The Silent Songs of the Burrens and the Rebel Songs of Galway

Moher1I 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.

Just listen.

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.

BurrensCottage

Then, the flatness returned.  The rocks stretched toward the Bay and then, with a ninety degree drop, met the water.

BurrensSlabs1

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.

BrainAtGalwayBay

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.

GalwayAtNight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dublin On A Sunday Afternoon

PatOnO'ConnellBridge

It was a brief flight.  Heathrow to Dublin airport in a little over an hour.  No time for a movie.  No time for any real food.  I looked across Mariam’s lap and watched the fields of Wales slide under us at several hundred miles per hour.  Still, when we landed and took the taxi to our hotel, we felt the need to take a walk.

I hadn’t been in this curious city in thirty years.  I wonder why it took so long to return.  Was I avoiding something?  Like memories that were so pleasant that I didn’t want to shatter them with fresh images? I wanted to keep thinking of this place as a cracked photo yellowed with time and not a memory made of pixels.  We walked to O’Connell Street and took a left.  A block and a half and we were standing in front of the General Post Office, still showing bullet holes from the Rising of 1916 when the English shelled it from a gunboat on the River Liffey.

We walked to the famous Abbey Theater where the cream of the English thespians trod the boards.

Then we crossed the O’Connell Street Bridge.  In my mind, nearly as famous and important as the Tower Bridge in London.  There is a legend that states that you will always see a white horse when you cross the bridge.  Another legend says you will see an Irish prostitute if there is no horse.

We saw neither (as far as I knew…I know a white horse when I see one).  One wonders what will become of your day if you saw both.  Or, even more ideal, a prostitute riding a white horse.  But I’ll save that story for another day and another blog.

We went a block into the section called Temple Bar.  It’s just opposite our hotel.  There were more pubs that one could easily count.  But the Garda (police), in their yellow vests, vastly out numbered the pubs.  It seemed like there had just been an upgrade in the terrorist rating…but it was more to do with the rowdiness of the drinkers than any bombs.  One Garda was riding a white horse.  I stopped to consider this.

TempleBarMusicPub

I found a pub to rest in.  They were playing some traditional Irish music.  We sat for a bit and listened.  I took a photo of a pretty bar maid.  She seemed pleased someone noticed her behind the stack of empty pint glasses she carried.

bargirltemplebar

The Irish are an attractive people.

Doubling back to the Liffey, we crossed the Ha’penny Bridge.  Small pad locks were beginning to collect on the metal bars of the railings.

Paris just recently dealt with the thousands of locks on the Ponts over the Seine…they simply cut them off.  Would this be the destiny of the Ha’penny locks?  Who placed the very first lock?  I wondered about this and lost myself in thoughts about whether they were still together or had they separated and left only a small chunk of metal or brass to rattle in the winter wind and signify nothing.

After dinner and a show of Irish dancing (think Riverdance with four dancers) we went back to the O’Connell Street bridge.

NightOnLiffey

One would never guess it was a Sunday night.

I stood on the bridge and read a small plaque about a man whose carriage plunged into the Liffey at that spot.  I thought of ghosts.  Was the bridge haunted?

Was the bridge haunted by this poor drowned soul, or a thousand prostitutes…or a hundred white horses?