There Was A Village

Once upon a time there was a village. Nestled among undulating hills that turned from brown to green to gold through the annual rhythm of planting and harvest seasons. There were many rhythms here. This small community of ten thousand people is also a university community that brought waves of fifteen thousand students each year. Waves that swelled each fall and receded each spring. Yet like great rocks on a beach, the village remained constant.

imageI grew up here. As a friend said about my return visit, “Welcome home.”

It was chilly this morning. As I got in the car to drive downtown for coffee I turned on the heater and was quickly reminded that in this village by the time the car heats up you have reached your destination. I walked past a cobbled corner plaza that had once been a historic hotel before the great fire. I remember that hotel. I glanced at the names carved in granite. Names of those who donated to this corner park. I graduated high school with four of them and knew many more.

This was a village where those who started grade school together graduated high school together. Daughters and sons and families of university professors, farmers, and business people we all knew each other. And we knew each other for decades. That was a time when people who came to this place came to stay in this place. That was a time when people had life-long careers with the university, not transitory jobs.

Things have changed in fifty years. Now there are twelve thousand residents and twenty thousand students. But the big changes aren’t reflected in the numbers. People don’t live here forever any more. There is a heart of this village that is fading as those like my parents move into assisted living and eventually to the cemetery.

I stood at my Dad’s window this morning looking at the view in the photo above. And I thought of Ireland. Perhaps it was growing up in this village that has created in me such a deep love for the villages of Ireland. And I thought about how those villages are also changing as the young people leave to find work and lives where they can. More waves. Fewer rocks.

Pullman. I love this village. Even though it’s more the village I remember than the village that exists today. Once upon a time there was a village. And that village still lives in me.

Judith –

Kindred Spirits

From newspaper accounts, letters, and refugees themselves the world learned of the unfolding horror in Ireland. By the time the famine ended in the early 1850s, millions in cash and goods had been sent to Ireland by individuals, charitable organizations, churches, synagogues, and businesses. But the most remarkable and most generous contribution would come from the Choctaw Nation.

It was in Black ’47 when a group of Choctaws, moved by the news of Irish starvation, took up a collection to help. Despite their meager resources they raised $170. What made their donation so extraordinary was their recent history. For it was only sixteen years earlier that the American government forced these indigenous people off their land and forced them to undertake the harrowing 500-mile journey we know as the Trail of Tears. Of the 21,000 Choctaw who started the journey, more than half perished from exposure and starvation. Loss of property, forced migration and exile, mass starvation, and cultural suppression – the subjugations of the Choctaw and Irish were horrifically similar.

A plaque on Dublin’s Mansion House which honors the Choctaw Nation’s contribution reads; Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.

AlexPentek_kindred-spirits-June-2015Among many other commemorations of the Choctaw gift is this installation by Irish sculptor Alex Pentek entitled Kindred Spirits. Alex writes that “by creating an empty bowl symbolic of the Great Irish Famine formed from the seemingly fragile and rounded shaped eagle feathers used in Choctaw ceremonial dress, it is my aim to communicate the tenderness and warmth of the Choctaw Nation who provided food to the hungry when they themselves were still recovering from their own tragic recent past. I have also chosen feathers to reflect the local bird life along the nearby water’s edge with a fusion of ideas that aims to visually communicate this act of humanity and mercy, and also the notion that the Choctaw and Irish Nations are forever more kindred spirits.

May we embrace the humanity of the Choctaw Nation. May we embrace all people of the world as kindred spirits.

Judith –

A Harvest Of Subjugation

Prior to 1845 successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing Ireland. They launched no fewer than 114 commissions and 61 special committees that would conclude their work with prophecies of disaster; “Ireland was on the verge of starvation, three-quarters of her laborers unemployed, housing conditions appalling, and the standard of living unbelievably low.” Yet the solutions they proposed were as appalling as the conditions.

irish-famineOne might think that under these conditions efforts would be made to ensure the Irish had food to eat. But in fact efforts were made to ensure that they didn’t. The most dire year of the Great Hunger was 1847 which became known as Black ’47. In that year alone while 400,000 Irish men, women, and children died of starvation and related diseases almost 4,000 ships, under armed British guard, carried food to England from Ireland’s most famine-striken areas. The cargo included peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, grain, and honey. As one historian wrote, “The problem in Ireland was not lack of food, which was plentiful, but the price of if, which was beyond the reach of the poor.”

