern Ireland. Once I noticed Union Jacks along the roadside, I realized that we were in the UK.

Derry was complicated getting through, our biggest city encountered since Dublin. Roundabouts through town were fast-moving with confident and aggressive drivers. While you give right of way to those entering from your right and take it from those who wait to enter from the left, not everyone observed the rules or the lanes, leading to two close calls.

We initially parked a town early, presuming we were in Limavady from a few ambiguous markers, though Roisin said it was not on the highway and required a short detour. It was quite a job getting across the highway to ask at Hunter’s Bakert described as being Limavady. We were at its Ballykelly branch. Lindy took over the driving from there.

Limavady was only another three kilometers, meaning leaving the main highway from the roundabout by going one further exit clockwise. The town came up within minutes We pulled into a parking space at the first opportunity; we were facing a Turkish barber shop, at least that was its name. A man conversing with the barber outside turned out to be much friendlier than he appeared, a feature common to Irish men here (perhaps from stereotyping of those of similar appearance in the US). Lindy asked him for Marshall and House, but both misremembered and mispronounced the actual name, so he said, “I live here and don’t know the shop.” After pondering the matter for a few seconds, he said, “Marshall Howe. Of course.” He pointed and proceeded to walk us most of the way there, since it was en route to his next conversation, to be conducted at the pub. No, we shouldn’t have to move the car. It was only a block and a half and around the corner to the pedestrian mall. Along the way he gave us parking tips (“after an hour they give a ticket”) and a lesson in traffic lights, as we crossed incorrectly at the green, leading him to laugh and hesitantly follow, “That green was for cars, not people.”

Something to note for both the Republic and the North: people everywhere wear bright orange vests as they walk and bike. Everyone. There is a lot of old-fashioned transit, including between towns, and most roads are either narrow or very narrow. Anything but a bright vest would be suicidal.

We ate at the self-serve cafeteria in Hunter’s Bakery, after which Lindy stayed behind and texted on her phone while I returned to near the vicinity of the car to the Bank of Ulster to get the very different-looking Irish pounds. The ease with which people accepted the bills reminded me how much money is a fiction and pact. Everyone agrees to accept their local currency, in fact honors it as a central reality of their life—that alone allows the fiction to work. To me it felt like play money.

The friend of the “Turkish barber” was quite correct. I now saw that an elderly policeman circled the cars on just one block, apparently (from the length of each pause) writing down their license numbers and the time of contact—a painstaking process. We had plenty of leeway, though, as he was recording ours ostensibly for the first time.

Marshall Howe had nothing organic, but it was interesting to see origins of produce. The fruit was mostly from Spain (including flat peaches I had never seen—very flat indeed, as if distorted in a funhouse mirror), the citrus from South Africa, many of the vegetables from Holland and France as well as both Irelands. Other than the lack of organic (or any designation), it was a good selection, giant peas and favas, four peaches or nectarines (or a mix) for a pound thirty-nine pence, fat local carrots, and containers of local Antrim Coast strawberries.

Stopping in Limavady brought us to Portstewart by way of Coleraine, off the main highway, causing a few anxious moments vis a vis the sat-nav. Navigation through Coleraine was a maze, but it came out happily on Portstewart Road. We found Roisin in her driveway, quickly greeting us with a comment on how brave we were to have driven and a promise of rest from our long journey. She is a ten years our junior and living in the town where she worked and not far from where she was born and raised.

I won’t attempt to portray Roisin’s two-hour tour and demonstration of the house. It would be an entire one-act play, and she is a reader of this blog, so I would have to be careful. A retired high-school English teacher, she is used to lessons and narration, and she performed the tour with such precise, high language and droll asides that it was not only entertaining but transfixing. While demonstrating or showing sheets, pillows, doors, stove, oven, toaster (pulled from cabinet storage and not working on the first attempt), doors, locks, washer, clothesline for drying, plugs (in Northern Ireland you need to turn on the plug switch as well as what is plugged into it, likewise in parts of the Republic), TV (how to get BBC 1, 2, and 3), her Seamus Heaney collection (along with an insistence that we could not leave the country without going to his new archival museum an hour’s drive away), yard, garage, refrigerator (the cats had their own smaller one alongside, as they like scraps of ham and the like, but sadly they had been consigned to the cattery for Roisin’s peace of mind, though we had petitioned for them). When I wondered from Donegal if we would get to see the cats, she had emailed, “I’m afraid the cats have to be at the cattery by 11 a m. They are watching me write this and the have seen my suitcase and the cat carrier….not good omens!!”

We were instructed to lock the sliding glass door (“by all means, keep it open for fresh air when you are in the room, or even nearby but close it when you’re away because of the occasional wee creature that might get in.”

During the discussion, I felt as though the narrator were a combination of a Dickens character and Winnie the Pooh with his royal we. Later whlle driving, Roisin gave her opinion of the roundabouts, “They won’t look out for us, so we have to look out for them.”

We were driven to dinner in town by Roisin and were met at an Italian restaurant by Linda, one of the women about to join her in our house in Portland, plus another local friend. (Any readers of this journal in southern Maine, say from Camden to the New Hampshire line, willing to host the four women or show them around please write me and I will put you in touch.)

We entered the restaurant in a downpour, and a double rainbow, a meteorological and storm god common to Ireland, soon appeared out the window in sunlight. Sunset over the ocean was blinding in the restaurant, County Donegal from where we had come shadowed at the horizon.

After dinner, Roisin took us on tour of the surrounding area. We saw neighboring Portrush, a town marked by a Santa-Cruz-like amusement park and at least two huge halls of old and new game machines, the orange, yellow, and red flashing pinball in flavor. We saw the school where she taught till 2002, sitting atop a hill like a castle. She pointed out her Catholic Church—most Irish churches share a genre with castles and make the majority of their American counterparts look like Rotary Halls.

As Roisin pointed out flags, she described the proxy political wars they waged. We were not long past July 12 when the Protestant loyalists, the Orange, marched throughout the country, celebrating the British victory over Ireland centuries ago and re-declaring their loyalty to the Crown. Their fervor meant not only Union Jacks here but US and Confederate flags, the battle having become global between internationalists and nationalists, between descendants of indigenes and imperialists, Catholics and Protestants. Trump, Brexit, and Le Pen are symptoms of a planetary plague, an obsolete misdirect and distraction in the face of a crisis of much greater crises: hyperobjects too large and terrifying for recidivists to look at. Roisin suggested that the Phil Coulter song that Eammon Gillespie sang at the Central Hotel, “The Town I Loved So Well,” had had become the true anthem of our time:

 

In my memory, I will always see
The town that I have loved so well
Where our school played ball by the gas yard wall
And they laughed through the smoke and the smell
Going home in the rain, running up the dark lane
Past the jail, and down behind the Fountain
Those were happy days in so many, many ways
In the town I loved so well
In the early morning the shirt factory horn
Called women from Creggan, the moor, and the bog
While the men on the dole played a mother’s role
Fed the children and then walked the dog
And when times got tough there was just about enough
And they saw it through without complaining
For deep inside was a burning pride
In the town I loved so well
There was music there in the Derry air
Like a language that we all could understand
I remember the day that I earned my first pay
When I played in a small pick-up band
There I spent my youth, and to tell you the truth
I was sad to leave it all behind me
For I learned about life, and I found a wife
In the town I loved so well
But when I returned, how my eyes have burned
To see how a town could be brought to it’s knees
By the armoured cars and the bombed-out bars
And the gas that hangs on to every breeze
Now the army’s installed by that old gas yard wall
And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher
With their tanks and their guns, oh my god, what have they done
To the town I loved so well
Now the music’s gone but they carry on
For their spirits been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
On tomorrow and peace once again
For what’s done is done and what’s won is won
And what’s lost is lost and gone for ever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
In the town I love so well.

 

July 21-22, 2017

Getting into a house for the first time since leaving Dublin two weeks ago meant spaciousness, convenience, cooking our own meals, staying put the next morning: a respite from thirteen straight nights of bed & breakfasts or hotels, none of them for more than three nights. It went Galway (3), Ennis (1), Dingle (2), Ennis (1), Athenry (3), Westport (2), Donegal (1). We did have four straight tnights in Dublin upon arriving in the Republic, but they were different. We were hardly into the trip and going everyday into the city or elsewhere by the DART rail. We were also in a different different country, the UK not the Republic of Ireland, though it was much more a continuity Ireland than a border hop into England. There was no border

I have fallen into this journal from habit and my inveterate compulsions: conversion of insights to language, desire to be part of a virtual community, the creation of a sub-Akashic record. It now seems a bit forced and retro, especially since we are living in a house in town. The only thing that distinguishes it now from a conventional daily diary is the fact that Lindy and I have spent very little time abroad, so the trip still has a wonder and newness. It is pleasurable being outside the U.S., especially now. We are still Americans, and we don’t get to go outside Trumpism in our plight as citizens of a disintegrating polis or of the troubled world at large, but there is a, slight lifting of the burden in watching ordinary people going about their lives in a country that didn’t elect a moron. No one on Earth is invulnerable to local shifts anywhere, as globalism and its hyperobjects impose themselves hegemonously, but there is a smidgen of safety in being outside the Republican Party’s sphere of influence and daily disingenuousness.

For the first two days we got ourselves located. We walked into Portstewart, which is a beach town with the familiar seaside promenade of souvenir shops and amusements. Portstewart is also an upscale town (with a golf club at which the Irish Open was just held) and a far suburb of Belfast and Derry.

As we engaged with people in shops and on the street, just about everyone continued to be friendly, a conviviality that is difficult to convey because strangers are also friendly in their way in the States. In Ireland it is friendliness plus a quenchless curiosity about human beings, a feeling of responsibility for travellers’ well-being, and a love of idle gab whenever an opportunity presents itself. There are so many Irish people in the States that just about everyone here has relatives—and most want to tell you where they are and what they are presently doing. Many people have also been to America—Florida, Boston, San Francisco, the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, wherever— and want to recount aspects of their visits.

