Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ireland - Chapter Three

Day 3 and 4 – Inishmor

We wake in the morning before the rest of Galway does, and subsequently, breakfast and coffee is at first difficult to obtain. We get them, then wander to the tourist office to buy ferry tickets to the Aran Islands, which have been on the list of things to hit for a while now. I'm lucky to have my mother as a travel companion. We like and want to see the same things, and have the same loose definition of “plans” that basically contain a list of things we'd like to see but don't have to, with plenty of room to run off to the next destination.

Over a quick breakfast, listening to irish talk radio hosts playing fairly dramatic love songs while a call in waxes poetic about how he met his husband in an airport, I lament that the ferry logistics forced us to pick a single island rather than seeing all of them.

The ferry departs from Rossaveal along the coast of Galway Bay. As we drive along the coast, the sun is coming out and the water glitters. Then we hit a place it's impossible not to stop at, a beach where a rapidly flowing river meets the bay and pale sand stretches between tumbles of rock. It's beautiful, and strikes the sort of homesick chord you get when you see a place you miss but can't stay. A lot of places in Ireland hit this chord for me, but I'm an ocean thing, a seaside girl, and the rushing water draws me out and makes me smile though the cold wind hurts my face.

We drive on. Rossaveal is nestled on an edge of Connemara, which is wild country, bogs and stone. The town is tiny, and the ferry won't come until later. We drop into the pub for a while, where a local tells us jokes and quizzes us about our own country, entertaining at first and annoying later. I am beginning to learn that while everyone asks you where you're from (even though they can already tell you're from the US by your accent) unless you're from Boston or New York, they just stare at you blankly and expectantly when you name a place they don't recognize. A guy who lays pipes and other public works jobs on the islands tells us the smaller island is better because they have no Garda and the pubs stay open until 3 or 4 am. Eventually an old guy who speaks more irish than english and is extremely drunk hits too much on my mother and we leave.


We pass more time in the car until a crowd begins to gather for the ferry. I write my first batch of postcards, not really knowing what to say in many cases, because there is both too much and too little – too many people I wish to travel this country with, and yet a strange feeling of being utterly removed from their world and lives. Before the ferry comes, I watch fisherman feed a gray seal at the docks, daydreaming of selkies and hugging myself against the chill of the wind. My leather jacket is well insulated but short, and though my layers serve me well through most of the trip, I wish I'd brought more of them.


Despite the cold, and because of my love of the open water and boats, I stand at the open air top deck of the ferry with two other people – a young man from Switzerland who speaks very little english and an old irish man with a really excellently carved out white beard, who tells me about the Burren, which is all craggy rock with the most beautiful wildflowers growing in the cracks, and how the Aran islands are formed from the same rock. The three of us teeter and totter along the ferry as the waves toss the deck to extreme angles, and it would have been impossible to pry the smile off of my face.
The trip is 45 minutes, and the sun is going down stunningly over the island as we race towards it. I take an embarrassing number of pictures of this, licking salt-spray off my lips and clutching to the rail with numb fingers. As we get into the lee of the island, the waves calm and we see a rainbow touching down onto the land.


Night falls fast, here, and once we check in to our B&B we head out in search of dinner. A local pub, good food, and a musician that tunes his guitar but never plays. When we leave it is night and there is a tangible otherness to the air, a spooky, hair-raising energy that causes us both to laugh into the dark, but quietly, and express to each other that it was the sort of electric feeling that ends in things rising unexpectedly from behind stone walls, strange shapes dancing in empty fields in the light of the glittering stars. The wind is more alive here, whispering softly, so that you strain to catch words that would most certainly not be in English.

Up until this point, my mother has been quoting a book at me, which she picked up at a thrift store a month or two prior to our trip. It got a bit on my nerves – how could one guy be the go to source on an entire country, anyway? But that night I started to read McCarthy's Bar and I found it very difficult to set aside. It was ten years out of date yet managed to be both funny and accurate, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in travel stories. McCarthy also shared our interest in old rocks, and later we would follow his advice to find some very out of the way sites that otherwise we'd never have known about. From that night on, his experiences helped me to better frame my own in some ways – with the culture, the people, and even the navigation.

