Category: Ireland

The Living Landscape

The Living Landscape

The stone skeleton stood against a blackening sky. Rain approached and each of the few, February visitors left except for the guardian of the site and me.

I stowed my camera, pulled out the low Irish whistle purchased earlier in the trip, and sat with my back to the wind. Tentative notes fluttered out as I thanked the ancestors who called me here, back home, to `Eire.

A few heavy raindrops fell but as I poured gratitude into the sweet notes, the cloud split and went around the Poulnabrone Dolman and the sun erupted. It was as if the ancestors and nature spirits returned gratitude for me noticing something more than just a popular tourist attraction.

It is a living landscape into which I walk whether in Ireland or the sacred mountains of the Blue Ridge where I live, move and have my being. Every day I am nurtured by a spiritual communion with the land, water, plants and animals–the living landscape.

The Harp

The Harp

On my final day in Ireland a gift was given in meditation. A cave was my point of visualization and in this amethyst cave I found a black zippered case. A Grandmother being was with me and said, “Once you open it, you can never go back.” I unzipped it and removed a small harp. “This is the gift from Eriu and you are now a trusted carrier of this wisdom. You have to carry it forth.”

I had absolutely no idea what a harp meant but she told me, as the meditation ended, to research the meaning and the significance would unfold.

After the meditation ended I went to my laptop and began researching the harp and Ireland. Coat of Arms….King of Ireland 13th century….high status among musicians in Ireland historically….in 17th century traditional musicians were outlawed or under control…harpist accompanied poetry recitations…became the resistance to the Crown and England….banned at end of medieval period…legend of Dagda, protector of people, had a magical harp that played itself….Queen Elizabeth I banned harps and harpists and even executed them as they were suspected to be the focal point of causing rebellions among Irish people against the crown….motto: It is now strung and shall be heard. 

It is now strung and shall be heard. The harp as a symbol is a call to awaken.

That message echoed throughout my consciousness and today, as I write this, it is especially meaningful. Yesterday, during a session with my life coach, we discussed the deep work of allowing my self to be seen for who I really am, to cease hiding my light and strength and allow my beauty and the beauty I offer the world to be fully seen.

The same message came to me months earlier when I was in Ireland on Inis Mor. I was standing in the prehistoric fort and a modern-day fencing pipe stood facing the Atlantic Ocean. The wind was fierce that day and it played the pipe. The low notes of the pipe reverberated in my body and I was reminded that we are like flutes…the more we clear out the inner obstructions, the more beautiful our expression as Spirit moves through us.

Resistance to an old, repressive authority was symbolized by the harp. By gathering together all of who they were, the Irish played their ‘harp’ and let England know that independence was theirs. They claimed their right to live in freedom instead of oppression.

The Grandmother reminded me of my right to freedom from the old, inner oppression. From birth and experiences of life, I organized my thoughts and behaviors and direction…we all do this and all through our lives we have opportunities to unlearn the unhealthy, deadening patterns. Once freedom is experienced, returning to a fear-based life is not acceptable…but the journey out of fear can be challenging.

As much as I love Ireland and appreciate the raw, elemental beauty perhaps the greatest gift I received there was the symbol of the harp that reminds me to gather in all of who I am…the fearful parts, the strong parts, the gifts, talents…and allow the Universe to move through me.

When I play my low Celtic whistle, the mellow tones remind me to be an open channel for Spirit. When I sing or speak….or photograph nature….or write….or just sit and do ‘nothing’ it’s about being fully present with all of myself and letting that be enough. Because it is enough and it’s wonderful just to feel wholeness and to embrace the journey of the Pilgrim who goes out into the world seeing everything as sacred, including the self.

John O’Donohue said, in A Celtic Pilgrimage, “Always in a pilgrimage there is a change of mind and a change of heart. The outer landscape becomes a metaphor for the unknown, inner landscape.” Traveling into beautiful landscapes reflects to me the beauty of the soul. It reminds me that we are part of nature…we are nature. There really is no separation. Travel is sacred to me because it is a reminder to reflect inward to that precious journey of the soul.

The journey to wholeness is perfectly summed up when John O’Donohue said, “If you enter into the dream that brought you here and awaken in its beauty in you, then the beauty will gradually awaken all around you.” Beloved Eriu, Beloved Ireland, you showed me beauty that awakened me and gave me glimpses into the beauty of the soul that still shines through the eyes of my heart. It is time to shine….the harp of my heart has been strung and now must be played.

All images copyright Simone Lipscomb

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

It may seem strange for a nature writer to focus on an abbey but it was a magical place that seemed very much in harmony with the spirits of the land. When we visited, it was under repair so I couldn’t photograph it. What I noticed was the seamless integration of human and nature. And….I had an experience there that still makes me laugh.

