From the moment I saw Ireland out the window of the Aer Lingus plane, as it descended into Shannon Airport, I knew I’d come home.
No, I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in my body, but the west of Ireland speaks to my soul.
All you past-life skeptics take note: we’re going into airy-fairy land. Ireland is like that. After all, it’s a land of fairies, leprechauns and the Tuatha Dé Danann (a race of gods from Irish mythology who some believe now live below the ground).
Suspend disbelief when you go through immigration.
Leaving the airport, my friends and I headed to Oughterard (Uachtar Ard in Gaelic), County Galway. The biggest surprise as we passed through quaint pastel-colored villages was the “palm-trees” growing along the road. Arriving at the outskirts of Oughterard, we turned down a narrow country lane. Our late 20th century cottage, surrounded by green fields and stone walls, was right out of a storybook.
I fell in love.
But it was day three when things started to get a bit strange. And they pretty much stayed that way until I got back on the plane to go home.
On that day we went on a short trip to the Ceardlann an Spideil (Spiddal Craft Village), northwest of Galway City. While my friends went shopping, I sat on the shore of Galway Bay and looked across to the opposite side.
I felt like I’d sat at this spot a long time ago, waiting for a boat to bring me home.
I found out subsequently it was a place called “The Burren.”
And so, two days later we were off to visit The Burren. This unique place in northwest County Clare, made up of limestone hills, is a mini-ecosystem. Plants ranging from Arctic-alpine varieties to Mediterranean species grow here and often right next to each other. It’s a natural anomaly. The rugged, rocky landscape stands in stark contrast to the soft, green rolling land usually found in Ireland. For me, it’s just a part of the magic.
But the first odd occurrence was at Corcomroe Abbey, just east of the village of Ballyvaughan. We parked the car and walked up to the 13th century ruin.
And then it happened. I began to cry.
No reason. I just wept. Looking up at the sky, through where the roof once was, I was bereft. It was so clear to me that I’d been there before, and that I was home.
But my day wasn’t over yet.
Our next stop was Poul Na Brone, the famous dolman stone. Again, I felt that unexplained sadness, but this time mixed with rage. This dolman, dating to somewhere around 5,000 years ago, is called a “portal tomb.” During excavations in 1986, the remains of 16 adults and six children were found buried under the portal. But for me, this place was more. I had odd images of sacrifices held here millennia ago. It was powerful.
Two days later, a member of our group took us to Inchagoill Island, on his boat, in the middle of Lough Carribe. We pulled up to a small beach where we seemed to have the island to ourselves. We found the ruins of Teampaill Padraigh, a church said to have been built by St. Patrick and believed to be the burial place of his nephew and navigator, Lugna (or Lugnaed).
There is also an odd stone building built by the Guinness family (yes, those Guinnesses) who once owned this particular island. It was all verdant forest and, so quiet, the silence reverberated in my ears. When I returned to the path, but alone this time, I found that the island had left a gift for me: the most wonderful stone covered with quartz.
Of course, all five or so pounds came home in my suitcase.
It was a gift from the earth telling me to return to this place I had seemingly been before. And It was an invitation that I would heed.
Photo credit: bbusschots