In these dark times Ireland was changed forever. It was a harvest of subjugation and the devastating impact would be felt for generations. When Irish friend Conor joined us for a day this summer he reflected that his was the first generation that could really breathe since the famine. 

It was during these dark times that aid for the Irish people would come from a most unlikely source.

Judith –



Beyond Hunger

People often ask if, after twenty years of leading groups to Ireland, I get bored. Not a chance. Through each group I get to see Ireland again for the first time. And as each group is unique I never know what will capture their attention.

This summer, after our visit to the County Cavan Museum in remote Ballyjamesduff, it was the Famine. Former home to a Poor Clare Convent, this beautiful building with its arched ceilings houses many comprehensive exhibits including one on this devastating time in Irish history. Outside of Ireland we know it as the Potato Famine. In Ireland it’s known simply as an Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, a period of mass starvation and emigration between 1845 and 1849. In those five years one million people would die and another million would emigrate. We assume it was all due to the potato blight but it really had little to do with potatoes. It was genocide. Genocide rooted in the policies and practices of the ruling English that began 150 years earlier when the Irish Parliament, filled with Protestant landowners and controlled from England, enacted a penal code that secured and enlarged the landlords’ holdings and degraded and impoverished the Irish Catholics.

1697 flyerUnder these Penal Laws, Irish Catholics were prohibited from purchasing or leasing land, practicing their religion, speaking their native Gaelic language, practicing law, serving as an apprentice, entering a profession, possessing weapons, voting, holding political office, living within five miles of a town, owning a horse valued at more than five pounds, or obtaining an education. On the latter the law was very clear: No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. As Irish author and philosopher Edmund Burke observed, the Penal Laws were, “a machine of wide and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.

Unbelievable as all this is to absorb, even more so is that the Penal Laws were not finally and completely repealed until 1920. Three hundred years of brutal oppression that spawned so many atrocities. Among them the Great Hunger.

Judith –

Seeds Of Hope

President Carter is calling for justice for women. Pope Francis is calling for justice for the Earth, specifically climate justice. He is encouraging every person living on this planet to cooperate for the care of creation. At the heart of it they are calling for the same thing.

When we honor women, when we honor the Earth, we are honoring the sacred and divine feminine energy embodied in both. Life giving and nurturing. This summer my spiritual community spent a full week praying for the re-awakening of the divine feminine principle. We’ve done it before and we will likely do it again. For in this awakening are the seeds of hope for the future of our planet and our people.

Goddess ÉriuWe know there are many places in the world where these seeds will fall on hard ground. We also know there are many places where these seeds fall on fertile soil. Ireland is such a place. In a country named after the Goddess Ériu, a country where at one time every well was a holy well of the Goddess Brigit, a country where many songs sung to and about women are really songs for Ireland, a knowing and respect for the divine feminine is woven in legend and lore, history and heritage. Fertile ground indeed.

A friend and I were reflecting on our recent journey to Ireland and how many, especially men, speak so openly about the sacred feminine. It’s little wonder this is so. The seeds of hope are already growing there. The earth sculpture of Ériu pictured here, a recent installation on the sacred Hill of Uisneach, stands in testimony of the many seeds emerging from Ireland’s green and fertile soil.

Judith –

Man Of Grace & Vision

president carter on womenPresident Jimmy Carter gets it. Earlier this year he announced that for the rest of his life he is making it his mission to fight against the injustices toward women and girls worldwide. He attributes much of this oppression to politics and religion, writing, “The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.” With his recent cancer diagnosis I pray he will have much more life to live and give. We need his voice. We need his spirit. We need his wisdom.

