Before coming to Ireland my teacher had told me to open to the wisdom and guidance of the spiritual ancestors. To listen for the invitation to step away from my very familiar itinerary and go places that would offer important encounters with people and places on this Ireland journey. The invitation to Achill Island came in a pub on our first night in Ireland, an invitation extended by a delightful couple to visit their island home. Apparently the ancestors weren’t going to waste any time. I had never been to nor considered going to Achill Island. I mentally rearranged our schedule and agreed to see John and Margaret the following Sunday.
As we made our way north Sunday morning I admit I did wonder what could possibly be waiting at the end of this long drive to a remote island with no specific destination when we got there and only a few hours of exploration before the long drive back to our B&B lodging. When we crossed the bridge to the island we just drove, waiting for our tea time with John and Margaret. Wandering, really. And it felt altogether aimless. Until we saw the sign to the Deserted Village. I knew immediately. This is why we had come. With a silent apology for doubting the invitation I pulled into the car park.
They were scattered in long lines, their end walls standing against the hillside like so many headstones. Stone houses long ago abandoned. Some say eighty. Some say as many as one hundred. But those are only numbers. Each of these small cottage remnants sheltered a family of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and children. Loads of children.
I walked the line until one called me. I ducked under the stone lintel over the low doorway and sat among the grasses and reeds. Immediately there was a wave of grief. Woman’s grief of losing home, hearth, and community. A way of life lost when this entire landscape was taken by the English and given to a family of the crown to manage at their will. And their will was eviction. Such deep sadness still held by these stones.
I had come to Ireland to deepen my understanding of an aspirational heritage of spiritual wisdom. As I sat in the abandoned cottage I realized the importance of more deeply understanding a heritage of loss and suffering.