I cannot sleep that night – there is a stillness here that is bones deep, and in that stillness there is a music. I know that the waves are whispering on pebble beaches, and in my dreams figures wait to speak with me there if I'd only wander out to see them. Here is not a place of seeking to connect – it is being surrounded by the thing I have always sought to connect to, feeling the bedrock of it beneath my feet, tasting it in the perfect clarity of the air. The trees whisper, and that music one hears not with one's ears pulls at me, beckons me, and my rest is fitful from the lure of it.

In the morning, we ate breakfast while it rained, and rented bikes with the well-meant plan to ride around the island, to Dun Aengus and the other interesting spots on the map, including several megalithic tombs, a holy well or two, and a seal colony.

Oh, intention. It rained on us intermittently which was not at all unenjoyable, and I began what was to be a days long discussion about why on earth the Irish don't have blackberry everything, since every spot that isn't cow field or stone seems to be covered with thick thorny bushes full of bright, ripe berries. I snack as I go, and the sun comes out briefly as we reach a small, swan-filled lake. They swim in groups of four, and we talk briefly to one another of the story of the Children of Lir and try to take photos. They show off for us, and the sun goes away again.

At the seal colony, I stop and walk down stair-like slabs of dark grey stone to the rainswept vista. There are a few seals, and they circle in the water, curious but cautious. Tidal pools and kelp are scattered in my path. I spend a while there, and listen to the water and feel the rain on my face. When we begin to move again, the sun is back and I soon spot a brown sign, which, consulting my map, I leave behind my bike and hike up a narrow path to what I hope is a stone circle.

I never did find it, but the sign I followed was for Teampall Chiarain, which I also didn't find. Not that time, at least. At last we stop in a small neighborhood of houses, at a loss as to where the brown sign was leading us, when a very kind woman came out and began to talk to us. She didn't know what we were looking for in regards to stone circles, but we talked about the Teampall Chiarain and the holy well there, which is rumored to heal eyes and eyesight. She tells us that no one here really cares about saints or legends, that the history the elders of the community wish to impart is the one of their own hard work, about how difficult and harsh their lives were, and how their efforts had combined to make things better in the present day.

“The holy places, though, the wells, the water places, everyone is still drawn to. Something about water, eh?” She pauses, considering this. “You know, they were drilling here to put in a pipe system, very deep, and they discovered, just this year, there's a massive underground river running under the island, and many streams.” When I ask if they used dowsing rods, she nods. “Oh yes, I asked them to take a look at my parents' home, you know, because it was always so damp, and apparently they have an underground stream running right under their front doorstep!”

We thank her, making a note to visit the holy well, and I wander around fruitlessly looking for stone circles for another half an hour before giving up. This was my first real conversation about the underwater network of streams, and the holy wells. The people of the Aran islands specifically seem to be more powerfully drawn to these places than most, I am to later learn, but I too feel it, and as we cycle ever onwards (and upwards) I think about the ocean, the water that surrounds us, and the water that flows beneath us. It is strange for me, being a pagan for so many years, yet finding such real and physical elements of that belief here.

Water is life, is sacred, is healing, and the people here know that in their blood without the cage of religion on it. There isn't a question. Things are, and you can see them and taste them and touch them. The very geography of this country formed the beliefs of the people who lived there long ago, and even today, and I think people sort of forget that about earth based belief systems, get too lost in the stories and names and words of it.

We eventually, uphill and against the wind, reach the foot of the hill on which Dun Aengus is situated. We climb. People pass us going back down, and others walk along behind or ahead of us, all wanting a look at the ancient, triple ringed fort. It is beautiful and strange, the kind of thing that really makes a person wonder what the people who lived there were like, and why in the name of all the stars anyone was crazy enough to try to take it from them – the place is desolate, the hike is steep, and the rings end in a steep drop into the churning and beautiful sea. People creep up on bellies or crouched on hands and knees to get pictures over the edge of the cliff. I do this, and the wind makes my eyes water to the point where I cannot see unless I blink rapidly.