Judith –




In The Honoring

Spending time in Ireland as an American I’ve carried trepidation about treading on what is tender. When we began going down to Galway Bay to honor the limbo baby mothers with ceremony and prayer, I was reluctant to tell any of the locals I know in that area. Holding ceremony at ancient sites I’ve been discreet, waiting until other visitors had come and gone. I’ve been staying at the same B&Bs for years yet it’s only recently that these folks understand the nature of our sacred journeys to Ireland’s sacred nature.

well ceremonyI’m glad I was cautious. For in that caution there was the foundation for understanding how to enter their world, especially the realm of their spiritual heritage, with honoring. And from that foundation there has emerged a gentle peace of knowing that this honoring is recognized and welcomed by the Irish people.

When I ventured to tell Vera and Barkley about our seaside ceremony I wondered at their reaction. Vera is devoutly Catholic and we were, by our prayer focus, calling attention to a dark period in Church history. They were pleased. No, they were delighted to hear of what we did.

Jack and I stood in the driveway with Karl long after everyone had gone to bed. This son of our Sligo B&B hosts was intrigued by our spiritual explorations and encounters with area sacred sites and was probing for more information and details of our recent adventures. He mentioned he would have liked to join us.

It was an unusually busy day in the Bricklieve Mountains. We had gathered at the entrance of one of the many cairns in this landscape and just started singing when yet another group of people arrived. So we stopped and stepped back. Encouraging them to go inside for really although the entrance is small once you are inside you can actually stand up. This group entered and left in short order. But one man stayed behind. As we stepped back into ceremony, he stood there with a huge grin on his face. I believe that had we offered, he would have joined us.

On these Sacred Ireland journeys we are planting seeds of spiritual connection. For ourselves and clearly for others. It’s such joy to find that for many Irish people these seeds are welcomed. In the honoring, may they be nurtured.

Judith –











Without A Word

We had spent the morning at Newgrange and Knowth amid massive crowds of tourists. The obligatory guided tours allowed us to see these impressive monuments but were filled with dry narrative and afforded no time to connect with these ancient sites. We longed to be in silence, in solitude, and in ceremony. So we made our way to mystical Na Faurchnoic, known today as Four Knocks.

Winding through the countryside I could feel the anticipation of what lay ahead. At this magnificent mound we would step into the final ceremony of our journey. The beautifully  four knocks entrancepreserved stone carvings and 138 square feet interior would provide the perfect setting. With its remote location and access only with a key kept by a local farmer we would have this amazing 5,000 year old cairn to ourselves. At least that had been my experience on previous visits. But today would be different.

As we pulled our cars to the side of the road near the entrance, we discovered there was a road rally in the area and part of the route was not a block from where we were parked. There were loads of people milling about. Undaunted and with key in hand we walked the short distance to the mound. As we arrived others were leaving. Not knowing about the key required to get inside, many folks leave after a short time. Yes! We were alone.

Anthony unlocked the door while I shared a bit about our ceremony. The focus would be gratitude. For all that we had received on this journey. For this time with this ancestral site. For this magical journey together. We began singing. I stood by the entrance as they entered one at a time. The precious moment I had with each of them as we looked into each others eyes, often with tears, was deeply powerful. Fourknocks interior2Once inside we continued singing, our voices resonating within the stone structure. Then we sat against the stones in meditation while I drummed. When we were finished the depth of the silence was both intense and palpable. The spaced was charged with an energy that took my breath away.

After a few moments Anthony quietly began to share his knowledge of this place. Of its sacred mythology. Of its extraordinary architecture. Of its astronomical and lunar alignments. Of its relationship to other megaliths throughout the Boyne Valley and beyond. He had just started when we heard the iron door hinges groan. Suddenly a group of young people, shouting and laughing, spilled into the center of the chamber. With the dimly lit interior they didn’t see that we were there and clearly had no clue about how to enter and be in a sacred space. Their presence was beyond jarring.

I glanced at Anthony and could see he was hesitant to confront the group. At the same time I could feel the energy we had created begin to fracture. So I began to ohm. Softly at first. It was immediately picked up by the others around the cairn and our visitors were soon encircled with the crescendoing sound of it. They left as quickly as they had arrived.

