Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 5: The Standing Stones of Drombeg

Before we left for Ireland, I made an entire list of 'must-sees' during our trip. I don't mean literal destinations like Dublin or Newgrange. I mean things that I felt were uniquely Irish, things I definitely couldn't see here and maybe couldn't see anywhere else in the world. You can think of it a little like Irish travel bingo. Just imagine a card divvied into squares, each one containing its own picture. One might show a raven and another might depict a rainbow. On one there would be the image of a sacred well and on another, a rag tree. Maybe when I'm all blogged out I can share my list in a special blog with my loyal readers (all three of you). Until then, I'll give you a clue. One of the things you would definitely find on my bingo card, probably dead center, would be a stone circle.

Stone circles fascinate me. Don't ask me why. Could be novelty caused by the obvious lack of them here in America. Could be curiosity. You can't see one without wondering what it's doing there and why someone went to all that trouble to erect it. Could be a bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo about sacred space and energy lines, yada, yada, yada. Truthfully, I think it's all of the above. Fortunately, Ireland is dotted with them like a case of bad pubescent acne. Cork and Kerry alone share 120 between them! While I'd love to see them all, I am reasonable, at least some of the time. So I settled for one. And to make it easier on Nathan, I wasn't even picky about which one, just as long as I saw one.

By the time we reached Kinsale, we'd already passed two signposts for two different stone circles off the road somewhere. Nathan wouldn't stop for either. Well, it's not that he wouldn't as much as he couldn't since the signs sprung up out of nowhere as he was blazing through the sheep fields like a bat out of hell leaving a train of fire in his wake. I kept telling him to slow down. By that point I was, needless to say, unamused. I seethed, then I pouted, then I finally gave up. That's when we walked into Kinsale Silver.

Picture this, a tiny one-room shop where the local jeweler tinkers away at his table making teeny singular replicas of ancient Celtic artifacts in silver to display as pendants, rings, earrings or pins. On one table, to the right, lies a solitary silver ring upon a cloth of black velvet, almost crude in it's appearance. Behind it is propped a picture in a simple wood frame. The picture is of a grand thirteen stoned circle jutting crookedly out of the earth, cows and sheep milling happily in the background. The ring is its replica.

I marched right over to that picture and swooped it up off the table. Holding it up to the jeweler and jabbing my index finger at it I demanded, "Where's this?"

He looked at me, his expression all a muddle of shock, confusion and perhaps a little fear. "About 40 Kilometers from here," he stammered.

"Can you draw me a map?" I commanded more than asked. At this point, Nathan is hiding his beet red face amid a curtain of Celtic knotwork necklaces, feigning interest so as to not be associated with the crazy, picture wielding American lady.

"Ya," the jeweler relents, hesitating.

I laid the picture down on his table and heaved a sigh of relief. I would get my stone circle by golly, if it's the last thing I did. "I'll also be taking the ring," I added decidedly, which elicited a small, involuntary shudder (a natural reaction Nathan has to me spending money-it's a wonder this trip didn't send him into convulsions) from my husband in the corner trying to pretend he didn't know me.

The next morning found us off bright and early with nothing but a sketchy, penciled map and a silver ring to guide us to Drombeg, Ireland's most photographed stone circle. Luckily, signposts kicked in about two miles up from the actual site, but until then it was an iffy hour's drive. You have to understand, this isn't Stonehenge. There are no tour buses here. These circles litter the backyards, wheat crops, sheep fields and cow pastures of Ireland's rural communities. Save but for the enduring patience of the farmers who find themselves the proud keepers of one of these ancient monuments, we would never see them at all. These men have to contend with people of all walks of life tracking back and forth upon their land at all hours of the day and night for a little of the circle's magic.

On a crisp, sunny morning, five days into our trip, when the moon was still visible low in the sky to the west and the water lay quiet, dark and brooding to the east, I saw my stone circle. Thirteen gleaming jagged pillars, of the original seventeen, stood proud and steadfast before me, reaching toward the bluebell sky with whatever dignity they had left. I walked around them, touching each one, zigzagged in and out of them, snapping shot after shot and I knew, this was someone's cathedral. We may never know what these circles were really for, but what we do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that they mark something special to our ancestors. These stone circles are the monuments of our parents of the stone and iron age and as such, they are our inheritance, our birthright. They belong not just to Ireland, they belong to the world. I, for one, was privileged to be among them.

I wrote a story once, called The Guardian Stone. The gist was that every stone has a story to tell and therefore an inherent value. I collected countless rocks as a little girl (and still do) for that same reason, always imagining what my little specimens might tell me if I could get them to talk. As I stood in Drombeg circle, I was awed with wonder at what those stones might say if they suddenly started speaking. What could they tell us, standing as sentinels to 2500 years of change and evolution? What would they teach us, as the guardians of that same 30 feet of sacred space for over two millennia? I can't even begin to know.

Drombeg turned out to be a two-fer. On site, just behind the circle, is an ancient well, dug at the time the circle was erected as a place to retrieve water for aid in food preparation for whatever stone-age festivities went on there. I'd brought an empty plastic bottle for just such a thing. No, it wasn't a well associated with any new world saints or heroes. It wasn't one of the wells that countless Irish still made pilgrimages to regularly to ask for divine intervention in whatever struggles they were encountering. But to me, it was holy. To me, Drombeg's well might be the holiest water in all Ireland. Before I filled my bottle, something flashing in the sunlight amid the ashes of a recent fire within the stones caught my eye. Bending down, I found a single, 1 cent euro. Suitable fare for my parting gift (Glendalough taught me well). I stooped beside the well, offered a prayer, a kiss and a euro to whatever gods or goddesses still ruled in the hallowed waters of that old, old place and I filled my bottle knowing that a little of the mystery of Drombeg was coming home with me.

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