This summer if you are travelling to Northwest Ireland – especially West Cavan and Fermanagh – walk with Irish Blessings Tour guides Bee Smith and Tony Cuckson to some of the betwixt and between power places of this unique border region. With many visitors arriving in Ireland this summer for The Gathering 2013 walk the places where our ancestors have lived continuously since the times of the Megalith Makers.
Irish Blessings Tours creatrix, Bee Smith is a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark trained tour guide. Her talks with walks will enhance your understanding of the ancient sites, natural heritage, mythology and local history. Storyteller and musician Tony Cuckson embellishes the walks with his beguiling Armagh accent and humour.
Allow poet, writer and storyteller Bee Smith to lead you on a fairy hunt in the magical places within the ancient Irish kingdom of Breifne. Bee’s tours will show you places where modern and mythic Ireland meet, sharing those ‘betwixt and between’ places of Tir na nÓg, the rainbow bridges between time and the timeless. No tour of Ireland is complete without that ‘tingle factor’ that this part of Ireland never fails to deliver.
So come walking Betwixt & Between with Bee to places where the fairies still thrive, where you can feel the ancestors watching your back and feel peace dropping slowly upon your soul.
Pricing- €30 per hour
Book via email to email@example.com or by phone 071 964 3936.
Payment should be made via PayPal upon receipt of confirming email or text message.
Groups up to eight people, children with focus welcome
Seeking the Source at Shannon Pot
This one hour tour of the source of Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon, includes storytelling and music with Tony Cuckson. Meadows, fairy trees, story and song. This walk is completely accessible.
Crossover with Crom Cruich
The Ancestors at our Back
This walking tour of the Cavan Burren is a minimum two hours and includes the guide’s own poetry inspired by the landscape and the folklore associated with it. A half day could be easily spent exploring dolmens, cairns, wedge tombs and boulder formations. A longer tour with a picnic included can be negotiated.
I’m lucky to live here in Northwest Ireland, which is why I blog here and want to share the marvellous power of this place.
Every rock is a rune. The water – whether as a soulful lough, cascading over a rock face or lapping on a coastal shore – is Mother Earth’s life blood. We talk about ‘thin places’, liminal spaces, spiritual thresholds, fairy portals. This may sound theoretical to many of you but believe you me, once I moved here to West Cavan it was wonderfully palpable, real, tangible. Even our dog knows that we walk between the worlds.
Northwest Ireland is off the usually beaten tourist track in Ireland. For people who love undisturbed natural beauty and landscapes you will appreciate the primal power of place here.
This region inspired much of W. B. Yeats’ great poetry. It is an ancient, relict landscape that has been continuously inhabited since the megalith builders came to this island, using the many rivers and loughs as their highways. The water gave them food as the middens on the shores of Lough MacNean have proven that it sustained them as they became artisans, farmers and the megalith makers. We can still see their mark on the landscape today and these are amongst the greatest power places in Ireland.
Until you can personally experience the wonderous power of place here in Northwest Ireland I’ll give you a taster. Johnnie Lawson, a Leitrim filmmaker who lives over the mountain from me, creates films using the images and sounds of nature in this powerful place. You can listen to nature or restful music. Or the massed choir of the dawn chorus in Derryveen Woods, Roscommon.
While Ireland is famous for her good craíc (sounds like crack) and conviviality, it is also a great destination for more reflective journeys. The early Christian monks were renowned as peregrini for setting out on pilgrimages without specific destinations. These spiritual peregrinations often started with them taking a bit of food and pushing their currachs out into the sea and let nature (and God in nature) take them where they needed to go. It is thought that this is how St. Brendan discovered the continent known as North America.
Ireland, being an island country with a dramatic landscape with ever shifting light and shadow, offers the timelessness and solitude for spiritual reflection in her countryside. Tourists wanting to get some soul food along with their stout and soda bread will not be disappointed. The wild west of Ireland with its poetic, mythic and natural heritage, is the the ultimate destination for the traveller seeking a place for reflection and spiritual nurture.
‘Thin places’, where the veil between the worlds is gossamer fine are those betwixt and between locations that are a lure for the spiritual traveller to Ireland. This glorious landscape in the Northwest of Ireland inspired poetry, most famously, W.B. Yeats. The landscape still retains its sanctity and this can lead to a truly meaningful vacation.
Listen to this YouTube by writer Tony Cuckson of Irish Blessings Tours as he recites Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child” and meditates on what it offers to us today. Allow us to guide you to those threshold places where you may walk hand in hand with faery.
Twixt and In BetweenTwixt and In Between On a sunny autumn Sunday afternoon I went to Claddagh Glen at the foot of the trail leading up to the Marble Arch Caves to interview writer and storyteller Tony Cuckson of www.anamcaraexperience.org about Thin Places. What is this Betwixt and Between thing that Ireland seems to have going for it? Why does Ireland seem to have some many of these special thin or threshold places?