These conversations take place when asking directions, conducting commerce, or even lingering in contiguous territory . We learned about neighbor’s upcoming holiday in Spain. Her husband drives for a distillery and goes all across Ireland, Republic and Ulster, but he won’t drive in Spain—he says the highways are like tracks. She and the young teen daughter laugh about the battles of their dog with Roisin’s absent cats. While walking on the promenade by the beach, we heard about the butcher’s regrets that he only went to Florida in Amerca plus how livestock are raised in Ireland as opposed to the U.S.—an inducement not raise the “range-fed” or “organic” issue here.

If you ask directions on the street—as we often do—the random person chosen will invariably (A) go into great detail, (B) walk with you a significant distance in order to make sure you get it right, usually keeping up small talk along the way, or (C) go into a shop or ask another passer-by for help if he or she doesn’t know or isn’t sure where you trying to get to, insisting you wait while they check, (D) coming running after you with a map they have hastily drawn on a scrap of paper.

If you can’t find an item in a grocery market, no amount of reassurance will deter a clerk from walking you to the exact spot or, occasionally, commandeering another employee to do it.

The behavior may be rote and culturally reinforced, but that itself speaks to a deeper sense of community and civilization. I will repeat my uncomfortable observation that people who, at a distance, look foreboding, stupid (sorry!), off-putting, or likely to be irritable or rude, almost always differ from first impression, which would accurate more often than not in in the States. America finds the lowest common denominator, while Ireland seems to require a baseline savvy and wit (in keeping with required Gaelic). Young males clerking at convenience stores or smoking in groups on streets are courteous (whatever that word construes), non-judgmental (at least to appearances), and respectful (whatever that word construes).

I am stretching this uncertain insight too far to the point of offensiveness.

 

We drove into nearby Coleraine, a city of about 25,000 contiguous with Portstewart—you transition into it without much in between. We were looking for The Real Health Store on Stone Row, there being nothing resembling natural food in Portstewart. I had found them online and called, and they assured me they had groceries. I put the address—12 Stone Row—into the sat-nav, but it objected—it was unreachable by car, leading instead us to a nearby alternative site. That was because it was on a pedestrian mall.

Everything about this outing was a challenge. Just getting used to the driving gauntlet and its rules again involved shaky adjustment to not going down the right side of the road, especially when turning into a new street—left, left, left. We had to navigate one roundabout after another; no sooner than we spun off at prompted exit, avoiding collision with swift traffic merging from both the left and the right, the sat-nav announced, “At the roundabout….” as if we hadn’t just been in one. Then it was hard finding parking, knowing what spots were legal and, later, finding our car. These produced different kinds of dramas. The moving dramas brought hits of adrenaline plus loud remonstrations and directives from the one of us not in the driver’s seat—Lindy attributed her admonitions and “Jesus Christs” to “pure fear.”

There is a lot to do in a roundabout. You have to pick the best entering lane, keep an integrity of lanes when the exit choice demands your switching them,  and yield right-of-way from your right to those already in the circle or entering it—a difficult but essential thing to remember and time to local closing speeds that distinguish “right of way” from “yield.” Errors are enforced by close calls with outraged horns—I forgot to check the right and yield several times. You also have to confirm the correct exit. The sat-nav can’t be trusted, sometimes saying the first exit when it is the second and vice versa—you can’t expect the female zombie to see everything perfectly from Google heaven. You also have to shift gears properly. Although you stop briefly, you can’t usually effectively employ first gear (too heavy a pause) unless there is a red light or the roundabout is full of traffic. Second gear is best, but then you need third gear in rhythm to get going again. Mistakes create minor tempests, for instance finding fourth gear instead of second or first instead of third, the latter causing whiplash as well as immediate reactions from other drivers, the former causing the car to slow and rattle.

The suspense of getting further and further from our parked car and having been absent-minded enough not to note the street name where we left it was increasingly a cloud hovering over our expedition as each new rediretion and turn twisted our labyrinth. You think you remember where you were, more or less, but you have been turned around too many times. Opposite directions suddenly become confused with each other, as similar landscapes get misidentified identical. In Coleraine, Lindy and I thought our car was located in exact opposite directions. This worry colored the entire subsequent shopping event.

The worst incident, though, involved pedestrian-hood. At the health-food store, the clerk directed us out of the mall and across a busy street—he stepped out of the store and walked down the mall to point it out—to, at the near horizon, a supermarket with organic sections for vegetables and bread, neither of which The Real Health Store carried. For all their online and verbal acclaim, they were a holistic pharmacy, and their non-supplements section was a few small shelves. This was typical for both the Republic and the North—no Whole Foods, Royal River, or Berkeley Natural Grocery. There is also little product consistency from store to store, even with Biota, the most popular brand. One store will have its cereals, another its cookies, another its juices. You can’t count on seeing many  of the same items from store to store, the exception being things like dried dates and dried mango. Our box of delightful Big Oz organic buckwheat puffs—I know, not the healthiest breakfast cereal despite the buckwheat imprimatur—purchased in Galway has never shown up again

Crossing the traffic to get to the Tesco wasn’t too traumatic—during a lapse we ran alongside a woman with a baby carriage. Coming back with our bread and vegetables was another matter. The later-in-the-day traffic was unbroken, some of it peeling off to the far right and other vehicles whipping around the corner, ignoring what seemed an explicit pedestrian crosswalk.

Courtesy does not extend to driving here. Everything is moving fast and, despite the general politeness and the consciousness level represented by orange vests worn by walkers on rural and suburban roads, there is absolute vehicular entitlement in cities. We spent about eight minutes trying to gauge or encourage a gap at two different crosswalks with no success, though a few other, much younger pedestrian timed a crossing and ran for it. Lindy, usually the more cautious of us, suddenly thought she saw an opening and made an unannounced run, but she had misjudged. The farthest lane, which was usually peeling off, did not, leaving her directly exposed to traffic. Happily everyone stopped, but it was one of those terrifying moments that resonates long after. I found myself using Peter Levine’s deer-shivering technique that night to get the after-shock out of my system. She had run directly into traffic!

After I followed her across the street, finding our car seemed a very minor crisis. A customer back in the health-food shop (where we had left our bag of purchases for the excursion to Tesco) was able to name the precise spot from the few cues we remembered: “somewhere around Circular Drive, parked in front of a car dealership.”

 

I made a solo journey on foot to the beach; it meant taking a different path from the closest roundabout, not to City Center. I had guessed that the walk would be a half hour, but it was only eighteen minutes to the beach, a mildly euphoric stroll, free associating and looking about at—well, Ireland.

People had spoken about parking on the beach, but I couldn’t picture what that meant until I got within sight. A beautiful stretch of sandy beach was almost entirely occupied by vehicles—autos, RVs, large trucks—as if everything but the wet sand at the tidal edge was a parking lot. People lay on blankets and set up barbecues between vehicles and kids played from there to the waves. It looked like a trailer park or campgrounds.

I took a winding staircase down to the beach from the end at which I arrived. The dirt footpath, which I tried first, led only to a rock-climbing entrée, also an invisible streamlike ooze over the cliff, which made for wet shoes and socks. I followed the steps, took off my shoes at the bottom, and walked in the cold surf, an elixir, and not nearly as cold as at Louisberg. Despite the cars, The scene had a pleasant vibration, the town perched in rising layers of cottages, row houses, and small mansions beyond. I tried to get back by walking along paved paths toward the town center, but got lost and had to be redirected. I passed a house built into the ruins of a fort or former dwelling. The roof of the house was a grassy knoll, and a modernity of large crisp windows, new white appliances, and sleek bricolage architecture stared out from old stones.

Eight in the evening, I was headed home, but it was nowhere near sunset.

 

The weather here is comprised of what the locals call “three-season days.” Rarely is a day not blustery, overcast, and foggy at some point, but most days also have a burst of summer sun. They say in Maine that if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes, and it will change. That is true to an absurd degree here. Drizzle turns into sunshine, then is suddenly overcast again. You take off your jacket and sweater and still hot, and then it is drizzling, then pouring. The temperature lurches by five or ten degrees within an hour. The clouds are remarkable, suggesting faery lands among banks and layers. Clouds are generally remarkable, projecting a phenomenology beyond mundane isobars of temperature and moisture. Here the clouds take their meteorological art to a museum level.

Every sunset a noisy, fairy-tale-like conclave of crows tours the nearby rooftops and trees. They are magical, suggesting a realm of intelligence and discourse beyond us— leprechaun-affilated energy. Magpies and gulls are their ubiquitous familiars.

I have remarked about the bright hues of flowers. Perhaps it is the constant gentle watering by clouds. In Portstewart to a greater degree than elsewhere in what we have seen of Ireland, people have hydrangea plantings from from pinks and reds to soft and bright blues. They blend these palettes within yards.

Roisin left us with some interesting language, most of which I have forgotten. But I do like the “varmints” that she warned might come through the shrubbery. She added that the Flowerfield Arts Centre was on the other side of the shrubbery but “you can’t go through the shrubs, you have to walk around them.” The bollard is her name for two short, stubby round cement objects at the base of a footpath leading to the main avenue, Coleraine Road. They are key landmarks for any walk we take, and we have to remember the correct sequences of lefts and a right to find them.

We are wound into a bit of a labyrinth involving streets and avenues with names like Cappagh, Woodvale, Fairfield, Agherton, etc. The sat-nav made gibberish out of Gaelic names in the Republic, and it can no more handle Cappagh and Agherton: a vowel-less wreck of evasive consonants.

I started this entry in a persistent day-long overcast with occasional downpours. Now the sun is shining, and there is hardly a cloud in the sky.

