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.
I get bemused by the green beer, dyed rivers and fountains on St. Patrick’s Day. On the first count I think most indigenous Irish think that is a crime against good beer. On the last two counts I wonder what those dyes are doing for the health of the salmon of wisdom.
While others think leprechauns for Ireland, in Ireland we tend to revere the fairies. Our parades are generally full of political satire, which goes right back to the bardic tradition of ancient Ireland. Plenty of young ones sport false rears sporting ‘Pogue Mahone’ – roughly and more politely translated as smooch here.
There have been moves to encourage people to wear a snake on St. Patrick’s Day as a way to reclaim the druidic past. You see adders(snakes) were never native to Ireland. Ireland never has had a snake species. Not even a garden variety. It is hypothesised that the ‘snakes’ were actually the Druids that the conversion to Christianity supplanted with Patrick’s mission to Ireland.
Alternatively, anti-fracking activists have declared St. Patrick’s Day an international day of action to prevent hydraulic fracturing of shale gas in Ireland’s least spoiled landscape in the Lough Allen and Clare Basins. Given the watery nature of the land experiences elsewhere in the world have raised anxieties at home about the dangers of water pollution and worse. So in Carrick on Shannon they will be sporting black shamrocks at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to alert the wider public to the dangers and asking people to contact TDs (deputies in the Dáil or Irish Parliament) and county councillors to prevent this happening in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.
“Don’t Frack with the Fairies”
Image copyright Helga Martinez
Here is rural Ireland it is the traditional day to set your spuds on St. Patrick’s Day. That is exactly what I intend to be doing this year. It’s warm enough even for our frost pocket prone field to chance the first earlies. There are plenty of parades going on too – we are spoiled for choice between our local one, another five miles away that is cross border between Belcoo and Blacklion. Heading out to the big towns around twenty miles away we could attend Carrick on Shannon or Enniskillen.
For me, on St. Patrick’s Day I think about the tenets of Celtic Spirituality – that of seeing God in nature, giving hospitality, celebrating with music and poetry, nurturing soul friendships. So I’ll be out in the garden setting spuds and planting some memorial plants since this St. Patrick’s Day marks the 50th anniversary of the day my father was buried. I’ll plant two things for both my parents. So first thing is to get to the garden centre early and then wield the spade.
Over this national holiday weekend we will join in the Thur Mountain celebrations organised by Glenfarne Community Development. Glenfarne is just seven miles over the Boleybrack from us. They are having three kinds of walk to appeal to all classes of walker from the hardcore hillwalkers, to the staunch ramblers right down to the dog strollers. We’ll be in the latter category. But all the walking groups will gather in the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance for some tea and craic after doing all that healthful activity.
In the evening we get to have the music and poetry and some more hospitality. We are having a birthday celebration and that is the cue for conviviality, homemade music, singing and reciting or reading poems. There will also be homemade cake!
But let me leave you with a favourite Irish blessing attributed to St. Patrick.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.
Beir Bua (Best Wishes)
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 email@example.com.
Real Irish Country Living:
You are now entering our Townland
“I’m heading back to rurality,”my first Irish boss Prin would say when he took his leave from my workplace in the town. The town had a thousand souls. It had banks, a few shops and other amenities – a library, a theatre/arts centre, cottage hospital, a sculpture studios and ‘resource centre.’ It was a friendly place where you would hear the familiar Leitrim “How ya?” as you walked down the main street about your business.
It was hardly the heaving metropolis we’d left behind when we moved to Ireland. And that was exactly what we needed.
Of course, when Prin was leaving ‘town’ he was announcing his imminent departure for his ‘townland.’ For anyone who has Irish heritage and does a ‘roots trip’ to Ireland, knowing your family townland is really important information. Towns may have administrative or economic significance, but if your ancestors were uprooted from the Irish countryside then that elusive piece of information may be the deal breaker on your ancestor hunt.
Let’s get this straight. A townland is NOT a town. It’s more like a hamlet, or a cluster of neighbouring dwellings that is in the Irish countryside that fringes the towns with their shops, banks, schools and other points of local focus. Towns have an administrative and economic function. Townlands are where Irish country living actually happens!
Townlands are uniquely Irish. In the townland were Tony and I settled there are four houses and a barn on one side of Lough Moneen and four houses, a cottage and another barn on the other. Before the mass immigration of the 1940s and 1950s there were scores of people living in the townlands surrounding our home village.
To add to the confusion our townland has an anglicized spelling on the house deeds but an Irish spelling on the Ordinance Survey maps! For folks who are on an Irish heritage trail this can compound the problems when they are trying to find an ancestral grave or the church where they may find the vital record to confirm family anecdote. This is where genealogical hunts in Ireland can get frustrating.
But it is in the Irish place names that you discern the beauty and personality of these remote places. Place names are so rich that they have a whole genre in Irish poetry, dindshenchas, that includes that particular Irish place’s folklore, sometimes right back to medieval times.
Just translating our townland underlines it’s unique ecology. We live in ‘the briary place’; it certainly applies to our acre! But those blackberries attest to the soil fertility, which we have benefited from as we developed our organic garden and cultivated our vegetables in a polytunnel.
There is a term in Irish literature that refers to women as ‘wildish.’ Our bit of Irish country life has that wildish element – from the south-westerly winds that sometimes rampage in from the Atlantic over Knocknarea, the drama of the aurora borealis reflected in the water of Lough Allen, the constant shifting of cloud and light and precipitation over Arigna or Cuilcagh mountains.
I could no more go back to city living – the traffic, the constant background noise, the crowds and hasty pace – then I could turn back the years. We have lived for ten years now and I am still learning new things, still having my eyes opened and heart moved by this magical sacred landscape. Irish country living – where Irish folklore comes alive in the very stones – is where my heart has truly come home.
In the first few years here I tried to do a ‘biodiversity survey’ just of the species I spotted along our lane. We have rare red squirrel as well as long eared bats, badgers, deer and pygmy shrew. That’s just the fauna. When I started on the flora I gave up when I passed eighty!
My partner has written elsewhere describing our little parcel of Ireland as an ‘acre of diamonds.’ In this blog I’m going to share some of that precious quality – the beauty, the peace, the inspiration both raw and rarefied – with you.