I camp. In Ireland. With about 500 other hippie-ish Irish people. It rains. It can be cold. It can be hot enough to give you sun stroke but I have only missed once in five years and that was only because my ankle was just out of plaster. I’ve had acquaintances look baleful at the prospect of camping in Ireland but it can really work well.
Yes, somewhere in Ireland there are 500 people gathering to camp out, cook meals together, make music and have a lot of fun over a week come rain or shine.
What I find really inspirational about Ireland is how so many people – with not a lot of financial resources – are endlessly creative. And they have fun while they are doing it.
Part of the appeal of Earthsong Camps is the programme of workshops- there’s plenty to do under canvas during the day and the evening. Drumming is a big feature on the programme but then so is four part singing, sound bath workships, drama, and other arts activities like willow sculpture. This is why this camp in Ireland is our favourite. It has a strong arts programme along with being environmentally sustainable. It’s this combination that makes camping in Ireland’s uncertain summer weather a pleasure. So not only can you be inspired to live more sustainably after a week of new concepts, you also get to try out lots of different art forms. You might be inspired to belly dance or to whirl like a Dervish. You might try your hand at writing your spiritual autobiography. You might be inspired to stand up and sing a song in public by taking to the cabaret’s stage.
I’m looking forward to having time out – away from the internet (bless it), cell phones, and anything electronic that goes buzz and womp. I’ll enjoy listening to music that is all acoustic, all ‘home made’ and in the moment. This switching off and powering down is an intriguing recipe for getting your internal battery recharged for the rest of the year.
The whole ethos of Earthsong Camps to live lightly on the land – part of an organic farm during the rest of year. We have composting toilets. The showers are heated by log burning stove. We camp in small circles of about twenty people so we can share the cooking and washing up (using eco-friendly washing products, of course!) Part of that is for camaraderie sake. But the practical spin is that you generally only have to cook dinner once during the week. And that is part of what makes a vacation!
Meitheal (pronounced meh-hall) is a concept rooted in Ireland’s rural harvest traditions. Since we will be camping at Lunasa (when July segues into August) this is particularly apt. Meitheal was the practice of each neighbour in turn helping one another to bring the hay in each year at this time. You have to work in dry weather so it is all hands to the scythes, one farm after the other, so that everyone has enough fodder for their cattle in winter. This communal helpfulness is more than just voluntarism. It’s the reality of everyone being part of the community, playing a vital part in the smooth operating of camp.
So the youngsters go on fetching water detail. The adults will take a turn helping out in some area of the camp. It might be sharing your life story with the teens. It could be that you wake early to stoke the log burner so the early risers have warm water for their morning shower. It might be helping out in the evening’s cabaret. The details need attention but there is always someone to put things in the Lost and Found tent or clear up a yurt after a workshop. That’s meitheal.
We have made wonderful friends over the years and we always look forward to meeting up again, embarrassing the children by commenting on how much they have grown. It’s a great way of connecting with people who share similar interests and who want to be kind to the planet. It’s ecotourism as well as a staycation”
So I am packing up my thermals in my old kit bag. It’s been an unseasonably cold summer. But you never know, it could get warm yet! The great constant of Ireland.
“You know, the arts in Ireland really seem to matter,” said a young American visitor recently. It was a revelation that arts activity – whether in music, dance, theatre, writing, poetry, storytelling, paintings, prints and video – could actually have a huge and positive cultural impact. And it is true that it is not only happening in cities. Rural Ireland has a lively arts scene with many small theatres in each region that double up as venues for poetry readings, picture galleries, recording studios and music gigs.
I attended an arts event with an environmental theme this past weekend. The Upset has been created by the artists, most of whom are based in northwest Ireland, to explore the environment and the devastating effect of bringing in an industry like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on a way of life in rural Ireland.
There were photos of red squirrels, pine martens and other rare species. There were paintings in acrylic, oils and watercolour. There were handmade felt wall hangings decorating bare block walls. There were many sculptures using lots of different media – stone, ceramic, bog oak and ‘found’ drift wood from Lough Allen, the lake in the centre of Leitrim.
On the opening day at a warehouse in Drumshambo, Leitrim people gathered to look and to participate in performances – poems, stories, music composed. The most traditional of Irish art forms – Irish dancing – was given a modern twist by adapting the modern story of a rural community under an environmental threat.
It was astonishing to see how much artistic talent there is per square inch in Ireland. It’s not talent languishing just because there is not a lot of money being lavished on it either. That is something truly inspirational about Ireland.
Here a You Tube of the dance drama created by children from age 3 right up to the teens. It gave me goose bumps. People cheered. People grinned. People cried. It was about taking art seriously and young people embracing that art is relevant and powerful. “It matters” in other words.
This is Inspirational Ireland.
The following day I attended a Family Fun Day event in Sligo at a Carmelite monastery. Here too art was the warp and weft of the day from the Gospel Choir from Ballina, Co. Mayo who sang for the Mass celebrated by the bishop, to the pottery workshop for children, face painting, community drumming and storytelling.
You see, by definition, Art is Fun! And it involves families of all ages, from the toddler dancing to the drumbeat to the disabled teen grinning when she felt the drum’s rhythm and the granny singing in harmony during group singing. It’s all art. And everyone making it is an inspiring artist.
Creativity matters. Making art uplifts. The community drumming facilitator, Debbie Beirne of Rúach Rhythms told us that earlier that week she had been working on creating a street performance using percussion; the performers were those ‘hoodie boys’ that often have a hard reputation. But these youths who have been given an ‘at risk’ label, loved making the music and blossomed in the making of it.
They played on the pavement outside Penny’s on Sligo Town’s busiest street at lunchtime and they literally stopped the traffic. It wasn’t all bash and bang boom drumming either. The finale involved using chimes in a series of single notes. After they stopped there was a full twenty seconds where this normally bustling county town went into a deep and gathered silence before they burst into applause.
People can get bogged down by the ‘bad news’ that is the usual meat and drink of the media. But there is plenty to be proud and happy about in rural Ireland that shows just how inspirational is Ireland. Times are tough economically but that’s an old story and one survived many a time before. All of these young people (and also the adults who facilitate them or are active artists themselves) are part of the good news about how inspirational is rural Ireland.
So if you want a bit of uplift and inspiration, if you want to experience unspoiled, beautiful Irish countryside, then come to us in the northwest of Ireland. We can inspire you.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travelers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packaged for their group’s desires and needs. Bee seeks the source to manifest your dream Irish vacation according to your budget and time scale. She has a special interest in Fairy folklore, Celtic Spirituality and the Natural Heritage of northwestern Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2011 Bee became one of the first trained tour guides that act at ambassadors for the UNESCO designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Send her your dreams for your Ireland vacation package to firstname.lastname@example.org.