When she learned we were traveling to Ireland, a colleague recommended Patricia Monaghan’s book The Red Haired Girl from the Bog. I read it over the last few months, and it was indeed a wonderful introduction to the myths and magical places of Ireland. Monaghan feels like a true kindred spirit, finding the sacred in the land, and in the stories connected to the land in each place. She speaks about how rooted Irish people are to the places in which they live–they are indigenous to their own places. Each place has stories that connect it to the near and distant past. Even in the place names themselves are clues to the lives and lore back to times before history.
I have been exploring in my own life how to connect to the land, how to connect to a place, and her stories provide many inspirations for the process, though also reminding me of how shallow the roots of Euro-descent culture in North America. Many of our North American place names also harken back to the peoples Indigenous to this place, and hold clues to the old stories of this land.
Yesterday morning, here in Ireland, I took a walk to a neolithic Ring Fort that is on this land at Ashley Park House, where we are staying. They also call it a Fairy Fort, and the young woman who serves our breakfast talked about people’s superstitions about the Fairy Forts. She said it was believed people used to bury unbaptized babies in those places, since they could not be buried in the Catholic cemeteries, and some people wouldn’t touch a Ring Fort unless it had been blessed by a priest. I didn’t worry about that, but was very mindful and respectful of whomever the Spirit beings might be in such an ancient place.
This fort is covered in vegetation and beech trees were growing within and around it. I took some photos but it was hard to capture the feel of it in a photo. Imagine a stone embankment about 5 or 6 feet tall (but covered with soil and bushes and trees) in a circle maybe 80 meters in diameter. I followed a path over the top of the embankment and down in to the middle. This photo was taken inside the ring, looking over to the embankment.
I am here in this place, where none of my own ancestors have lived, with many unfamiliar plants and animals, but I do know how to give thanks for the sun, and touch the beech trees, and call out to the spirits as I walk around the circle.