Dubliner Cheese Please

The rising sun was breaking through the clouds. Finally. Jack and I were in his jewelry studio. I was putting together small boxes and he was casting a few more pieces for the Saturday market in Galway. We were listening to Irish talk radio.

The interview that morning was with a government official working with dairy exports. This man is responsible for getting Irish cheese, including my favorite Dubliner cheddar, to the US market. I moved my box assembly closer to the radio. Please don’t tell us that this increased market demand has compromised your standards or worse, that although the cheese carries the Dubliner label it is actually produced in Wisconsin.

In my early visits to Ireland I remember hearing great controversy around GMOs. Irish farmers were holding fast to a long tradition of natural farming practices and wereDairy-Cowsbeing very outspoken in their criticism of those considering the introduction of chemicals and factory farming. Free range pasture grazing was a source of pride. And, for the most part, pride won out. I didn’t want to hear this had changed and was greatly relieved to learn it hadn’t.

Dubliner Cheese is produced in County Cork. Not because labor prices are cheaper, or taxes are waived, or land prices are less but because the “temperate environment of this area ensures a long grass-growing season to produce high quality milk.” The cheese is produced by the Carbery Group but that’s all they do. The cows are raised and tended by 15,000 local farmers, according to the website. A huge number given that Ireland is just over half the size of Washington State. This system is a stand for sustainability, both of product quality and small family farms. While purchasing imported Dubliner Cheese is about as far from the buy-local ethic as you can get there is another ethic at play. The ethic of a community based food source deeply connected with the Earth.

Cultural Incongruity

That anyone would journey through life as both healer and butcher seems wildly absurd. Beyond incongruous and beyond my ability to reconcile until I realized my reaction to Mr. O’Donoghue (Healer. Butcher. post 2.21.13) is a cultural one, based absolutely in the dynamics of my consumer culture.

People assume that as a vegetarian I have issues with eating animals. Not true. If I had issues meatrix-2501around killing for food I would starve. Everything I consume, animal or plant, sacrifices its life force energy. What I have issues with is factory farming and the horrific conditions in which animals in this country are raised and slaughtered. The Meatrix provides a compelling overview of these practices. When animals, and plants for that matter, become mere commodities they lose their place in the web of life, no longer considered cohabitants with us on this planet. Any sense of honoring or sacred connection and relationship is gone.  http://www.themeatrix.com/

People in O’Donoghue’s village are clearly able to seek him out for both healing and a good cut of beef without apparent contradiction or incongruity. Perhaps because factory farming hasn’t taken over completely in Ireland. Perhaps because they haven’t completely lost a knowing that the food we eat and healing are all part of the web. Perhaps they haven’t lost the connection.

Wind Whispers

He watched them as they made their way up the trail through the foothills of the Flatirons. Like most who hike the trails they were unaware of his silent presence. Yet he watches them all. Some with dogs, some with children. Walking and talking. Playing spelling games, sharing life dramas. There but not really there. Not really present, just passing through. Not hearing the bird songs or noticing the herd of white tail deer grazing on a nearby hill. Yet to every one of them he whispers on the wind to be still. To feel the Earth beneath their feet. guardian spiritTo breathe deeply and be present in this place, in this moment. For he is the Guardian Spirit of the mountains.

Very few hear the whispers. But this day it would be different. Different for two young hikers who stopped to collect the last remnants of snow, gather sticks and pine cone needles, and huddle under the shade of a nearby tree to sculpt their creation. They heard the wind whispers. And, although they may not have realized what they were doing, they gave shape to the Guardian Spirit.

This story is from a recent visit with my sister, nephew and nieces in Boulder, Colorado where one sunny day we hiked the Flatirons near their home. Although this story isn’t set in Ireland it echoes the wisdom of the Irish spiritual ancestors. The call to be in right relationship with the Earth. A relationship that does not come from passing through the landscape but attending closely the beauty and spirit of the land.

Butcher. Healer.

I was way-finding to Jack’s cottage for the first time, meandering and backtracking through the Irish landscape where road signs are scarce and directions are often based on landmarks familiar only to locals. Turn left just beyond Clancy’s new barn. Finally on what I determined was the right road, I passed McCarthy’s pub. A bit unusual given its substantial size and rural location, but more unusual given the early  afternoon hour and the car park filled with trucks and livestock trailers. Curious. When I mentioned this to Jack he said, “Oh, it must be Wednesday. Your man there is a healer and Wednesday afternoons he does cows and horses and sheep.” I was intrigued but further exploration would have to wait for my next visit.

