Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pilgrimage Day 3: the Dingle Peninsula

Featuring the third day of our pilgrimage (July 18), I'll share my journal musings interspersed with pictures of our trek through Dingle - where we met a dolphin, Fungue (foon-gie), who's single.

We are heading to Dingle today. This part (the traveling) is more settled (than County Clare). The hills are really beautiful - like a patchwork of green - with little hedgerows of bushes dividing small tracts of land. The amount of trees here remind me more of Michigan - just not as tall.

There is something about the Irish spirit that I feel like I am trying to discover...
like their secret to endurance,
their commitment to endure,
to press on,
their fidelity to the land,
to each other,
to family and heritage
Part of me wonders if when our people left the land, if they felt like they lost part of themselves - and that is why we see such cases of depression and addiction in Irish families...this yearning, this fighting spirit with nothing to fight for because they've reached a place of freedom...but have left behind all they knew - a deeper part of themselves than they realized....

I think that what I was hoping for was a feeling that I would recover myself...part of my heart, my self that I have lost - a sense of history, of place, of home.


And I think that's why what that bartender said last night about me not being a real Irish woman and drinking a half pint hurt so much. Because I was hoping...expecting, like, people to just love me - to welcome me. And instead it was like, you're not one of us. You don't belong in Ireland. Real Irish stay. Real Irish dig in. Real Irish lean into the pain, and they take the hard road.

It makes me wonder how people feel about those who left.

It's like the Prodigal Son -
both sons are hurting -
one longs for home, the other is bitter toward the one who left - neither forget, both hurt...
both are changed by the leaving -
only Reconciliation can heal.
Only humility of spirit,
owning what you are and what you're not,
turning toward home with a humble, open heart -
hoping for a loving reception by your Father -
to be welcomed home.

Lisa (my roommate) and I took a wild ride on Fungue, the dolphin who is single & read to mingle.

If you use the force, you can see the lightsaber in my hand. That middle island is featured in the upcoming Star Wars movie. 

Our group capturing the view

Father David and Mama Sarah

I am not Ireland.

I'm more...and I'm less...
but in my heart is a longing for freedom and for home,
a spirit terrified of being still too long - or forgotten,
but questions my own strength and courage.

We all are feeling our way through,
fumbling forward,
pressing into the future,
but with eyes looking back,
and a heart yearning for home.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ireland, Day 2: Cliffs of Moher, Burren, and Limerick

Today, we went north of Limerick, first to the Cliffs of Moher and then on a walk in the Burren. The Cliffs are part of the Burren, a protected Arctic landscape. The views were astounding. The Cliffs are 700 feet high, rising out of the Atlantic Ocean and stretching on for 5 miles. We were absolutely gifted with gorgeous clear weather and a high of 75! Literally - once in a lifetime views!

Irish cows grazing RIGHT NEXT to the path, which was right on the edge of the Cliffs. (They were fenced in)

Cow selfie! (can you tell I work for an Animal Science department? I was SO excited to take a cow selfie)

The gorgeous stone fence along the path.

Irish cows are happy cows. How could you not be with this view - and that delicious lime-rich soil?

As we drove along western Ireland, I was really struck by how much the views reminded me of home (southwest Iowa). Rolling hills, rural landscape, the various shades of green and gold...beautiful.

This area of Ireland, County Clare, is home to traditional Irish music. I made a note in my journal that the little fishing village of Doolen has pubs that ALWAYS play traditional Irish music. That day, we were treated to our first Nigel serenade: a traditional Irish song (in Gaelic) about the county fair. (How appropriate as my family at home were gearing up for the fair!)

[Now an interjection for my deep thought of the day]

Why are the Irish [songs] so melancholy?
Such sadness in their music, but their countenance so jovial?
 They know.
"Suffer in this life, Pamela; so you won't have to suffer in the next!" (Pamela's Irish grandmother) 
They let themselves be pierced by life - but,
have found their God in that sorrow,
and that joy effuses out.
...and when they don't, they find solace in drink and song -
and when they do, they remember through song and drink.
Life is short. Enjoy what you can. Find joy where you can.