The color of the water is astonishing against the dark grey and green of the cliff and the flat silver of the sky. It's deep and vibrant, and the waves seem to make glyphs as they fold and foam in layers atop one another. We wander a while longer, and eventually descend the hill to the little shops, where I find one in particular I was looking for, some friends having purchased a hanging scroll print there some years before. They had new designs but neither the owner or her son were there and the shop lady, while happy to give us descriptions in detail of every piece, did not offer the artistic connection I'd hoped for. Nonetheless, I want to purchase something from there, though at the time it would have simply gotten ruined in the rain and wind on the bike ride back.

A couple of pints and thick hot soup later, we return by a different road. Midway down it, I see another sign for the Teampall Chiarain, and skid to a somewhat more dramatic halt than I'd intended. I pointed it out, and my mother too halted, as did the young man who was riding behind us, who turned out to be from Seattle. Together, we wandered down the side lane for a ways, though no temple presented itself. Instead, the sun burst out and we got another rainbow – and the other two, to my disgruntlement, decided to turn back. Reluctantly, and feeling now as if I had to find the thing, I followed.

Our ferry left at five, and we had a little less than an hour, but we were nearly back to town. It was then that I saw the third and final sign, and with the stubbornness that comes of having not seen any bleeding stone circles yet, I dismounted my bike and wandered down the lane. I ought to have taken it with me, but instead, I kept going – just past that house I'd turn back, I said, and then that one. It was at this point that a kindly man changing his horse from one pasture to the next noticed me, a wayward tourist with a camera slung over one shoulder, and we talked a bit.

 He offered to let me take a picture of the horse, which I happily did, and told me the place I was looking for was just a half mile down the road – and he'd give me a lift if I wanted (he said, gesturing to the tractor parked in his drive). I accepted, and my mother wound up riding behind on her bike, having gotten worried I'd wandered off for good and us running out of time.

He pointed out both the well and the old church (rumored to be built amidst curiously carved standing stones) and the third time was indeed the charm, because I finally found the thing. By now the sky was blue and the sun warm and bright, and we walked the winding path to see what we could see – a small stone structure, a long and narrow stone with a hole in it that was said to have wish-granting properties, and the trickle of a stream nearby.

I tried to part the plants to find the stream and got a finger or two worth of nettles. Let me tell you something about nettles. You read “stinging nettles” and you hear about nettle tea being healthy, and nettles being edible once you cook them, but AGH do those things sting. It was not unlike tiny wasps, raising up fiery welts on my hand and in general being very unpleasant. Also, it lasts. Just in case you thought it was like a thorny bramble or something... no.

Ahem, anyway, I was in a great rush to find the healing well after this, as you might imagine, and when we did we had so little time left that all we did was dip in our hands briefly, and dab our eyelids (after I held my wounded hand under for a bit – which helped immensely) and we were off again, my mom biking and me walking as fast as I could after biking and hiking all around the island all day. We were cutting it close, we knew, because we still had to return the bikes and pick up our bags.

Then, I heard it. Plaintive, distressed, and utterly unmistakeable – a cat in distress. I am incapable of ignoring that any day, and moreso having been away from my kitty for a few days, so I stopped dead in my tracks, made apologetic handwaving, and turned to face the source of the noise. There was, you might imagine at this point from the pictures, a stone wall, and from behind it, amidst the thick tangle of blackberry bushes with some very impressive thorns, came the cries. They were loud, insistent, and continued without pause. My first thought was that the cat, or kitten, as I was beginning to suspect, was hurt and trapped there. I was wrapping my arm to the elbow in one of my layer shirts, and peering through the cracks between the stones, when I attracted the notice of a local man who was walking down a connecting lane, workbag in hand.

He stooped next to me, wherein I expressed with distress the situation. He told me he had heard the cries in the morning when he went to work, and that he'd found a couple of cats recently, abandoned by one of the Traveling folk. We were both peering into the wall when the kitten emerged, from some slightly larger hole. I have not seen a tinier mobile bit of fluff. It couldn't have been walking long, and indeed was toddling around like a drunk, rubbing its tiny skull on anything even remotely close to express its pleasure at being found and expressing its happiness all the while with a volume that really did sound like it came from a cat twenty times its size. We both waited, me with a hand outstretched in offering, for the kitten to make a move, and its stumbling walk eventually collided with my fingers. I picked the kitten up and was uncertain. I could hardly take it with me in any practical way.