Rain was steadily falling as we added a top layer of waterproof jackets and pants to keep us dry. I brought along a collapsible umbrella to protect my camera. Ireland is known for its rain and changeable weather. But that day the radar showed rain rain rain rain rain.

I like the inner stillness that comes from being outside in rain. It’s not easy to extend my energy out there when rain is constantly giving a soft boundary that is immediate to my physical body. Even the drip drip drip of sprinkles insist on my being mindful of the present moment. Keep my camera dry, keep my head dry, stay focused on this right here.

The Abbey is huge and beautiful but I was more drawn to the trail that wandered through the grounds. We passed a small waterfall that emptied eventually into the beautiful lake. The mountains of Connemara were the backdrop of the still water.

A walk along Lough Pollacapull led to a small chapel that was simply stunning. The dark, wet stones seemed part of the woodlands. The inside was carved with beautiful nature elements. It was the most deeply peaceful chapel I’d ever visited. I felt surrounded by sweetness. This was most likely due to the chapel’s devotion to Mary.

I’m not Catholic but there were candles and I felt inspired to light one. I put my donation in and attempted to light the candle. I thought there were wicks already in the glass holders. My intention…. light a candle in prayer for ‘the’ man to enter my life. I had been six years single and in a deep healing process….sort of like a nun. I wasn’t looking for a man but should a compassionate, nature-loving, working-on-his-healing, creative one arrive in my life…I was open.

Frustratingly, the candle refused to light. I started to look around and noticed the box of small, white candles under the donation box. Doh! Lesson–if you want to invite your soulmate into your life make sure there’s something to actually call him to….in other words, show up! I was relieved that Gabriela and I were the only ones there as I felt a little ridiculous. I know the security footage from that day must be especially entertaining.

Later I discovered that Mitchell Henry built the castle in the late 1800’s, inspired by his love for his wife. His wife died and the chapel was built in memory of her. No wonder the energy there is so sweet. The love was palpable.

The gardens were magical, even with formal design and plantings. And all around were gigantic trees, perhaps saved from logging many centuries ago. I had a most profound experience with an old tree.

I stopped and put my forehead against the rough bark. I said, show me. I began to feel dizzy as images flashed through my mind like turning pages of a book very fast. Slow down, please, I whispered. Finally, the images slowed and came to rest on one of a small tree. I ‘heard’ a raspy whisper, Once I was a tiny tree and look at me now. Never give up. Always believe in yourself.

The Abbey and surrounding land shows that humans can interact with nature and live in harmony by practicing respect. Nature spirits can be celebrated in the design and operations of a place…even a big place. If humans are mindful of the energies of a place, there can be mutually beneficial existence. When we inhabit an area our presence doesn’t have to destroy the magic.

Ireland is a deeply dwelled in landscape with a long history of habitation by humans. And yet the energies of nature are strong and very present. I suspect this is because there is still a great respect, in many areas, of the Shining Ones that remain. I say this in reference to the rural areas–I didn’t feel that positive vibe near the airport in Dublin. The growth there has been exponentially destructive over the past ten years. It is my hope that the energies of nature will be honored and remembered because in my experience, that is why Ireland is such an incredible place.

Kylemore Abbey, as it is now called, is a Benedictine Abbey operated by nuns. They arrived in 1920 after their Abbey in Ypres, Belgium was destroyed during World War I.

The Neo-Gothic church, as it is called, is described as a ‘Cathedral in Miniature. It was built in the style of a 14th century gothic cathedral.

Rugged and Wild

Rugged and Wild

Diamond Hill…not far from the beginning of the trail.

The walk started out with an overcast sky and warm. It was beautiful weather. The path from the parking lot was well-marked and well-maintained. Connemara National Park is outstanding in its untamed beauty.

The park offers various ways to walk around Diamond Hill. I opted for the full climb while my friend opted to more knee-friendly environs. She remembered to ask me for the car key this time, unlike our adventure on the Cliffs of Moher where one slip off the trail on my hike and she would be stranded for eternity.

By the time the hike was over I was very glad someone knew I was out there in that wild place. It wasn’t long after we separated that the weather began to turn. Thankfully I had my rain parka in my pack. Unfortunately I was wearing my new awesome ‘cow girl’ hat which didn’t take kindly to the eerie wind that started to build as I climbed up the mountain.

With every step up, the wind seemed determined to push me back. Heavy clouds appeared to come from the bowels of hell as the temperature plummeted. I stopped and removed my camera pack, pulled out the jacket, gloves and exchanged my big Nikon for a waterproof GoPro. And…it was steep. So with the exertion, there was sweat and yet the biting cold wind, my body struggled to regulate temperature.

“It was an unforgiving environment with steep mountains and changeable weather. I felt the nature energies unapologetic for their strength, unwilling to temper their power. This is who we are. Deal with it, is what I heard as I climbed. I thought….Oh, great!”