The Burren: geographical, geological, biological, agricultural, historical natural wonder. Our guide here, Tony, was phenomenal. He was a true Irishmen - poet, scholar, soulful, humorous, serious. To have spent more time with him exploring the land - and we still would just be scraping the surface. Nigel kept referring to this as a "cursed" landscape, which I thought meant very little could grow here. However, upon doing a little research, I discovered the word is karst. I hope you'll forgive me; with the brogue, it's very easy to see the confusion. :)

The limestone bedrock - no topsoil here.

Look! I found Michigan in Ireland!

Our group enraptured by Tony's tales

A side wall of a stone famine house in the Burren. Can you imagine trying to grow anything on that landscape?

The two side walls of the famine house. Can you picture an entire family living in a house that small?
 It was fascinating to listen to Tony speak of the famine. Many of us (Americans) are somewhat familiar with the story because we have familial ties to Ireland. But, there was so much more at work than just "the potato crop went bad 3 years in a row." These little famine houses held an entire family. They burned peat "logs" to keep warm; smoky, hazy fires - and they kept those fires burning through the night. The ventilation was poor; they were limited to the foods they could grow for themselves; they were charged outrageous rents and had to sell nearly everything they grew to stay on the land; their health was poor; they were poor. ...and yet, the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread.

[connection from the daily Mass readings of the Israelites in Egypt to our pilgrimage] It is fascinating to me - to think of the effect oppression has on the oppressed group: just in terms of numbers. The Israelites grew more numerous than could be counted while in Egypt. The Irish, while oppressed under British rule, numbered 8 million at the time of the famine.

That night, we were on our own in Limerick city. My new friends: Lisa, Clare and Sarah (the mother-daughter duo from IOWA), Emily & Kevin (and their exchange daughter from Spain) and Glen went out for dinner at a pub on the river. While there, we spotted Milton - a man pulled from the audience during our castle dinner. ...and like I would do, at one point later in the evening, happened to yell, "Milton!" and then we just waved. and laughed awkwardly...and then watched him walk outside to his friends and tell them that he was just spotted by people from last night's dinner.

So it is with Jessica.

Musicians - not Milton. I'm not that creepy.

Remember that adorable little half-pint picture from Day 1?

Well, my new friend Clare kept telling me ALL DAY that a half-pint is actually called a "Lady's Pint." Well, now of course I want to be thought of as a lady, and as culturally appropriate, so later in the evening, I went to the bar to order a "Lady's Pint" of Smithwicks Red.

No sooner had the words come out of my mouth then the bartender said, "That's sexist."

Beg pardon? Still trying to win some adorable points, I said, "No...that's sexy."

"NO, that's sexist - because in Ireland, women drink a real f---in' pint."

*hangs head in shame; places tail between legs*  "oh."

Then Clare told him that he hurt my feelings - and he said, "To be a real Irish woman, you're going to have to get thicker skin."

*knife turns. salt pours into wound.*

Now, for a Limerick:

On a Monday night in Limerick,
I encountered a bartender - a bit of prick.
"It's sexist," they say,
"to order a Lady's Pint." Touche.
To be Irish, my skin must grow thick.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pilgrimage Reflection, Day 1: Danny Boy


I don't know why I am so hesitant to embrace my sadness - but I find that when I choose it...when I let it come, I am peaceful. Last night at the castle dinner, I felt so sad - so melancholy - so pitiable. I just...was sad, but didn't want to cry so soon in my journey with these people; and so, I was trying to resist and to be jovial like everyone else...but I couldn't.

They didn't sing Danny Boy last night, and I was so glad. I just would've lost it. BUT, I sang it this morning in the shower, and find that I am so comforted in the sadness, in the words, the tune. They are a love letter, and though they be sad - true. Such love.

Photo Credit: D.J. Unger
 Oh Danny Boy, the pipes - the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside,
The summer's gone and all the flowers are dying,
'Tis you, 'tis you must go, and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow;
I'll be here - in sunshine or shadow.
Oh Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy, I love you so.