This past summer when I shared my intention to stop by the pub and meet the owner Jack looked at me like I was daft until I explained my reasons and then he chuckled. “McCarthy’s not the healer he just owns the place, convenient for local farmers and a car healer butcherpark big enough for all lorries and trailers. No, the man who does the healing owns a shop in the village just there on the main street. He’s a butcher.”

It turns out your man O’Donoghue does healings for people on Wednesday mornings in his kitchen. Then after a lunch break he goes out to McCarthy’s for the livestock. After dinner he goes to the local dog track and heals dogs. And, like Biddy Early, he takes no money for any of it. Now more intrigued than ever, I had to meet this man.

The next morning I stopped by his shop before heading north to Sligo. But he wasn’t there. Turns out the Galway team had, for the first time in many years, won the match the day before and O’Donoghue was taking the day to recover from a night of celebration. The butcher who was there was very friendly, gave me permission to photograph the shop and told me O’Donoghue was a great talker if I could come back another day. It didn’t seem right to walk away empty handed but here I was a vegetarian in a butcher shop. I hadn’t a clue. So on recommendation I purchased a generous supply of garlic sausage which I promptly drove to Sligo and handed over to a very surprised Elizabeth and Brendan.

My schedule didn’t allow a return visit. Perhaps this summer….

Hidden In Plain Sight

When Brendan first shared the cow healing story with me I was delighted by his telling of it and honored by his confidence. I also considered his account extraordinary in the true sense of the word. By then I was well aware of the magic that lived in Ireland’s sacred sites but rather oblivious to the extent magic lived in the people. It was my friend Jack who set me straight. There are loads of healers in Ireland he told me, naming several from his village.

Those with healing powers exist in many cultures, especially cultures with deep roots in their indigenous wisdom traditions. However you generally don’t find these folks in the phone book, their notoriety influenced by how much the prevailing culture acknowledges and accepts the reality of who they are and what they offer. I suppose it’s a bad pun to say that in many places Earth healers have become an underground phenomenon. Whether they work with Earth energies, angelic energies, plant spirits, animal guides, ancestor spirits – and more –  they are working with and through relationships and alliances in other realms and that is simply scary business for many people.Scary indeed. And counter to modern church theology. Which is why what I now find extraordinary is not the existence of healers in Ireland but just how common place they are. While they may be hidden to the casual or occasional visitor they are hidden in plain sight.

A Story Of Earth Magic

Some of you will know this story as it is one I wrote some years back. Just one of Brendan’s encounters with Ireland’s healer tradition…indeed, a shamanic tradition.

The cows had been de-horned that morning, but it wasn’t a good job. They were bleeding out. By late evening there was no improvement and Brendan was deeply concerned. He Brendan croppedcalled a neighbor farmer for advice. “Well, now,” the neighbor said, “you could always call the vet. Though it is rather late.” There was a long pause before he continued. “Or I can give you the number of a woman in County Antrim.” Brendan took down the number and rang the old woman five counties away as the raven flies. “Now tell me, “ she said, “exactly what is wrong with your cows.” Brendan told her. “You’re sure now,” she pressed, “you’re sure that’s the problem?” Brendan assured her. “And now exactly how many cattle have you?” she asked. Brendan told her twelve. “Now you’re certain that’s the exact number?” she pressed again. Brendan was sure. There was a pause. The woman spoke some words Brendan did not understand. Then another pause. Finally the woman said, “Now I think if you go out to your cows, you will find they are all well and good.” Brendan thanked her and went directly to the barn to find the bleeding stopped, the wounds healed.

When I took his photo for this story, I mentioned my assumption that this event occurred when he, as the oldest boy of thirteen children, took over the family farm when his father died. Long before he became a teacher. Long before he retired as a school principal. “Oh, no,” he told me, “that was only four or five years ago. I still own land of the family farm. And still have cows.” he said, pointing over the stone wall to the animals in the adjacent field. 