And it did feel like I was shown the incredible power of the spirits of nature. There was no touchy-feely sweet little faery energy. This was the unabashed, unleashed, in-your-face experience of the elementals.

I did okay until I got near the summit, even with wind whipping around me and fog mixed with sleet beginning to blanket the summit. Even now, a year later, as I write this I feel the fear of mis-stepping, slipping on the wet rocks. I was alone and the conditions were deteriorating fast. At least Gabriela could alert someone if I failed to return to the car.

I began to wonder if I should continue. The signs warned to not turn around, to keep moving forward on the one-way trail but the summit appeared to be a very narrow ledge and with winds increasing and fog hovering the wisdom of moving forward was questioned.

Are you FREAKING kidding me?

Finally, I made the difficult decision to turn around rather than chance slipping off the summit and flying toward the Twelve Bens. And then, not even five minutes passed before I begin to pass others walking up. I could have asked to walk with them but decided to just keep heading down, driven from my goal to do the loop by fear and perhaps a bit of wisdom. Sometimes it’s challenging to know which voice I’m listening to as wind is screaming around my ears and sleet is stinging my face.

I met a guy hiking up the trail after I turned around. He stopped me to inquire about the conditions. He said he had tried to summit many mountains nearby in his travels and each time the weather had turned him back. He was determined to make it….I hope he did. Another time, I will make it to the 445 meter high mountain and finish the loop.

Just recently I read about Luka Bloom’s song, Diamond Mountain. I’ve loved the song for a while now but never understood the meaning of the lyrics until I learned that local lore describes Diamond Mountain as the best vantage point looking west across the Atlantic Ocean. During the massive emigration to America during the Great Hunger, those staying in Ireland could climb the mountain and watch the ships departing with their loved ones leave.

Luka sings, “I will be here when you need me.” He reminds us how painful it is to part from those we love, especially knowing we may never see them again in this life. The song took on greater depth as did the experience of climbing Diamond Mountain.

Nice boardwalks across the mountain bogs

The Irish supposedly viewed America as a place of exile, not as a land of opportunity. I feel that way, especially given our political climate these days. Exiled in a hostile land….oh, how I wish someone was waiting for me on Diamond Mountain so I could return to the land I love the best.

Lyrics from a favorite song haunt me: “When angels with wings come to collect you and carry you over the stormy sea; Whispering things as they caress you, gently they’ll press you with sweet words undress you, Will you fly to the land that holds and keeps you or the land you love the best. The land you love the best, the land you love the best. Will you lie in the garden of peace and of order or the cold wild field in the west. When night and her shadows come to surround you and touch you with fingers of cold, cold fear. When the voice of the stranger echoes around you when strange words confound you, strange accents drown you will you fly to the land that fed you or found you or the land you love the best.” (John Spillane)

In researching John’s song I came upon this song of his….I really needed to hear it and allow the question to echo through….hope you enjoy it as well. Funny how the simple act of reminiscing about a journey to Ireland leads me to this…

The Burren

The Burren

A large….very large…rock ‘told’ me that before people created sacred sites, all sites were sacred. Everywhere is sacred. The energy of people gathering in places adds to–or takes away–depending on their intention. There are special places where energy is concentrated; however, all places are sacred.

The rock ‘said’ this to me in reference to my sadness at not seeing more prehistoric monuments. I had been disappointed about this but the rock reminded me of the sacred that existed before humans ever recognized a place…so I can find the sacred and make the connection without there being those humans before me who have done so.

A nature walk through The Burren is never just a walk. The landscape seems especially alive and ready to share with those willing to listen. It reminded me that indeed all places are sacred.

Everywhere we walked there seemed to be very special. It was seriously sweet to walk through the nature trail at the national park. Green moss, gray stones….so quiet and peaceful and absolutely wild. Of course the visit was in February on a cold, gray day. I expect tourist season or a sunny weekend would bring many people out to enjoy the magic.

An excerpt from my journal reads, “The reason I love Appalachia is my connection to Ireland. If there is such a thing as past lives I must have left Ireland on a ship bound for America and ended up in the Appalachian Mountains. Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to those mountains. My heart opens here in Ireland. My wild spirit finally feels free, unlocked here in The Burren. This is a key to remember.”

At that time I had not set a course for the future. I had not decided to sell my home and move. Now, a year later, my home is for sale and I hope to move back to the Appalachian Mountains. I didn’t remember writing about the Ireland-Appalachian connection when I made my decision to look in that direction. I’m glad I left a ‘key’ to affirm my decision.

The Burren reminded me of Inis Mor a lot and the journey there, just months before, completely changed my life in ways that are still unfolding and even led to a new eBook that was just birthed. All of the beauty and wildness felt in The Burrren helped me open deeper to the wildness within myself. I think that’s what happens when we walk into the landscape and experience it as living rather than just space.

To purchase The Stone Hut visit Barnes and Noble online or click the link HERE to purchase through my publisher’s web site.