But when ye come, and all the flow'rs are dying, 
and I am dead - as dead I well may be,
Then ye shall find the place where I am lying, 
Kneel and say an Ave there for me - 
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be - 
 And you shall bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

Oh Danny Boy,
 Oh Danny Boy,
I love you so.

My very favorite Celtic cross - which perfectly fits Dan's spirit and faith.

[Eventually, of course, Danny Boy was played. I think it was Day 3, as we headed around the Dingle Peninsula. Nigel played it, and as I knew, I began sobbing - like gasp-crying on the bus...but, then Nigel started talking right as they got to the "good" part (the italicized part above), so I never got a complete Danny Boy cry. =) 

When I came home from Ireland, the first place I visited was Dan's grave where I, indeed, knelt and said an Ave there for him.]

Oh Danny Boy, I love you so.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pilgrimage to Ireland, Day 1

Our pilgrimage to Ireland began with a "Delta flight to Shannon-town on a day it didn't rain."
[Reference to Reckless Kelly's "Seven Nights in Eire," for those of you unfamiliar]

As I started out on the journey here, I knew no one. We met a few of our group at JFK, and I had supper with two delightful ladies, Dee and Lori - and then proceeded to the gate where we met a few more. As the night went on, our flight was oversold. They were looking for 12 people to give up their seats - and...if we weren't on a GROUP pilgrimage, I could have been tempted - the offering price went as high as $2000. 

We made it safely to Shannon, where we joined with Mountain, our fearless leader and a few other members of the group who traveled separately. Our first 2 nights were spent in Limerick. 

First on our agenda was visiting Bunratty Castle. Our flight had been delayed at least an hour, so our time at the castle was shorter than originally planned (setting the tone for the trip, really). 

Castle Ruins on our way to Limerick

 After touring the castle and grounds, we checked into our hotel in Limerick - where I met my roommate for the week, Lisa. Then, we headed to the Holy Family Cathedral for our first pilgrimage Mass. I was fortunate to be one of the readers. How fitting the readings for the first day of pilgrimage: may the love of God fall on fertile soil and multiply into the lives and world around us!

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 Isiah 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down
and do not return there till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14

R. (Lk 8:8) The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God's watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.


Reading 2 Romans 8:18-23

Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.


R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.
All who come to him will have life forever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 13:1-23
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
"A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear."

The disciples approached him and said,
"Why do you speak to them in parables?"
He said to them in reply,
"Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

"But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

"Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."

A pilgrimage is when you go someplace else to return someone else.     ~Father David Koonce

And so, it began.

We returned to Limerick for a time to rest (advised by Nigel), but Lisa and I ignored Nigel to explore a bit of the area around our hotel. We got some Euros at the ATM; grabbed a quick bite and flat white at a cute grocery store, and explored the blocks around us. We walked to the river, observed some swans...and decided to return to a pub we'd passed for a quick drink and a listen at some live, traditional Irish music.

My drink of choice: Smithwicks Red - in a half pint! (not be confused with a ladies' pint...)

A pint of COORS LIGHT! A reminder of Dan....

 After this, we were back on the coach to Bunratty Castle for dinner. We enjoyed a glass of mead (honeyed wine) and a traditional Irish castle feast - complete with no utensils. :) We had several courses - bread, soup, spare ribs, roasted root vegetables, dessert, and coffee. During dinner, we were educated about what life would have been like when the castle was in its prime in the 12th-14th centuries. Then, we were treated to delightful acapella music with beautiful harmonies.

The Master of the House greeting some of our group

D.J, Sarah, and Lisa - some of my fellow pilgrims

I'm sure I was in the minority, but I was relieved when they didn't sing, "Danny Boy." This song was special to me prior to meeting Dan, but took on another layer of meaning once I met my own Irish Danny-boy. Tired from the journey coupled with heightened emotions, I wasn't quite ready to lose it front of these nice, but complete strangers. However, the noticed absence of the song did allow for Lisa (my roommate) and I to jump into the "here's the reality" discussion that night...

and so, it began.