Donna Troy Cleary

19. The silence.

Donna Troy ClearyComment

The Silence

 

What does it mean that the women in my family lose their memory as they age? This is something I’ve thought about a lot as my mother struggles with this problem, just as my grandmother did.

An ex- boyfriend's mom was going through the same, while we dated.  And I recently met another friend’s mother who’s experience echoes my mother’s.  These women are all about the same age and I was reminded of a discussion my ex and I had. He had a theory that our moms were losing their memory because they had lost their voice - in a culture that refused to hear them.  That is not to say that these women don't speak... they do... plenty... but are they heard?  

I find myself frequently frustrated by this problem.  I'll say something but it isn't heard until a few seconds later when someone else repeats it.  Suddenly my idea is not mine.  Is it the tenor of my voice?  Is it that I doubt my words?  Is it a systemic problem, so deep in our subconscious that we women are unaware of it and at the same time, participate in it?

I read this article yesterday.  It talks about the silencing of senior women in academia.  Instead of being sought out for advise or assistance, women of a certain status or age are silenced and marginalized. And not just by men. These things have happened to me.  A young woman in my building told me recently that everyone in the building thought I was "crazy" after I had chosen to expose a problem that involved her. It happened in grad school too. A deliberate undermining by some young women in my class...  Why? I was stepping outside of my boundaries?  Had too much to say?  Needed to be brought down a few pegs?  It was ironic in an academic setting, designed to help us find our voice and open our minds.  It was my teacher, a man, and the Chair of our program who recognized the pattern and brought it to my attention.  I was grateful for the wake-up call. 

I worked as an RN for 13 years before having the opportunity to be a full-time mom, sort of, (I also ran several successful cottage industries and eventually found art while working at home).  But the kids were my primary focus and the center of my universe.  I managed everything.  I bought into the myth that I could do it all, be super woman but I always worried I wasn't doing enough.

I made sure they felt loved and let them know that they were being watched, that someone knew where they were at all times. Yes, this is where the trouble started.  I was that helicopter mom. I feared I would miss something significant, that at a pivotal moment, looking the other way, something tragic would happen.  They would agree that I was a bit much and I was systematically shut out... "Mom!"  "Give me a break!"  "Can I have some money? :)) "  "Stay out of my business?"  "You don't know anything!"  

Or something like that...  I said much the same to my mother.  It was a necessary part of becoming an individual.  The breaking of the bond that held us so close that I felt like they were part of my skin.  Everything that happened to them, good or bad, happened in my body. They had to shed me.  Or more accurately, chop me out... with sharp instruments. Layer by layer, they shattered and discarded my protective coating.  And the silence. NO!  You can't know what I think, how I feel, what I'm doing, you don't know anything!

It was traumatic.  I'm sure you've heard the saying ... Motherhood is the only job where, if you succeed, you are fired, become obsolete.  What happens to mom when the kids go off to college and never return to the nest?  Fortunately in the early 2000's, that wasn't a problem.  My fellow mom-friends and I had all gone to college before children.  This was a privileged position I found myself in. Each of us found work outside of the home.  

For many in my mom's generation, working outside home did not happen, for a number of reasons.  What were their choices?  My mom had been a secretary before marrying.  She was literally and routinely chased around the desk by her boss. (Think Mad Men).  Sexual harassment was rampant, expected and tolerated.  Put up with it, or years of school were wasted and she would not have a job.  There was no going back to that kind of work and she didn't have to.  My dad made enough money and they continued their pursuit of a middle-class lifestyle. Both had grown up in Dorchester, an "Irish Slum" south of Boston, with no money, huge families, white skin and hope for an easier future. (I mention white skin in recognition that these transitions and choices weren't as easy, or even possible for some people of color.)  They experienced the American Dream of the 1950's - nice home, nice car, successful offspring, ordered lifestyle, everyone in their place. 

These women stayed in the home, caring for their households and husbands. But they were frustrated. The 60's happened under their feet... and Women's Lib.  They were a generation wedged between tradition and shifting cultural expectations. A necessary critique of the domestic was underway and in its wake, those who occupied that space were now being diminished, by women as well.

"If you don't use it, you lose it" is an adage I remember hearing from a Gerontologist I worked with in Boston.  The idea had to do with maintaining bodily functions and memory.  If you don't walk every day, your muscles deteriorate and then you can't walk.  If you don't continue to learn something new or stretch yourself with new ideas, your mental capacity diminishes.  We hear a lot about neuroplasticity in popular culture.  It's the brain's ability to develop new neural connections through work that challenges the mind.  

But what happens if you are silenced, if your ideas aren't heard?

My mother has railed against the silence the same way she fights memory loss. It makes her angry.  I have watched her struggle to express herself my entire life.  I can remember thinking when I was younger, that she had nothing important to say.  I dismissed her.  Her tears welled up when she spoke, especially when the words were significant.  Her throat, constricted, made speaking near impossible.  She shut herself down, cut off her own voice, silenced.  I often do the same. It's brainwashing.  It comes from that diminishing that still lives in my body, despite years living outside of it, despite awareness.  My body "knows" that what I have to say is not important, even when my brain says "YES IT IS!"... it shuts me down.  

In this lifetime, there will be men who talk over us, diminish us, men who refused to engage in the tough conversations or run away when they start but what responsibility do we bear as women? Will we hear the stories of our mothers, our elders, the sage, the wise woman?  Who will hear our stories?

My mom recently told me that this is my life's work, figuring out the silence and the memory loss that accompanies it.  I would say it is the work of our generation. Or memory loss is our future.

The art I make honors the domestic space and the wise women of my family. Studying herbalism has allowed me to retrieve the knowledge of my Irish ancestors- powerful women, enmeshed in the domestic and the community - the healer, shaman, wild woman, witch.  But herbalism is not just about medicine, it is about looking at the issues we face as individuals and as a culture.  Our bodies mirror our thoughts.  My hearing has started to go.  I have tinnitus, a ringing in my ears. I'm having trouble hearing...  

I don't listen to my mother enough. Perhaps it also comes from the tendency to silence myself.  Or maybe knowing that I am not heard. 

I hope it's not too late.

Mom in the middle, where she belongs.

Mom in the middle, where she belongs.

18. Come see my Reishi at Freight and Volume Gallery

Donna Troy ClearyComment

If you've been following my newsletters, you know I've been studying herbalism as a way to expand my understanding of Healing and the practices/belief systems that surround it.  Herbalism acknowledges the interdependence of plants and humans and our need to respect that relationship for healing/health.  I've written about it extensively in my blog. 

I couldn't be happier to be included an exhibition that explores these ideas, opening this Saturday at Freight + Volume Gallery.  97 Allen St. New York, NY 10002

I would love to see you at the opening!!
 

The Secret Life of Plants

Opening reception Saturday, July 8th, 7pm - 10pm
July 8th – September 3rd, 2017


Co-curated by Jennifer Coates and Nick Lawrence


I'm honored to be amongst this amazing group of artists.  Eric Aho, David Baskin, Ross Bleckner, Erik den Breejen, Benjamin Butler, Maria Calandra, Hye Jin Chung, Donna Cleary, Jennifer Coates, Jared Deery, Alec Egan, Stephen Eichhorn, Daniel Heidkamp, Elizabeth Huey, David Humphrey, Peter Hutchinson, Vera lliatova, Samuel Jablon, George Jenne, Mi Ju, Olivia Kaufman-Rovira, Benjamin King, Emily Noelle Lambert, H. Peik Larsen, Meg Lipke, Sangram Majumdar, JJ Manford, Sean Martindale, Cristina de Miguel, Emilia Olsen, Rachel Portesi, Max Razdow, Alexis Rockman, Alexander Ross, Rachel Schmidhofer, Adrienne Elise Tarver, Russell Tyler, Phoebe Washburn, Neil Welliver, and Summer Wheat. 


A limited edition, full-color, double-sided flipbook will be published to accompany the exhibition. 

subversive medicine, Reishi I, II and III After choosing to "walk with" Reishi as an herbalist, this mushroom has worked its way into my life and work.  Reishi is known as the Mushroom of Immortality and has been used in Chinese medicine for over 4000 years.  

subversive medicine, Reishi I, II and III

After choosing to "walk with" Reishi as an herbalist, this mushroom has worked its way into my life and work.  Reishi is known as the Mushroom of Immortality and has been used in Chinese medicine for over 4000 years.  

17. Immortality and Fungus

Donna Troy Cleary1 Comment

When I think of fungus, generally speaking, I feel a bit nauseous.  I picture that slippery pink stuff that grows in my bathtub, the green powder that covered stored boxes in my basement or worse the black, toxic kind that has made headlines of late.
Erase that from your mind and conjure the image of a shiny, red, fan-shaped fungus loaded with the stuff that makes you Immortal (sort of).  
This is where studying herbalism and my time spent at Mildred's Lane conflate.  Artists navigate the spaces between the conscious and unconscious, finding connections and inspiration when we leave our minds open. The same applies to the practice of Herbalism.
Part of my Herbalism training involves "walking with" one of the plants that provide medicine.  This means spending an extended period getting to know the herb, in my case a fungus, using its medicine and leaving myself open to whatever information presents itself.
I had chosen to walk with Reishi the day before I left for Mildred's lane, the artist residency run by J Morgan Puett and Mark Dion. I was a late add to the mix of those teaching after expressing my interest in the session about Wasting and Wilding.  Morgan suggested I participate as a Contributing Guest Artist.  Of course I said yes but I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  
I will say in summary, that my mind was officially blown.
After a few emails with Athena Kokoronis, the bright, young artist and organizer of the session, I decided to make my workshop about herbalism and volunteered to assist in the tincturing workshop.  
Arriving in the afternoon the first day, I roamed the property taking photo after photo of the plants I knew, drawing a map as I went so others could find them.  I planned to go back and mark them with the red yarn I brought for that purpose, making them easy to spot from a distance.
About an hour after my walk, Athena arrived with a giant Reishi mushroom plucked from a nearby tree. When asked where she found it, the Fellows who accompanied her pointed broadly to the forest and said, "Somewhere over there."  It was late in the day.  It registered that I had chosen Reishi wisely, gaining affirmation in Athena's find but thought nothing further about it. 
Reishi have been used in Chinese medicine for over 4000 years. They call it The Plant of Immortality for its cancer fighting, antioxidant-rich properties.  
Reishi kept popping up in my consciousness.  I named a dog I fostered Reishi after deciding I couldn't call her the name she came with - Baby.  I reserve that name for boyfriends and children. Remembering that dogs only hear vowels, I made the switch to its sound-alike.  Dogs foster longevity as well, so it made sense. Her new owner loved the name and kept it.  
I had also made a body of work after the Reishi Mushroom. Serendipity lead to a series of shapes that looked like shelf mushrooms. Raku firing added a surprising, iridescent, metal finish, completing the reference to this "magic" fungus.
On day two of the residency, foraging was on the agenda.  My experience with herbs had included class discussions, internet searches for images and a walk through Prospect Park with my teacher, who pointed out the local plants we had studied. Many were familiar but some did not grow in the park. Being a visual learner, I knew that once I saw the plants in real life, they would permanently imprint on my brain.
We explored the meadows and forests surrounding the compound. I can identify flowers but most plants had not reached that stage so their leggy green stems and leaves were pointed out by Nathaniel Witmore and Laura Silverman. Nathaniel had encyclopedic knowledge of everything growing on the property. Laura too and her keen eye caught anything he walked by with his brisk pace.  
About a 1/2 hour in, we came upon a stump covered in Reishi.  Mouth agape, head spinning, I impulsively reached to take one, asking if it was ok. I was told I should leave it to finish growing. Its wide white edge indicated it was not mature.  I studied the fruiting bodies closely and hesitantly walked on.  My mind kept returning to the Reishi for the rest of the walk.
At the end of the walk, tinctures were on the agenda and we congregated in the kitchen. Nathaniel walked in with a mound of Reishi so we could prepare a double decoction.  I talked about belief systems in healing, mentioning the mind/body connection. This is something ancient healing practices have known and science is now affirming. I also brought up the premise that we and the plants are part of a macrocosm that is this planet.  Respect for all that lives use to be a given. Traditionally we ask permission before taking from a plant, leaving an offering from ourselves in return. 
Later, I was asked to tend the decoction. 4-6 weeks are needed to pull the medicine from the generous polypores.  My training involves giving recognition and thanks to the plant for its gift of healing.  Each time I shake the mixture, gratitude is expressed. The liquid has already turned a dark shade of amber.  
You might find this article interesting.  Written by Michael Pollan, it outlines research conducted on Plant Intelligence. It reminds me of something my son, a Neurosurgical Resident, once told me when talking about mental illness. "What we now consider Psychiatry will soon be linked to a physical element in the brain."  it seems, it's just a matter of time until science catches up to what Indigenous cultures have known for thousands of years.
Part of our time at the residency was spent in town and every time I drove out of Mildred's Lane, my eyes were glued to the forest. I was rewarded.  I managed to find 5 more trees and stumps growing the mushrooms, each time being careful not to take more than 1/3, a wildcrafting ethos that insures the mushrooms will spread their spore and find other hosts in the forest for future harvests..
My last full day was particularly fortunate.  I found a still upright tree with foot-long growths on it, taking only two of the twelve or so mushrooms this time, I had enough.  I gave the largest to Jan Mun, another of the Contributing Guest Artists.  She works with plant remediation as the social practice part of her art. I gave another to Kristyna and Marek Milde, other Contributing Artists working at the intersection of culture the landscape.  