But then the man told me he would take her, as if he was surprised I hadn't realized that. He scooped her up and told her in the gravelly voice with the unique island-burr that they'd have to get her some milk, and planted a kiss on her tricolor forehead. As I watched, he picked up the tool filled and dusty workbag in one hand, cradling the kitten in the other, and walked the other way down the road. Reading this, you might think me sentimental for in that moment loving him and the people he came from deeply for being the sort that would, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, be so unconditionally kind. If I learn no irish, if my other memories of the people and places there fade, I hope that some of that nature has lodged in my own heart and soul. It's like the healing wells.

At this point, there's pretty much no way we'll make it on time but we try anyway – my mother going ahead to return the bikes and me tasked with retrieving our stuff from where it was stashed under the staircase of the B&B. I walk, and sing to myself, and try not to think about time passing. It works. When we board the ferry, we both sit at the top, alone this time, aside from the skeptical look of the captain. The journey back is much smoother, and the sky ripples with a mixture of cloud and sun, and I think about the book, and about the island, and I almost wish we'd have missed the boat to stay another night. But sometimes you have to let the momentum of the journey carry you on, to not fight the flow of the river you're riding, or, in this case, the ferry on the bay.

When we find our little rental car, I open the map again, and we turn our faces north to Connemara and the mountains.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ireland - Chapter Two

Day Two – Newgrange and Knowth and somehow, Galway

After several false wake ups throughout the night and strange dreams I don't remember, we sit down to a stunningly expansive irish breakfast (eggs, three kinds of fresh baked bread, endless tea, fresh fruit, oj, muesli and fresh yogurt, bacon for my mom, odd grilled tomatoes) and are joined halfway through by a young couple from Barcelona. The breakfast is intense and we flee when we've filled up too much. They give us directions to Newgrange which get us hopelessly lost, though we do stop on something called Maeve's Rath, which has absolutely no explanation about what it might be. (Later I read this.)  It was so covered in underbrush and trees it was impossible to see there was a mound there, sadly.

After asking directions from several very nice people, we found our way, in that eventual fashion of wandering on roads to and fro, to Newgrange. You have to go through the visitor's center to get access to these tombs, and we got little stickers for both Knowth and Newgrange, with enough time to wander the museum for an hour or so in the meanwhile. We did this, in typical “us” fashion, backwards and counterclockwise, which in my experience always yields more interesting results than doing things in the order you're meant to do them. We watched the movie, read all the plaques, and when the time came, we crossed the Boyne on a narrow bridge to catch a bus.

The Boyne again, I wondered? But it was a very important river – circling Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth on three sides as it bends before it meets the Irish Sea. We go to Knowth first, and our Tour guide is very good, telling us about the kerbstones that circle the mounds, about how no one can go in to Knowth itself because the passageway is so narrow and the site protected very firmly. As we are given leave to circle the area before he talks to us again on the other side, I snap photos of the megalithic art on the kerbstones, something that later becomes almost an obsession of mine, the curving, carved in designs locked on in my brain by some deep sense of focus.

I come across a stone with circles on it, and I count them smugly expecting there to be thirteen – but no, there's sixteen, and when I reach the other entrance at Knowth (which is unique among the three big sites in that it has two entrances), the guide tells me why without my needing to ask.

You see, there is a design in a couple of places at Knowth that is pretty obviously a calendar. Except it's different in many calendars in the sense of having a sixteen-something cycle, rather than twelve or thirteen, so since no one can prove it's actually a calendar, it isn't the oldest recorded calendar in the world. But if we had the proper ability to translate the neolithic communication, it would be.

We go into a chamber they've constructed beside the actual tunnel that runs through Knowth, and he explains that one of the two chambers is aligned to the Equinox sunrise, the other to the Equinox sunset. He talks about the two types of chambers, that the east-facing one is straight and the west-facing has a cross chamber, and that it is suspected one is representative of the feminine and the other the masculine energies. I am struck by this understanding of these ancient rituals, but it is far from the last surprise of my day.

We climb the mound and look out on Ireland, and I wonder if you can see Tara from here. We corner the guide afterwards, because I want to know more about the calendar, and about the theories and what he himself thinks. He tells me that while the chamber at Newgrange is aligned to the winter solstice, a lesser known fact is that Venus, every eight years, also illuminates the chamber there before the sun rises. I've already gone cold as a series of clicks and rattles of association and my personal system of beliefs, particularly surrounding the morning star, click and shift into place.