 

July 23, 2017

When we set out on this trip to Ireland, it has one collateral objective: to bring a small packet of my sister’s ashes to the grave of her Nanny, Bridget McCann, a ritual I didn’t have to fully understand to commit to. Bridey returned to Belfast for good in the mid-nineties after more than forty years in the U.S.; she died there in 1999. Months after her return she became an unlikely iconic figure while participating in a Peace March, her image conveyed throughout the world, sharing an Irish national magazine cover with Bill Clinton. Her look and presence were indomitable, almost savage, a side of her I never knew, reflecting centuries of Irish defiance, dashed hopes and new hope. She clutched a paper dove. For my sister, the image was transcendent, as it raised the central figure of her life, the woman she called her “Irish angel,” to brief public stardom. It was also ironical. Bridey had just returned to Ireland, and she was not so much political as devout and dogged in her sense of justice and Christian virtues.

The ashes stayed well in the background of my concerns and attentions, as we travelled through the Republic as ordinary tourists. I occasionally made sure I still had the tiny packet, but I didn’t dwell on it. Now was the time to fulfill the mission.

Most of my sister’s ashes were scattered at two sites on Mount Desert Island in Easter Maine: by Woofie’s Rock in Otter Creek and at Lopaus Point in Bernard (some on land, some set in the sea). I had exempted a final portion for Ireland, no more than a thimbleful, though a part of me doubted I’d actually get there; it seemed so remote and unimaginable. I figured that if I never got there, I could always leave them in the garden or the ocean at Portland. But we continued to follow through on our plans.

Since I believed that Debby’s spirit had departed this plane, the status of the ashes was ambiguous. But they had a liturgical and metonymical significance, plus there was the magic wild card. Wendell Seavey who, in his fishing days, took a number of folks out to sea to scatter ashes, reported instances of what I would called “psychic quantum entanglement”: the sun coming out from behind clouds or a wind picking up at the moment of letting the ashes go into the water. Wendell took those as the spirit saying “thank you” for the final release from Earth at a visionary spot.

Roisin had graciously done advance legwork for me, locating Bridey’s youngest, and last surviving sibling from a family of nine, her sister Olive, married name McAlea. According to a friend of Roisin’s cousin in Belfast, Olive remembered our family, though thought that the surname was Turner (not Towers), also that my name was Robert. She added that Olive might not be in good enough health for a visit, though she did convey a willingness for us to come see her. I wanted to meet Olive as kin to Bridget, and she was also my guide to the grave site.

on our second day in Portstewart, I dialed the number with trepidation, fearing dementia, but Olive’s voice immediately dispelled any such concerns. She was clear, astute, and welcoming. She did have my first name confused, but she correctly remembered Towers not Turner. She closed our conversation by saying, “My door is always open to you, darling.” A native Irish blessing, but a showstopper nonetheless.

I spent a good deal of the prior two days fussing over maps of Belfast, both online and in our travel literature, trying to match a transit map to a street map. Olive’s address on Cedar Avenue, which was next door (Roisin’s contact discovered) to where Bridey lived with other McCann siblings on her return to her the place she was born and raised, was not in downtown Belfast but toward the outskirts of the city to the north.

Urban maps generate imaginings of neighborhoods from grids and names, projections from what one knows of districts in other cities. I tend to worry about neighborhoods and transportation logistics—how to get to a new place and be safe. I have wandered into dangerous neighborhoods in San Francisco,  Munich, Chicago, and New York and understand that without native cues, you are blind to the telltale warning signs. Knowing nothing of Belfast, I could only surmise where Olive was and what lay between her and the train station, but our planned route—bus from Portstewart to Coleraine, train from Coleraine to Belfast, train, bus, or taxi from the central station in Belfast to Cedar Avenue—looked long, complicated, and potentially dicey. I couldn’t figure out which train or bus went there from which station, and no nearby stop was marked on any map, meaning a walk. The general district, Antrim Road by Cavehill, was central to the Troubles though presently at peace. Still I felt a deep-seated edge of concern—strange city, uncertain transit and finally concluded, since Cedar Avenue was on a direct line from Portstewart into Belfast, that driving the car in, against Roisin’s best advice (she meant for us to avoid urban traffic and expensive parking), was my preference. I decided on doing it one day earlier than planned, a Sunday when there would be less traffic. Also we wouldn’t have to park in a garage; we could park on the street—a real-estate image of a house for sale further down the block showed ample spaces. Public transportation looked like two and a half hours minimum with a number of gray areas. Mapquest put car time at 53 minutes door to door.

Olive was open to a change from our original date, though she wanted us to be early because there was an evening mass for her son Jim. He had sadly died of illness only four weeks earlier—a week before we left Maine—shockingly recent, making her warm hospitality all the more extraordinary.

Driving into Belfast had a mythic halo that no prior journey on this trip had. Bridget arrived at our household in 1954, my tenth year, and she brought with her a link to her hometown that remained in our mythology throughout childhood. It was regularly reinforced her stories about her family, which had the veritas of a Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy tale, and aerograms she received as folded thin blue sheets, glued into an envelope and transported by exotic stamps we removed in water and pasted in books. She read aloud portions of these letters that had to do with her nephews and nieces.

Belfast represented the heart of IRA resistance to England, giving rise to terrorist guerilla warfare, devastated neighborhoods, and prison hunger strikes, including Bobby Sands’ starvation to the death commemorated in Steve McQueen’s sacred movie Hunger, Michael Fassbender as Sands. My two Belfast narratives were interlinked. Though Bridey came to the U.S. before the Troubles, the social and economic conditions that gave rise to them led to her leaving home and family as a young woman for a more promising life and career in New York.

It took the usual gauntlet of roundabouts to get launched onto a highway, which had its own occasional roundabout. Most of the run was on a fast-moving “double carriage” road with each roundabout having a Belfast lane clearly marked on the pavement as well as in diagrams of the circle with its exits on overhanging signs. My mapquest instructions, copied from online, diverged from the sat-nav, as we got close, the latter wanting to take us deeper into Belfast. I had spent so much time on tracing the route on maps that I felt comfortable with mapquest’s preference of Exit 4 off M2 to Antrim Road. We passed the zoo and Belfast Castle, happily confirming tiny crests on the maps, and were quickly at Cedar Avenue. We turned onto the McCann-McAlea block, and there we were—our arrival made epic by its long prodrome. Sixty-three years ago Bridget McCann arrived at 1235 Park Avenue.

Cedar was a block of tall, narrow pastel-painted stucco row houses, some with a tiny slit between them. Olive was outside in her front yard, waiting to meet us—we were a tad late, for it took seventy minutes. A small gnome-like woman with glasses and a sweet smile, she radiated immediate warmth. After shaking hands and making a complimentary fuss, she led us inside where a number of family members were gathered: her oldest daughter Kathleen, another daughter Elizabeth, and Kathleen’s two young girls, approximately three and seven, playing with a cellphone and a device that they called HiPad.

We sat around the living room, then moved to tea and small cakes in the dining room, though Kathryn left not long after our arrival to take the children to a trampoline-highlighted birthday party. We visited for, I think, two hours, though I lost track of the actual time and don’t pay much attention to it anyway in a country with sunsets closer to midnight than dinner. Our talk was filled with family information on both sides. I felt, right off, that I had to sort the tragic Towers family chronicles for them, and they were interested in getting clarity because it illuminated details of Bridey’s life—she had been a crucial member of a calamitous dysfunction family for decades. They knew about my mother’s terrible 1975 suicide. In fact, Olive produced a folded and crumpled letter written by my stepfather Bob Towers to Bridget just afterwards, thanking her for her service to our family over the years and telling her what a remarkable human being she was. Over our protests she insisted we keep it. We then had a debate about whether Mr. Towers, being an advertising man glib with words, had delivered merely an eloquent testimonial or spoke from the heart. Olive and I felt strongly that, whatever else was involved, the letter was written with authenticity and love.

The McAleas were vague on my brother Jon’s suicide in 2005, in fact his whole life as an itinerant. They knew him only as Bridey’s high-achieving charge, a boy she was proud of. They had only just heard about my sister’s suicide from Roisin’s cousin’s friend. That was particularly sobering to them because of the link between Debby and Bridget and also because the many suicides in the family she served spoke to the mystery of her service. They knew she had been a godsend, but it hadn’t stopped her “children” and their mother from killing themselves, the women by jumping out the same window forty-two years apart and my brother by stabbing himself repeatedly in the neck and abdomen with a knife. I explained how Bridget played a key therapeutic role she played in an impossible situation; how, on arriving in our apartment, she gradually adapted to the psychological intricacies and the affliction into which she had stumbled. It was initially far outside her frame of reference, but rather than flee, she took responsibility for bringing sunlight and stability into a dark place. She was our anchor and compass of sanity and normality. They were not surprised because, as the fourth-born of the nine with aging parents, she had been a mother to her younger siblings from her own early teenage years.

“Bridget loved the wee girl,” Olive said.

I added that she was effectively Debby’s true mother in the absence of our mother’s capacity to nurture.

Bridget and her younger sister Margaret had come to the U.S. as young women and stayed there for the greater parts of their adult lives. Bridey became a proxy American, while Margaret stayed homesick for Ireland, longed to return, and came back sooner. Neither married. They sent money back to help with the younger children, Olive among them. “It was always ‘ask Bridget,’” she said. “If I needed a dress for a dance, she sent money. She always put us first, ahead of herself.” During the Troubles, Bridget and Margaret paid for Olive’s teen son Jimmy to come to New York, stay with them, and go to Catholic high school (1976-1977). Elizabeth and Olive met Debby while visiting Bridget there in 1977. They fondly remembered attending a Broadway show with her.

“When Jimmy got back from New York,” Olive continued, “All his pals were interred, so he went to Cork for seven years and then lived in England for the next twenty years, painting and decorating.” Much talk followed concerning the Troubles and how the McCanns were not involved in the violence and attended marches.

