There is a place where two streams meet, interlacing like ancient fingers, coming together once and for all, never again to let go. Deep in the swail beneath the great bog, where the heaving shoulders of land wear a velvet green cloak of moss and grass, with golden epaulettes of Gorse is The Meeting of the Waters.
When hotel keepers and bartenders talk about it, it is with reverence, like something sacred happens there. Perhaps it does, whether divine and unseen or simply because The Meeting of The Waters is also a meeting of the people. At night they come, like a family to the altar of communion, to share some bread and wine, to be baptized in the laughter and travail of life, frail in part but strong and whole in as much as it is shared.
I will never forget the sound of Aaron’s voice, drenched in both the longing of a boy and the wildness of a man, when I told him that I had arranged for us to rent a motorcycle to tour the back country of Ireland. While he looked forward to all of our trip, I have no doubt that the highlight he most looked forward to was this piece.
Still, there were variables to brace ourselves for. Initially, we were going to go to Ireland first and visit Paris last. On an impulse, thinking that I’d like to be in Paris on the 7th for Mom’s birthday, I switch the plan, last minute. This turned out to be an unintentionally ideal choice. The weather in Ireland is, to my midwestern skin, unseasonably cold and unpredictable and one of the days we alternated between sun and rain 5 times. So, as I corresponded with the rental company in advance of our trip, they warned me not to count on decent riding weather. We knew going in that the plan might fall apart.
Part of life for us has been learning how to go ahead with hope, even when the plan could very well fall apart.
We were planning to be in Ireland for 4 or 5 days. When we first arrived it was very grey. We had to just sort of pick on a speculation which of the days we wanted to ride, though the forecast prescribed chances of clouds and cold and rain for all of them. We chose Saturday and Sunday. Saturday morning came and I rolled over and opened my eyes to find an excited husband sitting dressed and ready, waiting for me to wake up, like a kid on Christmas morning. The bright sun streamed in the windows and all I could think of was how much his heavenly father loves him.
We took a cab to Celtic Rider Motorcycle Tours and Rental and met its genial proprietor Paul, who suited us up. While we were incredibly glad for the thick, warm gear while we rode, I was not so thrilled with feeling like I was waddling around in a sumo suit. We rode out over the Dublin Mountains, an eerie landscape which you might mistake for barren because of it’s stone shelves and deep brown brush, like the bald head of some ancient giant. But when you look closely or even stand on the ground you realize that it’s anything but lifeless . It is the giant sponge that waters the great emerald expanse of Erin. We wound the curvature of roads carved into it’s face like lines. Valleys below and stone faces above and us on two wheels. When we came down from the highlands into the valley, we came to Glendalough.
The old church which stands there was build around 500 a.d. I put my hands it’s walls, and felt suddenly small next to the largeness of time here. The stones of the building which used to have joints and seams between them now look like one single rock which is and must have always been church-shaped.
This is by far the simplest place of worship we’ve seen, but to me seems the most hallowed. Around us are are the resting places of the departed, and beyond them, new lambs graze in pastures and beyond that, streams rush and further than that, the hills rise and hold up the blue sky. Everywhere I see order and balance, the symmetry of life and death, beauty so extravagant and rich that it almost hurts, born from what is simple and uncontrived. Though there are many people visiting the site, we find a quiet, low place and lay among the headstones, keeping company with the memory of those already gone on. We are mostly hidden behind castle walls made up of tall grass, peering through bladed parapets, golden plumes like banners waving gently in the wind.
It was after we rode on from that that we came to the meeting of the waters. The sky stayed benevolent and blue over us for the whole day and as we sat having a meal, the smell of pine was thick and clean and comforting in the air around us. The young bartender serving us our lunch motioned to our riding helmets and said “you couldn’t have had a better day. We haven’t yet had a day this nice and tomorrow is supposed to be like it!”.
I think there should be a font that gives the same joy to the eyes as the accent of the Irish gives to the ears. That way when I type what they’ve said I can do so in the Irish Accent Font and you could experience the same delight that I did.