Jan had brought bags of Reishi mycelium with her to Mildred's Lane. After hearing about my connection and calling me the Reishi whisperer, she asked if I would be interested in inoculating trees in the area. Yes please!  She also gave me Reishi plugs so I could grow reishi from a log at home.  I decided to split the plugs with Sacred Vibes Apothecary, where I study, so we can start a Reishi log in our medicinal garden. We'll also make medicine as a group with the Reishi I harvested.
Jan and I found one more stump loaded with the mushrooms as we left on the final day. I had hoped to show her the upright tree, knowing it would fruit again next year but I didn't spot it.  Driving in the opposite direction, I suspect the width of my car blocked its location, down a slope, out of view. 
My cache of medicine has been drying this week in my apartment. The smell is akin to rotting leaves in a damp forest. Hot and rainy weather forced me to keep the windows closed for days and I was overwhelmed - every breath loaded with their scent.  If I left and returned, I was struck by their potency. Over time, I came to love the earthy, decaying scent, recognizing its origin.  Reishi thrive on dying trees, converting their diminishing energy into the gift of immortality.

16. Meanwhile, back at the farm...

Donna Troy ClearyComment

First, a news flash!  Next week, I'm taking on pedagogic responsibilities at Mildred's Lane, the residency and brainchild of J Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, during the Wilding Wasting Workstyling II Session from June 5th - June 11th.  I've been asked to present my work, discussing how I've taken on the role of healer as a subversive response to profit-driven Big Pharma and dissociative medical practices.  I'll discuss how my art represents a reclamation of an ancient feminine power along with the power inherent in the domestic space, one of many themes at Mildred's Lane.  Such an honor. Can't wait.

And now, more about my residency at Cill Rialaig.

My first day at the residency was cold and a shock to the system.  After figuring out the wood stove I stopped shivering and realized the magnitude of where I had landed. At the southern tip of County Kerry, the residency occupied a pre-famine village, lovingly restored by a generous art patron.  On the edge of a cliff, its front lawn was the Atlantic Ocean. The raw temperatures were easily tempered by turf and firewood, purchased at the local convenience store, unlike in years past, when heating the home meant months of labor.  Pol, pronounced Paul, another resident, had grown up in Northern Ireland and shared stories about digging turf as a boy. His family would spend at least a month cutting the turf with a spade into stove-size logs. These would be formed into a teepee for drying and then stacked in storage for winter.  Ireland is trying to bring this practice to an end.  Turf is the precursor to coal. Thousands of years of plant debris were compressed, sealing within it a history. Perhaps you've heard of Bog People, unearthed in recent decades.  It is theorized that these bodies were left to mark the edges of territory, were sacrifices or were left as sacred burials. The pH of the bog preserved the bodies, leaving skin, hair, bones and organs intact. 

If you've never smelled burning turf, you have missed one of life's pleasures.  It's earthy scent permeated the island and was part of the air I breathed for weeks.  Since the center for smell is adjacent to the center for memory in our brain, burning turf will forever commingle with images of my life on the edge of this island.

I decided I was not going to be making permanent sculpture during the residency. Instead, I constructed sculptures and apparel for performances out of local plant materials.  My first sculpture was a diminutive vessel woven out of lily-like leaves and the herb Usnea, found in a forest on my trip South from Cork.  It became the locus of many photographs - marking, accenting, sitting in the foreground of spectacular landscapes, just as the Megaliths did.

Next I took on brambles - raspberry vines - that formed tangled barriers along the road. I was drawn to them, not yet knowing their connection to the feminine and healing properties related to reproduction.  I wove several large, loose baskets and immediately took to the cliffs below the village for a performance.  It was still quite cold so I donned my rabbit fur hat and winter coat.  The hat lent a primal element to the performance, the coat was practical - a combination I would use in future performances since I am a modern woman referencing ancient rituals.

A large rock protruded from the cliff.  As I approached I realized it was a miniature creche filled with hay for sheep that grazed this land.  This seemed a perfect place to sit and gaze meditatively at the ocean and rocky terrain. My intention as I sat was to conjure my ancestors who left during the famine and earlier in response to an oppressive occupation of the island.  I recalled their stories, passed down to me as a child.  Stories of loss.  The unresolved loss that comes from leaving all that was familiar.  Memories of arriving in a country that both welcomed and shunned them.  The next group of immigrants, they took menial jobs and were feared for their hungry spirit as they fought for footing in their new homeland.  

I placed the basket on top of my head, first upright, to capture the essence of my ancestors whose memories were forever tied to this place.  I then turned the vessel over onto my head, allowing their spirit to enter my body and mind, filling me.  I chanted intuitively, asking the land to embrace and release me simultaneously, allowing loss to flow into and through the vessel, into and through my body and back into the ground, solid below me, finally home where it could heal.  

A storm was overhead when I began.  Raindrops, like tears flowed down my face and bare hands, cleansing. By the end of the ceremony, the clouds had moved off the coast and hung darkly over the ocean.  I imagined sorrow, cleansed from my body, flowing out into the vast Atlantic, perhaps making its way back toward the Eastern Coast of the US, transformed as water is, in its constant evolution from rain, to stream, to ocean, mist, condensation, cloud and rain again.  

15. I left out a key part of my time in Cork... Kinsale.

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I'm kind of in awe of the fact that the same day I spent so much time amongst the Megaliths, I managed to head south and take in Kinsale as well.  Kinsale is a town on the southern coast of Cork, where my mother's family lived prior to emigrating in the early 1800's.  It was her grandfather who worked as a gardener, on an estate in Bandon. Lord Bandon that is.  Lord Bandon was one in a line of British landowners who occupied and controlled land once owned by the indigenous Irish population.  After my residency, I found his estate, performed a ceremony, had some other-worldly experiences and left an offering.

But back to Kinsale.  On the same trip where my dad had that out-of-body experience, my mother had deja vu. (See my earlier Cork post.)  My mother was standing on the southern tip of Kinsale, on a place called Old Head and felt like she had been there before although this was her first trip to Ireland. Again, these types of experiences are not seen as unusual in my family.  It's interesting for me to think back on my childhood and see how these types of stories were woven into our daily lives.  The macabre, preternatural, supernatural, inexplicable, luck, superhuman and ancestors who assist in a time of need - are part of the deal. These ideas had been introduced enough times that when she told me this story, I saw it as quite normal.  I took what she said as fact.  

It was my mission to find this spot and see what might happen to me.  Google brought me into the town.  Kinsale was a postcard.  Old buildings, storefronts with brightly colored trim and signs line the narrow streets.  Try to conjure an image of a village in Ireland in your head, Kinsale will look just like it.  

Again, my heart was pounding in my throat.  The streets were far too narrow.  Cars parked on both sides of some roads and on one side when the roads narrow further.  Google went out of range and I made a wrong turn. Literally, I was cursing out loud.  (Admit it, we all do it.)  In Brooklyn recently, I watched a Rabbi drive slowly past me in traffic, middle finger in the window, as he stared straight ahead. I had almost cut him off.  

My window was closed so I wasn't offending anyone. I was focused on avoiding a throng of pedestrians, streetlights (did I mention how narrow the streets were?) and those cars parked on my left - my bad side - the side I was not sitting on - the side that hits things.  

I crept along at a snail's pace and then noticed a car behind me, impatiently tailgating me.  So I picked up the pace a little bit and then there was a loud crash.  Ahhhhhhhhhh!  I'd hit something. I imagined a gaping hole in the side of one of the cars.  Instead it was a mirror, sticking waaaaay out into the middle of the street.  (It seemed that way at least.)

All of the pedestrians had stopped and were watching me.  I needed to pull over, so I tucked my car in a tiny space, trying hard to not be intimidated by those who stood waiting to see what I was going to do.  I resisted the urge to say, "It's the streets! - These ridiculously narrow streets!".  But I quietly headed back to the mirror, head averted in shame.  The mirror was dangling by a wire.  It was attached to what looked like a miniature truck from the 1960's. Rust had left holes around the wheel rims and the flat bed in the back.  Just my luck.  It didn't have a break away mirror. The last time I hit something with the left side of my car was in Cork City - a street light (I know...).  It made an equally loud noise and as many people turned to find the source.  Fortunately for me, my break away mirror had done it's thing and it snapped inward with no damage. "I have insurance" had become my mantra on this trip. 

I walked up to the car to see if I could put the mirror back where it belonged and miraculously, it stayed in place, tucked against the car as if it was a break away.  Ok, it crunched a great deal as I wedged it into place but it did stay. I walked back to my car and wrote a short note. (They were still staring at me.)  I tucked the note into the windshield and shakily got back into my car. "Sorry, my mirror hit your mirror and it appears it is broken.  Please call xxx xxx xxxx."  No one ever did. Maybe they thought it was futile, maybe they realized they parked in the wrong place (no, the Irish don't consider this), maybe they realized their car was decaying and this was just one more broken part, maybe they didn't want to call a US #.