Without a word we cleared the space and cleared the energy. Without a word we avoided any confrontation or alienating conversation. Without a word we returned to peace. It was as if the Oran Mór, the great sacred harmony, was wrapped around us once again.

Judith –

All That Glitters

Whether traveling to Ireland for two weeks or a month I always take a carry-on suitcase. While this ensures my luggage doesn’t get lost, it’s also more than adequate space for what I need and traveling light is always a good idea. After twenty years the clothes practically fold and pack themselves. Rain pants, check. Hiking boots, check. Red, white, and blue tinsel wig…oh, probably not.

Reflecting on my last post a dear friend commented that showing up as the ugly American is not limited to men. True. And I was immediately reminded of an experience a few years ago in Doolin. It was July 4th.

tinsel hairAs we tucked in to McGann’s Pub there was suddenly a commotion at the bar. Four young women had just arrived with tinsel wigs, their faces painted with stars and stripes. Americans. They were well into their cups, loud, and very flirtatious. And they were immediately the center of attention. It was novel but the novelty soon wore off for everyone in the pub except them. They were too much into their experience to notice that the bar tenders and pretty much everyone else, save a few hopeful young men, were very uncomfortable. Against their loud laughter and singing it was difficult to hear the trad music we had come for. Even the musicians were put out. Throughly embarrassed we left and as it was late made our way back to our Doolin Lodge accommodations. Imagine our horror when a bit later, hearing the noise and looking out the window, we discovered these young women, with a couple of Irish lads in tow, were staying at the same place.

The Irish have long considered America the land of golden opportunity and have much admired Americans. This is changing and that night the four young women did their part to tarnish our image. They demonstrated that all that glitters is sometimes just cheap tinsel.

Judith –

A Battle Lost

The Battle at Harry’s Bar. I’m not sure who won. Yes, we got our tables and were able to enjoy a lovely meal. But in that exchange I lost something. My warrior didn’t just show up, she showed up with all the cultural conditioning I try to leave at home. My US home.

There is now a lovely ritual of having dinner with dear friends Aisling and Felim the night before I head back to the States. Felim has long declared me to be Irish and again this time as I was departing he asked when I was going to come home again. Home to Ireland. While I now live in both places most of the time, I am really called to embrace the Irish way no matter where I am. For that way has much to offer us.

Wandering Galway’s busy walking street or any other heavily touristed place in Ireland, I can easily spot Americans. Beyond the distinctive clothing – all the more so if they’ve been shamrock pantsin country long enough to acquire an all-shamrock wardrobe – I can tell by the way we Americans hold ourselves. Especially whites. Especially men. We hold an attitude that so reflects our culture and cultural conditioning. It’s an attitude of privilege, confidence, and all too often arrogance. It’s an attitude of entitlement.

Unlike Ireland our nation has not been invaded, our people subjugated or enslaved. We have not had our language, land, homes, faith, music, employment, education, and even dress taken from us. There is a humility that comes with all of that and we don’t have it. I find it so astounding that the discourse here in the States is so often filled with the issue of entitlement and that the finger is pointed at the poor and disenfranchised. And when I consider who’s doing the complaining it’s shamrock shirtgenerally white males who clearly consider themselves solely entitled to the spoils of capitalism. The spoils of what they have accumulated, often at the expense of the disenfranchised.

When we Americans travel to Ireland with our cultural conditioning it can manifest in our demeanor, attitude, and actions. This not only feeds a growing world view of Americans as demanding and arrogant, it prevents us from being open and present to the Irish culture. It’s our loss. Stepping into a culture that is more humble, gentle, and gracious is a major reason I lead tours to Ireland. The Irish have so much to teach us about being in right relationship in community if we are willing to step beyond ourselves.

And this is why I consider myself the loser in the Battle of Harry’s Bar. In that moment I reverted to my cultural conditioning. I’m not happy about that. Next time I’m leaving my sword home.

Judith –