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.