I drove on a bit, leaving the downtown.  My nerves were rattled.  I saw signs that said a golf course was ahead and remembered that my parents had said Old Head was now a golf course.  The terrain was mostly knee-high grasses in gold and green and low hills surrounding a winding road.  I pulled over to confirm I was heading in the right direction. It was several miles on still.  My shakes subside as I drove through the open, expansive land.  I breathed myself back to calm by the time I reach the peninsula.  

Old Head was shaped like an ivy leaf, fastened to the mainland by a narrow stem.  A crumbled stone building marked the base of the stem - a fortress - visible as I approached.  I was getting use to seeing these abandoned shapes on the horizon, masses of anthropomorphic darkness, surrounded by green and gold.  

The fortress didn't disappoint as I drove up.  It was about as tall as a 4-story brownstone and as wide too. (I'm a New Yorker now, these are my gauges.)  There was a stone wall that extended from cliff edge to cliff edge, where the peninsula met land.  A wrought iron gate with stone "flames" sitting atop, framed the road leading out to the end of the peninsula. The edges of the fortress has fallen away.  It too had ivy vines, grasses and plants occupying a large segment of its facade.  

I can't believe I didn't do my research before going to Kinsale.  Turns out there were some Neolithic stones - one with a hole carved through it - out by the lighthouse I saw on the horizon. There was also a significant battle that took place on Old Head.  In the 1600's the local clan had been fighting off a British invasion. The Spanish decided they'd help out the locals and ran supplies in through Old Head.  The Irish were defeated and fled. This is where my head starts spinning.  Ireland has been invaded, occupied, re-invaded, reoccupied so many times, I can't keep track.  I need to take a history-of-Ireland course. Apparently the Vikings were there for a while too, in the 800's, right around the time they had their settlement in Cork City.  So maybe I've got some Viking blood from my mother's side too.  

The reason none of this came to light was because when I arrived at the fortress there was a big sign that said, Private.  I wasn't allowed out on the peninsula.  Only golfers were.  

This fort was erected in 1677 to keep the Spanish and French from coming back and taking the land.  Another land grab had just happened in Ireland and the locals weren't happy. I mentioned this story to the herbalist Rosari Kingston when I stayed with her later in the trip (see former blog entry).  She and her husband tisked audibly and shook their heads.  They said there had been an ongoing fight over the right-of-way. People had been walking the 4 mile circumference of Old Head for a hundred years, unimpeded. They hadn't realize the real estate /golf mogul had won the lawsuit and access was cut off.

Does this sound familiar at all?  Golf, greed, being inconsiderate of neighbors (and the offspring of former neighbors), thinking you have special rights, that common courtesy doesn't apply to you and that the world owes you something?  

I degress.

Frustrated, I noticed a family parked off to the right in an area outside of the stone wall, so I pulled my car in, grabbed my camera and headed over to the cliffs, visible on the drive out and 50 feet ahead.  At various times prior to and since my visit, people have asked whether I visited the Cliffs of Moher.  I didn't.  Here's why.

There was nothing to keep a visitor from walking to the edge of the cliff and over the side.  This was something I appreciated about the Irish.  They assumed one will take care.  A guard rail would have altered and obscured the view.  It was unnecessary.  The cliff dropped at least a half mile to the churning ocean and sharp rocks below.  From where I stood, I could see out along Old Head to my left and back towards downtown Kinsale to my right.  Cliffs receded in both directions, to the horizon.  There were sea birds zipping in and out, so far in the distance they seemed as small as those tiny, spastic, red spiders I sometime watch on walls, spinning in circles, careening in every direction - half a millimeter at most. They added perspective as they defied the stiff wind. Some zipped into what must have been nests, tucked into the jagged cliffs.  

Standing on the brink, with the wind blowing madly at my back and then whipping around to my front, I felt unsteady, tossed around.  This dance with bodily injury was invigorating but I had no desire to make that plunge.  I wanted to capture the insanity on film so I crouched to sit on a ledge. Despite my efforts, the video came out shaky. The wind nudged and shoved my hands.  I did, however, manage to grab a few shots with the camera. 

After about 15 minutes of this I'd had enough, so I headed back to the car.  I noticed the family didn't stay long either. I'm sure they were worried about their young children getting too close to the edge.

I walked up to the gate of the fortress and noticed a guard in a dilapidated building just on the other side.  It was cold and the guard post had no windows or door.  I walked through the gate and headed over to talk.  He was a lovely man with a heavy accent. It looked like he might have been a farmer ... or a bull wrestler.  He was stout with broad shoulders and thick legs.  He lumbered like a bodybuilder as he approached the doorway, thighs making his stride wide, arms so big, they couldn't rest against his sides.  I asked if he would let me in but the answer was no.  I told him my mother's family was from Kinsale and we talked about the famine, emigration, the earl who once owned this land.  I was still not allowed out onto the peninsula but felt I'd grasped a sense of the place.  He was just doing his job.  The Irish economy has taken the locals on a roller coaster ride over the years.  It had been particularly harsh since the crash in 2008, so I didn't blame him.  It's a long climb back to equilibrium after hostile forces occupy a country. Irish independence happened in my lifetime, which is something to be proud of but many still lived marginally.  I took a few photos of the fort on my way back to the car and headed home after a very long day.  

 

 

After the Megaliths, I head south to Kinsale.

After the Megaliths, I head south to Kinsale.

The approach to Old Head.  Note, I'm on the left side of the road.  Topsy turvy.

The approach to Old Head.  Note, I'm on the left side of the road.  Topsy turvy.

Moher shmoher

Moher shmoher

... and looking in the other direction toward Kinsale

... and looking in the other direction toward Kinsale

The guard's car and the fortress.  If you look closely, you can see some stone "flames" on top of the stone gate.  Pretty cool.

The guard's car and the fortress.  If you look closely, you can see some stone "flames" on top of the stone gate.  Pretty cool.

An old wall runs from edge to edge.  They're serious.  See the barbed wire?  

An old wall runs from edge to edge.  They're serious.  See the barbed wire?  

14. Off to the Residency

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Research done.  Connections made with family currently living in Ireland and with ancestors.  This will all come into play when I get to the residency and start making art.

I arrive at the residency on one of the coldest days in March.  It is pouring rain, the wind is howling and I've just driven on some of the scariest roads known to mankind.  Think driving south on the PCH, with all the dysfunction of driving on the wrong side of the road.  It's hard enough to avoid the fringes of the road, imagine when the fringe is a giant cliff with only a stone wall between you and certain death.  

On my way to the residency, I was told to make sure I stop in the forest just outside of Kenmare by Rosari Kingston, the herbalist I mentioned earlier on in this blog.  There aren't many forests in Ireland.  The landscape is shaped almost entirely by sheep.  It is thought that they were domesticated as early as 11,000 BC.  They keep the grass short and prevent forests from forming. The landscape consists of uniform groves of planted pine trees - for wood stoves and building - along side grass and the thorny shrubbery that sheep don't eat.  

Watch this video to see what introducing one animal to the landscape can do.   

Rosari said I would find myself connected to the otherworld in the woods.  I spot a sign for a forest and make a sharp turn into the parking lot a few miles outside of Kenmare.  A rushing stream divides the lot from the woods. The streams are always rushing around these parts because it rains every day.  The wooden bridge is slippery. Never having an opportunity to dry out, it has a thin coat of plant life. There's a gravel path leading in and as I walk on, the trees seem to move in a bit closer, surrounding me.  Birds are calling back and forth but I can't spot them, despite there being no foliage yet.  

Everything is covered in moss.  The tree trunks, the branches, the rocks, the ground, fallen trees... and it grows in large mounds, clustered together like the taste buds on your tongue - but a foot-wide each ... and green. This plush cover-all creates a hush, I can only hear the birds.  No cars, no people. As I go in deeper, it starts to drizzle. The humidity in Ireland has done wonders for my skin and my hair is liking it too.  Anywhere else, dampness can lead to me rocking the full-on Bozo.  (Sorry millennials if you don't know this clown).  In Ireland, my hair folds into gentle waves.  More reason to love this place.

I'm determined to not be spooked.  "I've got a black belt. I can handle anyone or anything I come upon."    When I was in Cork and mentioned I was heading to the residency to my Airbnb host she said, "It's pretty wild there."  I thought she meant animals, like bear, cougar, angry squirrels. Apparently none of those animals have existed for hundreds of years. "No," she said, "The only thing you need to fear are hairy men.  Hairy Kerry men." And she laughed.  I had told this story to the men at the fort in Cork City when I visited.  They thought it was pretty funny too.  I mentioned it again to some folks who stopped by while driving through the residency later on and they said it had to do with the Gaelic Football rivalry between Kerry and Cork.  Gaelic Football is a cross between soccer and rugby.  Like the Red Sox and Yankees, fans align themselves.  I'm a MA native, currently residing in NYC. Never liked those Yankees, especially after Roger Clemens defected.  

By wild, my Airbnb host meant the weather.  To add to the list of "coincidences" that happened on this trip, as if there hadn't been enough already, my Airbnb host's husband use to work at the residency I was traveling to.  Yes, they keep coming.

About 15 minutes into the woods, the remnants of a home protrudes from the weighty green mass.  A fireplace still stands but not much else.  Now the rain is really coming down, the wind has picked up and I hear thunder.  I still have a ways to go before I reach the residency so I start walking back to the car.  The thunder is getting louder, so I pick up the pace and then jog out.  It's midday and bright despite the rain and trees.  I can see how this setting might be terrifying and encourage the mind, when darker.  The trees aren't tree shaped anymore. They have lumps and bumps of moss that transform them.  Glad I timed the visit well so my imagination is not given an opportunity.

I noticed Usnea all over the forest floor on my walk in.  It's a hairy lichen that thrives in this type of environment. The wind has knocked a steady supply of its light grey tangles onto the sides of the path.  I've collected enough to fill the pouch on my belt and a big pile in my purse. Usnea is used as an antibiotic and can bind open wounds when used as a poultice.

Once I reach Kenmare, I end up driving behind a 40 foot tractor trailer.  Let me remind you about the streets in Ireland.  They are barely wide enough for one car in most places and on this two-way street, I'm in awe.  We slow to a crawl as it navigates a hairpin turn - I promise you, this is no exaggeration.  It is a single-lane bridge,  a > 90° turn and a 40 foot truck.  Magic.  Something about this makes me want to pull out my phone and video tape the ride.  No sooner do I make it over the bridge, the car is hugging a steep cliff with a half a mile drop down to white-capped water below. I must have lost my marbles between all the "coincidences", my romps through the landscape and this insane truck driver.  I posted the video to FB and then watched it later. I felt nauseous.  As I said on FB, it wasn't my best move.  I will resist in the future.

Somehow I made it along the coast, hugging the steep cliff for another hour.  I don't remember stopping again, I was running on adrenaline... it's all foggy.  I eventually see signs for the town where the residency is located and then a thatched roofed building on the left.  Part of the residency.  Mary has told me to stop in but no one is there. I search for the cafe that had signage on the road but I can't find that either.  

