Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Corners of Ireland

Slea's Head, at the end of the Dingle Peninsula
I have always idealized Ireland, even before I came here for the first time five years ago. I remember being mesmerized as a little girl by the movie The Secret of Roan Inish, thinking about green hills, seals, fishermen and rocky coasts; imagining winter storms knocking eagerly on the doors of thatch cottages. Maybe it is because I am most connected – through the gallant memories and storytelling of my Cashman family – to my Irish heritage. The stories of Edward Cashman coming to the United States and the endeavors of generations of his offspring are well known in the family mythology. We have also managed to keep in touch with our family that stayed in the Old Country, even after several generations. I’m hoping that like many of my relatives, I’ll have the chance to go back down to County Cork and visit the Cashman Farm before I leave.

I wonder sometimes if the deep, homelike feeling I get in my bones when I’m here is a construction of my very-American desire to connect to my nearly-lost ancestry and the idea of coming from somewhere. I wonder if the reason the mists dancing along the rocky coasts of these shores make me ache is that I’m finding my way back to some hidden core of myself, or if I just love this scenery and the energy it gives.

I do know that I am not disappointed with my second trip to the country. Since I arrived on the 1st of the month, I’ve been up and down the island, from Belfast to the Dingle Peninsula, from Derry to Cork, Dublin to Galway. It doesn't matter if it comes from a sense of lost heritage or the fact that this is just an incredible place: I am enamored. Every mile of this place is fill of history, secrets and stories. There will never be enough time to see it all, especially without a car. 

The task of keeping the images of picture-perfect moments fresh in my memory overwhelms me some days here. Walking through the winding streets of colorful villages as the sweet tang of peat smoke rises from the chimneys. Boats swinging and moaning in port, lining streets and market places. Mountains and fields of Connemara giving way to the rocky hollows and ancient graves of The Burren. Slea's Head, where you can stand at the Western-most point of Europe and watch the expanse of the entire North Atlantic Sea from the cliffs of the Dingle fingers. Holding tight to an ancient stone fence, looking out upon lonely islands as they rise and fall in the restless waves while gulls scream madly throughout the air. Dashing through the streets of Galway as an early winter storm breaks against the coast, the wind and the rain racing me to the warm interior of the pub.

Killarney City
Now I am surrounded by the hills and glens of the north: moist and rich with the autumnal colors and full of history, terror and madness. And sheep, of course. There are millions of sheep, white wool and black faces, peaceful and unaware of how they are probably the happiest sheep in the world.

I went for a walk in Ness Woods yesterday with the other volunteers at my hostel. We wandered through groves of trees in a deep valley, along a strong river, making our way to the largest waterfall in Northern Ireland. The trees were flush with vivid fall colors, enough to rival my beloved Northern Minnesota. The cold rain would come down in spurts but then the sun would emerge, calling out the deep hues of everything around us. Soon we’d see a rainbow on the horizon and know more rain was coming our way.

Yes, this wild and colorful homeland of mine is a place I am happy to stay for a while now.
Ness Woods, near Derry, after the rain.

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