In Irish Blessings Tours debut podcast listen to the lulling flow of the Claddagh River as Bee and Tony converse about Ireland’s hidden Betwixt and Between places and their significance.
You can listen to this interview regarding the magic of thin places here
Bee is happy to guide you around some of Ireland’s lesser known Betwixt and Between places for a day. Or if you would like to spend time in this very fairy landscape in Northwest Ireland she can devise a weekend or week long programme or itinerary for exploring some of Ireland’s most betwixt and between locations. You can contact her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a day when it was my job to escort our Canadian visitors around what is known locally as Yeats Country This is an area in Sligo and North Leitrim that inspired many of the poems written by Ireland’s great poet W. B. Yeats. On the way I played them the following song by a Sligo group. This song by The Waterboys is from their album Fisherman’s Blues and takes the lines from Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child.”
Thin places are those ‘in between’ sites where you feel neither quite in this world or in with the fairies, neither on earth or in heaven. Ireland, with its ancient myths so inextricably associated with actual locations in Ireland lends itself to having so many thin places. Also, we are in the twelve days of Christmas. While in many countries it may be business as usual, we enjoy many bank holidays, our local shops have shorter opening hours, and the world stills if not stops. This time of year is a ‘thin place.’
Some people call them ‘’liminal spaces.” This is just another way of calling thin places a threshold. A doorway is but one example of a potential thin place.
For travellers interested in living a spiritual life there are many spiritual places in Ireland to visit to make your vacation a true holy day ( or holiday as we call our vacations in Ireland.) I will introduce you to a few lesser known spiritual places in Ireland over a series of articles. But first off, I invite you to alight your vision so you may wholly live your one wild and precious life. Our first stop is the Sculpture Park on the shores of Lough MacNean in County Cavan.
Imagine standing before a sculpture that is a series of three pillars or standing stones. Celtic spirituality is fond of trinities so it is in keeping with this tradition that this sculpture fits into the landscape in this spiritual place in Ireland. Each stone has a circular hole drilled through it close to eye level. In order to see into the distant horizon one has to align ones’ sight to look through all three holes at the same time. The sculpture asks us to align physically so that we can see the shore on the opposite side of the lake in Northern Ireland.
You stand before these holy trinity of standing stones, which I often feel are the embodiment of prayer. I offer a silent prayer of intention as I do as a practice when I visit spiritual places in Ireland. The sculpture faces north. It allows me to look out across the lake where there is a border between the north and south of Ireland. When you align your vision you can see that in reality there is no border, only the border that is in the mind that creates labels and develops an attachment to labels.
There is an inscription on this rock sculpture by Louise Walsh, which is entitled “Imagine.”
an island where people live in peace
Make it Real
That is a real vision that this beautiful sculpture invites us all to envisage and to come into alignment. This is a true work of art because its intention is to invite the connection to the eye of the heart rather than the myopic idea of the separate sense of self.
One of the ways to embody your vision is to connect to a physical representation like this sculpture and other great works of art. You stand before them and they invite you into a presence that exists beyond time and space. They invite you to connect with a vision that is more universal than the limited time space identity that one calls me, my or mine. These spiritual places in Ireland can take you into that kind of presence. They are also sometimes called ‘thin places.’
This writer and storyteller is blessed to live nearby to this beautiful sculpture. I stand in silent and prayerful attention before it. I look through the three holes in the hope to bring my vision into alignment as the other shore comes into view. This is the shore of sacred unity. It is an inward shore, too, that can be reflected in the outer world. This is a practical visionary endeavour.
Come and see for yourself. Visit this and other spiritual places in Ireland and align your vision. It will be a souvenir to last a lifetime.
In the Ireland -land of mists and rainbows, holy wells and magical woods you enter the realm of fairy.
They are known by many names - ’thin places’, thresholds between the worlds, fairy portals, liminal spaces. Ireland has many power places that draw on how whisper thin is the division between ‘our world’ and the fairy world. Some people refer to the Good Folk as the Little People or leprechauns who have a rather jolly reputation. Fairies (or faeries) are earth elementals. They were originally the Tuatha de Danaan, the mythic people who lived in Old Ireland who, after being defeated by the invading Milesians at the Second Battle of Moytura, went to ground (or underground).
They are often referred to as the sidhe, pronounced shee. Everyone has probably heard and shuddered just to be reminded of the legend of the banshee, but really the word is just a transliteration of the Irish word for fairy woman.
The Tuatha de Danaan first appeared on Slieve Anieran on the Cavan/Leitrim border. After they were defeated the legend shows that they headed back to this part of Erin to their original homeplace. Being earth elementals it makes this part of Ireland particularly fertile fairy hunting ground.
The photo I’ve posted was taken in the Cavan Burren Forest, which is a part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, which is the first international, cross-border park in the world to earn this UNESCO designation.
