Friday, November 13, 2009

Day 2: The Haunting of County Wicklow

On our second morning in Ireland, we were happy to leave the madness of Dublin behind and head south of the city into the mountains of county Wicklow. County Wicklow bills itself as "The Garden of Ireland" which, from what we could see, is quite accurate; if by 'garden' you mean 'hauntingly beautiful mountainous terrain thickly blanketed by enchanted forest'. When Americans think 'garden', we usually think of the tortured, wilting tomato and herb specimens we fruitlessly try to nurture into viable flora again and again via our not-so-green thumbs (some of us learning the lesson sooner than others). Apparently, the Irish have a completely different view of the word 'garden', one that more often than not includes sheep, but we'll get to that in a later blog.

Yes, the Wicklow mountains are a serene, inspiring backdrop for much of Ireland's tumultuous history. They are home to various movie sets, including Reign of Fire starring Matthew McConaughey, several firing ranges utilized by the Irish Army (thus the tanker that nearly pushed us off the road), scattered herds of wild, feral goats, various fantastical and/or mythological beings and countless ghosts. You may not find those last two on You'll just have to take my word for it.

Like many visitors to Ireland, we decided to tour the ancient monastic site of St. Kevin at Glendalough, one of three glacial valleys in county Wicklow. The initial ruins include a church, a monk's house, a round tower and a cemetery. Now, I've visited many a historic cemetery before. In fact, I like to think of myself somewhat as a connoisseur of final resting places. That said, no graveyard has ever made me feel the way this one did. As we walked among the tilting tombstones and Celtic crosses, I, for no apparent reason, began to cry. Nathan rolled his eyes and pulled out a Kleenex, "What's your problem now?" All I could say was that this place felt very sad, very tragic and the weight of all that sadness was sitting on me like a bacon press. As we moved towards the back of the cemetery, the weight lifted and I felt better. Coming again through the front to exit, I could feel it returning. Here's where I made my fatal mistake.

One of our family members -and you know who you are- requested I bring back a rock from Ireland for their souvenir. I'd intended to get one while in Wicklow, but I knew as I perused the sorrowful site at Glendalough, that taking a rock from that ground would be wrong, very, very wrong. Instead, I plucked one from between the deteriorating stones inside the church, just above the still visible font for holy water. I'm not sure what I was thinking, except perhaps that A.) the rock didn't technically come from the ground, B.) the church should be a happy place by contrast to the mournful cemetery, or C.) a rock is just a rock, right? Wrong.

That night, after we'd retired to our room in the Wicklow Way Lodge, where Mr. McConaughey stayed during his bald Reign of Fire days, I awoke sometime around 3:00 a.m. from a terrible nightmare. All I could remember upon waking was that in the nightmare I was cornered in a castle or dungeon of some kind, being confronted by the cumulative spirits of Wicklow for having offended them beyond all hope of reconciliation. In the dream, I was quite ignorant of whatever it was I'd done, if indeed I'd done it all, but that was of no significance to them. Something was coming for me. Something dreadful. Something being sent to punish me for my crime. I awoke so terrified that I contemplated packing up right then and driving, or rather having Nate drive, straight into the next county. In one evening, I'd gone from viewing the Wicklow mountains as the most enchanting, breathtaking natural wonder on the planet, to a recoiling place of torment sodden with the spirits of Ireland past.

As it turned out, Nathan was not keen on a midnight getaway and promptly rolled over, writing off my fears as yet another one of my ridiculous, however imaginative, delusions. With no other recourse, all I could do was pray and ask to be shown how to appease whatever disgruntled ghosts I'd awakened. The answer seemed obvious, and I promised to follow through at first light. I was rewarded with a much happier dream to follow, which implied I could leave Wicklow county acquitted of all charges. Long story short, the lovely owner of Wicklow Way Lodge now has an inconspicuous little addition to her driveway rock collection, courtesy of St. Kevin's church. The moral: leave sacred ground where it lies, don't collect rocks, tell well-meaning relatives with unusual souvenir requests to get stuffed.

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