But he keeps explaining, telling us that only this year they have evidence that suggests that thousands of years ago, a tsunami struck and devastated the neolithic peoples who populated the Burren, on the other side of the island. A meteorite must have landed in the Atlantic, they say, and caused a big wave, which is one theory about why the neolithics built such precise measurements to the celestial movements. Then he asks me if I've heard of the Book of Enoch. I have, I say, not expecting him to somehow know the associations my brain has with Venus and certain angel-god mythos.

“Well,” he says, “In that book, Enoch is taken by the angel Uriel, to some unknown place among people strange and fair of hair and skin and eye, who he calls the Watchers and assumes are angels, in a place he thinks is heaven. They teach him a system of calculating the movements of the sun and stars, and their own lore, before Uriel takes him home again.” Our guide looks a little proud of this, not knowing the strange ripples he's making in the fabric of my personally held beliefs. “Wouldn't it be funny if he really came here, and the people who built Knowth and Dowth and Newgrange were an influence on ancient judiac and christian beliefs?” He laughs and I'm too surprised to ask him more, though I later regret this deeply, as I'd have liked to pick his brain for hours.

Guess which of the two tombs this rock was outside of.

But the bus is leaving to Newgrange. We get a new guide here, who tells us that we are welcome to walk around the area but due to the nature of time, we are only allowed to go into the famous passage tomb in two groups of twelve, for ten minutes.

This is somewhat disappointing, but as we walk up the hill towards the white-quartz face of the tomb, I spot a massive old tree overlooking the site and thickly populated by crows. I look closer, and yes, it's an ash tree, which leaves me feeling even more off balance than I already was. I take a lot of pictures, from various angles, because, you see, it has been my plan for many years to get a backpiece of an ash tree. I hadn't found one to use as inspiration yet, until that particular place and time. It loomed, brooding and dark-crowned, over the field before the mound.

There are many less carved kerbstones here than at Knowth but they are still lovely to look at. We are told how Newgrange was discovered, and the first group goes in before ours as we wander around.

This stone is on the exact opposite side of the tomb from the entrance one.

Then it's our turn, and we climb inside. I'm more upset than I expected to see years of graffiti, some of it from the 1880's, carved over top of the neolithic art. It's still beautiful, but I am glad now that the other sites are better protected.

They turn out the lights and do a sort of demo on what it would look like at midwinter's morning, if the weather was clear and the sun was out. It's beautiful, and haunting, and I wish I wasn't pressed in with eleven other people.

We are ushered out – I hit my head as I leave, which was only to be expected. We linger a little longer before wandering down to catch the bus back. I am mildly confused about the lack of information on Dowth, but on this trip I eventually learn that most of the archaeological work done on these tombs was in the 60's and 70's, that there are places all over Ireland just like these tombs that are untouched and unexcavated. We eat a late lunch of soup and brown bread at the visitor center and decide to drive to Galway.

On the way to the highway, we stop in Delvin to snap pictures of a ruinous structure which appeals to our love of green things growing out of ruined buildings. We drive on, and the sunset lights the sky in eerie ways. The road is empty, and we speed along for a while, stopping only once a few exits east of Athlone to use the bathroom in a lovely pub called the Cat and Bagpipes. While we want very much to have a pint there, and they half convince us to stop in Athlone for the evening, we press on to Galway city.

Sadly, I underestimated my mother's comfort level when driving on-the-wrong-side-on-the-wrong-side in a city setting, at night. We find the city center and then drive in circles for over half an hour looking for parking that won't get us ticketed, and finally land in a spot a little off the beaten track, almost in tears. There are people everywhere, cars in every parking spot, and we quickly find by wandering around the area that all hostels and hotels and walkable B&B's are full, though I do obtain a couple of maps of the city and directions to B&B row. We stop for a pint in a place that has a local brew, which I am pleased to try, and then wander on. Even the locals seem confused by the sheer number of people around us, and we still haven't found a place to stay the night.