“I was with Bridey that day,” Olive said, as she brought the Clinton/McCann cover from upstairs to show, “but they didn’t want my picture. The photographer fixed right on her. He didn’t know she was just in America. Maybe he liked the way she was clutching that wee paper dove.”

Elizabeth remarked that Bridget secretly substituted candy when my mother gave Debby her Demerol pills for anxiety. “She thought it was inappropriate for a child to be taking adult medicine.

A dynamic single career woman, at fifty-two she ran three Belfast hospitals. She explained that when she was growing up, we were part of her family. “On Bridget’s visits back to Belfast, I heard many stories of Richard, Jonny, and Debby.” The vicarious relationship was reciprocal

It took a while for Olive and Elizabeth to absorb Lindy and me. We were not Debby, their link, though we brought fresh, if grim, news of her. Though they had my name wrong (and Olive had to be continually reminded during the visit I was not “Robert”), they had gotten an earlier version of my memoir novel New Moon, and Elizabeth said it had been passed around the family—yet they did not initially connect the book to me.

Gradually we formed our own relationship with them, like coming around full circle back to the door and re-entering. Olive accepted us with tender, warm-hearted acceptance and familial inclusivity on our own terms as people in her living room, not as second-hand representatives of Debby or Bridget. Both women made it clear that we were part of her family, as of that moment, and would always be welcome there. Elizabeth reiterated, “You have always been part of our family.” Olive went upstairs and found a commemoration card for Bridey from the time of her death, a small murti-like Catholic ikon and gave it to us.

Later in the day her parting comment was that, unless we made it to her house again during our stay, she would see us next “at home,” meaning in the next world.

The visit was steeped in such intimacy and magic that it was an informal initiation into an Irish family, a family I was already part of because Bridey was my own core family from age ten to seventeen. She was the hub around which our household orbited; her singing of Irish ballads and show tunes (especially from Finian’s Rainbow) was the soundtrack of my childhood—a transplanting of the Irish soul to our domain that always portended a greater depth. Jon and I talked about it in relation to Bridey during our thirties and forties. In Out of Babylon I included a section of a letter my brother, in miasma and chaos, wrote her from college in Madison in 1967. It had the innocence and hope that Bridey had always signified for us:

“The house at the beach sounds fine. Hearthfire and the sea is better than buses and elevators, especially for you, I guess, who has lived all her life near the sea. Bridey, this wish for you—may you ever be what is best of Ireland. May you always carry its myth and mystery in your spirit and its love that is an elf’s love riding the wind through old castles, lighting night’s land into twilight and when settling on the child’s face whispering of the dream and its brightness. It is by this I will always feel you best.”

Throughout the visit, I felt a gravitas and significance, an almost Dantean pull, as though everything was doubly and triply folded over and filled with otherworldly nostalgia and deep imagery. The house on Cedar Avenue, its living room and parlor, held the timeless hearth from which Bridey came and to which we now came as in a dream and a pilgrimage. I felt the power of it resonating in my body. Beyond the mundane events and conversations, there was a ceremony being conducted, an affiliation not so much being established as ratified, a ritual couched in an understated event. For our years together and because she had met Bridey and understood her role in our family, Lindy felt it too. She commented quietly at one juncture, “This is pretty powerful.” Nothing about it was specifically earth-shattering and enchanted, but it was enchanted.

“We were just working-class folks,” Olive said at one point. “My father and my brothers Eddie, Jimmy, and David were dockers; they worked at the docks. But we had our family and we had the neighborhood here. We knew how to take care of each other. Bridget was always caring of others. That’s how we were.”

 

I had told them about the ashes, so Elizabeth offered to drive us to the Carnmoney Cemetery, about fifteen minutes away in the direction from which we had driven. On the hillside, a stunning landscape of tombstones faced Belfast Bay and, in the other direction, Cavehill. Pointing to the rise, Elizabeth remarked that Bridget always put up a picture of Cavehill in her places in New York, to remind her where she came from. I had never noticed that and, even if I had, the ancient Irish hillside would have meant nothing to me until I stood before it in present time.

Unlike many cemeteries we had seen in Ireland, this one had predominantly shiny black modern stones, incisively engraved with identifying information, dates, and epitaphs, many members of a family to a plot. We passed another McCann family first. Bridget’s stone was a bit down the central avenue, the first one in to the left. It named Our Beloved sister Bridget Patricia first, January 9, 1999; Precious Brother David that October; Gentle Sisters Margaret and Winne in 2004 and 2005. The sun was bright and warm. Belfast City and harbor lay in the distance. In the other direction was the small valley on which Cedar Avenue sat, in Belfast’s early days, during the Troubles, and now; beyond it Palaeocene basalt Cavehill on which Neolithic Celtic farmers grazed cattle and where they dug caves to mine iron. In Victorian times the more ancient limestone was quarried from beneath.

Big moments are hard to fit into the swift-flowing, diffuse continuum of time. My endlessly self-referential monkey mind kept trying to land on the right note, to evoke the shamanic potential in the occasion. I felt a miserable failure. First, it was difficult to get open my minute carefully sealed and taped envelope—it was crucial that the ashes not spill en route; that would have been a mess in the suitcase and a loss of the ceremony. Once I pulled off a corner, I kneeled before the stone and sprinkled the white-gray ash on the live green grass and clover, as close to the the stone I could get.

As I tried to “see,” I was internally redirected from the sky to the earth, which allowed a quiet portal that was already there to open. I had to try not push and invent, just to receive. What I “saw” was part imagination, part autonomous transmission: a very young Bridget, the age she was when she came to us, a twenty-four-year-old colleen not yet the fierce white-haired fáidh in the photograph. In the scene, Debby was an old woman, showing the devastation she had undergone, but fear and despair were also spooling off her like a façade of makeup, and she seemed at peace and in reverie, reaching out to put her arm around a young Bridey, the Nanny who had come to the crib of a baby girl. This reversal of time felt not only right to the situation but the only possibility to explain it and the only path to its redemption.

As I said, the picture was partly my imagination reaching out and partly the vibration that it contacted, attuned, and translated back into a conventional pastoral image. The scene was not diminished by the image’s being saccharine or kitsch. It was what it was, as all things are. At its level I understood the meaning of my pilgrimage. Debby didn’t need me to ferry her ashes to Belfast for her to find Bridget or be found, but my bringing them to the grave completed a circle and released some lingering ghosts. Olive said later, “I wish she had come to us. We would have cared for her. She will always be part of our family, and now we will include her in our prayers with Bridget and my sisters and Jimmy and David.”

As I set down the ashes and looked into the portal, I realized that my pilgrimage was telling Debby’s spirit that she could have come here, to Cavehill; she could have come here instead of jumping out the window, but she never left New York; Not just New York—she confined herself to a quadrant bounded by Sixth Avenue, 12th Street, Second Avenue, and 98th Street. Just about all of her time was spent inside an even smaller matrix: Fifth Avenue, 14th Street, Third Avenue, and Lexington at 86th. She rarely ventured outside it. Only twice after age thirty did she leave New York City.

She thought that there was nowhere else to go, but her original, unconsummated family, the McCanns, lived on Cedar Street; she had the means to get herself there and a reason. By taking the sci-fi journey in a spaceship of my own imagination, by breaking a number Towers family taboos with Lindy’s help, by bringing a small part of Debby’s last molecular form, I was taking the journey for her, for both of us so that she could make it herself on another level, to complete her journey to the maternal source and authenticate my own reception.

Finally I can’t say what it was, just that it felt right—and enough. I didn’t need a breeze to kick up or a poltergeist to appear. It wasn’t that kind of thing.

 

After the visit to Carnmoney, Elizabeth drove Lindy and me up Cavehill to the Belfast Castle. It wasn’t a Mediaeval relic but nineteenth-century atavistic homage. We both found the brief scoot relaxing, to be shepherded this time to a requisite tourist site, not having to find or belabor it.

It was a stock castle, the gardens colorful and meticulous, throwback Mediaeval imagery compelling with modern Belfast and its Lough, its inlet harbor, in the distance, mysterious as ever.

We returned to Cedar Avenue and bid Olive and Elizabeth goodbye. Olive’s son-in-law David Farley, married to her daughter, another Bridey, was there with his young son and daughter. They were too shy to shake hands, when requested, with Lindy. She asked their father if they even did that, shake hands, and he responded by holding up and jabbing a fist. “Oh, they do that,” Lindy said. “I can fist-bump.” They were too shy for that too.

“The loveliest thing,” said Olive, “is that your half-sister’s ashes are buried with my family, where they belong.”

 

July 24, 2017

Going to Derry on Monday was a last-minute decision made Sunday night. We had thought to return to Belfast in the morning, to see the city on a walking tour, but the guide we chose was available only on Wednesday and Thursday.

So I called the two walking tours listed in the Rick Steves guide for Derry and spoke to the person in charge of each. The Bogside tour was specifically devoted to the Troubles and led by people who had lost family on Bloody Sunday— 30 January 1972. The other was a more conventional historic walk through the city. The leader of it declined to comment on the Bogside one (“in person, not on the phone”). I had asked whether doing both would be repetitive. He said that he felt his tour covered everything we needed to see. We thought we’d take the historic walk in the morning and try the Bogside one in the afternoon, but as chance would have it, we arrived in Derry with a forty-five minute wait for the next Bogside tour and an extra hour on top of that for the historic one, so we reversed the order and, as the day took its own course, went only to the Bogside. After that intense, exhausting introduction, we wanted to see the rest of Derry at our own pace; we didn’t care if we missed a site or two.

Passing through Derry en route to Portstewart from Donegal, we had noted the old walls and modern bridge, an urban complicatedness at short distance. In fact, we skimmed the outskirts in street-feeding roundabouts, many marked “center city.” We wanted to spend time in those interstices, but not on a travel day. We knew that Derry was a major battleground during the Troubles. In the youtube video of Phil Coulter singing his Derry anthem, the sign “Entering Free Derry” makes that point unambiguously.