Eventually, we move on from The Meeting. We ride long into the day, the rush of green land and clean air like a tonic to both of our souls, which were perhaps wearier than we had let ourselves concentrate on. It felt as though with every mile, some spring inside of us, wound tightly upon itself began to loosen and be free. Finally ready to rest for the evening we pick a small B&B. Koliba, it’s called. The hostess - Rose – waves us inside, chatting sweetly, apologizing for the small en suite. Her blonde-headed grandbaby peeks his head out at her from the kitchen door. Wide eyed and silent, he waves his tiny paw for her to come back to him. I venture a smile and his eyes widen as he swiftly ducks back into the kitchen, closing the door firmly. Rose chuckles as she tells us about the evening’s events at The Meeting, recommends places for dinner, offers to make us coffee, apologizes again for the small en suite (which I found to be perfectly lovely) and asks us a flurry of curious and kind questions, but scolds herself before we can ever answer; “Ach, never mind, you’d like to get settled, I’m sure!”. I ask if she wants us to fill anything out or pay in advance. She waves her hands, shaking her head “No, no, no, no, no. All of that works out. You just enjoy yourselves. Where has me husband gone. I need him to light the barbecue. I’ve been trying all day!” In exasperation, she disappears as quickly as she appeared behind the kitchen door, wherein also resides her tiny elf grandson. The welcome in total lasted all of about 6 minutes and was entirely like being swept up in the warmest, friendliest windstorm you can imagine. By the time she’d disappeared I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, but I knew it left me feeling happy inside and I was pretty sure we had a place to stay.
In the morning, being very tired, we slept through breakfast, but I sent Aaron out to see if he could belatedly coax a cup of coffee out of our hostess. Only moments later, wide eyed and empty handed, he appeared back in our room. “They said come to breakfast”.
“What?” I asked. Breakfast was supposed to be from 8-9 and, glancing at a clock I saw that it was most assuredly half past nine already. “That’s what they said!” he repeated, ducking back out. I dressed and followed him out, finding a perfect table set for us, a steaming pot (a real silver pot!) of coffee piping away at the table, cereals and juices and yogurts and pastries laid out invitingly for us. Settling into my chair I was eying the buffet when our host, Brendan came in “Now, is this your first time in a B&B?” he asked. We told him it was and he waved at the menu on our table “well, find yourselves proper B&B fare!”. There on the menu was everything from a full Irish breakfast to pancakes and bacon and everything else you could want. “I can just have cereal” I said. Aaron agrees “Yes, we were late for breakfast”. Rose came sweeping into the room just in time to insist “Don’t be silly! The kitchen is still open!”.
And so, we both settle on pancakes and bacon, which arrive half way through my first cup of coffee (which is to say, shortly thereafter) and are crowned with sapphires and rubies and garnets, or in this case also known as blueberries and strawberries and grapes. They are sit on top of the stack of cakes by resting in a little well that Rose had made by cutting a heart out of the top pancake, a tiny heart which she laid on the plate. Delicious bacon next to a tiny compote cup of real maple syrup. They chat with us and finally leave us to breakfast, closing the dining room door softly behind them, glancing happily at us and then each other as they went, as if we were the honeymooning niece and nephew.
The thing is, it felt like home there. Like we were just members of an extended part of the family that they were just getting to meet. Aaron and I have agreed, in as much of Ireland as we experienced, the people were the best part. The people were all that way.
Well, except the first night off the plane when I was trying to find the right bus and the white and wild eyebrowed attendant kept yelling for me to stand “over there”, pointing in a new direction each time. And every time I tried to find out exactly what was going on, he would holler “Fer the love of Jesus, woman, have ye a complex? Didn’t I tell you to stand over there?” and he would point to a new destination.
Charming? Mostly. Disorienting? Definitely. But we had just spent a day in a coffee shop waiting to board a bus in Paris to go to the airport in Beauvais to fly out on the 11p.m flight on Ryan Air, which was an exercise in what I’m now calling “people-packing” since our month-long supplies didn’t quite make the measurement grade and we were forced to stuff every pocket and crevice on our persons in order to make the bags fit. Somewhere in the stuffing and purging is where I lost my cell phone, also, a sadness on account of how expensive those darn Virgin Mobile phones are and also (mostly) the photos I’d taken
Anyway, please enjoy these photos of the Irish country-side. We hope to go back some day.