I have touched the silent menhirs in Carnac, Brittany several years ago and I left with more questions than I came with.
I needed to try my hand again, in Portugal, just outside the beautiful Evora, where the Almendres form one of the most interesting megalithic monuments on the Iberian Peninsula.
I rushed my pace to get to the stones, up the narrow, tormented path, until I thought I heard a whisper…
…ever so soft, almost as if someone was getting ready to say something.
There was no wind. But when I looked around, something fell into place, when my eyes began to delight in the details at the side of the road.
So I spent about one hour on a 15 minutes walk and remember every second…
That soft voice must have been a better self, trying to teach me… Where was I rushing to? The stones had been there for thousands of years, they were not going anywhere and their stories were outside themselves.
They just drew the stories strongly towards them, with their mysterious apparent silence.
But they are shouting for those who can hear: “on the way to the menhir, it is the road, not the destination.”
I lay in the grass with the pain of inner questions running through my mind, and my heart. And I wonder whether when we lie down for the imaginary sleep, do we get to revisit the place once held our shape?
Do we get to smell life the way we did that day? And feel the wind through the blades of grass, and stare into the eyes of a faithful friend who cannot speak, but it’s there for us?
Is this what everyone else calls a ghost: us, reliving some of the moments – when we felt so vulnerable and fragile, that we could have easily be melted by the rain – before sinking into oblivion, before waking up into another dream?
I live by the sea. I also live nearby an enchanted forest that sings to me every day.
They say that the first people who inhabited Donegal, the Tuatha de Danann, were of the elf kind. And they say that elves sang to the trees and flowers and turned them into homes. That’s how strong their connection with nature was.
Donegal still retains such magical places, like Ballyconnell House, hidden away, ignored and left to the past, but coming alive once you take the time to wander through its ancient grounds, listen to the wind combing through the branches of the old trees and lean down to smell the flowers at your feet.
Built in the 1600s by a Dutch family, the house was once a house of song, hosting a fantastic Irish music school, which closed almost ten years ago “from lack of funding.”
But the grounds are still enjoyed not only by walkers, nature lovers but also by the local Cloughaneely Golf Club. And was the site of a fabulous ‘Evil Eye Festival’ (Féile na Súile Nimhe) organised by Kathleen Gallagher and her devoted team.
Recent news that it may be closed to the public to be turned into a Catholic-church run drug addiction clinic, with hundreds of thousand of euro of public money poured into it, made me ponder – how different we are from the ancestors of this land and how much we have changed… that we cannot see the flowers we have and let anyone come and stamp on them…how we don’t value what our forbearers left us and allow even the most innocent of joys to be taken away little by little…
I smell the scent of these tiny flowers now, as come next Spring, they might be locked up inside another “wall of authority.”
One of the biggest mistakes the Communist regime I grew up in made was to destroy what the previous regime had built instead of seeing its value and develop it.
Years later, here in Donegal, I’m experiencing deja-vu… and I don’t wonder anymore why the young and beautiful are leaving this lovely place. But I do wonder who will be left wondering where have all the flowers gone…
One must be extremely strong in mind and spirit to survive more than a year in Donegal. I don’t even know why I say that, it just came to me as I am listening to Mary, Martin and Michael playing in Teac Jack. There is Michael’s humor combined with Mary’s gentle but powerful fiddle and Martin’s quiet, melancholic pipes. And it’s Donegal in its essence, it captures you, it makes you feel you are the happiest being on earth and in the same time, its strength makes you suffer.
It’s the kind of suffering born from pure happiness, that “too much feeling”. You suddenly yearn for the banality of a city life, where you know you are being diminished and your spirit has left you and, you long for being back in Donegal again.
Mary continues to speak through her fiddle and I can’ believe I’m still in this fairy tale world. I can see and hear people from the “real world” around me, in the bar.
It’s funny because they seem to be so immune to the music, as if only a few of us can see and hear the musicians. As if two parallel worlds are being displayed in front of me.
And there are actually three parallel worlds, as musicians seem to be in that trance they go into, and we, the “privileged ones,” get to peep through the door.
But it’s too hard to get in.
One must be very strong to survive more than a year in Donegal. To cope with moments when people either go back to the real world, as their holiday is over, or others go into this trance, which is music, and it’s as if they are totally gone, leaving behind a sound, a smile and closed eyes.
Minutes later, both doors close suddenly and I’m not fast and good enough to dash through any of them.
Will I have enough spirit to wait until they open again?
From the haunting memory of a revived tune, by an old man living in the mountains to “I shot the sheriff” played on guitar and pipes, to hop gigs and rhythms… Why do I feel that life has just said hello and looked me straight in the eyes?
As the announcement of the Wild Atlantic Way was made this week, I decided to revisit one of Donegal’s most magical areas along this 2,500 km drive – the Poisoned Glen in Donegal. I had just been to say hello to the ‘old man and the sea’ in Bloody Foreland, but he was in no mood for conversation, so I left him counting the waves, with his seagulls.
As I drove down the winding road into Dunlewey valley, I found myself drawn to the mighty, silver-haired Errigal, surveying the northwest coast. The White Witch living in the valley once told me how on certain days, she can see the castle the fairies have built on top of the mountain. That’s why, she said, “Donegal still retains the mystical air, because the little people still survive here.”
It is this valley that still holds secrets about an ancient battle between the one-eyed Balor and his grandson, Lugh. And there is no shortage of local people who are willing to tell you a story or two about it. For some, Lugh means the ‘Sun God’ and others say he is an Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. Other sources describe Lugh as “a god of both skill and the distribution of talent. He and his nature goddess consort (Rosmerta) were worshipped during the 30 day Lugnasad midsummer feast in Ireland. Fertility magic during this festival ensured ripening of the crops and good harvest. He was called Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his great spear and sling. His animal attributes were the raven and the lynx. Lugh mirrors Hindu Karttikeya, the spiritual warrior, and Roman Mercury, the swift messenger.”
In his quiet, stoic way, he guards the valley so one can still walk in peace and enjoy its wonders. As you make your way the marked road, make Time your servant and stop. And listen to the sounds coming either from under the ground…
or the ones coming down from the sky.
And if you really look, you might even find a bog diamond…Make sure you leave it where you found it, everything in the valley is well accounted for and if you move only a blade of grass, you might awaken Balor’s rage.
And if you were inspired enough to bring some chocolate or shortbread with you, there is not a better gift you can leave for the fairies, than a small piece of one of these treats, on one of their favorite tree (no wrapping please, they can choke on that).
That gesture might even convince them to pay extra attention to the wishes you might make on your way back, at the Waterfall of Dreams.
No need to thrown in coins or anything – the waterfall fairies get very annoyed with that.
Just sit down and really listen to their song. They’ll know if you did.