Thankfully google has been a brilliant guide and after a few wrong turns, I hear it say, "...up ahead".  

I'm at the bottom of a steep hill, in my stick shift, which I'm still getting use to.  As I drive up, I run right into an oncoming car.  Well not into it but there's not enough room to pass each other, so I back down the hill, pull into a grassy area at the bottom of the road and let the car pass.  

Later in the week a group of cows congregated around this grassy pull off.  I thought I would try to engage them by yanking up some long grass growing just out of reach on my side of the fence and offer it to them.  They were standing ankle deep in mud with hardly a blade in sight, so I thought for sure they'd take me up.  If I read them correctly, they were saying amongst themselves, "Grass is the best you can do?  Have you been paying attention to what is growing everywhere around you?"  The cows have attitude.  They stood just out of reach, heads high, tails slowly swishing, no interest.

I've reached the end of a peninsula and there is a cliff on my left leading down to the Atlantic.  A few islands frame the horizon.  Driving up the hill a second time I have a better view of the residency - stone cottages neatly lined up along the road.  The door of the cottage on the left is painted a viridian green, others are red, orange and blue. I pull over, unlock my phone and re-read the note with instructions, sent to me months ago.  My cottage is second to last.  I spin my wheels a little pulling into my adjacent parking space and let myself in.  It's spacious - bigger than my NYC apartment.  Maybe 500-600 sft. The back of the cottage has a ceiling made of glass.  It's all sky-lights, with red supports.  Looking out, I can see that the land for the cottage has been carved out of the cliff.  It is feet from the back of the house, towering over the cottage, rising steeply out of view through the glass.  

Not long after I arrive, I hear a knock at the door.  I smiling man introduces himself.  Michael.  He's about my age and very friendly.  I understand part of what he's saying but his accent is heavy - this is a Gaelic speaking part of Ireland and I have to ask him to repeat himself.  He shows me how the place works.  There's a big wood burning stove smack in the middle of the room, dividing the studio with the skylights from the seating area.  A kitchen is in the front of the house, on the cliff side.  A steep ladder staircase leads to a sleeping loft with a tiny square window that looks out onto the Atlantic.  On the other side of the kitchen is the bathroom.  The heat for the water has to be switched on for use and so does a switch for the stove and cooktop.  It took me several days to figure it all out. Luckily, I was the only American, surrounded by Europeans who are familiar with these quirks.

Michael offers to drive with me to the neighboring town to fetch some turf and food.  Turf is compacted plant material that has been compressed in a bog for hundreds, even thousands of years.  If left alone it will eventually turn to coal but around here, it's dug up.  Each elongated-brick-sized piece bares the curved shape of a spade. Once dug, it's made into little teepees so it can dry and then put in a pile outside the home, covered with a tarp and used throughout the winter for heat.  One of the other artists at the residency told me he remembers engaging in this ritual every year when he was growing up.  All in, it takes about a month, with the entire household digging into the black seam of rotted plant material.  

I buy mine at the store.  It comes in a recycled plastic bag once used for grain.  It has been re-sealed with packing tape.  Michael tells me to buy firestarters and matches. I grab a bunch of food as well and by the time I've gone through the line, he has loaded the trunk.  Two bags of turf, a bundle of wood and a bundle of kindling.

We head back to the cottages.  He talks.  I ask him to repeat himself.  We're on the same page politically.  Neither can understand how Brexit and the US President happened. 

Once back at the cottage, he asks if I know how to get the wood burning stove going.  I tell him I've started fires in fireplaces but know nothing about these stoves.  In his heavy accent, he explains but somehow, I have missed the key points.  My fire is huge for the rest of the day but the room refuses to warm up.  I go through a bag and a half of turf in 6 hours and sleep with a heavy sweater, wool socks and a hat on.  My nose never warms up.  It's icicle-like and the wind is blowing hard against the wall behind my bed.  The cute little window whistles as the storm finds it's way in around its edges.  It's a long, cold night and I wonder how I will hold up under these conditions.  In Cork, I remember thinking that I had over packed and that the "thermals" I was told to bring were unnecessary.  Now, I'm wondering why I didn't bring my ski pants and snow boots.

I've already made friends with the artist next door.  He arrived within an hour of me.  I heard the gravel grind under the wheels of his car.  There are doors on both sides of the cottage so I open the inside door on his side. The outside door is one of those dutch doors, divided in half - a top and a bottom that swing open separately. The top is locked shut so I have to crouch and peer out the bottom.  His name is Stijn (Stein,) from the Netherlands.  I invite him over during the intro with Michael.  Big smile. Nice guy.  After Michael leaves, he goes off to do his shopping.  When he returns, I invite him over for a beer.  We talked about our lives, about being artists, both of us relieved to meet a friendly being, here on the edge.  The other artists have not arrived yet.  Just us guys and we're determined to stave off that feeling of isolation. The next morning I knock on his door to see how he has managed the frigid evening. He slept with his sweater and hat on too but by now his cottage has warmed and he invites me for tea.  I bring my coffee over. 

The cottages must have been empty for a while.  The stones, furniture, cement floor have absorbed and held tight to the cold.  He comes over and shows me how to regulate the vents so the heat flows out of the stove and not up the chimney. I had been exchanging urgent notes with my cousin in Cork the evening before, about the stove but I didn't know what a circle yoke was or what lashing in wood meant or skitting (she was laughing at me). :)

I'm grateful for my neighbor and heat.

The woods outside of Kenmare

The woods outside of Kenmare

The drive south to the residency.  I know, bad idea.  The cliff is about a 1/2 mile high. 

The drive south to the residency.  I know, bad idea.  The cliff is about a 1/2 mile high. 

Worth it.

Worth it.

My home for two weeks.

My home for two weeks.

Not a shabby view either.   That white stone protruding out of from the left is actually part of a burial ground.  Cillins ring the coast.  Apparently, one is always in sight of another.  They are where un-baptised babies were buried because the church would not allow a burial of these little beings on consecrated grounds.  So the locals resorted to their Pagan past and buried them in the old tradition. I didn't realize this when i performed on the stone the first time.  The stones have created a shallow alcove, consisting of two upright stones for walls with a third stone laid on top.  It's a mini version of portal tombs that date back to the Neolithic period, 5000+ years ago.  It had been repurposed as a shelter for hay - a handy way to keep food for the sheep dry over the winter.  Later, I performed again on it but with the intention of releasing ancestral grief.   The cottages were once a village, prior to the famine. They sat abandoned for years, like so many around this landscape, until a philanthropic neighbor transformed them into an artist residency.   Thank you.

Not a shabby view either.  

That white stone protruding out of from the left is actually part of a burial ground.  Cillins ring the coast.  Apparently, one is always in sight of another.  They are where un-baptised babies were buried because the church would not allow a burial of these little beings on consecrated grounds.  So the locals resorted to their Pagan past and buried them in the old tradition.

I didn't realize this when i performed on the stone the first time.  The stones have created a shallow alcove, consisting of two upright stones for walls with a third stone laid on top.  It's a mini version of portal tombs that date back to the Neolithic period, 5000+ years ago.  It had been repurposed as a shelter for hay - a handy way to keep food for the sheep dry over the winter.  Later, I performed again on it but with the intention of releasing ancestral grief.  

The cottages were once a village, prior to the famine. They sat abandoned for years, like so many around this landscape, until a philanthropic neighbor transformed them into an artist residency.   Thank you.

After I figured out the heat, this view took on new meaning.  It was the first thing I saw every morning.  

After I figured out the heat, this view took on new meaning.  It was the first thing I saw every morning.  

13. Castlenalact

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I'll pick up the story in Cork, where I visited several Megaliths dotting the terrain.   Prior to heading to an artist residency in Kerry, I spent a week visiting this mythical countryside, walking the spaces of my ancestors, learning about my lineage.

On my way to the second Megalith, my journey was slowed by a series of spectacles that forced me to stop and engage.  One of them was an abandoned mill loitering beside a roaring stream. Once out of the car, I walked over a stone bridge and peered into the exoskeleton of a former life. Plants encroached in the absence of human activity, opportunistically occupying every sunny platform. Three stories of an obsolete industry.  Like the stream, man-made innovations ebb and flow. 

These crumbling stone structures were a constant in the landscape.  How charming that Ireland didn't level these artifacts, the way we do in NYC.  The drive felt a a bit like the "gentrification" of Brooklyn.  Every half mile or so, a home was being dismantled.  In Ireland this occurred slowly, from the elements.

I dug a little deeper into these homes on my return to the US.  Why were there so many of them?  The abandoned buildings remain empty because there is no one to occupy them.  Ireland's population went from 8 million in1840 to 3 million in 1849.  A loss of 5 million people in 9 years.  62% of the population. The Famine. 1 million people emigrated, 1 million died from starvation and the rest died slowly from diseases that prey on weakened populations. Success on some level, I suppose, Catholics were nearly eliminated.  Religion was the dividing line between life and death, thriving and suffering, hate and love. Almost 200 years later, Ireland's population has stabilized at 6.5 million. 

Disregard for those conquered by a superior military force is common in contemporary culture but not, as some would suggest, normal human behavior. The book, The Age Of Empathy, lends insight into the construct that has shifted responsibility off of community and onto profit.  

Leaving the mill, my map told me it wasn't much further to the next Megalith.  I was ready to get there.  A left, then a quick right and I turned into a narrow road.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  

This.  Every day.  For 3 weeks.  Was my life.  Yes.  I want to go back.

On my travels, I had noticed flashes of bright yellow amongst the greens and greys of foliage and stone.  It was daffodil season.   They were everywhere. This turn off the road brought me into the place where they were cultivated. Fields of poppieeeees!!! I mean daffodils. Do think Wizard of Oz though, they reached as far as my eye could see and I wondered if I had driven through a wormhole and landed in the Netherlands.  

After a few moments of admiration - through my windshield - it was pouring again, I fishtailed down the muddy road furrowed deeply by a tractor.  A pony-sized dog bounded out of a barn blocking the road up ahead, barking and springing a foot into the air as it circled my car.  I carefully turned about, checked the map and realized I had turned one street too soon.  

The next turn was yet another "OMG" moment.  Those Neolithic folk certainly knew how to site their Megaliths 5000 years ago.  A mile or so ahead was a line of dark silhouettes at the top of a ridge.  I had arrived.  

Pulling into a grassy turn off, I noticed a singular stone sitting in the middle of a field.  It was shorter and wider than the others I'd seen and completely cleared of vegetation.  Sheep or an aware farmer?  I climbed the fence, sloshed through the muddy grass and stood beside the stone so it aligned with the stones on the ridge.  A marker?  "Go here first, then head up the hill to that row of dark things.  Just wait til you see what's there!  Or...   When you stand on this ridge, look down the hill a bit towards that short stone and then beyond ..." Toward what?  The stars, the sunset, another Alignment now obscured by trees or homes?  It was midday and there was no way of knowing what would appear later in the sky and there was nothing written about this place.  

The path between this singular stone and the alignment was obstructed by walls covered in brambles so I climbed back over the fence, into my car and made my way up the hill. The Megalith peeked out between breaks in the wall that lined the street. I couldn't take my eyes off of it.  