Shaman Dancing

During my stay at Serenity Lodge last summer I called a local shaman recommended to me by friends in the Gort area. Small world. It turns out one of this man’s children has Elizabeth and Brendan’s son, Kyle, as a teacher at a nearby primary school. They recognized the name immediately. And again I found myself dancing a bit as I wasn’t sure how publicly known were this man’s shamanic practices. Brendan and Elizabeth know him as a former priest, now a practicing psychologist. Kyle knows him as a student’s father, nice guy, someone who looks at the sky a lot. So they were most curious and intrigued. Why was I wanting to call this man?

Attempting to dance quickly through this conversation I made casual reference to understanding that, obviously in addition to all they know about him, he’s also a shaman. Blank expressions all round. “Now what exactly is that you are talking about, shaman?” Oh, great. I had the distinct impression I was at some level outing this poor man I hadn’t even spoken with yet. Choosing my words carefully I shifted to a healer archetype, one I hoped would be more resonant with the wise woman tradition of Ireland. A tradition Brendan is most familiar with as I will share in the story of Earth Magic.

I think it worked, at least I hope it did. After a lovely conversation the shaman and I agreed to stay in touch and hopefully meet each other this coming summer when I am again in the Sligo area, staying at Serenity Lodge. I’m packing my dancing shoes.

Experiences Of The Glen

Brendan was the first to tell me of the Faery Glen, but he wasn’t the first to take me there. It was my friend Jack, author and artist, who first introduced me to that mystical place. By the time Brendan first mentioned the Glen he was well aware of my visits to the many local megalithic sites; circles, cairns and caves. But the only time he ever asked about my experiences was after the Faery Glen visit. “Did you see anything?”, he wanted to know. Curious the same question wasn’t posed about other sites.

I don’t generally ‘see’ things. Well, there was that one time. My first visit to Ireland, in fact. But my connection with spirits and energies of other realms is mostly vibrational. And the vibrations in the Glen are powerful. Others do see things and have more what we think of as direct communication with those in other realms. After one visit, as we gathered back at tin whistlesthe cars, a woman in our group said the spirits of the place were very delighted by our visit, but that we were way too serious – it is so natural to step into a space of reverent silence in that place, and we had. They would love us to return with song and music. We decided to do just that the following afternoon. But we never made it. It was during a descent from Knocknarea the following morning that I broke my leg. Instead of gathering in the Glen we gathered in Sligo hospital.

However I have been back several times since. While singing and music does indeed raise the vibration of the place, fortunately none of us have been quite good enough to be spirited away by the faery folk…as is the story of legend and lore.

Step Dancing With Blood Sausage

B&B lodging in Ireland holds many advantages. Anonymity isn’t one of them. Especially when my groups occupy many or most of the rooms. It can be a bit of a dance at times.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI have found it’s important to step carefully through the breakfast ritual, staggering our arrival in the dining room to allow for a smooth flow of food from the kitchen where the hostess is the only cook, deciding whether or not to accept the invitation – or challenge – to order the full Irish breakfast with blood sausage. Tricky that. At times like these I’m so glad to be vegetarian.

But there’s another dance I find much more delicate. I deeply appreciate that we are staying in private homes, and for the most part Catholic homes. Whether or not the family actively practices the faith there is always the presence of religious icons; statues, crosses and the occasional blessing font. While the focus of my Ireland time and tours is spiritual it is not religious or Catholic. Not wanting to offend our hosts I am generally very vague about the nature of our travel. This works once. Perhaps twice. But through many stays at favorite B&Bs my obscurity has been challenged.  Quite the dance and at Serenity Lodge in Sligo it went something like this… Continue reading

“Oh, now, you can’t be going there.”

After spending time with the Carrowmore stone circles I wanted to visit the Faery Glen. It wasn’t far away but I had only been there once before and knew that you could drive by it all day and never find the well hidden entrance. So I wandered into the Carrowmore visitor center to ask directions. The guide on duty was at first shocked by my question, I expect faery glenbecause the Glen is known only to locals, not signed and on no map. He quickly recovered from his surprise and said, “Oh, now, you can’t be going there and I can’t be giving you directions.” And that was the end of our conversation.

It was only after several years of traveling to Ireland and spending time with the same people that I was told about the Faery Glen, and then I was only told about it. “Now, have you been to the Faery Glen?”, would be the question and when I indicated that I had not the response was “Ah, well now that’s a most interesting place.” But no directions were offered. It would be a few more years before I was taken to the Glen.

While Ireland is a Catholic country, other world alliances, relationships and places are very present for the people, the mystical mysteries closely guarded.