"Into the Ancient Heart: Irish Myths and Magic"
Touching the Timeless
Ireland is strewn with hundreds of mysterious megalithic and antediluvian structures, most protected by
D'chas, the Irish Heritage Service. The best known is Newgrange, a fully reconstructed passage tomb.
Impressive in both decoration and scale, its polished veneer prompted Robin to name it "the Disneyland
of Megalithic Cemeteries." Indeed, it was the more remote sites that seemed to draw us in. When we
entered the intact cairn of Ollamh Fodhla (the poet-king) at the Loughcrew Tomb Cemetery, it felt like
stepping into a cherished piece of art. The solidity of the stone walls, the age-worn, abstract quality of
the carvings and mysterious purpose of the enclosure all provided a sense of timelessness.
Uisneach, a sacred mount at the geographical center of Ireland, was equally powerful. From the crest of the
600-foot prominence, historian Kevin Hayes wove an enthralling image of the fire pits, raths
(ringed homesteads), and other structures maintained there for over 4,000 years. The sense of spiritual
peace and harmony among the haw-thorn trees and thistles was palatable - an aspect that draws hundreds
annually, including Sioux and Aztec shamans.
We were determined to commune more closely with such a sacred site, and so, unable to resist, we crawled
through the narrow crevice at the base of the Catstone, a massive rock formation there known as the umbilical
between the earth and sky. Few things will connect you to the land like scrambling on your belly under a
hundred tons of granite.
Of Pubs and People
Of course, we couldn't explore the past at the expense of the present. The term "forty shades of green"
perfectly describes the Irish countryside, with rolling fields crosshatched by ivy-clad stone walls and accented
by the occasional castle or church ruin.
Despite their often melancholic lore, the Irish are warm and welcoming, honestly inquisitive and always
ready with a story or joke. In the bustling port of Galway, we unwound with rich pints of Guinness and live
jazz at the Ti Neachtain pub. Later, at the Belvedere House B&B, I enjoyed a bout of "slagging" - sharing
wine and boisterous conversation with a quartet of well-read locals deep into the night.
The term "hospitable" is an understatement here. The owners of Uisneach, David and Angela Clarke, took an
hour out of their busy farming schedule to share tea with us. Our hosts, from the Roxford Lodge in Dublin to
the White Park House in Ulster, made us feel like family, with advice and gossip eagerly exchanged over coffee
Hero of the Land
Our travels finally brought us into the Cooley Peninsula, situated 60 miles north of Dublin.
This was the land of the great Irish epic, the T'in B' Cuailnge or the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Here, Queen Maeve
warred against Ireland's greatest mythic hero, C'chulainn, stealing the prize bull of Ulster. Richard related the
colorful chronicle of Maeve's hubris and C'chulainn's bravery as we traversed the rugged and rich scenery.
Here we saw the most poignant sight of our journey. In a wide field of rippling grass, a single majestic stone
stands alone against the horizon. It is C'chulainn's Death Pillar, to which he bound his body so that even as
death took him, he could stand to face his enemies. Lured into a trap by Maeve's agents, his was a tragic but
noble end, and this simple monument powerfully captured that moment.
I could imagine him there, bowed but not broken, existing somewhere between reality and myth - just like the
extraordinary land which shares his soul.
The Myths and Legends tour also includes castle and church sites, shopping, and other experiences.
For more information, contact:
The Irish Connection
ARTICLE COURTESY OF SPECIALTY TRAVEL INDEX