I stood at the edge of the famous Cliffs of Moher. Just a short drive from Shannon Airport, this site is one of the first stops for tourists. The last time I stood at this edge of Ireland where the Atlantic Ocean pounds silently far below us, at the base of rock faces that can cause you to miss a breath, I couldn’t see anything. It was misty and a wet wind nearly blew me over.
Not today. We had just picked up my son, Brian, and the weather was clear enough so when you looked out to the ocean, you could see the curvature of the earth. A harpist played New Age Celtic melodies for the crowds that were trudging up the steps for the best view. A fiddler played. A man on a penny whistle played. The music blended nicely with the quiet view. We were too far above the waves to hear any crashing surf. The music was the soft lilts and airs of this land of music and dance.
I watched my son. He leaned against the great stone slabs that protected oblivious tourists from getting too close to the edge. I saw him close his eyes briefly. He heard the music of the sea without hearing the sound of the water, so far below.
Our destination for the night was Galway. Another few hours of driving would put us at a B & B in Salthill, just a short walk to the famous Latin Quarter. We were going in search of pubs that played traditional Irish music.
But first, we had to drive through the Burren. This is a strange place indeed. Lunar-like in its landscape, it is where many people get their first real look at the wild and isolated regions of Ireland. Unless you’re mentally prepared, there came be something unsettling and odd in this land of flat limestone. In the full sunlight, the stone can be nearly blinding with its white-gray surface…a surface that give you the sense that you can just turn your car to one side and just drive over the pavement.
But that would be a bad idea. It was rolling and full of boulders and fissures in the rock that are a foot wide. I parked the car to stretch and I walked away from the road. It was silent, save for the wind in my hair and blowing through the heather patches and wildflowers that found a home in the cracks.
I heard something. I heard music. I looked around and I was too far from any car for a radio to be heard. My wife and son had found a nice place to sit and wait for me.
There it was again. I heard music…it was an ancient air…a mournful tune…a lament that came from the very rocks I was standing on. I heard familiar melodies like Molly Malone and . I heard the music of an older time when life was simpler and more gentle. A time when God may have been present among the lives of men. A time when nature herself ruled the earth as the Mother Goddess in the times of the Mist. I heard the songs of the fossils that were older than time itself. The shells and the oolites of the limestone was alive with something I couldn’t understand or touch.
I walked slowly back to the car, afraid to confront reality. That’s when I saw my son standing and looking out over Galway Bay. I wondered if he heard the music as I did. I walked up and stood beside him.
“This is insane,” he said.
I knew what he meant. I think it was his Gen X way of saying: “I get this place right now. I really do.”
We drove on. Cottages, bonded to the solitary sheep, began to appear as if to announce that humans still used this land.
Then, the flatness returned. The rocks stretched toward the Bay and then, with a ninety degree drop, met the water.
We stopped a few more times before we left the Burren. Brian got out of the car once more and walked to the edge once again. He looked out at the water.
I tried to read his mind, but couldn’t. And, that’s the way it should be.
That night we went to the Latin Quarter in Galway, not very far from the Spanish Arch. We heard music again. Finnegan’s Wake, Raglan Road, The Wild Rover. Songs of the people. Songs of the struggles. Songs of unrequited love. Songs exile and songs of executions.
Songs that define this ancient and complex island.
Songs that were sung for a hundred years…perhaps by people who had my blood in their veins.