Monday, September 28, 2009

Pilgrimage – Day 9, Sept. 18, 2009

During the morning of our second full day on Inis Mor we traveled by van to the Visitor’s Center for Dun Aonghus, a site long called a hill fort and now a national historic site, to meet our guide for the day, Padraigin Clancy. A folklorist and historian, she works at the site during part of the year but had taken a day off to spend time showing us around that site and others. Padraigin also has worked with archeologists who explored the Dun Aonghus site and think that it was not so much a fort as a ceremonial site, dating back to about 1500 B.C.E. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before we could experience the beauty and awe of being on Dun Aonghus, we had to walk up the last half mile to it, just as all pilgrims who have come to this sacred site for hundreds of years have done. Padraigin stopped at points along the climb to point out features of the landscape or magnificent view - and to let us catch our breaths and sample the blackberries growing beside the path.

At the top we entered an area enclosed by a rock wall around three-fourths of its border. The final fourth was a 300-foot drop to the sea below. Those braver than I inched to the edge on their bellies to look down. Locals do not do this, Padraigin explained. They know that pieces of these cliffs can break off. Also, they just don’t feel the need, for as Dara Molloy explains in Legends in the Landscape, “Entering the inner sanctum of Dun Aonghusa is like entering the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Christ.” Just being there is enough.

Padraigin pointed out the stone platform near the edge of the cliff where ceremonials artifacts had been found during the archeological digs. Nearby were other spots where structures had been erected. We had our morning prayers on this high sacred place before the tourists coming for the day from the mainland had had time to arrive on the island by ferry. Then after taking our time just being in that spot, we descended to the Visitor’s Center again to read about where we’d been. Afterward we found our way just down the road to a charming eatery. Padraigan excused herself for an hour to go to the final mass for the gentleman whose body we had accompanied on the ferry coming to Inis Mor. By the time we had finished eating a delicious lunch and peeped into the shops nearby, she had returned.

After lunch, from the foot of Dun Aonghus Padraigin led us a short distance up the road toward the end of the island and then turned down toward the sea on a pathway that led through fields and across a trickle of a stream to a clochan. Also called a beehive hut, a clochan is a rock structure that monks built as a place to spend time in solitude. There are several on the island, but this one was the most accessible to us. No more than six feet wide and maybe twelve feet long, it managed to hold all of us as we stood inside for a moment of silence and prayer.

On our way back to the road, we again sampled the many blackberries by the path. Then Padraigin kindly drove us in her car, in small groups, back to the hotel and we said our goodbyes to her – at least for that day.

Back at the hotel some members of the group quickly prepared to go to tea with another stranger we’d met on the ferry ride to Inis Mor. He first drew our attention when he drove onto the dock, not far behind the hearse, and unloaded a trashcan, shovel and several other items. (Curious, we thought.) Then he took his car back to the car park. On the ferry someone in the group learned that he, Helmut, lived on the island, having come there years before from Germany. He and his wife live at Killeany Lodge, near sites we visited on our first day on the island. They engage in sustainable gardening, and like Dara Molloy, work for improvement in the quality of life on the island. They often have young people from other places coming to live and learn from them there at the lodge. And on this day they were most hospitable hosts at a delightful teatime.

Then before dinner, we gathered in the hotel as a group to set our intention for the next 24 hours – another period of silence. I’m sure it was a strange experience for the wait staff in the hotel restaurant to see us eating dinner that evening without our usual festive conversation, but it was good to enter another time where we could reflect upon our experience and see how it was working within each of us.

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