All ages and religions have resorted to an Axis Mundi as a symbol for the center of the universe.  They can take the form of tree, temple, figure or in this case stone. Elevated, they force the eye upward, a gesture that inspires reverence, facilitating an encounter with the sky, the unknown, the great beyond, the other side, the 4th dimension.  

The path that led into the stones passed closely beside an abandoned cottage and this time there was a sign that said "Do not enter".  It was old and slightly akimbo.  

The. Megaliths. Were. In. The. Backyard.  75 yards on.  

At one point I remember thinking that everyone must have a Megalith in their yard.  As the trip went on, the 5000+ year old stones appeared on horizons, around corners, in the center of valleys, wherever there was a breathtaking view.  This, by the way, was what inspired my minilith and offering series.  The stones are a spectacle, visible from miles away.   And they mark the spectacle of the landscape around them.  Stop.  Slow down.  This is bigger than you.  

Tourism is driven by this phenomenon. We seek out these scenes and then share them with others in an attempt to understand or confirm the presence of the sublime.  Social media is the latest platform, replacing photo-albums, slideshows and perhaps the earliest of cave paintings, "You wouldn't believe the herd of bison I saw today.  They looked something like this."

I walked along the overgrown path, despite the sign.  Come on!  These things were part of my DNA.  They belonged to me as much as anyone.  No bounding dogs in sight and it was clear no one had lived there for a while.

It was cold.  The rain had switched to a mix of snow and shard-like sleet that sliced at my face, hands and... camera.  I bought it just for this trip, knowing I had to invent a project other than sculpture while at the residency.  I had no desire to ship sculpture internationally.  

The stones had no trough around them so I tucked my back up against the largest and watched as a half circle of white dots, slicing diagonally toward the ground, formed inches from my body.  It was working, I was protected, so I waited . A few minutes later, the sun broke through the clouds, the biting wind ceased and I started to defrost.  When I stepped out from behind the stone and looked beyond, the fog was clearing to reveal field after field after field after field after field.

Beams of light broke through the storm clouds that had now moved out toward the horizon. Crepuscular rays, Sunbeams, Angel lights, Sun rays, God rays. This dramatic light-play requires a vast distance to make the near-parallel shafts of light appear to spread out over the landscape.  This is perspective at play, our eyes see them converge at cloud level, like railroad lines at the horizon.  My scientific background was capable of separating the mystical from this occurrence but it imposed itself on a gut level.  My heart sped up, I caught my breath and I was moved to tears, grateful for this convergence of time, this simultaneity, this overlap between ancestor and descendent.

I stayed for about an hour.  Just me and the stones, no other human within seeing or hearing distance. They were different from the last alignment. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder like a row of soldiers, they were stacked like dominos, back to front. Only the top portion of each was covered in grey, green and puce colored lichen.  It was as if the bottoms had been dipped in an acid bath.  What radiated from the ground that prevented the algae/bacteria hybrid from finding a foothold?

I ran my hands along the surfaces of the stones and envisioned my ancestors hands, calloused and meaty as they shoved the stones into an upright position. I moved my face closer.  Were those carvings or just natural aberrations in the stone?  The lichen obscured.  No secrets would be revealed on this day.
 

Abandoned building, stream, sun, greeeeeen, repeat.

Abandoned building, stream, sun, greeeeeen, repeat.

survival

survival

I think Rothko would have liked these daffodils.

I think Rothko would have liked these daffodils.

castlenalact

castlenalact

What purpose does this stone serve?  I aligned it with the alignment (right).  

What purpose does this stone serve?  I aligned it with the alignment (right).

 

brrrrrrr

brrrrrrr

Emerging from my shelter.

Emerging from my shelter.

and then....

and then....

A gift at their feet, newly emerging nettles.  A bio-available source of Iron, Calcium and lots of vitamins. These fresh ones in a tea, steeped overnight are extra pungent.  Make sure you know what you're picking. I keep meeting people whose grandmothers use to dry a sheet sized spread of these to last them through the year - or put them in soups.  They know which mushrooms to pick in the woods, which plants - but not their medicine.  They're all from Eastern Europe or Ireland.  It seems the Iron Curtain and living on an island curtailed some things and held onto others. Their grandmothers might have recognized the shifting tides and not passed on the knowledge or more likely they were so young, they don't remember. Their parents - dealing with the stresses of life.

A gift at their feet, newly emerging nettles.  A bio-available source of Iron, Calcium and lots of vitamins. These fresh ones in a tea, steeped overnight are extra pungent.  Make sure you know what you're picking.

I keep meeting people whose grandmothers use to dry a sheet sized spread of these to last them through the year - or put them in soups.  They know which mushrooms to pick in the woods, which plants - but not their medicine.  They're all from Eastern Europe or Ireland.  It seems the Iron Curtain and living on an island curtailed some things and held onto others. Their grandmothers might have recognized the shifting tides and not passed on the knowledge or more likely they were so young, they don't remember. Their parents - dealing with the stresses of life.

Standing by the Megaliths looking back at the cottage and the road.  I wonder what it must have been like to have ancient magic in your backyard.  Were they tuned in?  Or were they like those behind the Iron Curtain?  Too busy trying to stay alive.

Standing by the Megaliths looking back at the cottage and the road.  I wonder what it must have been like to have ancient magic in your backyard.  Were they tuned in?  Or were they like those behind the Iron Curtain?  Too busy trying to stay alive.

No one has been in this house for a while. The chimney curves to the left.  Lavender?  And 70's green?

No one has been in this house for a while. The chimney curves to the left.  Lavender?  And 70's green?

Defeat.

Defeat.

12. On the way again... but first...

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Picking the story up from the tiny house I imagined was like one my great, great grandfather might have lived in... I continue on to the next Megalith on my map.  

So far this day, I hit a light post, I traveled along insanely narrow roads with all the inherent dangers of being in a foreign country and driving on the opposite side of the road.  I mucked through a giant field, stood in the same space as my Neolithic ancestors - amongst stones they erected 5000+ years ago.  I made my way to a local store, yacked it up with one of the locals, who very kindly made me coffee and a sandwich.  I discovered a castle and then a giant creche in the middle of the road and then, yes, the tiny house with its counterpart - the Lord's manor across the street. 

I'm off again and it starts to pour.  Thankfully my google maps keeps me on track as I cover more terrain.  As usual the going is slow so I'm able to take in details of the landscape around me. Stone walls continue to flank the sides of the road.  This reminds me of New England, where I grew up.  And upstate New York.  I think about what the walls represent.  I think about the land and its willingness to succumb to agriculture.   Or rather its unwillingness.  As someone who has done a lot of gardening, I know that one comb through the soil, clearing it of stones is never the last.  All season long, the upturned soil settles and finds its way under and between the spaces below that were once solidly packed.  Each time it rains or the loose soil is watered, stones that were once sealed in a tangle of roots, will now make their way to the surface.  I would dutifully oblige their call to be cast aside, so tender shoots of new growth could thrive unimpeded.  They were tossed into the woods or more likely into a pile along the side of the garden.  A miniature stone wall.  I can't help but envision how much effort it took to move the larger stones that now make up walls along the edge of a field.  Some walls are neatly attended and carefully constructed but more are strewn piles, accumulated over time, in an exhaustive effort to force sustenance from the soil.  And what is with all the spiky stones on the tops of the older walls, especially in the areas around large estates?  Shards stood on end as ... a deterrent?  The first defense against angry (hungry) neighbors whose land you've acquired?  

Speaking of being hungry... As I drove towards my next destination, I notice a big stone in an intersection ahead of me.  Curious, I slowed to read it.  A sign read, "Great Famine, 1845-1847. Site of Soup House."  Soup houses were started by the government to feed the starving... 2 years after the blight of the potatoes, two years of starvation, 1 million people dead, 1 million fled, leaving family and this beautiful, brutal landscape behind.  This loss is out of a population of 8 million people,  1/4 of the population.  

The soup houses were kept open for two months and then closed. After long delays in sending help, the government decided that maybe the next crop of potatoes would be ok and the folks starving in the countryside didn't need their help after all.  This struck a nerve.  

These are the stories I've been told.  They revolve around the idea of loss and oppression, of fleeing Ireland, of survival.  Trauma now took the form of a sign on the side of a road. Research shows that trauma is passed on genetically.  For how long; how many generations? What if the stories continue, what effect does that have on future generations? What to do with it?  That was my mission over the next few weeks.  I will be creating a pathway between the past and present, using ceremony, intention and herbs to heal what is left in my genes and the genes of my offspring.  Here are some links to research on genetically transmitted trauma/fear.  

http://www.nature.com/news/fearful-memories-haunt-mouse-descendants-1.14272

http://www.livescience.com/41717-mice-inherit-fear-scents-genes.html

People are now studying how to best treat the ambiguous loss that comes with immigration and the myth of closure. I found this interview with Paulina Boss interesting.  

https://onbeing.org/programs/pauline-boss-the-myth-of-closure/ 

 

Signs 

Signs 

11. On Traveling in Ireland

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I don't know if this has ever happened to you.  When I arrived in Ireland, I went to the bank in the terminal and bought some Euros for my trip.  I didn't take much, thinking I would be able to take out more later.  

I mentioned my fear of Irish directions in a previous post.  Here's why.  I ran out of Euros and searched for a bank.  I was told "just up the road... look for the sign... you can't miss it."  I headed into the town with my usual dread of hitting something and searched for the Allied Ireland Bank. I drove through the town a few times before deciding to park and have a go on foot.  Someone pointed it out to me.  A 12" square sign hangs 10 feet in the air with the initials AIB.  

I tried to use the ATM but apparently I entered too many numbers.  No money for me.  I asked for help, (this is why I love this place) and a pow wow of bank employees occurred, accompanied by a recommendation to see the castle on the beach.  I returned to the car, called my bank (on the suggestion of a bank employees) and was told that if I only entered the first 4 numbers of my code, it should work.  Bingo!  

My experiences in Ireland renewed my faith in humanity.  

I popped back in the car and drove off to the castle.  Crossing the bridge, I saw it off in the distance.  When I arrived a young couple was climbing up to it.  It was raining and they walked slowly, arms out like wings, up the steep hill.   I looped around the neighborhood and parked as they were coming down.  As I started up the hill they gave me a warning, "It's slippery.  Be careful".  

The now familiar smell of livestock filled my nose.  Farmers and historic preservationists have figured out a mutually beneficial arrangement where sheep graze and the plant life is kept in check.  There's a big DANGER sign but I thought, if the castle has survived hundreds of years, what are the chances it will collapse on me?  

The entire right side is covered in a dark green vine.  Once inside I stood in front of huge openings with sweeping views of the area.  Weird little nooks at various heights in the walls made me curious.  They must have been where timber was inserted for flooring and roofing.  

I climbed up a dilapidated stone stairwell as far as I could and looked out again at the sea.  This time I paused and imagine myself a guest (or a servant more likely) in the estate.  What would I have worn?  What were my duties?  Why was I there?  Closing my eyes, I relax.  

When I opened my eyes I got nervous.  There were stones strewn about that were once part of the walls.  So I make my way out and walk around outside. A half wall embedded with fireplaces encircles the castle on the inland side. Turning around I spotted a jagged hole that led into the right hand section.  Sheep prints and that smell was stronger inside.  I was too nervous to step fully in but I took a good look around from the "doorway".  

