Faílte Ireland, the Irish tourism board, is heavily promoting The Gathering 2013 to the Irish diaspora. Various events are being planned nationwide and a call has gone out for those with ancestral connections to this island to gather in celebration.
A controversy has broken out this past fortnight when Irish actor Gabriel Byrne called this promotion a mercenary ruse to have people come and be exploited as tourists. Both my partner and I have a certain sympathy with this view since we are proponents of experiential travel rather than site seeing tourism. It’s not clear what kind of events are going to be on offer but there is a the strong whiff of potential excessive drinking of alcohol to fuel the craic.
There is, however, another idea about this gathering together of people with an ancestral connection to Ireland. Rather than dissipate energies why not gather the energy for a genuine sense of coming together for the highest good of all. This is a gathering that does not primarily facilitate economic growth (although it has to be said that the country needs that, too)
What would be great is a gathering that would promote sustainable growth that gathers together our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual energy. The result of that kind of gathering would be amazingly positive and expansive. It would be a real holiday experience in the most fundamental sense. This is a vacation, or holiday as we call it on this side of the Atlantic, that is recreational in the sense of renewing one’s zest and bolstering one’s life force.
Ireland is the most wonderful place for people to gather. Our hope or vision, would be of a Gathering that happens within groups of individuals who are not intent on escapist entertainment or over indulgence. The gathering that Ireland invites is one which is within each of us. W. B. Yeats enunciates this invitation for renewal most eloquently
I am of Ireland,
the holy land of Ireland.
Come dance with me
Now that is an authentic kind of Riverdance. It is a dance arising from people whom have truly aligned themselves socially and spiritually and are in unity. When this happens there is a ‘tingle factor’- what every visitor to Ireland hopes to experience. That tingle factor happens within groups my partner and I gather with – whether it is community singing or drumming. Music does seem to facilitate that tingle factor as well as welding disparate individuals into a community. We know this from the cross-community Together One Voice Choir, that brings people from the Republic and the North of Ireland, from a variety of religious experience and tradition, together to sing in four part harmony. We have also seen this happen in drum circles facilitated by Ruách Rhythms which brings together a multi-cultural group that reflects the new Ireland. We have also seen this happen in Earthsong Camp Heartsong singing, facilitating people who think they ‘can’t sing’ together with others to find this unique harmonic and natural voice. In all these groups we arrive as individuals but leave as a gathered community. We have fun, but we also work towards ‘meeting’ each other, finding the notes, the beats, the timing and rhythms.
While this may be entertaining, it is, more importantly, recreation for the body and spirit. And there is nary a spirit of the liquor sort in sight. This might not be a message that will endear us to vintners, brewers and distillers, but for a people to be truly gathered, or united in spirit, you really need to have a clear vision. Perhaps Gabriel Byrne yearns for this sort of genuine gathering – one that is not simply sentimental or indulges in emotional excess or exploitation.
Our hope is that all visitors to Ireland any year is that they may truly experience the authentic Ireland. It would be our hope that the Irish diaspora could feel a warm embrace in circle within circle to experience the timeless beauty of this island. The poet Rumi invites us “To come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.”
Our hope and vision for The Gathering 2013 is that visitors to Ireland will experience the timeless grace of the land and feel the warm embrace of hospitality from the people who are her stewards. This is a truly lovely country. All genuine gatherings are always about love – for the land, the music, the stories, the laughter, the people who come together and share of themselves to create something larger than any one individual.
Many of this blog’s readers are interested in the holy wells of Ireland. There are many in varying states of repair and disarray. Only this past weekend some friends on a Bards in the Woods walk near Knockvicar in County Roscommon cleaned out a holy well that had silted up. Anyone preparing a trip to Ireland needs to make sure that these indigenous relics of Celtic spirituality are on their itinerary.
If a holy well runs dry for reasons that can vary between changes of water course or engineering works, the healing spirit that holds the well’s cure moves to the nearest tree.