The Geopark is in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and County Fermanagh in the Republic of Ireland. The Cavan Burren Forest has many examples of Bronze Age and Iron Age megaliths, cairns, dolmens, portal tombs and wedge tombs.
Burren means stony place in Irish. The Cavan Burren has been had human occupation since the first hunter gatheers left evidence of their flint tools on the shore of Lough MacNean. The geology of the landscape – limesetone, sandstone, mudstone and other sedimentary rock makes for a wildishly beautiful scenery. Those early ancestors made amazing burials. Amidst the lush and biodiverse flora and fauna you are likely to sense those ‘earth elementals’ or fairies.
The Calf Hut dolmen is an example of how people have adapted and worked with the landscape. Landscape is never standing still. It’s a work in constant progress. This dolmen started out as a portal tomb with the entrance at what some would consider ‘the back’ of it. A farmer adapted this collapsed tomb as a shelter for when his cow calved. ‘Hence the name ‘calf hut.’
Walking around the Cavan Burren Forest, the sense of the ancients brushing up against us in our modern day is palpable.
The Playbank – aka the Dog Mountain
In 2001 I found myself settling in an unexpected area of the world. It only goes to show that when some intuition tells to stop or turn left that you should always obey that instinct. We thought we were heading for one place but along the way were beguiled by another, quite different, but ultimately the absolute correct location for us.
Ten years ago in the wake of 9/11 I found myself emigrating from England to Ireland. This was my second country move, since I was born in the United States. My partner, Tony Cuckson, and I had lived in cities all our adult lives; but we were small town bred and we both had a hankering for space, a garden that was not 8” x 10” concrete, some quiet to be able to contemplate and have the spiritual growth that is characteristic of the middle years onwards. There had been a family bereavement in 2000 that had prompted us to question, “ What are we waiting for?”
Tony had gone ahead the week before with a van load of our belongings and the two dogs. It was autumn equinox at 4:55 that morning in 2001; I was just waking up to get myself and our feline household goddess Sophie ready for boarding the 6am train out of Leeds, West Yorkshire.
The first leg of our journey was on the spectacular and justifiably acclaimed Leeds-Settle-Carlisle railway line. By our first change of trains in Carlisle Sophie’s mournful meowing had simmered down to the occasional sob. However, all the Scots travelling to Glasgow made such a fuss over her that she began to think this emigration lark was okay. We changed again in Glasgow for the train to the Stranraer ferry. We smoothly sailed into Belfast Harbour where Tony’s twin brother Jeff picked us up.
A brief comfort stop at Jeff’s home in Holywood and we only had another two hours to go to arrive at our new home (which we then thought was just temporary) in Dowra, Co. Cavan. Tony had organised a rental house that was beside the River Shannon. As we travelled along the R207 for the last ten kilometres I was blown away by the beauty of Cuilcagh Mountain and the Playbank. Dusk was just settling. I was utterly enchanted by their indigo profiles. Fourteen hours from setting off Sophie and I arrived and had a happy reunion with Tony and our dogs Murphy and Pippin.
The region, previously sight unseen, bewitched me and I am still under the sway of its spell. I have heartfelt gratitude for which ever angel, faerie, goddess or deva lead us to find this home. Having spent the previous forty-five years as a nomad (first house move was at three-months old), the Land decided that it wanted to keep me. I’m grateful that the Land decided to like me, tough love me and cherish my spirit over this past decade.
I live in a place of ever shifting light and shadow, a place where diverse species thrive and delight the eye, ear and nose. This is a place of borders – being less than three miles as the crow flies with Northern Ireland and County Fermanagh. Half the village is in Leitrim and the rest in Cavan. Therefore we are also straddle the ancient kingdoms of Ulster and Connaught. It is a land of liminal places – holy wells and sweat houses, megaliths and powerful myth.
This is a very mystical part of Ireland and this area marks the boundary between the ancient kingdoms of Ulster and Connaught. There are rumours that there are the remnants in the village of the old earthwork fortification called the Black Pig’s Dyke. We are also in a little known kingdom of Briefne that is associated with the O’Rourke and Maguire clans.
We live four miles from the Shannon Pot, the very source of the River Shannon and also the home of the Salmon of Wisdom. It feels as if we have most assuredly arrived at the source. Living here and being nurtured in this landscape has lead me to become a tour guide to share with visitors to this mystic part of Ireland. Because, let me tell you, there are fairies in ‘them thar hills!’
Locals often refer to the family acreage a The Homeplace. For someone’s whose family skittered around various American states over several generations, this is is an alien concept. Although to my knowledge there are no atavistic blood tying me to this part of Planet Earth, the Earth itself has embraced me as if to say, ” This is your Home. This is your Place. You are Welcome.”
The Road to Our Homeplace