If the Republic was dominated by our desire to encounter faery energy, the North was dominated by our wish to experience the political reality more deeply. Ireland’s long Gaelic guerrilla war with England is inescapable in both sectors of the divided country. It dominates town squares and roadsides, covering Mediaeval and early urban rebellions, leading up the 1916 uprising, the executions, and the subsequent war for independence, and formation of the Irish Free State by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922. The story was imbedded in museums we visited and the Joyce and Yeats castles. Roisin’s house esd filled with its artifacts, from the poems of Seamus Heaney to replica newspapers from 1916 through 1923 in which we read about historic events in their own present time.

England conquered Ireland because the larger island was fundamentally imperial, initially as a natural extension of feudalism in the tenth and eleventh centuries—lords and their territories won in battle. Thereafter the English government assumed jurisdiction over Ireland, in part because the nearby huge island provided potential enemies, Spain and, centuries later, Germany, with an ideal base to attack the homeland. Stewardship was rationalized in protectorate terms: England became military guarantor of Ireland’s security as well as its benefactor in markets, technology, and investment—a cultural and civilizing overseer. During the ninetenth and early twentieth centuries Ireland was still seen as a land of yokels, drunks, and savages, primitive and provincial. The old papers are filled with unexamined sentiments along these lines. No less a learned chap than George Bernard Shaw mocked the Irish desire for independence by referring to the land as little more than a field of cabbages.

Taking the Bogside tour was instant immersion in this history, a living context for “Entering Free Derry.”

 

We decided to drive to Derry too rather than take the train, though the Irish Rail journey was said to feature spectacular views. Getting to the train and from the train to the tours (and back) would add between two and three hours to the commute, and we figured we’d rather spend that time in Derry itself.

I am not going to try to recapitulate the history of the Troubles and Bloody Sunday, thirteen unarmed civilians murdered in the street. There are plenty of accounts online. Instead I will offer my impressions gathered during the tour, as narrated by Paul, our guide, acknowledging that there may be plentiful errors and gaps in my account.

Paul’s tour was not so much a tour as an ablution. It didn’t cover more than a few blocks in area. In almost two hours of an event that Paul gauged at the beginning as last from an hour to an hour-twenty-minutes, we walked for maybe fifteen minutes all told. The rest of the time we stood in spots and listened to Paul stand witness to horrors and call out the deeds and memories like a sacred bard.

There would have been no way to assimilate the true depth of “Entering Free Derry” or Bloody Sunday without a witness like Paul. His father was murdered that day while wearing the armband of a weaponless civilian march-leader. He was shot by a British soldier, as his seventeen-year-old son stood on the street. Paul’s investment in that chrysalis moment was intense, intimate; its flame unextinguishable. He was on a life mission handed on site to a teenager. He later founded the tour company with the intent of getting the truth out to as many people as possible.

Our tour was another daily occasion for Paul to give testimony. The problem was: that’s pretty much all he did—and he had done it so many times—hundreds, thousands, that he had lost beginner’s mind or presence. He was flat, not there, simply narrating as if repeating a memorized spiel. His heart was clearly in it, but he couldn’t lay it out there bare one more time. He was bound by duty to present facts, so he spoke them; his words were packed with fury and outrage and revelation, but his emotional body didn’t match them. He was disjunctive and repetitious, but who could blame him? How many times can you mourn and weep? How can you continue to perform a public catharsis? The facts alone are so horrific that they don’t hold up in a single telling of each, so repetition is not a defect; it is the litany that remains when the tears have all been cried out. I will give my jumbled version of Paul’s broken transmission.

The British attacked unarmed civilians in the Bogside on direct orders from Downing Street, the top. They meant to shoot and kill. The army knowingly brought in untrained, undisciplined thugs and psychopaths who joined up for the sheer license to shoot, torture, and humiliate innocent people for recreation. They shot into fleeing crowds and stepped forward to execute people for whom ambulances had been called. They shot young boys and, while they were still alive, carted them off in army vehicles under the ruse of taking them to the hospital, and dumped them in a hospital parking lot where tortured them until they were dead.

The higher ups in London created cover stories for the massacre from the get-go. As they planned the slaughter, their own version of shock and awe, they simultaneously arranged a legitimizing narrative—that they had only shot at armed terrorists and civilians in self-protection—a “get off the hook” card that is used as arrantly today by armies and police officers. But photographs were smuggled out by photographers who had to hide and then escape, and they disprove the shameless lies.

Paul went on and on with this testimony, losing track of time, losing touch with his audience, forgetting his locale or what he had already said. The narrative was powerful and ghastly in its routine disclosures but with minimal continuity or consistency. Every so often we stopped at what was now an ordinary street corner or parking lot, and it proved to be another site where the army fired and particular civilians were killed. There Paul’s soliloquy continued. He named each murder victim, where the bullet entered and exited, what solider F or solder G later claimed at two inquests (usually that the victim was armed or they “had a convenient loss of memory”), which soldiers or witnesses died before or after giving accounts (most of them from cancer, probably, Paul said, because of the chemicals used in dispersing the crowd). Then we walked further. We stopped. Paul gave more testimony.

At one point we stood in a parking lot by a set of apartments, an obviously poor neighborhood, residents exiting and entering, casting the occasional approving glance, while Paul described people shot as they fled down the common alley that was before us, meticulous detail as to the nature of each execution and death, victim by victim. All that time we stood around a dead pigeon on the sidewalk, never acknowledging it. It added a raw symbolism and macabre corroboration. How could you say anything about a mere present-day dove when a massacre of monumental scope was still resonating on the same spot?

Along our walk we passed dozens of murals, wall paintings, graffiti, posters, so diverse and so artistically executed that it was like a street gallery. That was the highlight of the tour, Paul our docent of the works. It was hard to tell the difference between their representation of active, live rage and their role as historic canonization and iconography. The line between myth and reality wavered, though the images were stunning, especially in the context of streets and buildings rather than halls, and I don’t doubt that the accounts and conditions were real and many of the same grievances, contentions, and abuses are alive and well today, only disguised beneath a new prosperity and the veneer of the supposedly irrefrangible April 1998 agreement between London and Dublin, London and Belfast. In that sense, the street gallery is a church, a reminder of one’s ongoing sacred responsibility to the martyrs who made the present possible and their membrance: a holocaust museum where it belongs, where the shit went down.

What did I see on the tour? Realistic color paintings of street battles with blood on the pavement, armed soldiers, people fleeing tear gas billowing behind them, people fallen; key figures like Bernadette Devlin and various victims and priests whose names I forget, also Ernesto Che Guevara Lynch on bright red wall around a small window, Cuban and Irish flags forming a V for his head, the extra surname highlighting Che’s part-Irish ancestry along two Gaelic epigraphs and an English quote: “In my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish Rebels.”

I saw black, white, and gray paintings of  gas-mask-wearing soldiers, automatic-bullet clips over their shoulders, other soldiers pointing rifles at hooded revolutionaries; carefully printed words like “Victory to the Republican Prisoners,” “End Isolation of Republicans,”  “End Forced Strip Searching,” “We Salute Those Who Gave Their Lives for Irish Freedom,” “IRA,” “Unfinished Revolution,” “End British Internment” (scrawled unartistically, hence likely present-time), “You Are Now Entering FREE DERRY” (the yellow section of wall preserved, moved to a grassy mall, and given the status of a monument),”Free the Hunger Strikers,” “Solidarity with Palestine.” This is a sample, not the whole list by any means.

The Bogside is covered with this art, organized and willy-nilly, amid the activity of what is still, likely in parts, an impoverished ghetto. The passers-by were alternately oblivious, busy with their own lives—women with baby carriages, kids playing, teens and young adults hanging out—old-timers around bars and shops, elderly and physically impaired and/or traumatized men and women walking with crutches or standing stoned, and then the fashionably attired and superior young people headed to and from careers or pleasures. Occasional passers-by Paul’s age—sixtyish—interacted, encounters initiated by either him or them.

Him: “You want to borrow money in Derry? He’s your man. Pure loan shark.” “You need a funeral at half-price. Try this guy. But he’ll only bury you three feet deep. But he buries Protestants nine feet deep.”

Them: “Listen to this man. He’s the living walking truth.” “You tell’em, Paul. Tell’em what they done.” “Never forget!”

These exchanges had old-time camaraderie and solidarity and were interrupted sometimes with hugs and fist bumps. Paul occasionaly forgot the tour and fell into conversation.

At the same time, two others Derries coexisted beside Bogside 1972: an older walled city preserved in its relics and flooded with tourists and a modern city of shopping malls, hip young girls bopping through them, dressed to the nines with lots of Goth eye shadow to the blasting of Britney-Spears-like pop. They had forgotten. They never knew.

Paul’s sermon was real and cogent and immediate, but he was also holding up a dying reverence, a cult dependent on memory that was fading in the passage of time. This is true many other places: Germany, Vietnam, Rwanda, Russia, Cuba. The young don’t know and don’t actually care. The other problem was that you can’t repeat a catharsis again and again unless you are an actor—and thank goodness Paul isn’t—but it wears because the fire doesn’t always light and, as horrible and close to oneself as the acts were, they also waned with life itself. Failed catharsis turns drab and propagandistic even if it isn’t propaganda but essential testimony of an eye witness. “Tour guide” is finally a thankless hell of an occupation for a survivor of attrocities.

 

Let me back up one more time. Arriving in Derry in the morning, we parked in front of a bakery near the shopping center to which we had been directed to by Paul on the phone—it was a landmark for parking near the hike. The abundance of spaces on the street was deceptive. Double lines meant delivery or taxis; yet I painstakingly backed into one with a large audience of folks sitting at the bakery tables. Luckily a woman came out from the establishment, explained, and redirected us around the corner to a carlot. I put in most of my coins and saw three hours go up on the reading. Then we proceeded to the three-tiered shopping center for a mere bottle of spring water and the bathrooms. That trip involved escalators and a tour of transnational mall culture: spiffy, corporate, digital, post-post-modern, entrepreneurial to its gills.