The folk belief that the cure of a dry well is transferred to the nearest tree harkens back to the seven sacred chieftain trees of Ireland. These are oak, pine, yew, hazel, ash, holly and apple. However, the tree most often seen near holy wells and used as the clootie tree is the hawthorn. Along with oak, hawthorn is considered the preferred tree of the fairies. Since holy wells spring from deep inside the earth, the homeland of the faerie, they are also places where you may be lucky enough to contact these earth spirits.
It’s also usual to see offerings at holy wells. The bits of fabric, ribbons, rosary beads are known as clooties and it is a familiar site to see these at some holy wells. However, in some localities the local priest has banned this practice even though the ‘pattern’ of prayers for a cure is still alive and well and usually done either the last Sunday in July or near the feast of Mary, Jesus’ mother’s ascension.
If you see the word ‘Tobar’ on a map then you will know that there is a holy well there. This is the Irish word for well. This sign translates as ‘Mary’s Well.’ My 100 year old neighbour tells me that there was a very old story that Our Lady appeared here many, many years ago.
St. Brigit is associated with holy wells and many are dedicated to her. However, any spring with a ‘cure for the eye’ or inspiring visions is under her matronage.
If you are preparing for a trip to Ireland then you need to include a visit to a holy well – or indeed many holy wells for they are so varied and individual in each locality – that you may want to do a bit of research in advance. I’ve chosen a few of the best as well as some favourites on the Celtic beliefs surrounding trees.
It’s time to pack your bags. The final stages of preparing for your trip to Ireland are approaching. You have your passport. You’ve checked that the date is still valid for the days you are traveling. The dog and cat have gone to the kennels. Based on years of transatlantic travel I have listed my seven essentials to pack for your trip to Ireland.
I am a firm believer in traveling light. For sightseeing a day pack is handy and it can double as your flight carry on. A wheelie suitcase will stream through the airports on departure days. Make sure the suitcase is half empty. You will pick up souvenirs. Wear the heaviest pair of shoes on the flight. You don’t want to be schlepping extra weight around.
There are always personal essentials, which I have not added to this list. These are to be considered universal requirements. I won’t burden you with the amount of room I have to factor in for reading material while I am traveling. This may well have been the critical motivator for my spare packing philosophy. I’ve even got a collapsible cane that fits into my wheelie suitcase for days that my arthritis growls.
1. Ireland uses the same electrical voltage as the UK. Get an adapter for UK voltage. You’ll know it’s the right one if it has 3 pin plug. Continental plugs are two round pins. You’ll need the adapter to power up you cell phone or use hair styling appliances. Check with the manufacturer that you favourite appliance is compatible with an adapter. Some are and others will not work. Appliances sold as ‘travel’ generally are versatile enough. Also look for descriptions such as ‘dual voltage’; travel hairdryers frequently fit the bill. Most hotels and B&Bs can provide an iron if your packing gets particularly creased.
2. The Irish climate requires waterproof and shower proof outerwear year round. Make sure your shoes are especially leak proof and that you pack socks that are particularly comfortable and don’t chaff. Try them out before you leave home. Footsore sightseeing is no fun. I advised a friend to buy a micro fleece hoodie for trip to Ireland in September. With a rain slicker for heavier showers she made it through the trip just fine.
3. Ireland’s temperate climate requires that you wear layers. Make sure to pack a sleeveless tank, short-sleeved and long-sleeved t-shirts and either a pullover sweater or fleece or cardigan. Temperatures can rise and fall within a day. You’ll be glad to have at least one layer to meet every eventuality.
4. A smallish notebook and pen that fits in your pocket, handbag or day pack. You will be overloaded with information and people say the most interesting things! Note them down when you are back in your hotel room or in transit between sites. You’d be surprised how many people want to remember the name of that charming little place with the pub, with the dog, you know the one? But then can’t remember the name. Urrrgh! Put important addresses, email addys and contact numbers in the back of this notebook. Make a note down of your passport number in case it gets lost or stolen.
5. Your camera or camcorder will also be useful ways to jog your memory. Remember to pack your chargers (see Tip1 – you’ll need to power them up regularly) and bring spare memory cards! Have some batteries if you don’t have a charger. You can buy them here but having a few to be getting on with in an emergency is much less stressful.
