In Summer 2015, I set off on a grand adventure with my sister Ceallaigh. Our mother had gifted us each with a small “early inheritance” and the stipulation was that we use the money for travel. She told us, “Seeing the world gives you memories and experiences no one can take from you.” As a genealogist, I am a “tree traveler” and always gravitate toward seeing ancestral places so we organized our trip around England, Wales, and Ireland. We traveled via train from our homes in New Orleans up to New York, explored the Big Apple a bit, then enjoyed a seven-day crossing over the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Queen Mary II.
The feeling of my first time stepping onto English soil will always stay with me. I’d arrived in a place that felt right somehow, my blood and bones recognized their innate belonging in that place. After grabbing our car and nearly dying on the roads between Southampton and Exeter, we spent a lovely few days exploring that area before heading down into Cornwall. We stayed at a farmhouse just outside of Truro and were there for 12 days. I cannot begin to describe the magic that was swirling inside of me, the feelings of deja vu, the emotions that were so strong I would randomly burst into tears. Going into a church attended by grandparents, visiting their graves, wandering the back roads, and immersing in the culture created a connection that was so much stronger than when I’d put their names to paper during my genealogy research.
We traveled onward to Wales, enjoyed a family reunion with Welsh cousins, toured the places and spaces of more ancestors – so thrilling! – and at the end of that leg of the trip, right before we ferried over to Ireland, my sister tripped and broke her foot. I got her over to Ireland where I insisted she go to A&E, and I then sadly had to pack her onto a plane to return to the USA for orthopedic intervention. I was alone in Ireland and a month left to my trip, so I began to explore.
The magic and beauty of Ireland cannot be overstated in any way. It truly is the most variegated and luscious green land I’ve ever seen in my life. I basked in its sun, its frequent and random rain showers, the smell of the air, the architecture, the history, the arcane mist that blankets the land and leaves one to feel they’re in a bit of a time travel. I drank beer, I drank whiskey, I ate cabbage and bacon, rose petal-covered chocolates. I enjoyed nights out in pubs, rambled around the Film Fleadh in Galway, nearly froze to death in July at the Cliffs of Moher. One memory sits deep within my soul like a spark, though… and that was a day trip around the Ring of Kerry.
I set out very early on my first morning there but on the advice of a lovely, very elderly, local gentleman I met at breakfast in Kenmare who seemed a bit concerned, I decided to wait. “Ye’ll be travelin’ alone in the mist. Mind yeerself, will ye?” He then shook his head and strongly advised me to not go that day, it was too misty, he said. I make it habit to listen mindfully to local knowledge and so I waited. The next morning I took off again, and once on the Ring I made a lot of pit stops to take photos. At one of them, noticed a very small gap on the side of bridge that went over a fast-moving stream. I ignored it at first but it called to me repeatedly, and I was compelled to find out what was on the other side. No one was around, no cars had passed since I parked, so I grabbed my small backpack, some water and my cane, and crossed the bridge.
On reaching the gap, I peered over the edge of the bridge and noticed a very steep flight of moss-covered steps. I picked my way down, using my cane for balance, and on reaching the bottom, felt the modern world disappear in a big whoosh. The air was thick with birdsong and a peaty fragrance, the water was rushing, the ground covered in leaves. Under a large tree was a big rock, so I went over and took a seat to balance myself and take pictures. I leaned back into the tree to relax a bit and I felt myself being lulled into that particular place of wakeful sleeping. I was alarmed but unable to stop my descent. Words came to my mind that I was safe and my fear quickly dissipated.
I am not fully aware of all that happened during my time in that space, only that hours had passed between taking the steps down, and coming back fully into myself. I do recall wandering to the water’s edge and dipping my feet into it very carefully as I was firmly chided, “Don’t fall!” I took pictures of the moss and the small pools of water under the trees. I didn’t see the bridge anymore, nor the church on the road above the water, and somehow I knew I’d slipped into another place in time. It was enchanting, it was so peaceful, and while there I was given the knowing that the gossamer spaces, those spots where the veil is thin and one can move between, exist all over Mother Earth so her children can go to spend time in the arms of the Goddess.
Of interest to me as I look back is that my father had suddenly died just six months before the trip, and the pain I felt around his life and death had manifested in physical ways that were very distressing. I also didn’t realize it at that time, but I was likely already carrying the dangerous blood clots in my legs that would soon travel to my lungs, nearly kill me, and have me admitted to ICU in heart failure when I returned home. In that green, fragrant, thin space, however, I felt Brigid’s presence, the coolness of Her sacred water, healing in so many ways. I believe it was Her being there with me in Ireland, and again a while later in Glastonbury, in the coppery healing waters of Chalice Well, that gave me what I needed to stay alive during my travels home.
I have been able to return only once to England since then, in 2018. During that pilgrimage, I made my way back to Chalice Well where I cried in gratitude at being alive and able to give my thanks in person to the waters that saved me. My plans to return in 2020 were crushed by COVID, but I look to the future and await my return to England in 2021, and to Ireland in 2022. I hope to bring Priestess sisters to that secret grove by the rushing stream… or perhaps I will take a side trip and go alone again, nestle into that rock and tree, sink into the mists of magic and timelessness, cradled by Brigid’s healing love. May it be so.