From there we hurried back to Guild Hall where Paul and his colleague were assembling a group: a German couple, two Spanish women, two American couples, a woman from County Down. To us Americans, Paul said, “I would have voted for Donald Duck before Donald Trump.”

The start of the tour was briefly delayed by a woman in the park across the street bringing her regular daily sacks of bird food for the pigeons. Not only did Paul’s colleague recognize her at once en route, but birds from all over Derry did before a seed was dropped, as they swarmed into a single, winged creature around her, a maelstrom of frenzied feeding to which birds were still arriving long after the last crumbs had been gobbled.

Paul presented the basic situation in Northern Ireland as equivalent to the Civil Rights movement of the sixties in the U.S., which it followed (it also followed the 1968 Paris Revolution and other uprisings on the Continent). He also compared it to the current situation in America in which the Protestant Unionists were the American Tea Party: racist, ignorant, anti-foreigner, against even their own self interests in the service of clannism and mindless revenge. The Irish Republicans were for equal education, health-care, land ownership, voting rights, etc. It was a relevant comparison as far as it went. Paul was quite convincing when he said that the Unionists were in opposition to the Gaelic language, which made sense, like Tea Party rejection of Spanish in American schools, but he threw in LGBT too often and too gratuitously for my taste. It was legitimate, but it felt like an add-on, to garner as much support for his position as possible and to isolate the Unionists ideologically. Catholics and LGBT don’t usually go together, and I’m not sure of real conviction holding up this link. But I am presenting Paul’s view of matters, and it overlaps in most places with my own beliefs and loyalties, in these instances too.

Northern Ireland in the seventies was more Protestant than Catholic, so many plantations had the British settled there over the centuries. Yet Derry was two-thirds Catholic. Despite this, the Derry City Council was gerrymandered so as to isolate and marginalize the Catholic vote; also voting rights were based on property rights, meaning that there was a plan to keep Catholics from owning property. These are two contradictory strategies, so I don’t know how each were applied. It was also unclear what precisely triggered the uprisings culminating with the street slaughters of 1972. On the one hand, it seemed to be indiscriminate, trial-less internment of Irish youth by the British. On the other hand, the fuse was lit by selective granting of property rights to Protestants, in particular an unmarried seventeen-year-old girl handed a property from which a large Catholic family had to be evicted. Plus, Catholics were denied education, a fact confirmed at once by the woman in our group from County Down. She said that she and her peers were unable to attend college, though they wanted to. Paul then described how a new university was placed in Protestant Coleraine rather than the much larger Catholic Derry.

When the Catholics began marching peaceably for better conditions, the loyalist Apprentice Boys of Derry were encouraged to march alongside them and taunt and harass.

It took about fifteen minutes for Paul to deliver the background lecture; then we began to walk.

He closed the tour half a block from the Museum of Free Derry, around the dead pigeon, at the alley in which people were killed. There he spent another fifteen minutes going through falsified testimony, especially of British General Michael Jackson, commander in 1972, later deployed to Iraq during the W.-Bush/Tony Blair debacle and recalled for the inquiry.

Paul finally hailed this tour (and his Bogside company) as part of a mission to tell the world what actually happened in Derry despite two rigged inquiries. Though Prime Minister David Cameron recently apologized for the actions of soldiers decades earlier, Paul brushed it off as too little too late. He emphasized that Cameron only admitted that discipline broke down among the troops—for which an apology was issued—not that the orders to shoot came from high up or that the battalions of imported soldiers were instructed to ignore cease fires from local officers and continue shooting into crowds.

We planned to visit the museum after the tour, but we were exhausted and subsumed already, so we headed downtown.

 

Lunch was a challenge. There were no appealing places in the area we canvassed, mainly going up a steep hill after wending our way back to Guild Hall. Lindy was willing to partake of the offerings of a franchise called Peri-Peri featuring chicken from South Africa. It was passable, but I balked and returned half a block to a health clinic on the other side of the street. A woman was making infusions in a room as dark as an opium den, and I was second in line. It took about ten minutes for her to prepare a drink of lime, apple, carrot, and beetroot (as I now know beets are understandably called here). That intense drink was my lunch. I returned to the carpark during my outing and put in for three more hours.

A manager at Peri-Peri directed us to a nearby entrance to the town wall, saving us the guidebook’s longer detour. The wall turned out to be much like the Highline in New York City, but with the energetic vibe and of the same vintage as the wall around Lucca which we had ridden on bikes in 2006. The Derry wall had numerous gates for entry and exit. After we climbed the proximal one’s stone stairs, we got a continuous panoramic aerial view of the city. It changed gradually as we proceeded along the wall among historic exhibits, a branch of the Church of Ireland with gardens and tombstones, and regular placards. The original Mediaeval walled city was protected by cannons, some of which had been left in place at their crenels.

We went quite a distance along the walkway, peering out through crenels and from platforms. At one spot we saw the morning’s murals at a far distance; the fact that Bogside was literally a reclaimed boggy low area was now explicit with geographical context. Seeing it with perspective also gave a feeling of completion to the day: how do you encompass a whole metropolis, even a small one, in a matter of hours? You don’t, but nonetheless you try to make your experience whole.

A stanza of Phil Coulter’s “Town I Loved So Well” shared a placard with other lyrical quotes, including Seamus Heaney’s, “And in the dirt lay justice like an acorn in the winter / Till its oak would sprout in Derry where thirteen men lay dead.” Another sign told us that Derry was derived from “Daire” for Oak. This place was once a giant oak grove by a river. We took a photo of the sign and emailed it to our son Robin who is an environmental biologist and historical geographer involved in re-oaking as a part of landscape restoration and resilience in Northern California under climate change. Derry = Oakland—the Anglicization of Gaelic words onomatopoetic in ways that lessen the dignity and chant of the original.

At one point we realized we were on the wall above the poor Unionist section of town, lots of Union Jacks and Ulster flags (two orange-red lines crossing in the center of a white background where a white star at their juncture shows a red hand representing the British lords and their planatations, I believe). Paul’s lament during the lead-up to the tour, applicable to America too, was that the poor of opposite persuasions allow themselves to be polarized divided over religious, cultural, and ethnic misdirects by their exploiters and are thereby politically manipulated. Paul added that one good thing that might come from Brexit was both sides realizing that a united Ireland in the European Union was more in both their interests than being part of an increasingly isolated UK.

Nonetheless, one large sign announced: “Londonderry West Bank Loyalists, Still Under Siege, No Surrender.” Another informed us that 85.4% of the Protestant population had been forced out of Cityside by Republican violence. (Note: when in Loyalist territory, the name of the town is Londonderry, which always seems odd to me because it might legitimately have been New London, but why run opposing names together? The county is Londonderry.)

We gave some coins to a distinguished-looking busker who could have been played by Michael Fassbender with facial scars; classical music turned his guitar into a lute and harp.

From there we descended through a gate into the city and found ourselves soon back on the street with Peri-Peri and the health clinic. We had walked a long distance, but it had curved back to where we began.

 

We had ninety minutes left on our meter but were exhausted. We thought to leave go to the carpark but, in returning, we ended up using most of the ninety minutes on spontaneous forays.

The carpark was by the River Foyle, which cuts through the town. A modern bridge spans it near Guild Hall, so we tried to figure out how to cross the busy riverside highway and walk on the span in the flow of people. We were directed by a pedestrian to a nearby traffic light. We crossed and walked to the bridge, reading the placard first. The Peace Bridge, for bicycles and foot traffic only, was opened in June 2011, funded with help from the European Union. Bygone times!

A river always looks different from a bridge, and the Foyle was quite dramatic, scissoring the city into two subcities and framing their Mediaeval vista with a modern architecture rising out of it. Cyclists tore at reckless speed, mothers walked carriages, toddlers ran toward the wires at the edge, which effectively blocked them from falling, though frantic parents grabbed them back.

The aesthetically designed bridge—its architects were also responsible for a span over the Yangtze River in China—curved in s’s as it crossed the Foyle. Toward Cityside clusters of ribbons were tied to the railing. We ignored the tags attached to them while crossing but read them on the way back: they were addressed to those who might want to jump. One tag told the reader to think about his or her life and what was meaningful in it. Another mourned that, if you die here, you take part of the soul of the city with you. Another offered solace and hope and said that there was nothing that couldn’t be surmounted.

 

We might have gone straight from the Bridge to the carpark, but we decided to see if there were bathrooms in Guild Hall, the giant church-like building at the start of our tour where—Paul pointing to it as he accused—said that a gerrymandered city council met to take away Catholic voting and property rights.

What was inside—as well as free lavatories—was a large historical exhibit on the plantations of Ulster, which went back to the Middle Ages and worked its way to modern Ulster. British resettlement of what was considered savage country was similar to the later behavior of the English in North America regarding Native Americans, where they did a more thorough job. The exhibit covered the various conflicts and clashes that arose from British settlement; it offered with old maps, legal documents, and interactive exhibits. Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, a Gaelic lord who helped repulse the English after the Tudor conquest during the Nine Years’ War of the sixteenth century, a temporary victory that deteriorated into flight, looked nothing like today’s Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, a bearded gentleman, hippie or Shakespearean actor or businessman, who spoke hopefully of a new future for Ulster.

