In Thanksgiving for the Life of Patricia Monaghan
It was with shock that I woke yesterday to learn that Patricia Monaghan, poet, goddess scholar and one whom I considered a role model and personal mentor, died on 11th November, Remembrance or Veteran’s Day. The Irish Blessings Tours business and blog would not exist but for Patricia and it is with profound gratitude for her life and spirit that prompts me to write this.
My acquaintance with Patricia, as I imagine with many others, began online through warm and witty emails when she agreed to give me a testimonial for a volume of Brigit poems I’d written. The acquaintance deepened when she and her husband Michael McDermott visited Dowra in September 2009. Pat wanted to revisit the Shannon Pot with Michael. I introduced them to the Cavan Burren, and given their keen allegiance to organic horticulture, Leitrim’s Organic Centre. Yesterday, my partner and I drove up to the Shannon Pot, the source of Ireland’s River Shannon, which at midday we had to ourselves except for a pheasant, a white cow and a red cow. The wind played a tune on the metal bridge that crosses the tiny stream that runs from the source, a cauldron shaped pool that rises from deep within Cuilcagh Mountain. I walked to the hazel tree where Pat, Michael and I had left offerings three years ago. Then I opened the her poetry book “ Dancing with Chaos” and read the first and final poems in that volume as an offering to the source itself.
Patricia and I,early in our acquaintance, found a number of synchronous paths in our lives. Both of us had been born in New York City boroughs but reared elsewhere. We were cradle Catholics but had found our way in adulthood the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) as well as the Goddess Path. We shared a devotion to Brigid and a passionate love of the Irish landscape. And in the time honoured Irish way of there may very few degrees of separation in this country, it turned out we were driving the used car from the Oliver who gave originally gave her directions to the Shannon Pot back in 2000!
On those common points a friendship developed. Having been a Women’s Studies scholar as an undergraduate I gradually shed my awe of her although I frequently and still refer to her books of assiduously researched Celtic and goddess lore. In time I was honoured to receive emails on both her poetry and research in progress. We had a lively email correspondence earlier this year when she was preparing a paper on the Cannibal Hag of Slieve Aughty; my own rather outrageous historical speculations will have to recede into the mountain mists now but what fun we had emailing to and fro across the time zones.
The Celtic Women International have had strong links to Pat since they formed in Chicago in 2004. They wanted to make a pilgrimage to Ireland for the Festival of Brigit and asked Patricia if she would organise it. She was already overcommitted workwise but said “I know a woman who could!” Thus Patricia gave me my new career as a tour leader, creator and guide. Such acts of generosity were not unique to me. Patricia was more a force of nature and it is nature’s way to spend its fertility extravagantly. Her warmth naturally reached out to others and made her a gifted networker who shared her contacts, knowledge, wit and wisdom. In that way I am sure there is a Monaghan legion of varied folk who benefited from her mentoring.
I last saw Patricia with her husband and his daughter Emily in Kildare for the Vigil of Brigid held on 31st January this year. It was the 20th anniversary since Brigid’s eternal flame had been rekindled at the AFRI conference for peace and reconciliation. We joined with other Irish based friends to have dinner in Silken Thomas before the vigil and the next morning Pat and I breakfasted, sharing our individual plans for life, many which she accomplished over the next few months. She was writing and editing with Michael an anthology for Goddess Ink on the goddess Brigid, hoping to wangle alternations to her academic life and to move full time to the their beloved farm in Black Earth, Wisconsin. Her accomplishments and energy take my breath away and I’m ten years younger than her.
Life is the operative word here. Illness did not define her or her life, lived vividly with a wise and often amused eye. She was busy liking one of my friend’s organic farm business here in Ireland on Facebook on Halloween, adopting a cat, reporting on renovations at their farm Brigid’s Rest, heaping praise and thanks to the friend who came to organise their new library room. She was always introducing people via the internet whom she thought would like one another or help one another.
Quakers in England have a tradition of written testimonies to the grace of God/dess as lived in the life of a departed soul. This is my testimony although I am sure that there will be many more written over the next week from the many people who encountered Patricia through her writing, teaching and life.
In Irish the word for plenty is galore. The same word applies to enough. Patricia was a woman galore, who gloried in sharing her plenitude. It may well have been time for her to say ‘enough’. For those of us who were privileged to have known her I dare say we could never have got enough of her inquiring mind, diligent scholarship, mischievous wit and warm generosity.
She gave me a jar of her homemade gooseberry jam in 2009. I still have the jar. I’ll light a candle in it to celebrate the grace of Goddess as lived in her life. Ar dheis Bhríd go raibh a hanam dílis. May her noble soul be at Brigid’s right hand.