Earlier this month I traveled to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland. I was part of a spiritual pilgrimage with a writing emphasis, led by Christine and John Valters Painter of Abbey of the Arts.
Inis Mor is basically a large piece of granite protruding out of the sea with a year round population of about 850. For centuries it has been a place of pilgrimage, contemplation and rest. The landscape, mostly pasture dotted with miles and miles of stone walls, is home to dozens of ancient Celtic and Christian ruins.
There were twelve of us pilgrims, hailing from the US, Canada and Britain, plus one lucky American ex-pat living in France. We spent six lovely nights at the Kilmurvey House, which was the base for our trip, and each day consisted of ample writing opportunities, group excursions and a generous amount of free time (yes!).
One afternoon, in a steady rain, we headed to the ruins of the church of St. Kieran. A hawthorne tree ablaze with ribbons greeted us and we each had the chance to tie our own ribbon to the tree. To me this was similar to lighting a candle in a church-a prayer for self, loved one, peace. Next to the tree was a holy well and we were invited to take seven small stones from a container and then walk around the well seven times while depositing one stone back in the container each time. What did we want to leave behind? What could we give up? Assign that to one of the stones. A short stroll away was the church ruin, full of the spirits of many pilgrims and saints visiting before.
My traveling companion was my good friend Pamela from Maine. About a year ago she lost her beloved partner to cancer and brought ashes with her to spread. We hiked the steep path to Dun Aungus, a stone fort from about 1100 BC, and from the high cliffs scattered Sarah's ashes. Sarah was my good friend, too, and I could sense her smiling at us as we laughed and cried at yet another farewell.
Free time every day was a blessing-I read, wrote, slept and wandered the back roads. Every bend brought another breathtaking view.
This horse and I became good buddies. His pasture was near our guest house and we just hit it off-maybe it had something to do with my slipping sugar cubes to him?
The challenge now is how to keep the sense of balance and peace that I felt while in Ireland. Coming back to a busy life and a country in turmoil are at odds with that. What a blessing to have had that time.