On our way out of Guild Hall, Lindy asked an older female guide about a photographic exhibit described on signs. It turned out to be in a nearby separate building, and by then we were totally fried, unable to take on another hike, no matter how close. Then the guide persuaded us that atleast we could not leave Guild Hall without climbing the stairs to its second floor—“It will take two minutes.” We did, and found ourselves alone in a gigantic hall with a pipe organ; luminous stained-glass panels filled two walls up to the ceiling and they were mesmerizing. Put in at different times, they told various historical narratives. Something about the way the light hit them made them seem like living tarot trumps, though they were entirely secular in imagery and content. That hardly mattered from a tarot perspective—a magic emanated from them. In the depth of their stillness and color they had a quality, a phenomenology that movies, for all their sparkle and flow, cannot supplant. The frames deepened in place rather than by continua of near-replicas and thus told a flowing story too—of settlement, royalty, battles; of treaties and voyages, cabbages and kings.

Leaving the carpark, I rolled down my window and handed the slip with my remaining hour, rolled-down window to rolled-down window because we were both on the right, to a young guy awaiting our place. “Thank you, good man,” he said.

I drove roundabout after roundabout, sometimes doing the gears smoothly, sometimes not so, negotiating the rush-hour traffic of late afternoon. We saw the once-and-future city in long post-card view and panorama briefly as on our trip from Donegal; then we entered sunny hills and valleys that were covered in fog and drizzle six hours earlier. We weren’t quite the same people; a part of Derry was inside us now.

 

At night, meaning late daylight, we went down into Portstewart to look at the Red Sails Festival. Roisin had said the music wasn’t her style and it really wasn’t ours either. A very young band from Coleraine called Cellar Door (was that because the phrase is a famously beautiful name disguising a totally nondescript object: celladore) blasted away AC/DC from the pavilion, and the crowd was lively, with three girls under five years doing dances and improvs, but there was too much cigarette smoke, and the scene was more interesting than the music.

Further down the Promenade we finally found Busker Dave and a helper, as listed in the schedule, performing to two people upstairs in a cappuccino-and-smoothy bar. Even the locals didn’t know where the Love and Joy Café was because it had just been renamed. It was pleasant enough, with the sun on the sea out the window and a mellow sound, but it had been a long day and we gave it up after twenty minutes, leaving Busker Dave, who just came out of retirement (the schedule said) for the event with his audience of two.

 

July 25, 2017

There was a rest day, almost not worth reporting. Lindy went out for the morning with a friend of Roisin’s. I caught up on the journal, in the process phoning Olive McAlea twice for details, each of which turned into a long conversation about matters present and past. In the late afternoon Lindy and I took a walk, down Burnside Road to the beach. We lay there in the sand for an hour, among cars and kites and tiny kids in all universal forms of ocean play. We watched the antics of two different families, a free-form theater.

A very large, childlike, cherubic mother who, for a moment I thought of as having Downs syndrome, was sitting by her little girl shoveling in a pool of water with sand barriers far from the surf. We smiled at each other. She said, “She doesn’t get the concept: the deeper you dig, the more water comes up. But it’s okay too if it’s magical.”

We each took a turn wading. Then we climbed the stairs over the rocks and walked the Strand along the sea back toward the town, passing countless small dramas of people and dogs, children dare-deviling on the rocks, runners of all ages and personae—the cast of humanity. An older couple sat aslant in lawn chairs amid the rocks and tidepools, reading their books as the sun sank.

It was a long walk to Promenade. There we visited the butcher shop, today presided over by the establishment’s owner, Peter Osborne, who could have been played by a combination of Keith Olberman and Phil Silvers. We stood with him a long time in that shop, exchanging tales, of life, children, travels, cars, retirement.

 

I am eager to get home, back to calm, uncluttered days in Maine, but a part of me doesn’t want to leave Ireland, or anywhere ever. It is all special—life. A part of me will remain here.

 

July 26, 2017

Our day on the Antrim Coast did not play out the way we planned. It was constructed from the guidebook and tourist literature, and the reality was what it always is: its own thing.

Our central goal was the Giant’s Causeway, one of those must-see tourist sights hard to dismiss, especially since it is close to where we are staying. We were forewarned by numerous people, including Roisin, that you do not have to pay for the visitors’ center (roughly $17.50 US per person) in order to see the Causeway. The Causeway is free. We were instructed to park in the town of Bushmills and take the tourist bus to the site.

There are many compelling sites along the Antrim Coast, and we intended also to try the fisherman’s footbridge, a castle, and a walk in the glen by Carncastle and Ballygalley where old stone artifacts in a local hardcover about North Antrim, but the Giant’s Causeway turned out to be all we could handle on one outing.

The first surprise was that, before we realized that this was no mere lead-up to the highway, the sat-nav sent us all the way by back roads, which were no doubt more direct but took almost twice the time. The trip was in the range of 15-20 miles, and we would have been better off on A2 along the coast. The countryside out of Portstewart was well worth the divergence—vast fields, stone ruins, hallowed tree tunnels—but me beginning to feel carsick on the winding roads—what Lindy said she now recognized as a slippery slope—and her having trouble with the narrowness and traffic from the other direction led to our switching drivers after ten minutes.

We arrived at the town of Bushmills about forty minutes after leaving Portstewart. Rain had turned to bright sunshine; they would switch places twice again in the day. I inadvertently went past the turnoff for the bus and, in using a gas station to turn around, decided to fill the tank too. Diesel goes a long way—we were only down to half after using those last 2.03 euros in Donegal. The attendant got interested in our situation, typical for a tiny town with a big attraction, and recommended that we go straight to the site and park there, as we were already most of the way, and taking the bus would cost about the same. We did. But the bus was recommended for a reason.

As we approached the site, maybe a mile or two toward the coast from the gas station, everything changed. Relatively deserted, open countryside turned into rows of tourist buses in virtual gridlock—and I mean rows, eight, ten of supersize tourist buses unloading Japanese, Chinese, Spanish-speaking, Anglo, etc. droves of vintage tourists: cameras, disoriented bustle, swarms in their bubbles, etc. There were so many pedestrians it was hard to progress in the car, but the road led directly to a parking lot. It was interesting that an event 60 million years ago could have such a draw on creatures not to be invented for epochs.

According to the literature, the Giant’s Causeway is a zone of about 40,000 interlocking basalt pillars, a consequence of the same Palaeocene geology that made Cavehill and other lava structures that formed and cooled in pre-primate times. Most of the columns are hexagonal, but some are four-, six-, seven- and eight-sided. The bottoms of them disappear into the sea, while their gradated tops function as human stepping stones. The name of the site derives from Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn McCool) who, in an applicable myth, built the causeway either—in one version—to fight, in another to flee the Scottish giant Benandonner.

At the entrance to the parking lot, a yellow-vested youth—red stripes across the rain-gear-like attire—asked peremptorily if we were members of the National Trust. Of course, we weren’t, so he announced that tickets would have to be purchased inside the Visitors’ Center (10 pounds each) and he directed to park. I broke in and asked where the other lot was. As if at keystroke, he then politely but firmly spieled out directions down a road to the right and ordered us to circle the lot and exit where he pointed. Then he moved onto the next driver, though managed to get an encore. I worked my way through gridlock and, not far from the lot, found a short road down a hill to a smaller lot at which informed folks were parking and taking the minimal walk back. A line of eleven tourist buses, each too massive for the narrow lane, was waiting its turn at the top to unload passengers. The boy managing the informal lot, like any loosely fenced field beyond a sporting event, was younger, friendlier, and not dressed in a yellow coat. In fact, I had a jokey conversation with him about tourism and the States as Lindy went back to the car to get her scarf—it was unexpectedly windy—and put our parking slip on the dashboard. Parking cost six pounds.

We walked back up the hill and the searched for the not-obvious entrance to the Causeway itself. The massive Visitors’ Center dominated the spot, and nowhere were there signs to anything but it. The hill itself, the road, and the parking lot were dominated by new tourist buses, lined up like planes on a runway, waiting to deposit their loads. Pretty much where everyone from the buses was mesmerized into the Center. Yellow-vested young people, representatives of the National Trust, were all about, checking for tickets, directing people one way, checking human traffic like border guards. The scene reminded me of the Book of Mormon musical.

Lindy wanted to use the bathroom, but that cost ten pounds. In fact, everything required a ticket except the Giant’s Causeway and its shop; certainly parking and the “facilities” did. Signs explained, as they had to, that the Causeway was free, but you needed a ticket for anything else. It was a pandemic outbreak of capitalism. The actual site, The Giant’s Causeway, basalt from 60 million years ago, was free, but it was surrounded by a metastasis of business in such a way as to persuade you from the Object and toward everything else.

Roisin had told us that there were lavatories for the public—they were required, so ask—but asking yellowcoats for them did not lead to enthusiastic or overly informative responses. The public bathrooms were in the Visitors’ Center toward the entrance, but the men’s, women’s, and handicapped each had a single toilet, so lines were long. Lindy waited in the women’s one. In principle you didn’t want to pay $17.50 to pay. Her turn came in fifteen minutes; by then there was no one behind her, so it must have been a momentary rush from a long-distance bus. Soon after, another bus, of all young Irish women, sent a bunch to the toilets. There was also no remaining line at the men’s or handicapped, so one of the women announced, “Fuck the Trust. We’re liberating these two—they’re unisex now.”

The path to the Causeway was through a short tunnel. Another surprise awaited at its end. The pillars weren’t right there. There was a significant, though mostly downhill hike. I’m not good at judging distances, but I would say that it wasn’t quite a mile. A stiff, cold wind blew off the ocean against the cliffs towering above us, a giant wall of them not part of the Finn McCool’s activity. The crowd reminded me of the masses hiking up Croagh Patrick, only more children, and yes, dogs (they wouldn’t be shot here). Arrival at the seashore pillars was both culmination and anticlimax. The anticlimactic part was that there were so many people crawling, climbing, and standing on them that they couldn’t immediately be seen for what they were: dark crystals. Forty thousand is a lot, and they congregated in clusters, some directly in the sea, others in a ridge perpendicular to the shore, others in the distance forming different cliffs. That was the culmination, and the longer you stood and took them in, the more their power increased.

