To hell or to Connacht ~ Pilgrimage

With the phrase "to hell or to Connacht" attributed to Cromwell ringing in their ears, the native Irish were banished to the west. Their handprints are on every stone, making tiny fields of rock and sand dividing the land between the hungry multitudes. The walls of Connemara still rise up over the highest hills and down into the graveyards all along the shorelines. They must have thought more than once that hell would have been a handier alternative.

Out here today on an archipelago of islands and inlets, their stone piers are perfect diving places with sandy bays providing sheltered sunbathing for cattle and wilderness seekers. There's no need to get fancy with the camera because most of the time just being here would take the eye out of your head.

In January I set out on this Pilgrimage to pace my way into a 60th birthday following some new and some old familiar paths. By the time the big birthday came in July I was a bit weary from travelling and more than a bit underwhelmed by the prospect of my next decade. On the following day I was already getting over myself (!!) and planning the next trip, taking in some of the Wild Atlantic Way. Kerry would celebrate friendship while Connemara was about reconnecting with family.

Everywhere I've been, I have fallen in love; the turquoise coves and mountain meadows of the Peleponese; the ancient ruins and cobbled streets of Italy and Greece; the ruined cottages and farm sheds of Ireland. The way we live, what we eat, the beauty of our animals and birds.

The Pilgrimage year has been an eye opener for myself and himself too. After almost 40 years together, it seems that once you point us in the same direction with a promise of a meander, we wander around like two happy kids at a fun fair. 

In Connemara after celebrating an elder family member's 93rd birthday, I wondered what will I be doing when I turn 93? What will you be doing? 


To the waters and the wild

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

"The Stolen Child" is a poem by William Butler Yeats, published in 1889
Listen to the poem set to music by the Waterboys here


It's called friendship #Pilgrimage August

Out west the beauty of the landscape would make you weep, but it's the people and the chat that would warm your heart. It's summer in Kerry and there is no shortage of talk. From morning until night we are discussing the situation in Gaza, the decline of the Labour party and the travails of Johnser. 

Somewhere in Dingle, girls are eating three flavours of ice cream and coffee is being brewed "at exactly the correct temperature". A farmer fixes his gutters and three men are standing at the edge of the turquoise Atlantic wondering about the state of the world. Maybe Putin will blockade the Kerrygold butter next? They won't touch the baby formula though, one re-assures the other. On a tartan rug they rail against the travesty that is Garth Brooks and whether or not the GAA has lost the run of itself entirely.

The hot tea served from a flask on these beaches is of a very high quality, we Irish like our tea bursting with flavour. Later when we gobble our Kerry lamb or monkfish on a risotto of roasted tomatoes, we will still be sharing stories about family, the economy, or how we love those Scandanavian dramas on Netflix.

Along the coast, christened recently the Wild Atlantic Way, the sun is setting and the swimming rituals continue. There is a buzz of conversation from assorted picnics and shadowy squeals of joy coming from the shoreline. The elders have comfortable chairs. The younger generations wear wet-suits so they can stay immersed in the waves for longer. 

It's getting late and still we are talking away for Ireland. It's what we do around a fire on a winter's evening but tonight we are under the stars, barely believing the "real summer" that we are having this year, honing a true art form; it's called friendship. 

Browse more photos from my home in Ireland here


When hope is scarce

We come from a harsh history ourselves; 800 years of occupation, a terrible famine which halved the population and the ongoing loss of emigration which goes on to this day. We didn't forget any of it. That kind of pervasive pain is passed down.

Sometimes it's their absence that brings home the memories. What they left behind, the empty simplicity of their lives, the poor land where they eeked out an existence. Above all, the cold east wind.

A "rebel hand set the heather blazing" here in Boolavogue. Have no illusions, one man's hero is another man's terrorist. They too must have lived and breathed the complications, the grey areas. But eventually too many had died. Contemporary heroes emerged who could rise above the historical pain and since then we have tried to move on......

My social media feed, like yours, fills up with dead and bloodied children. Here in the silent Irish farm yard we wonder how it must be in Gaza at this time of the year?  Amongst the dust, rubble and summer heat there could be no end to the unbearable pain. 

Quietly I believe that there is only one possible ending. People on all sides will have to talk to each other and reach an accommodation. Everyone will have to let go of something. There will be no winners, no losers, no triumphs. And then if we are all very, very lucky, there might even be a feeling of deep relief. 

In trying to stick with the story of the middle east it's been a challenge to find intelligent and verifiable reporting. If you want to see truth in action follow Naomi Wolf  She never shies away from candid debate, murky complexity and above all deep compassion. Sadly every day the story gets darker. 

And all of us are looking for some hope, which is eerily scarce right now. 


The butterflies make a come back

Thank you all for the supportive comments and thoughts you shared on the decline of butterflies and insects here. Out of the blue they are making a bit of a come back!

The butterfly bush is in the latter part of it's flowering season yet this is the first dancing butterflies show of the summer. I mentioned our "loose garden" before and although it's full of nettles and thistles going to seed we are keeping it that way as a small oasis in this desert of EU grass.

Earlier in the week some one on twitter called me a tree hugger. I think it was meant as an insult but I will be wearing it as a badge of honour now and forever more Amen!

For those of you interested in the practice of photography most of these images were shot with a zoom lens. (Canon 70-300mm on a Canon EOS 7D)You won't disturb the butterflies this way and if you use an open aperture (the low numbers) you can get some soft background effects too. Always a bit unconventional when it comes to camera stuff, I can't vouch for the appropriateness of this technique, all I know is "I like what I like...."  

More wild life here


Set free in a loose garden

We inhaled the scent of herbs on the soft balmy air. Occasional yelps of joy bounced across the lake as youngsters leapt into the water from the dodgy bough that leans out over the deeper water. 

The Irish feel such deep relaxation in our bodies when the temperatures soar. So we are elated by this evening, warm enough to sit outside under the sky, warm enough to put our feet up, one where we can get the grill out. 

I love your "loose garden" she said.  And loose is a good word for it. 

Loose enough to sway in the breeze, loose enough to shed colourful seeds everywhere, to create dingly dells of stems and blossoms. 

If I were a thrush I too would want to be set free, in a loose garden......