We return to where our car is parked outside of a grubby pub called Sally Longs. This time, we go in, and are surprised to find it far more packed with locals than tourists, with what looks to be a rock band setting up in the back. I have a whiskey and my mother has a Guinness while I decide to ask someone if they know anywhere that might have rooms – and it works, because he tells me that the place directly across the street, called Salsa, lets rooms and might have one open. We march across the street.
A mexican restraunt, Salsa's is small and the girl behind the counter is young, and, surprisingly, from Mexico. My mother and I are fond of Mexico. The last big trip we took was to the Yucatan penninsula, and we chat with her for a while after discovering that there is indeed one last room available, and a free lot right beside Sally Longs that is no-pay on Sundays. That we happened to land right there, in the last parking spot in front of the last free room in Galway, well, we don't talk about the Luck too much. The girl tells us she came to study, and that she is happy we like Mexico because so many Americans don't like Mexicans. We try to reassure her it's not always like that and go back to Sally Longs to drink in the safety of knowing our beds are right across the street and up the stairs.

There, I start talking to a small cluster of local students, in particular a lovely girl named Rachel, from county Sligo. We compare lives and experiences of culture. She is a vegan, something very hard to do in a country whose main food groups seem to consist of meat, dairy, eggs, and potatoes. We talk about tattoos and piercings and music I can't tell and don't care if we're flirting or just making friends. By the time the bar closes, I've had several drinks and we sleep well. It rains in the early morning hours, heavily and dreamily. In the morning I take a picture of the mural on Sally Longs, and promise to come back at some point in my life, though we are off to the Aran Islands in the morning.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Ireland - Chapter One

 Day One – Trim and Tara and Scryne

I didn't prepare much for Ireland. I'd wanted to go for over ten years – for much longer, really, the place had always held some magic for me, some indefinable draw which left me pining insensibly for somewhere I'd never been. I was afraid to even think about it too closely. I didn't want to override my real experience there with some fantasy of what it would be like – I didn't want my expectations to be there, lurking, hoping for magic and faeries and doors to the otherworld right there to step through solid as stone. I had a child's dreams of ireland, and a babypagan teenager's dreams of ireland, and deep longing for something I didn't know would be real or just a daydream I'd been feeding for as long as I can remember. So when we drove up to the airport, trying to learn irish phrases from a CD, I was still trying to fill my head with white noise neutrality.

We flew out of Newark, NJ on a six hour flight, which by the nature of timezones, had us leaving at seven at night and arriving at six in the morning. We'd rented a car, which turned out to be a little red Corsa, which is something they don't have in the states. My mother was legally the only one allowed to drive – I had to be Navigator, which also meant I spent the first day of driving time trying not to have a heart attack as she got used to driving on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car. It's terrifying.

I spent a lot of time this trip with a map spread across my lap, folded to reveal the area we were driving through, and it was actually a fairly fun role – like reading the lyrics of a new album while you listen to it, it gave me a much better feel for the layout of the country, the geography, and the places we visited.

Trim, in co. Meath, was our first stop. Cities, we decided, were too scary given the driving situation, and Trim was where the last Reilly of our family-that-emmigrated-over died. It was a really pleasant town, not too busy, with Trim Castle overlooking the rows of houses and businesses, a great big ruin of stone that had a park full of talking trails around it and the Boyne river curving along beside it.

Until Trim, I'd been having the growing fear that Ireland wouldn't be what I'd hoped – just another rainy green country full of rent-a-car scuzz and narrow back roads. Here, though, the Boyne murmured and laughed to itself as it sped along under arched walkways, and the sun came out to burn the green of the grass and grey of the stone into my eyes. I know the exact moment I said Hello to the land, as I walked up the hill from the river and the castle to an empty field fringed with blue sky – the wind whipping my hair and something in me opening up and reaching out.


It was my mother's birthday, September 14, and she wanted to spend it on Tara. This is where we encountered the difficulty of roads not on maps and the distinct avoidance of the irish to reliable road signs. We did, after some interesting time roaming the countryside along lanes that were definitely too narrow for the high speed two way traffic they were bound to accommodate, find the hill of Tara. There isn't a highway through it. There's a not-gut-wrenchingly-narrow road that isn't terribly far from it, but you can neither see nor hear it from the hill itself.
View from the Hill.

