Megalithic meaning. I’ll get back to that. But since it came up in my last post I’m going to take a brief detour to Irish graveyards.
Back when Dennis and I had the design and marketing agency, a local funeral home and cemetery was one of our clients. We learned a lot. Probably more than we wanted to. I remember one fall day I was standing outside the funeral home with the director when, from a nearby bonfire of raked leaves, an ash floated down and settled on the ground between us. “Ah, Mrs. Johnson,” he said without missing a beat. Funny guy, Myron. He delighted in returning my phone calls when he was working the embalming room, punctuating our business conversation with a detailed description of what he was doing and revving the power tools near the phone. But I digress.
On the cemetery side of the business we learned that headstones are no longer available, replaced by flat plaques installed level with the ground. Flower vases are offered, only one per plot and only with a screw base so they can be detached from the plaque. Why? To make it easier to mow the lawn. It’s all about efficiency and convenience.
Visit an Irish cemetery, something I highly recommend doing, and it’s a completely different story. The headstones are massive. They have to be to list all those buried in the family plot and leave space for names yet to be engraved. Rarely have I visited a cemetery when there wasn’t someone tending a grave – watering the plants, adding fresh flowers, tidying the array of rosary beads and religious statues. Lighting candles. Praying and talking with the departed. Honoring the dead. It’s not about efficiency and convenience. It’s not about mowing the grass.
The path to the round tower we had come to see meandered through a graveyard next to the ruins of a church. Glancing at one of the headstones I saw my name. Nilan. My people came from this small village but in all the time I’ve spent in this area I’ve not been called to explore any of those relationships. Not, I realize, the norm for people who come to Ireland, so many of them looking for their ancestral roots.
In fact not the norm generally as so many people are searching their history and heritage. I couldn’t find a number for ancestry.com but the LDS site, FamilySearch, gets between 35-45 million visits a day. That’s a lot of searching. Searching that yields an aggregate of names and dates. An intellectual knowing. But not a complete knowing.
A journey to Ireland can begin to provide context and a more personal connection. To hear the lilt of the spoken word. To engage with the people. To walk the streets. and yes, to even drive on the left. All contributing to another level of knowing.
Yet there is still deeper knowing to experience. For to be Irish is to be from Ireland, to be of Ireland. And Ireland is a landscape of 5,000 year old sacred sites. Sites that beckon to a knowing as old as time.
We were headed across Ireland to have dinner with Anthony Murphy, author and archaeoastronomer. Arguably one of the best things I did in Ireland this summer and well worth the thirteen hour investment. Actually, I was driving and Jack was navigating. Ostensively to avoid the three dollar toll on the cross country motorway, but clearly to afford Jack the opportunity to gaze out the window at ringforts as we passed through the countryside. He makes this drive frequently, but never as a passenger.
And he observed loads of them. I would later learn that there are an estimated 45,000 ringforts in Ireland. Add to that 3,000 holy wells, 1,400 cairn temples and 234 stone circles. Add to that numerous but uncounted standing stones, dolmans and remains of stone sweat lodges. For a small country, Ireland has a massive number of megalithic and ancient sacred sites. Small by comparison I suppose. In terms of square miles it’s about the size of the state of Maine and half the size of Washington state.