It was raining pretty hard.  My camera was getting wet.  The wind picked up too.  So I headed out.

I've skipped to a section of my trip when I was at the residency.  More details to follow.

Castle over the beach.   copyright Donna Cleary

Castle over the beach.   copyright Donna Cleary

A room with a view.  Copyright Donna Cleary

A room with a view.  Copyright Donna Cleary

Stairs...     copyright Donna Cleary

Stairs...     copyright Donna Cleary

Peeking back out through the entry, I spot my little rental car.

Peeking back out through the entry, I spot my little rental car.

The "entry" into the main castle, a jagged hole.    copyright Donna Cleary

The "entry" into the main castle, a jagged hole.    copyright Donna Cleary

Too nervous to go all the way in, I snap a photo instead.   Love the arched details.      copyright Donna Cleary  

Too nervous to go all the way in, I snap a photo instead.   Love the arched details.      copyright Donna Cleary

 

10. Herbalism

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Herbalism has been around for 10's of thousands of years.  Early humans (like many animals) discovered that if they ate certain plants, they felt better.  That knowledge expanded and was passed on generationally.  Since women were, in many cultures, the gatherers, it makes sense that they were the keepers of this knowledge and became healers in the community.  That knowledge was passed from mother to daughter as a strategy for survival and a tradition of community building.   

Most contemporary medicines have their roots in plants.  But they have been extracted, refined, condensed and the "partner" elements in the plant, that enhanced its effects and prevent side effects were eliminated in the process.  A profit driven ethos supplanted that of communal care-based activities.

The age of enlightenment changed our perceptions.  Rational thought superseded belief.  Myths or anything that wasn't provable through a scientific method became suspect.  Training for medicine moved into institutions but women were confined to the home and could not participate.  

This was a power grab.  Traditional healers were elbowed out of their esteemed positions and men in white coats stepped in.  (I think the white coats came later but you get the gist.)  Of course, now women make up half of the population in medical schools but the traditions of herbalism were nearly scrubbed from the collective mind.  My father's family ran an herbal medical school in Munster Province from 1400-1700 (when it became illegal for Irish Catholics to have a profession or become educated.)  My mother's maiden name and my middle name is Lee.  Lee is a derivative of the Gaelic word Leighis, which means medicine. So I inherited healing genes from her side of the family as well.

I am reclaiming the rich tradition of herbalism.  It has worked its way into my sculptures, photos and videos/performances.  I've incorporated herbal infusions or woven herbs into the sculptures themselves.  

Ceremonies often accompanied traditional healing.  The shaman, medicine women, healers performed in designated environments designed to encourage a mind and body collaboration.  I think about the ceremony of contemporary biomedicine.  The white coats and stethoscopes, the grand buildings as centers for healing, the conviction of practitioners and a patient's belief in all of it.  

My son wears a white coat and I worked as an RN for 13 years in a Harvard affiliated hospital in Boston.  I have nothing but respect for members of the biomedical field.  I think there's room to share newly acquired knowledge with that which has survived the millennia.  

Queen Ann's Lace.  A natural birth control.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVjj3LqFw_A   This grows as a weed everywhere around the US.  It's free.   I'm still training as an herbalist but Susun S Weed has been at it for a long time. Think again.  #PlannedParenthood #Defunding

Queen Ann's Lace.  A natural birth control.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVjj3LqFw_A   This grows as a weed everywhere around the US.  It's free.  

I'm still training as an herbalist but Susun S Weed has been at it for a long time.

Think again.  #PlannedParenthood #Defunding

9. Cork VI

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I still haven't gotten to the part about the residency!!   Patience.

I'll pick up the tale at Bennelaght as I head off to the next Megalith on my agenda.  I planned to see 4 Megalith sites on this day but driving to the first and spending time around the stones had taken all morning and part of the afternoon.  I was determined to speed up the process but realized it was futile.  Wrong turns, the need to pee, being surrounded by fields without a house or village in sight, a regular stream of cars that forced me off the road every few minutes -- slowed me to a crawl.  So I went with it.   

It wasn't hard to be absorbed by the landscape.  Everywhere I looked seemed like a scene from a movie.  I stopped frequently, taking photo after photo.  I started to understand my ancestor's relationship to this ever-shifting, awe-inspiring place.  

After returning to the car, I realized my phone battery was nearly dead.  The port in the dashboard didn't work and I hadn't noticed.  I had no way of finding my way back to Cork City, never mind the next Megalith, without it.  At this point I was envisioning having to stop at someone's home and asking to use their plug.  Based on the types of directions I'd gotten so far, recharging in a stranger's home was the only conceivable option.  The alternative struck fear in my bones.  Directions usually involved the words, "It's just down the road a bit...keep on... and... you can't miss it."  As a New Yorker I equated this to "walk a block and you'll see a big sign on your right."  In Ireland it means - "Go about a mile and you should notice the abbreviation of the name you're looking for on the tiny sign, about 10 feet up, tucked amongst many on this crowded street, while you're driving, trying not to hit anyone ... or any thing."  

I finally saw a village up ahead.  Villages in this neck of the woods are this... a store (Bodega) and a pub, at an intersection.  I arrived in one of these villages, got out of my car with my legs crossed and proceeded to shimmy into the store. I asked if I could plug in my phone while I used the bathroom.  She said, "Of course!"   The bathroom was across the street, in the pub.  So, my awkward walk continued in that direction.  There were a few hardy folks in there early in the afternoon and I was directed to the back of the space. 

When I return to the store, the owner wanted to know about why I was there and where I had come from.  She offered to make me a sandwich and coffee as she stepped behind the deli area. Ham, cheese, I asked for mayo but when she asked if I wanted butter, I said yes please!!!.  She walked over to the bread on a shelf in the store, took out a few slices and got to work.  I spotted a phone charger that plugged into the cigarette lighter and added it to the pile.  She told me that her daughters were taking her to NYC in April, she had never been.  I told her it was my first time to Ireland and I didn't want to leave.  

I asked which direction was east but ended up heading in the wrong direction anyway.  After I realized my mistake, I looped back past the store, through the intersection, took the right and was Gobsmacked by the site in front of me.  (Don't judge me, I hung out with some British folk at my residency.)  :)  Up ahead was a bridge and in the middle of it was a crumbling castle.  A fortress really but I'm going with castle.  It was sitting in the middle of a river and the bridge stretched out beside it. The bridge was just wide enough for my car and was made of the same old stones as the castle. Yes, this really exists.

After the requisite photo stop, I headed up the hill and came to an intersection.  In the middle of the intersection was a giant creche.  It was painted a pale blue and white.  A life-sized Virgin Mary, palms together in prayer stood with eyes cast demurely to the ground, in front of a shell-like nook. Venus de Milo in robes, head wrapped in deference.  Large BVM letters adorned the fence at the edge of the street and I stopped again.  

I parked beside a huge, closed gate with a sign that said private property.  I glanced down the long road behind the gate.  Trees arched in from either side creating a tunnel.  I wondered what was back there.  When I was done with my photo of the BVM, I continued up the hill and came upon a tiny stone cottage on the right.  On the left was a mossy wall, topped with spiky stones. Behind the wall was a bright field filled with sheep. The facade of an old stone estate could be seen through the trees with outbuildings scattered around its edges.  

I imagined the cottage was akin to one my mother's grandfather lived in.  He was the gardener on an estate like this.  (I visited it at the tail end of my stay. More later.)  

I thought about the disparity between the two houses and then about my tiny apartment in NYC and the tiny house movement taking place globally.  When I moved to the city I had to shed the "stuff" I had acquired over the previous 30 years.  I envisioned things I gave away or sold in multiple yard sales.  I don't miss any of it.  I wondered about what drives humans to hoard and ask for more, when all you could possibly need fits into this, the tiniest of homes.

(Ok, assuming you don't have a huge family.  We can talk about agriculture and the patriarchy at a later date.)  Recommended reading, Federici, Caliban and the Witch.  Thank you Alexandra Hammond.  

Yes.  This.

Yes.  This.

And this.

And this.

I coveted that wool but they still needed it for a while.  Do you see the renegade sheep that made it past the wire fence (on the right)?  I tried to high five him but he bolted.  

I coveted that wool but they still needed it for a while.  Do you see the renegade sheep that made it past the wire fence (on the right)?  I tried to high five him but he bolted.

 

I could definitely live here.  It appears to be slightly larger than my former railroad apartment in NYC.  A few more windows would help.

I could definitely live here.  It appears to be slightly larger than my former railroad apartment in NYC.  A few more windows would help.

8. Cork V

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I mentioned megaliths in a previous post.  My trip to Ireland was about understanding my genes, my family and my personal connection to the Emerald Island.  My family is from Ireland.  My great grandparents on my mother's side left in the early 1800's.  According to one historian, probably because of a recession occurring at that time.  My great grandfather worked as a gardener at a manor during the British occupation.  I'm thinking that living under the dehumanizing conditions of that time alone would be motive enough to leave.  My father's side left during the potato famine.  

The Irish were forced to live marginally on land they once owned.  Under the occupation, their land was seized and they were left as surfs, given miniature plots of land to farm and no rights. Potatoes supply the most calories per square foot, so they became the primary food stuff of the Irish.  When a virus wiped out the entire potato crop, 1 million people died of starvation and 1 million more fled the country.  No aid came from the occupiers.   The Irish were considered subhuman, despite their history as scholars and the culture that "Saved Civilization" (Suggested reading, How The Irish Saved Civilization).  Their pagan leanings, that acknowledged a connection to the landscape and a supernatural presence, had not been scrubbed from their religion (Catholicism, well done St. Patrick).  That, was a threat.   

This trip was about moving through the spaces where my ancestors spent their lives prior to emigrating, communing with those who stayed behind and reaching further back through history to my neolithic ancestors, who occupied Ireland 5000+ years ago.  Their sculptures - megaliths, fertility sculptures - as well as their culture, inspire my work.

I was raised in the typical Irish oral tradition and recall "fairy dens" being pointed out to me while walking through the woods as a child ... and my mother being visited by her mother after her death.  I remember teaching my children that they could fly, if only for a moment, when they jumped off the stairs and into the living room.  It's a system of beliefs that allows the imagination to soar, leaving space for and acceptance of the unknowable.

Prior to my trip I searched online for guided tours of the megaliths that were strewn about Southwestern Ireland but there were none.  Lists of the megaliths did not include addresses but rather, obscure map references that I then had to convert to satellite coordinates.  I made lists of these sites, mapped them out and went off to visit.  My previous blog entry gives you a glimpse of my adventures in driving.  Those adventures were compounded by seemingly short distances on the map.  There is no such thing as getting anywhere quickly in Ireland.  

The roads are EXTREMELY narrow.  In most places only a single car can pass.  I spent my time watching for oncoming traffic and a place to pull off.  All roads are framed by ditches filled with runoff.  Areas to pull off the road are typically exactly a car's length and require careful navigation so I didn't end up in said ditch.  Driving on the opposite side of the road, sitting on the opposite side of the car and shifting gears with your opposite hand, in a stick shift, which I hadn't driven in 15 years, my nerves were buzzing.  

