Sunday, July 22, 2012

Welcome to Ireland, Shannon Ireland and off we go

Thanks for taking a peek at the photoblog for the 2012 Spirit of Ireland journey (June 14-23) Our trip to Ireland was a magical cultural, historical, and spiritual journey. Though no collection of photos can convey all we did, or experienced, here is a collection of some of the magical moments of this year’s trip. Enjoy.

A Brief Orientation Session at Coole Park

At the start of each trip, we begin with an orientation session, with introductions and an overview of the trip, the purpose of the trip and some things to make the whole experience as smooth as possible. This orientation session was held at Coole Park, former home of Lady Gregory, a patron of the arts.

An Inspirational stop at Coole Park with the Autograph Tree

Coole Park has some deer and the famous autograph tree where James Joyce and William Butler Yates carved their names. This tree appears red from far away, but standing underneath it to see the autographs the leaves are green. Pretty Cool.

Honoring the Virgin Mary in the Villiage of Knock

After leaving Coole Park… on our way to County Donegal, we stopped in the village of Knock, where over 150 years ago, an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared to several children near a church. To honor this occasion and people who make pilgrimages here, we offered some prayers and Ann played a version of Amazing Grace.

First Three Nights at Lough Eske Castle Resort

Our first three nights in Ireland were spent at the Lough Eske Castle hotel, County Donegal. I keep this a surprise from everyone (always nice to have some good surprises on a trip like this).  And boy, were they surprised, and delighted… Nobody wanted to leave.

Lough Eske, A Most Accommodating Castle Hotel

Here is a view of one of the Lough Eske castle living rooms. A very special place for sure.

Our first group dinner celebration at Lough Eske Castle.

Our first (group) dinner at the Lough Eske Castle.  We were all impressed. I passed our complimentary copies of the book, A Pocket History of Ireland (great book).

After Diner Traditional Irish Music Concert at the Lough Eske Castle

After a wonderful diner, we were treated to some fine music from our own group: Dan (guitar), Stoney (harmonica), Paddy (Bodhran) Ann (fiddle), John (fiddle), April (Guitar) and a few others who shared their musical gifts… AMAZING!

Morning Meditations to Start Each Day

We began the start of each day with a morning meditation. When traveling to new places it is easy to get sensory overload. Morning meditations, aside from the healing work, is a great way to cleanse the mind for a new day of sight seeing. These meditation session are optional, but the turnout was great each day.

A Typical Breakfast at the Castle after Meditation

The Breakfasts at the Castle were excellent, including the blood pudding, HA!

Ancient Celtic Wisdom of the Beltany Stone Cirlce

This is my favorite photo of the Beltany Stone Circle. A pretty magical place, for sure. On the coach ride up to Donegal the previous day, I passed around a beautiful quartz crystal and asked everyone to imbue it with loving and healing thoughts. As part of our ceremony, we strategically hid the crystal in the circle.

Healing Ceremony at the Beltane Stone Circle

Our first healing ceremony, at the Beltane Stone Circle, included some songs, some prayers, some poems and some healing touch energy work. This stone circle sits on the intersection of two lay-lines. Each stone holds a vibration and collectively all the stones create a unified tone or vibration as well.

Beltane (Beltany) Stone Circle, County Donegal

The Beltane Stone circle is a celestial calendar marking the sun’s passage through the cross quarter day of May 1st.  The Beltane stone circle is thought to be the largest (area wise) in all of Ireland.

The Grianen Stone Fort in County Donegal

Later that day we went to the Grianen Stone Fort. This is believed to be a residence of one of the High Kings of Ireland in County Donegal. Perched high on a hill with a great view in all directions, this fortrtess (dating back nearly 1,500 years) is a testament to the way of life back then in ancient Ireland.

Entrance of Grianen Stone Fort

Matt stands in the door/entrance of Grianen Stone Fort, County Donegal.

Returning to Luxury at the Lough Eske Castle

After a day of sightseeing, we relaxed back at the Lough Eske Castle. A very comfortable place to relax, unwind and catch your breath. Everyone wants to come back here next year. Stay tuned.

More Sheep than People in Ireland

It is hard to go to Ireland and not come back with at least one photo of a sheep. Our group was so taken with them that when it came time for our group photo contest, I had to make a whole new category… just for sheep photos. This is my favorite shot that I took at Slieve League.

Slieve League in County Donegal

People flock to the Cliffs of Moher, but Slieve League, County Donegal, is considered nicer and perhaps more picturesque. It might just depend on the weather, but on this day, the weather was GREAT! Here Dan and I pose for the quintessential  shot.

Some Irish Fiddle Music at Slieve League, County Donegal

Here we are at a most majestic site called Slieve League (Grey Mountain), with the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe. Ann pulled out her fiddle (on my cue) and played us a few songs, a la, Maria von Trapp and the Sound of Music (kinda). Lots of fun and no one wanted to leave. Thanks Ann!