 I had mixed feelings about going somewhere that special when I was jetlagged, sleep deprived, and having a heart attack from the driving experience. But we went, and we had delicious veggie soup and brown bread, and we climbed the hill. It is indeed very high and green, and the wind there felt likely enough to pick me up and blow me away. On the hill there is a church and walled graveyard ringed by big old beech trees and younger ash trees, a thick, dark green foliage inhabited by very loud and very happy crows. The crows play in the intensity of the wind and offer raucous commentary to those hiking around Tara's green expanse. I'd recommend the cafe at the foot of the hill – it's very good, and frequented more by locals than tourists.
As I collect fallen crow feathers.

 My mother had her heart set on staying there at the foot of the hill, at a little B&B run by the cafe owner's mother, a very pleasant little old lady. However, to our chagrin, it was still barely past noon and it really felt like it should be much closer to six – not just because we were jetlagged, but also because we'd been to two major places for what felt like several hours apiece but really wasn't, somehow.

Penis rock. No, Really.
On the landlady's advice, we walked a few minutes down the road to the Holy Well at the foot of Tara, one of four such wells said to be scattered around the site. It's marked only by a simple sign and a gravelly widening of the road with space for a vehicle or two to park.
You walk a few meters along the curve of a path and there it is, a little gated grotto with steps down to it and offerings arranged around it, candles and a few broken shells, ribbons tied on the branches of a nearby bush. At first it looks like a dry little cave, with stones scattered on the bottom and ferns growing in the sides, but as I crouch down close, my face is inches away when I realize it is full to the brim with water that is as clear as air and casts no reflection to give itself away.
 I have to touch it to believe it, and even the ripples don't cast off light, a trick of the way it is covered by stone and earth perhaps – my mother doesn't believe it until I cast in a pebble enough to make a splash. On the very matter of fact instructions we were given about it having healing properties, we both take a sip from it in cupped hands, and move on.

“It looks different,” my mother says, staring at the stream that flows from the earth near the well. “Doesn't it look different?”

“Does it?” I reply, still tapped for words from wandering up on the hill.

We don't talk about it further. It's only the first such well we find, but it did a good bit for me in feeling connected to the ireland I'd hoped to find without truly understanding before I arrived.

We were given directions to Skryne, Tara's sister site, which can be seen very clearly from Tara itself – by the nice giftshop lady who told me with an air of assuredness that it was the next node on the ley line that ran through Tara, and that while Newgrange and Knowth were all very well, it was Loughcrew that had the most primal feminine and untouched energy. We were to see what she meant later – as we also had a secondary mission that day, to have a pint of beer. Now, if you haven't been to Tara, let me tell you – there isn't a major town nearby. There are a lot of private farms, and windy back roads, but there's no village square.

The only good pub worth going to in the area, confided several locals, was O'Connell's. It had been run by a much-loved woman who was 95 when she'd died a few weeks ago (they said this in such a way that it was clear they felt the pub was dead with her) but should still be open, later on, and was located right next to Skryne. In Skryne. Whatever. We were armed with directions and the amiable nature of being in no rush at all – it was hours before the pub would open, but we had nothing better to do than to find old rocks and wander around, anyway.

Skryne, pronounced “Screen”, is the site of an old church and graveyard too, as well as a T road junction at which O'Connell's sits. We wandered about the old tower for a while, before taking a seat on the bench and wondering with astonishment why it was only 3 pm, and if we would nod off before the little pub opened.
That green bump is the trees on the hill of Tara.

We got lucky. The current owner was there, and when we asked if we could use the restroom, she offered to let us have an early pre-opening pint, seeing as we were both horribly jetlagged and under the weather.

This pub was no touristy reconstructed building. It was, Margaret told us proudly, her mother's life's work and the site of the Guinness Christmas commercial every year, as well as the location shooting for scenes in a couple of movies. She was still mourning her mother, and her brother who'd passed away the year before, and told us stories about the place as we sipped our pints and learned a few irish phrases from her.

It was five by the time we went back to the Tara B&B, and six by the time “let's read for a while” turned into deep states of unconsciousness. That, my friends, was my first day in Ireland.
Castle Trim from surrounding walkpaths.