The landscape was spectacular (and distracting) at all times.  If you can keep your eyes on the road, do not turn your head constantly and avoid the ditches, you'll get there.  Eventually.  

I had planned to see 4 megalith sites over the course of the day.  Bennalaght is a stone alignment in Northwestern Cork.  Coordinates were converted to a marker in google maps and I headed out of Cork City.  I think this was when I hit the street light mentioned in my previous post. Not letting that get to me, I kept on, hitting nothing else on the way out of the city.  I took a highway for a bit (!!) and then started the long, nerve wracking journey ---  through god's country.  

I always imagined that the photos of Ireland were staged.  I thought the tourism bureau had found the one bucolic location in the country, photographed it and used that image to represent the island.  Get out of the city, anywhere in Ireland and you are surrounded by the most stunning landscape you will ever encounter.  It is a tourism dream come true.  Ok, your visual sense needs to supercede your need for warmth and shelter, in early March anyway.  March is windy, cold and the weather changes on a dime.  

Once out of the city you are in the wild.  The sun comes out and the land glows.  Wait a few minutes and you are pelted with freezing rain or snow and shadows disappear.  Wait a few more minutes and the sun breaks through the dark storm clouds like an enormous flashlight, in bright beams, shining asymmetrical patches of light onto the gridded landscape.  

When google maps told me "you have arrived" (I always love hearing that), after a few hours of skittish driving, I turned my head to the right and spotted the Megaliths at the end of a long field. They were backdropped by the dark green of a planted pine forest.  

I tried to park as far off of the road as possible, in a very narrow pull-off, in front of a stone farm structure.  An overwhelming livestock smell assaulted me as I stepped out of the car.  Must have been cows nearby.  They stunk like no other and it was hard to breath.  I had been forewarned to bring my "Wellies" on this trip and was grateful I heeded that advice.  

The gulf stream passes along the southern tip of Ireland so the soil never freezes.  It's cold enough to snow or sleet but then the sun comes out and everything melts.  The pasture I walked through was saturated with water.  With each step, my foot sunk into the muddy soil.  But I wanted to get up close.  I video taped this approach.  This will make it into one of my videos.  It was about a 10 minute walk after I climbed over the stone wall and barbed wire-topped gate.  The mud was riddled with double, teardrop shaped hoof prints.  Sheep.  By the time I arrived, I was breathing rapidly.  

The scale of the stones is deceiving.  Once close, they towered over me.  The highest of the stones was around 14 feet. They can be spotted from miles away if a hill or berm doesn't obstruct their view.  

The sun was out but it started to rain lightly as I approached.  By the time I arrived, it was raining full out.  But then it stopped a minute later.  I wandered around, trying to imagine what ceremonies took place. Who was allowed to attend?  What did they wear?  What time of day did they happen? The stones align with what star?  The solstice?  In mid-day it was impossible to know.   And there was nothing written about this structure.  

I imagined the sheep might have taken shelter in front of the stones during the fiercest of weather.  They are always outside and are moved from field to field as grass supply warrants.  A trough of water had formed around the base of the stones.  Bright green grass formed a ring around each of them as well.  When I stepped out onto the grass, precariously straddling the muddy trough, I noticed that under the grass lied a group of smaller stones that propped up and held the Megalith erect.    

See photos below.  

My view from the road.  Sheep are on the left and near the middle of the image, are the Megaliths. Brambles (blackberries) line the road in the foreground and the ridge of dark green between the fields is a stone wall covered in vegetation.  

My view from the road.  Sheep are on the left and near the middle of the image, are the Megaliths. Brambles (blackberries) line the road in the foreground and the ridge of dark green between the fields is a stone wall covered in vegetation.  

Stone alignment.  The sheep and generations of farmers have kept them cleared in recognition of their significance.   

Stone alignment.  The sheep and generations of farmers have kept them cleared in recognition of their significance.   

7. Cork IV

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I mentioned some of my adventures with driving in Ireland earlier.  Here are some highlights.  

These words,  "Keep left, keep left, keep left."  

"Look right!"  "LOOK RIGHT!!!"  That was close.  Breath."  

Screeeeeeeeeeeeech!  "UH OH.  I took that corner a bit too close.  Oh man, how do I put this in reverse?  Why did I do this?   I can't shift with my left hand.  NO!  No, no, no, no, no no no no.  Reverse.  Push it down, all the way over." " What if I take my foot off the brake and just glide forward a bit?"  

"Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech.  That's it then.  Good thing I took the insurance."

"THUMP!  Did I hit something???  What???  Oh crap, I hit a street light."  "It's a break-away mirror."  "Pull over.  Breath"  "Stop staring at me, it was just a street light." "I have insurance."

The streets were at most a foot or two wider than my car.  Parking was allowed on both sides and cars parked facing any direction, which often lead me to believe I was driving down a one way street the wrong way.  (PANIC!!!)  There are no one way streets in Ireland.  

"Keep left, look right.  Keep left, look right.  Keep left, look right."  "Breath."

"There's plenty of room, there's plenty of room.  AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!  F*&$$#$@&!!!!!  F&^%^%  F$#@$* F*&^*&%!!!!!!"

"That's a long drop off that cliff.  Move right a little, you're off the road.  Get in the road.  THAT'S A CAR!!"  "Keep left, you're ok, there's plenty of room.  Breath."

 "You're a huge truck.  You're driving awfully fast." "Oh god, please don't hit me, DON'T HIT ME!"  Breath."

"It's dark, this road is so windy.  Is this a highway?  How fast should I go?  Why am I driving at night?  Should have left earlier.  Relax.  You're fine.  Keep left, keep left, keep left.  A car!!!!  Where's the line? 

"Really???  Right on my tail?  I'm pulling over.  Yes, go, go get in front of me, I'll follow.  Hey, I can drive fast now!!!!!   Breath."

"Wait! Why isn't Google talking to me any more?  Where am I?  Don't look down.  Pull over.  Argh, no coverage.  Yeah, well that was a tricky intersection.  Should not have followed that car.  Up here?  It's steep.  This direction, let's see.  There's the road.  Cars.  We're good.

"I hope someone drives up behind me so I can follow them.  Where am I?  It's so dark.  This road is so windy."   "Really???  Right on my tail?  I'm pulling over.  Yes, go, go get in front of me, I'll follow.  Wait, wait, wait, WAIT!!!! There you are.  Hey, I can drive fast now!!!!!   Breath."

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Cork III

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I met up with Ursula and she ever so kindly took me out to Blarney to meet another cousin for coffee.  Love these people and she's a nut.  We make our way through the knit store because I promised my daughter a sweater.  My first find is a beautiful tam.  With it rakishly tilted on my head I do a jig in front of the mirror.  I'm reminded of my grandfather who would often kick up his feet in a jig when excited about something.

I say no to the tam but got a sweater for myself and one for my girl. After sending images of many possible purchases to my son, all rejected, I moved on.  Ursula gave me a guided tour of the outskirts of Cork City and invited me to Sunday lunch, later in the week.  I'm in.

That evening I decided to head to the pub she recommended.  Great pizza, flights of beer.  I walked in and everyone was spread out in clusters, chatting amongst themselves, sitting at tables, no seats at the bar.  Not my scene.  

I get my fix every day by stopping random strangers on the street to pat their dog,  I wouldn't be able to attend residencies if I had a new dog.  I put down my 15 year old Lab 2 years ago.  A man walked towards me with a Great Dane and I couldn't help myself. He asked about the pub I just left and I explained.  In the meantime, his dog took up residence on my foot, leaning heavily on me.  (Why I do this.)  He said I should try his "local", Jim Cashman's, where everyone will talk to me.  So, I'm off.

I walked in the door, order a beer, overcome my awkwardness by chatting up the guy beside me. Turns out he was the owner, Donnacha.  He introduced me to his wife Sally and two friends who had joined them for the evening.  I told him about my crazy experiences and quest to know more about my ancestry.  A few other people joined in the talk and I felt at home.  

10-15 minutes into my beer, I heard the owner calling my name, asking me to come over.  He re-introduced me to his friend Catherine, the female half of the couple who had joined them for the evening.   She was my cousin.  

Sure enough, Catherine married an O'Keefe.  The aunt that Ursula mentioned, who lived around the corner from my Airbnb? That was her aunt too.  

We spent the rest of the evening chatting.   By then the music from the Twilight Zone was looping constantly in my head.

Wearing my new sweater and roasting.  The owner's wife reminded me that layers are key.  :)

Wearing my new sweater and roasting.  The owner's wife reminded me that layers are key.  :)

Ursula and family.  Yeah, I definitely have Viking blood.

Ursula and family.  Yeah, I definitely have Viking blood.

5. Cork City II

Donna Troy ClearyComment

As I mentioned in a previous post, St. Fin Barre's was not the church where my father had his "out of body" experience but the next day I found out why I felt connected to it.

After my evening in the pub talking politics, the next day I made my way back out into Cork City. My mission was to investigate a bit of information my grandmother had shared with my father while he was growing up.  We are part Viking.  

My research before leaving for Ireland revealed that the Vikings were amongst the first to settle in Cork City.  They set up raiding bases south of the island as early as the 800's.   Part of my research was to binge watch the last 4 seasons of Viking, the hit TV show.  Yeah, someone's got to do this work.  :)  Looking at the people portrayed in the series, I can't help but see how they fit the description of the Celts/Gauls in The Tain Bó Cualigne.  Mental note: find out more about the relationship of the Vikings to the Celts/Gauls.  My grandmother always said that our height and blue eyes came from the Vikings.  Since the Irish have an oral tradition, I have no doubt she's right.

Before heading out, I spent the morning online reexamining the old maps and readings about where the Viking settlement was in Cork City.  I pulled up google maps on my phone and entered the street address.  I was being directed right back to St. Fin Barre's and Fort Elizabeth.  Barrack Street runs along the edge of Fort Elizabeth.  

 

"In 914 a great fleet from overseas devastated Munster. According to Cogadh Gaedhel re Gaillaibh, some of the Scandinavians from the great fleet settled at Cork. Those Vikings arrived at some kind of understanding with the leading men of the neighbouring monastic community. Their relationship was characterised by peaceful coexistence." (1)

"English records show that in the late twelfth century there were certainly Hiberno-Viking houses in the area around Barrack Street and Sullivan’s Quay."  (1)

The Vikings most likely settled in a small cove in Cove street . Excavations revealed the existence of a tidal mill-pond stretching over the area now known as Meade's street , Cove street , Mary's street and Sullivans Quay . An archeologial dig found a heavy stone wall which surrounded the mill-pond in the latter middle ages ."  (2)

"Keyser’s Hill boasts a name of Scandinavian origin, signifying ‘a passage leading to the waterfront’, and provides further evidence of a Viking presence in the area." (1)

"... Some of the original newcomers were merchants and were allowed to remain undisturbed in the port of Cork . They took over some of the neighbouring territory in Cork . The people of Cork traded with them purchasing wine , salt and and other goods from them ." (1)

 

(1) http://www.historyireland.com/vikings/viking-cork/

(2 )http://www.viking.no/e/info-sheets/ireland/cork.htm

 

 

 

The southern part of this map is the area previously occupied by the Vikings.  Cork Cross (I) is the site of the old mill pond.  This is where the Vikings anchored their ships.  The watch tower is where Fort Elizabeth now stands and the steeple is where St. Fin Barre's now stands.  Note the Abby directly across a small waterway from where the Viking settlement would have been.  

