Reminiscing about Christy’s music, Sheila’s delightful culinary hospitality, and Padraig’s playing with the music legends of Doolin, the next morning we headed north to Galway on a route that would take us to Poulnabrone. This ancient megalith is an Irish icon, appearing on the cover of many brochures and, unfortunately, on the itinerary of many tours. As we made our way over the limestone terrain, we were alone with the dolmen until the park ranger wandered over to join us. “You are lucky to be here just the two of you. The busses will be along any minute.” As if on cue they started to arrive and disgourge their human cargo. The ranger was clearly interested in chatting us up, as they say here, and we were interested in listening. So we stepped to the edge of the field to continue our conversation – during which we would discover that he is he son of one of the music legends Christy played with over the years and had spoken of the night before. Ah, this is Ireland.
As much as he appreciated a moment of appreciation for the area’s musical legends and legacies, he was more interested in talking about the megalithic legacy in front of us. And we listened to his narrative on the devastation of this sacred site against a surreal backdrop of tourists streaming by to quickly take their photos and their leave. The tour must go on.
4,000 people a day visit this site. Some in the supervised light of day. Others by the dark of night. And within the span of a few decades the impact of their visits is destroying a site that has held place in this Burren landscape for 6,000 years. Some leave their mark in trash and spray paint. Others carve their initials into the stones. Just last winter some built a fire inside, cracking one of the upright stones to such an extent that now the ranger comes early each morning to make sure the dolman is still standing.
But it’s not just the legacy of this physical monument that is being lost. It is the legacy of respect for these sites that has lived in the people for thousands of years. A legacy that honored the sanctity of ancient ways and ancient knowing. Music or monuments, it seems the same. These legacies are precious gifts. Treasures that can so easily be lost to us. Forever.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org