Early in our journey Jack’s sandals fell apart. They were totally un-wearable and since he doesn’t like to drive in hiking boots it was clear we needed to find him new footwear. At the same time another in our group discovered she had failed to pack an extra bra. We were now on a mission. The very small village of Doolin has four pubs, a delightful cafe, and a few sweater shops but no bank, no gas station, and not even a grocery store. With limited shopping prospects we would need to drive to another village.
Of all the options Jack suggested Lisdoonvarna, home to the only remaining matchmaker festival in Europe, only fifteen minutes away. It seemed a good idea. However as we entered the village it didn’t look hopeful. Then, as I drove the few blocks of the main street, Jack spotted the very small sandwich board outside a shop with no other signage. “Ah, it’s the draper,” he said. “Let’s try there.”
As I stepped through the door I was immediately taken back to the five-and-dime store I used to frequent as a child. But this was far beyond that experience. As I looked around, trying to take it all in, it seemed there is really nothing they don’t carry. From bed sheets to Barbie doll clothes. From fashion to fishing gear. From kitchen ware to kitsch. From stationery to soccer balls. From wrapping paper…well you get the idea. I will let the photos tell the story. Jack found a great pair of sandals and our traveling companion, though limited to one style and one color, found what she would later say was perhaps the best bra she owns. But best of all was the proprietor.
Folks who join us for the Sacred Ireland journeys tell us that among their favorite experiences are encounters with local people and local culture. Indeed there is a rhythm to these trips that allows us to step into the energy of what my friend Colm would describe as, I’ve nothing to do and all day to do it. And Joe O’Loughlin was no exception. He was delighted to wander into conversations of local football matches, global politics, and of course the shite weather. And we were delighted to listen.
When it was time to return to Doolin and dinner with our other companions, we left reluctantly. We came away with what we wanted. We came away with a delightful encounter that lifted our spirits. We came away with what we needed.
At first glance it is a barren landscape, this limestone geology known as the Burren that stretches from the Aran Islands across County Clare in Ireland. On his first scouting expedition of this area one of Cromwell’s generals reported back, “There isn’t tree to hang a man, water to drown a man nor soil to bury a man”. Which actually speaks volumes about the intentions Cromwell had for the Irish people during his 1649 brutal campaign of terror, subjugation, death, and destruction.But as Cromwell was blind to the truth and beauty of the Irish people, he was also blind to the truth and beauty of this amazing landscape. For this place holds the spirit of the land as much as any other in Ireland.
Just two weeks ago we had the gift of a full day in the Burren with two amazing women who are native to this area and profoundly connected to the spirit and spirits of this land. Mary and Aisling led us through this landscape and offered guided meditations that were both potent and powerful. Although it was only our fourth day in Ireland I was already coming to appreciate that the women on this Sacred Ireland journey, all with deep spiritual practices, were as ready for this encounter as any I’ve had the privilege to travel with. After our day together Mary and Aisling, who both lead many guided walks of this area, reflected that they had never experienced the spirit and spirits of this place as excited to welcome a group – especially, they added, of non-Irish people. The connection was easy and graceful and we each took away insights to enrich our lives and life journeys.
Reflecting on Annalu’s comment on my prior blog post, when we step beyond what we expect to see, beyond ourselves, and open to the possibilities there is much treasure. Indeed we encountered flowers to delight the eye, holy wells to feed the soul, and soft earth to hold us and welcome us home to ourselves. We were truly blessed by the bounty of the Burren.
In the mid 1800s when millions of Irish were driven from their homeland by the famine, genocide perpetrated on them by the English, many came to the United States. But they weren’t welcome. Those who had stolen this country from the indigenous peoples wanted to keep it for themselves. Looking at our current political discourse it’s clear some things don’t change. But I digress.
Immigrant Irish were denigrated in the newspapers and cartoons, dehumanized as an apish race of people with all manner of character flaws. And thus some of our most negative stereotypes and stories of the Irish began to take root in our culture and in our stories. The hat, pipe, and soon the drinking would be woven in these stories until this image became both pervasive and iconic. That people flock to Ireland on holiday and purchase these iconic images on everything from t-shirts to t-towels has always been an issue for me. But more distressing is that the Irish perpetuate this stereotype – that they not only gladly sell these tourist souvenirs but have plastered this image on a fleet of tour buses. Although we generally avoid heavily touristed sites when we visit Ireland, there are always encounters with tour buses and when our encounters include a Paddywagon I am always saddened and amazed. Amazed that anyone would really ride on one of them, more amazed that any self-respecting Irish person would actually drive one. For if we travel to Ireland, or any other country in the world, only to encounter the stereotypes of that place we are diminished rather than enriched. And so for the place and people we visit.
There is so much waiting for the visitor to Ireland. Deep and meaningful encounters with the land, landscape, legend, and culture. Encounters that can enrich our lives. But we must look to the stories beyond the stereotypes.