The southern part of this map is the area previously occupied by the Vikings.  Cork Cross (I) is the site of the old mill pond.  This is where the Vikings anchored their ships. 

The watch tower is where Fort Elizabeth now stands and the steeple is where St. Fin Barre's now stands.  Note the Abby directly across a small waterway from where the Viking settlement would have been.  

St. Fin Barre's (left), Barrack St/Elizabeth Fort, Center,  Cove St, (right)

St. Fin Barre's (left), Barrack St/Elizabeth Fort, Center,  Cove St, (right)

4. Cork City

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I mentioned Rosari Kingston in a previous post.  Connecting with the preeminent herbalist in Ireland was only one of several "coincidences" that occurred during my trip to Ireland.

The residency in Ireland was an opportunity for me to understand and connect with my ancestry. When one thinks of Ireland, it's easy to think no further than the Celts/Gauls, ruddy cheeked warriors with tangled hair who fought naked and fiercely in the The Tain Bó Cualigne.  But a neolithic culture had long thrived on this land, prior to the Celtic invasion in 350 BC.  Irish have the highest level of neolithic genes found in contemporary humans. This culture's presence is forever marked by the sculptures they left in the landscape.  These includes alignments, circles and portal tombs constructed from impossibly large stones.  From a time that pre-dates Stonehenge, these sculptures served as site of community, ceremony and preternatural connection.  

During my stay in Cork City, the first 4 days of my trip, I wanted to experience the place where my my more recent ancestors lived, prior to fleeing during the famine.  My great aunt found the O'keefe family, (her last name, the last name of her sister - my father's mother and my grandmother) in Cork City when researching in the 80's. My father's brother maintained close connections with the O'Keefe's.  I met my father's first cousin and his daughter Ursula in Germany, when my uncle's son married a lovely German girl. Unfortunately, my father's first cousin died a few years prior to my visit to Ireland but I was able to unite with Ursula during my stay.  

On my first day in Cork City, I decided I needed to find the church where my father had a supernatural experience during his visit 15 years prior.  He often tells the story of traveling around the Cork City by car.  Deciding he needed to stretch his legs, he stopped in front of a church on the River Lee, leaving my mother and their traveling companions to sit in the car.  He recalls feeling "in a daze" while walking through the church. When he came out, the car was gone.  Knowing they would be back soon, he walked along the side of the church and up a set of stairs into a neighborhood of old homes.  One of the houses had an open door, so he knocked and poked his head in.  Finding no one there, he walked back down the stairs.  He found the car exactly where it had been. They had never left.  

Later that evening, they all met with his cousin for dinner.  My dad explained his odd encounter by the church. He was told that he had walked right into the ancestral home.  It was the house is where his cousin was born and where generations of O'Keefe's had lived.  

When I was planning my trip to Ireland, I reached out to Ursula about where to stay.  I asked if she knew where the ancestral home was.  She didn't.  She suggested I stay near the river so I found an Airbnb that suited my needs.  When I told her where I had booked, she told me her aunt, who recently died, had lived a few doors away.

On my first day, I visited nearly every church on the river.  The river forks to divert around the town center, an island, so there is a lot of waterfront and I found several churches.  Only one had a set of stairs to its left.  St. Fin Barre's.  So I entered the grounds, discovered a beautiful maze that forced me to slow down, look around and contemplate the space.  On top of a chimney nearby was a songbird, quite interested in getting my attention.  It was a call I hadn't heard before so I listened intently to its running lilt, a sequence of sounds that now reminds me of the indecipherable accent of Southern Kerry, where I later attended the residency.  When I looked beyond the bird, I found I was staring at an old wall that ran the length of a block coming up from the river.  A young man came through the maze and we chatted.  He told me the wall was actually a fort that was open to the public and he handed me a leaflet from his earlier visit.  

I walked around the cemetery of the church for a while.  Ravens (Rooks) were everywhere, quorking from trees and circling the sky.  We don't have many raven where I live.  Whenever I have seen them in the Northeast, I've be startled by their cavernous call and beckoned to pay attention.  The tombstones were covered in lichen and moss so I couldn't read most of the names but I felt a connection here.  I returned to the set of stairs and walked up into the neighborhood behind the church. It was lovely with its moss covered homes and mediterranean colors but I lost the connection.

I headed over to the fort and found a lively guide who told me about its history, (it was used in the 17th century as a defensive position against the repeated invasions by Normans and Anglo Saxons).  He shared some info about my family name and how to pronounce it in Irish.  Don't ask, I still can't get my tongue around it.  I walked around the parapets, gazed out onto the city below and that sense of connection returned.  Later, my cousin told me I was in the Protestant section of town, off track.  

That evening I decided to go to a pub.  I found Sin E' (pronounced Shin-Aye) on Yelp and went on my way.  When I arrived it was dark, crowded, filled with music, with not a place to sit.  I walked around to the back and found a few empty stools.  I asked if they were taken.  The second one wasn't.  When I sat, the man next to me asked if I had been to the fort that day.  He was the guide I had spoken to. We talked the rest of the evening about our new president.  I was surprised about the depth of knowledge the Irish had regarding American politics.  Later, someone at the residency explained that it was because so many Irish had emigrated to the States, that they felt it was their country too.  

The music was great.  Locals engage in pick-up music jams.  There was a flute, an accordion, mini bagpipes that are uniquely Irish, and a tambourine-like drum being played by a ripe-smelling man.  Anyone was welcome to join in.  The sound was classically Irish, tended toward repetition and followed its own logic.  The best part was when a few locals stood to sing a capella.  The last song stuck in my head for the entirety of the next day.  It had something to do with a woman wearing britches.  Rather sexist as I recall.  

The following day I continued on my quest for the church, after talking to my dad and confirming that St. Fin Barre's was not it.  The very last church I found in the city was St. Mary's.  It looked more like a government building - a rectangle with Grecian columns.  If I leaned back far enough I could see a statue of Mary on top.  I went inside, listened to mass briefly and then climbed the set of stairs leading up the hill, to the left of the church. When I got to the top, I realized I had driven my tiny rental car down this exceedingly narrow street, scratching the entire left side as I tried to make a turn.  Mind you, I was sitting on the opposite side of the car, driving on the opposite side of the road and shifting gears with my left, not my right hand.  I learned to drive on a stick shift so I figured I'd be fine. Not so much.

I chuckled to myself.   St. Mary's was the church my dad had entered, this was the neighborhood he had climbed to, the home of my ancestors.  My Airbnb was 5 houses away from where I stood. 

St Fin Barre's

St Fin Barre's

The maze with the wall of the fort in the distance.

The maze with the wall of the fort in the distance.

Some of the old tombstones.

Some of the old tombstones.

St Mary's

St Mary's

My Airbnb.  Bijou house in the Shandon section of Cork City.  Ancestral home, just around the corner.

My Airbnb.  Bijou house in the Shandon section of Cork City.  Ancestral home, just around the corner.

3. Preparing for Ireland

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Ireland changed me in a profound way.  I've thought about going for some time but my thoughts circulated around an abstract idea of being awed by the landscape and family.  While talking to Brigita Varradi and Peter Fulop at a residency this past summer, they mentioned another residency in Ireland that they had attended. I asked if they would recommend me; they did and I was awarded two weeks at the beginning of March.

I was interested in the stories and methods of Irish herbalism and wondered if there were plants and processes that differed from my teacher in Brooklyn who is from Guyana.  

While researching Irish Herbalism, I discovered that my interest had a genetic source.  I came across a paper that said the Troy family, (Ó Troighthigh) ran an herbal medical school from 1400-1700.  The school was closed when it became illegal for Catholics to have a profession or be educated.  

As my trip approached I started reaching out to herbalists near the residency so I could meet with them.  One herbalist wrote back and said she would be glad to meet but that I should get in touch with Rosari Kingston, an expert in Irish Herbalism and someone versed in medicine from the period of time my family was involved.  I contacted Rosari and she invited me to come stay at her home in Skibberine at the end of my residency.  (My father's family left out of Skibberine during the potato famine.)  Of course, I was thrilled.  I re-read the article and discovered that Rosari had written it!  And everything else I had read about Irish herbalism!!  Turns out Rosari is the preeminent herbalist in Ireland, researching and writing, so it can move from the margins into mainstream biomedicine.  

While staying with Rosari, I learned that the name Lee (my mother's maiden name and one of my middle names) is a derivative of the name Leighis which is the Gaelic word for medicine.  The Leighis family was also a family of physicians from the early Medieval period in Munster, Ireland.

That was the beginning of a series of coincidences that shaped this trip.  

Rosari on her property with her donkey and husband (off to the left).

Rosari on her property with her donkey and husband (off to the left).

2. immersion

Donna Troy ClearyComment

In the spring of 2016, I broke my wrist falling down a couple of flights of stairs.  I was distraught by the length of time I was unable to crochet since this had become my primary means of making art.  Fortunately, I was invited to be a visiting artist at Chashama North, a much needed distraction and an activity I was capable of doing.  While at the residency I was asked to return as a resident artist.  I agreed, thinking surely by then my wrist would be better and I'd be able to resume crocheting, perhaps using local plants.  In late August I still had severe nerve pain and was struggling to control it.  

A fellow resident invited an artist-friend to visit who was working with herbs.  She conducted a ceremony with an herb that was growing in a ring around the residency and I became curious. My research revealed that this herb was a nervine, an herb that helps control nerve pain.  The coincidence sent me into research overdrive.  The residency and local farm had every herb imaginable growing on its premises so I spent my time collecting, making infused oils, taking photos and making video.

I became interested in the traditions of herbalism and how it related to my past as an RN.  I knew already that healers were once primarily women and decided to reclaim that knowledge and power.  I needed a more responsible method for obtaining information than the internet, so I contacted a local herbalist, applied and was accepted as an apprentice.

The use of herbs in my sculptures, healing ceremonies, performance and photography are now included in my approach to art making.

 

My studio at chaNorth where I collected, dried and then processed herbs into infused oils.

My studio at chaNorth where I collected, dried and then processed herbs into infused oils.

1. Confessions... the start of something

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I thought it would be interesting to frame my work with its inspiration.  

My past includes training and working as an RN at a major teaching hospital in Boston for 13 years.  I've also raised two children into adulthood.  Ideas around women's work, care based activities, concepts of labor and feminism occupy the core of my thought process when creating art.  

Yarn and crochet conjure thoughts of sweaters and stuffed toys but those ideas are humorously subverted by coupling them with the generative body.

Discarded but well-used objects from the domestic space allude to the end of my time being fully occupied by the needs of my children and former spouse.  

meat 8 x 4 x 9 inches.  meat grinder attachment, yarn, upcycled grocery bags (stuffing), 2016

meat

8 x 4 x 9 inches.  meat grinder attachment, yarn, upcycled grocery bags (stuffing), 2016