After months of anticipation, Ireland is extending a warm greeting to this pilgrim from Cleveland, Ohio. Our pilgrimage leader, Phil Cousineau, is a long-time friend and muse. I know I’ll come away from this trek with my soul blessed; inspired, enriched, and also seeking and questing. As I know Phil will give full, detailed and rich lectures about the sites, people, history, literature, and arts of Ireland, I also know he will lay many more mysteries at my pilgrim feet.
I look forward to boarding my flight for Shannon. But I’m also nervous. I am by nature an introverted person. What is it going to be like, traveling with 15 other strangers? As I meet my fellow pilgrims, my anxiety gradually subsides. I learn first-hand that people who join a Sacred Earth Journey pilgrimage are thoughtful, soul-full individuals who do not want to live life superficially. And finally, as we gather to board our bus, our driver, Gregory, adds the finishing touch with his graciousness and dry wit.
I am not prepared for the raw, breathtaking beauty of the West side of Ireland. Nor am I prepared for the hospitality and generosity of the people. Day after day, I’ve been the recipient of Irish hospitality, from the likes of Frances – who offered me a bite of her chocolate bar as we waited in Bunratty for the bus to take us to Ennis. And then she walked with me, through the streets of Ennis, showing me the sites, before wishing me Godspeed – to Ger, a renowned painter in Ireland, who treated me to a Guinness at a pub in Clifden, and then to a cup of coffee when I ran into him the next day.
Moment after serendipitous moment fill my heart with gratitude for this magical place. Here we are – a group of pilgrims from North America, in search of the understory of Ireland, the heartbeat that pulses in this place, the real story. Most people who visit see only the tourist version, missing the complexities, layer upon layer of all that gives this place its joyful yet tragic history and psyche.
After Phil’s great intro to pull us together and prepare us for our travels, we go to the Cliffs of Moher and experience the immense power of nature that is unique to this land. On this particular day, we are blessed with 50+ mph winds, pelting rain and diaphanous mists. Argh!!! There were a few times I thought I was going to become airborne and soar right over the cliffs. I imagine with such power in the winds, and such stunning drama of the cliffs, the people can’t help but become resolute in spirit; fierce warriors, courageous heroes and passionate lovers. Well, I can always imagine that it be so!
As pilgrims contemplating the cliffs, we ask ourselves, “What are we doing here? Why did we come? What are we trying to let go of?” We ponder these things as we face the edge of the world, this wild, verdant, jagged place.
The next day we head for Poulnabrone Dolmen, the portal tomb that is probably 6,000+ years old. In contrast to the Cliffs of Moher, it is a barren, moonlike landscape. But like the Cliffs, you can feel the power and energy surging through the earth.
The evenings bring different delights. Phil manages to find good craic wherever he goes, great atmosphere, music, food, and drinks. At Gus O’Connors Pub in Doolin, we are treated to a sublime fiddle, bodhran, and accordion session. And I meet a passionate Irish lover as we listen to music and share some Guinness. But that is an Irish understory that I will leave to your imagination.
Now I’m off to find the craic.