The World is full of magical things patiently waiting for our senses to grow stronger. W. B. Yeats
. . . we talked in a kind of ocean depth of memories where magic fish swam past as we evoked our parents and Joy’s sisters, all dead now but with us for an hour in that exquisite room where time past and time present flowed together. May Sarton
How do I conjure it up for you? The perfection of the moment. Here we were, my traveling buddy, Mary O’Donnell, and me, at the end of a very long day, the second of our two-week adventure together in Ireland, the first in Galway, a west coast town spilling over with music, thrumming with creative energy. We just had feasted on chowder and brown bread, fresh garden greens and wild mushroom risotto. Our stomachs were full, our bodies happy after a brisk walk from restaurant over the river bridge to this bar recommended to us by our dinnertime server. And now, we had settled in, on stools at a tiny table directly in front of a small stage in the upstairs’ room of this quaint old pub. Outside, the wind had picked up, a storm was brewing, but, inside, it was warm and invitingly cozy. And time, at least for Mary and me, in our sleepy jet-lagged state, was unhinged and hazy, and it seemed almost as if we were in the midst of a delicious dream — and, in a way, we were, because, in front of us, on the stage, speaking in a strong Irish brogue, was a master storyteller lulling us in with tales of pirate ships at sea in storms like the one now blowing in across the wild Atlantic, tales of feuding families of yesteryear, of ghosts floating through the heathered bog-lands that make up much of Ireland. I relish being transported by a good story, savor the remembering that life is comprised of layer upon layer of mystery, that characters roaming the bogs and thrashing about on three-masted schooners during mighty storms, characters who might have lived centuries ago, can be very much alive in the moment. For me, these characters lived on in the howling wind of that first stormy night in Galway, and it was perfect.
This feeling of stepping out of time, of connection with something bigger than the here-and-now reality, stayed with us throughout our adventure in Ireland. It’s not like we weren’t present in the moment. We were, acutely so, in this enchanting land where there was something new around every corner and in every moment. We were present, while eating fresh hake and boiled potatoes in a tiny fishing village, present while climbing up a mountain trail of rocks and loose-layered shale, present while hearing a haunting ballad in a pub in the center of a town, present with these things, for sure, and with the people who charmed us each and every day with their Irish fun-loving hospitality, while, at the same time, sensing there was something else, too, something more subtle and mysterious. We could almost see them, the fishermen of yesteryear who cast their nets in the waters off these coastal villages and the thousands and thousands of beings who trekked up the rocky shale mountain trails before us and the balladeer who sang that song, the very same song we were hearing in a village pub, maybe in the very same pub, hundreds of years earlier. Mary and I traveled north by car along the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Ireland, all the way to the tip at Hornhead, then over to Derry and Belfast in Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to Dublin where our adventure had begun two weeks earlier — and the presence of those in other realms, they were our traveling companions throughout.
Two poets in particular tagged along with us as we bumbled our way north on narrow country roads. Mary was driver of our midnight-blue Ford Fiesta rental, and I sat beside her in the passenger seat, with maps and guidebooks and the poems of William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney. While Mary steered us northbound, through County Galway and County Mayo and into Sligo, I read to her, the poetry of Yeats whose mother’s family were prominent settlers in Drumcliff, County Sligo. We breathed life into Yeats’ words and Yeats himself became our personal guide as we explored this county that was his spirit’s muse. We traipsed through the mossy woods of his poetry and followed the shore of the glimmering lake and hiked the trail to waterfall’s top and watched “moth-like stars . . . flickering out.” He was with us, very much alive, his words mingling with our actions. It was all poetry and it felt like a wink, visiting his churchyard grave two days later as we headed north out of Drumcliff. He wasn’t static and still and buried in the ground, not to us. We had wandered with him, “through hollow lands and hilly lands . . .” and it had been wonderful.
And then there was Seamus. We never would have ventured out through the rolling rocky farmland in County Derry, Northern Ireland a few days later, never would have wound our way along narrow hedge-lined lanes to the village of Bellaghy if it hadn’t been for Seamus. We had been reading the poems of this Nobel Prize-winning writer since leaving Dublin and we now considered him a good friend, called him by his first name, Seamus, as if we had known him forever. His focus on Irish landscape and ordinary life in the countryside added a depth to our daily experience, and his descriptions of the wet earthy bogland and the memories of times gone by encouraged us both to pull from the rich Irish soil our own personal memories and ancestral-stories. And this visit to Bellaghy, Seamus’s birth town, to the exhibit of his poems, of photographs, of archival materials donated to the National Irish Library by the writer himself in 2011 just two years before his death, stunned us with its intimacy. We left the Home Place building in Bellaghy not only with a deeper sense of Seamus, our friend, but of his family, the town, of Ireland itself, all vividly brought to life with his words.
And perhaps we were ripe for such an expansive way of seeing the world on this trip, for we carried with us our own attachment to mystery. Inside a black velvet box sat a small silver and turquoise vessel and inside the vessel were some of the silty ashes that once had been Mary’s husband Mike’s body. Mary carried this with her and I carried something too, in a secret pocket on the inside of my autumn jacket — a small pink-beaded rosary that fit in the palm of my hand. Our dear friend’s thirty-eight-year-old son Nathan had died just days before our trip and his mother loaned this to us, the precious gift that he recently had given to her. Bring it with you, she had said; fill it with the magic of Ireland. And we did fill it with the magic of Ireland. And Mary did scatter Mike’s ashes in the wild bog-lands of the Connemara and on the summit of Ireland’s most sacred mountain and above the cobalt blue thrashing sea on the cliffs of Sleive League. But, I want to tell you that Nathan and Mike filled us up too and brought their own magic to our trip. Their presence was palpable. In the hour of Nathan’s funeral, a swan in Galway swam right up to us, then guided us out onto the break wall. And there it was, a small Catholic chapel, the perfect place for us to be in that moment, one moment in a trip when so many others also felt Mike and Nathan-inspired.
So, it was all there for us, Mary and me, the tales of old mingling with present moment connections, the ancient pagan ruins and the lit-up pubs, the poets and the poetry of the ages, the dead and the living all very much alive, all singing in the sea-salted air, all there like layers in a peat bog, preserved and easy to access, all realms seeming real and rich as we made our way in our midnight-blue Ford Fiesta around the north of Ireland, and it was perfect.