Initially I felt the tendency to say to myself: I looked, I saw, no big deal, let’s go. But it was a big deal, that many basalt columns perfectly shaped, just there, but the mix of folks, cigarette smoke, mothers yelling at children to be careful not to fall, aggressive men and women shoving to get closer, made the scene oppressive rather than magnificent. Yet we had come there, so I was going to give it my best shot.

I crossed the near plateau and climbed along the least populated set of pillars. There I perched myself into a little cubby. Lindy preferred not to troop across the slippery, irregular rocks, so she watched. After a while, I turned my head inward into my cubby, which was formed by adjacent crystals, and rested my forehead on one. Something autonomous happened, as at the beach a few days earlier. There was no blue glow, but in the same third-eye spot, I saw a throbbing black scotoma-like blob, irregularly shaped, resembling a hole left in paper where a match had caught but the fire gone out before the sheet burned. It differed in being solid black. As I looked into it, I saw roiling rock shapes of deep, thick texture, much thicker and more textured than I was capable of imagining or imposing on my own. They were forming by themselves, either a kind of macule and optical illusion or a third-eye lucid dream. This was new territory for me. I literally watched the crystals being formed by lava, and I was “told” that I was in the center of a giant meta-crystal. Every time I put my forehead back on the rock the movie resumed, not from the start but from where it had left off. Though the action was condensed, I intuited that it would take hours to watch the whole film.

Lindy by then had navigated the rocks and was coming to see if I was okay. She was also worried about how my position looked, especially after the bus incident. I was sensitive to that but also wanted to see my movie, so I compromised and watched only a bit more. After the vision the hordes of people looked even more cosmetic and absurd. What were they here for? To say they had been here? To climb rocks? To pose for cameras? I don’t mean to be superior, but it might have made more sense to submit to the crystal and ask it what it had to say—in whatever way you were able, at least to make the gesture, to say a Christian prayer or bow. And then I realized how arrogant my attitude was. The people were there in their way to bow and pray, and this was how they did it, clambering over the sacred object in devotion and worship.

I had another impression as I sat there in between viewings, nestled in my cubby. The stone was conducting a very intelligent conversation that had nothing to do with me, that I couldn’t intercept or penetrate at my current level of evolution. It no more noticed the people on it than a hillock might note crawling ants.

Lindy pointed to another event. An oafish, bald paparazzo-style photographer in a black coat was posing a young woman on the rocks. At first I thought it was a father and daughter, or a boyfriend and girlfriend, so many of those combinations and others like them were there all over the rocks. However, it soon became clear that he was clicking too many times and she was posing too erotically—this was a professional event of some sort, perhaps an advertisement, perhaps for a portfolio. The pair moved from rock to rock, section to section of the Causeway, taking different photographs in all sorts of positions and at various angles. Probably over a hundred while I perched beside Lindy. Once I understood the situation, the girl became prettier, endowed by attention and her own insouciant poses. She was striking, but not overly so without context. With it she was Ingrid Bergman or Katherine Heigl. She had long soft hair, blowing in the breeze. Her clothes weren’t designer or fancy, which added to the urbane, look just a gray sweatshirt and jeans with cut-off knee sections—only her knees were exposed. She had lots of attitude, as she savored her moment and her various miens, rising above the crowd as if she didn’t see them and were the only one on the rocks.

As the photographer clicked away, members of a teen team, likely football, with identical green diagonally-lettered Eira T-shirts, took stock of the event and slowly gathered and started staring. These were not ordinary Irish boys, although they probably were that too. They looked Dravidian or New Guinean, with an Australian Aborigine touch. They behaved like any other teenagers, laughing, smirking, whispering, staring. Then two of them marched boldly over to the woman, stood on either side of her, put their arms up as if around her shoulders. Others snapped their picture. The model, probably in her late twenties or early thirties, thus an older woman to them, neither acknowledged their presence nor resisted it. She continued posing. Her photographer kept shooting, even with the boys on either side of her.

I decided to try the section of pillars near the water with tidepools like Icelandic skrying mirrors in some of them, making the passage slippery. I squeezed myself into another cubby and immediately experienced a different sen sensation: I was in a giant orgone box, and the crystals were enhancing the flow of cosmic energy. I hung there, feeling the charge. It wasn’t a hot charge, though it had a kind radiation-like penetration. It wasn’t a sharp laser or acupuncture needle either. It was a vast dull gravity that permeated everything, me included, so I breathed into it and dispatched it to needy parts of my body.

Lindy had discovered that for one pound you could ride a bus back up the hill. I agreed and got in line. The photographer and his lady had moved closer to the ocean and for all I knew he was up to the hundreds of photos. I rushed over and took a picture at some distance, not wanting to disappoint readers who had not gotten to see, beyond my words, the horseback femme on the Carrowniskey Beach. Most riders had Trust tickets, but we had to pay. I had a one pound coin and lots of change to which Lindy contributed hers. I held out a hand with the coins. The driver laughed as she said, “Let me clear some of that shrapnel for you.” Instead of picking the larger coins, she made an assortment of pence, reducing our stock by eighty percent as got the second pound out of it.

 

We debated continuing along the Antrim Coast, but the high winds and winding roads were a disincentive, plus it was two in the afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch. We took the right fork back into Bushmills. Along the way, only a mile from the Visitors’ Center, we saw a “Freshly Dug Potatoes” sign along the roadside, one of many we had seen in Ireland. We had passed it also on the way out, and my initial impression turned out to be erroneous. I had pictured a road leading to a farm or farmstand, but it was actually a tiny shed. We pulled somewhat precariously against the opposite roadside wall, yet leaving enough room for traffic, as the shed was placed at a brief widening of the road. Two boys, one about ten, the other about fourteen, stood behind a counter of full sacks of potatoes: Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I explained that I only wanted a few potatoes, three or four, wondering if a sack could be broken. In fact, behind them was a giant bin of loose potatoes that they were sacking. The older one turned and made a quick collection, trying to interest me in eight. They were really nice-looking potatoes, a yellowish color and a scraggly coat that made them seem heirlooms. I had no idea if they were even tacitly organic but considered the topic both taboo and esoteric under the circumstances. “But I can’t take them on the plane,” I protested, eliciting wan smiles. They conferred and made a bag of five. I thanked them and took out my money. The younger boy suggested I have them for free, but I preferred to pay, so they selected fifty pence out of my hand of remaining shrapnel.

I asked them about hikes in town and they mentioned “The Tramway,” saying it was “really nice—beautiful hike.”

In town we parked alongside the Bushmills Inn, suggested by sat-nav prompt and the best option for lunch—clearly not the cheapest, but we didn’t want to repeat Peri-Peri. It turned out to be perfect, a talisman for the remainder of the outing. We entered the combination restaurant-hotel through the tavern where a bartender led us to the back and a female maître d’ seated us. It was reminiscent of Wiggins Tavern in Northampton, Mass., where Lindy and I sat in 1963 on our first date, a fact not lost on us. It was pricey, though not exceeding what we had saved by forgoing the Visitors’ Center. I ordered Scottish skink, haddock cooked in a creamy sauce with tiny potatoes under a poached “hen’s egg” that I pushed aside on arrival.

While we waited for the food, I went back to the tavern and asked the bartender about the spot we were parked. Only seeing parking across the road on the Inn side, I had continued 100 meters to a roundabout and come back, but the available gaps were illusory—they were all tiny driveways through arches. I passed their mirages and came to a line of parked cars, wheels up on the sidewalk. It took several tries to get ours there so that it wasn’t occupying too much of the walkway in front of funky row apartments or in the way of traffic.

The bartender thought that the spot was risky—you were allowed an hour there and couldn’t return for another two—but the ticketers were not always scrupulous about leaving you a full hour, though they did circle scrupulously, 50-pound tickets in hand. He suggested that I bring it into the archway for the Inn and use their lot. He added that I could turn at the gas station—“they don’t mind.” He acknowledged the tramway when I mentioned it next and tried to explain how to walk to its entrance from the Inn’s lot while leaving the car parked.

As we paid for our meal later at the front desk, the woman started to explain how to approach the walk—a mix of rights and lefts and where to do them—when suddenly the bartender, likely overhearing from the next room, appeared with a neatly hand-drawn map, which he presented to us.

The live fire in the lobby beside the front desk turned out to be peat, which gave off a rich archaic aroma and phenomenology. At the clerk’s encouragement we felt the irregular black pellets. They were hard as iron and burned like coal. We lingered in their glow and aura.

Despite the map we still had to ask in town twice, the second time at a fish-and-chips shop. We left the town center. We crossed a river on a highway bridge, a single angler casting. The entrance to tramway was a walk of about a mile toward suburbs. It wasn’t what I expected—I hoped fora pleasant country trail on a defunct railroad bed. Instead, it was a path alongside an active tourist tramway to the Causeway along which a tortoise-moving trolley ferried passengers to and fro. The road ran immediately parallel.

Nonetheless we walked it for a half hour, waving to kids on the trolley, repeating “Good day” and the like to mostly dog walkers. It was lovely feng-shui, hills and fields with a river, but I didn’t feel as though we got anywhere special like the glens in the book, though we had our walk.

On the way to and from the site I realized how British and Unionist this town was—dozens of Union Jacks and white-and-red Ulster flags on lamp-posts, shops, and in front of homes, even along the highway. We past homages and commemorations to Queen Elizabeth and the Crown, wishes for her health and well-being, and assorted expressions of patriotism on the level of football partisanship, but how different is America? The thing was, the people in town were just as Irish and affable as those in the Republic or Derry, so as Rodney King put it, “Why can’t we all just get along?” (I know that is a common slightly gentrified paraphrase of his actual words.)

We overrode the sat-nav and took A2 all the way back through Portrush and its amusement parks to a new way to enter Portstewart: by the slow-moving promenade, filled with delivery trucks and alternate use of the one remaining lane. Meanwhile a sunny day had turned into windshield wipers at full throttle and carlights.

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