6. Buy traveller’s checks in local currency – that would be euro for the Republic of Ireland and pounds sterling for Northern Ireland. It is easier to cash a traveller’s check in local currency. Hotels will cash your dollar checks but you pay for the privilege. Banks will give the best rates of exchange in rural areas but they may limit how much you can cash on a single day.
7. If you take medication make sure you have enough for your trip. Get a paper copy of your prescription – and if you are as reliant upon wearing corrective lens as I am then make sure you have your glasses’ prescription, too. Or a spare pair of glasses. Have a small first aid kit as well with Band-aids and blister packs just in case you didn’t heed my advice about footwear and comfy socks (as per item 2.)
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.
While I know that it is conventional to read guide books (or this blog) to choose what to see and do in Ireland, I have always found that going at things a bit slant has proven more enriching. Besides, you have a lot of dreaming to do in anticipation of your trip. Guide books will help you with logistics but they don’t necessarily nourish the trip dreamer in any of us.
For this reason I have chosen seven (non-fiction) books that will whet your interest and help build anticipation for a tour of Ireland. These are the books that I have chosen to help interpret what you are going to be seeing on your tour of Ireland. There is a genre of books that recount other’s tours around Ireland. They are very entertaining and I’ve enjoyed several of them. By all means read them when you have a bad case of itchy feet. But while these might help you be patient as you wait for you take off date, they won’t help enrich your tour around Ireland. For that reason, although there are a number of fun and well-written books they haven’t made the final cut on this list.
- The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit – Patricia Monaghan’s book is part scholarship and part memoir with an artful juxtaposition of ancient and modern Irish themes, places and spiritual sensibility. The reader will get well acquainted with how myth plays out in Ireland’s geography.
- Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends – Marie Heaney (Nobel Laureate Seamus’ Mrs) gives a succinct retelling of Ireland’s legends and myths. While Monaghan will give you a sense of place, Heaney outlines the story in full, which will greatly enhance your sight seeing.
- Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology - Poetry is intrinsic to Irish culture, but with so many really good poets you could assemble quite a library. An anthology is the answer, exposing the reader to a wealth of Irish poets, including excerpts from Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger. I particularly like this anthology because it includes Irish language poets in translation. The translations are done by the top flight of Irish poets – Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, John Montague and Michael Hartnett.
- Ever Ancient Ever New: Celtic Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century – Even if you are not particularly interested in Celtic spirituality, Whelan’s book is a great explanation of the Irish Celtic sensibility and how it has developed from megalithic times to the advent of St. Patrick. If you are traveling to a country like Ireland steeped in both spirituality and religion, even if you are an agnostic, your tour of Ireland will be greatly enhanced by grasping the principles that have guided life on this island for millenia.
- Complete Irish Wildlife (Collins Complete Photo Guides) – Ireland is mostly rural and you are likely to encounter unfamiliar birds, flowers, insects, etc. in your travels. This handy guide has a a complete flora and fauna with colour photographs to help you identify. If you don’t have this in your rucksack when you tour Ireland you are sure to regret all those unanswered questions! In the absence of a naturalist tour guide this book will be invaluable.
- To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings – The late John O’Donohue did much to explain and reflect on the preoccupations of Celtic consciousness with his best selling Anam Cara. This book will help prepare you for your trip to Ireland with a blessing. It will also acquaint the reader to all manner of practice Irish blessings for the conventional occasions as well as offering of way of seeing the blessedness of less welcome circumstances.
- Meeting the Other Crowd – The great Eddie Lenihan was a famed storyteller from County Clare. In this book, co-authored with Carolyn Eve Green, you will get initiated into the fairy culture of Ireland. Lenihan is steeped in the oral storytelling tradition and Green has rendered it to capture that oral telling of the faeryfolk. Well worth reading if you plan of doing some fairy hunting on your tour of Ireland.
All of these books will make good armchair travel experience. But while you are preparing for your trip to Ireland you can spend many happy hours getting acquainted with the culture that has been shaped by the land and the stories they have told to explain it all.
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 western 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 email@example.com.