In Search for the Thatched Roof Cottage

In search for the thatched roof house, this cottage  (and several like it) can be found in the folk park in the village of Glencolmcill, County Donegal. Outside of these theme parks, you will be hard-pressed to find authentic thatched-roof houses, as most are now covered in contemporary tiling or corrugated steel.

A Visit to the Folk Village Park of Glencolmcill

The village of Glencolmcill hosts a very nice folk village park where tourists can get a glimpse of what life was like several hundred years ago in this area. We toured several homes, including this one. A spartan life for sure, but with simplicity, there  was always time for music.

Sacred Healing Ceremony in Glencolmcill at the Pilgrim Stones

Here in the small coastal village of Glencolmcill we held our first sacred ceremony where Ann and John played some traditional Irish music, in harmony with the Earth energies near the first of several Pilgrim Stones, Followed by Dan singing a few songs, and a few words and prayers by myself. A very moving experience, for sure.

A Healing Pilgrimage Ceremony along the Pilgrim Stones

The small village of Glencolmcill hosts a path of ancient Pilgrim Stones (about 17 in all). They date back to a time before Christianity, but have been adopted into the Christian lore and pilgrim idea of a sacred ceremony. Here is the first stone, with some amazing carvings (front and back). We walked about one mile of the 13-mile path accessing about 4 stones four our pilgrimage.

Time for a song at the last Pilgrim Stone in Glencolmcill

Along the path of Pilgrim Stones, we held a few sacred ceremonies, with poems, prayers and songs in our humble attempt to help heal the planet. Here Dan sings a song, Safe Home, a timely song about the end of the Hero's Journey (and after all, a pilgrimage is a journey) and we join in. It was a very special event and this last gathering at this Pilgrim Stone was a very special moment. Thanks Dan!

Traffic jam in Glencolmcill, County Donegal

Sheep outnumber people in Ireland. Out in the countryside, it’s not uncommon to get caught in a traffic jam of sorts. It never lasts very long and harkens back to an earlier time (before cars), which is actually quite nice. This traffic jam took place near Glencolmcill, County Donegal.

First Private House Concert of Traditional Irish Music

Our first private house concert in the Lough Eske Castle was nothing less than stellar. Some traditional Irish music, and the fiddle player was AMAZING! Truly a night to remember.

A Tour of the O'Donnell Castle in Donegal Town

We took a tour of the O’Donnell Castle in Donegal Town. A newly refurbished castle with lots of great history. The history of Ireland is incredibly rich, with centuries upon centuries of the Irish fighting the British to keep their land, their culture, their religion, their music and their spirituality. The history of the O’Donnell Castle is a tribute to this history and the “Flight of the Earls.”

Portal Tombs of Carrowmore, County Sligo

This might look like a pile of rocks, but it’s called a Dolemen (several thousand years old), and it’s a portal tomb. The area called Carrowmore is an energetic cross roads of lay lines (also called “faerie lines”) and portals. We saw over 5 stones circles and many dolemens as well as some cairns on several mountaintops. The energy was amazing.

A Lecture at the Great Famine Memorial in Westport

Our group gathers around the Famine Memorial in Westport,  County Mayo, for a tribute to all the people who died in transit to the US, some who actually drowned when two ships capsized not far from this memorial. We learned that at the time of the Great Famine, the populations of Ireland was about 8 million. It is believed that 1.5 million died of starvation, and another 1.5 million immigrated to the US and Canada.

A Musical Tribute to those who Died in the Great Famine

We gathered around the Famine Memorial to hear a lecture from our guide, Stoney. Afterward, Dan sang a haunting version of Dan Fogelberg’s spiritual, Wandering Shepherd. Then Ann played a tune on her fiddle titled, Lament for the First Generation. It was VERY moving.

St. Patrick Statue in front of His Namesame Mountain

A statue of St. Patrick stands guard of the mountain that now bears his name. St. Patrick climbed this mountain around 1,500 years ago. It is now a place of pilgrimage for many people who hike to the top as a prayer offering for many personal reasons. The climb is about 2 hours up and 1.5 back down. We met several people who climb it several times a day.

A View from the Top of Crough Patrick

It was about a 2-hour hike/climb up to the top of Crough Patrick, a sacred mountain near the town of Westport. The views from the top were stunning. Here is a photo of Matt Helm, who made this special pilgrimage  (with his coveted walking stick) as a tribute to the love of his three children. Way to go Matt. Only wish you could have brought the stick home as a tribute to the hike. Next time....

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Memorable Night at Matt Molloy's Pub in Westport

Here we are at Matt Molloy’s Pub in Westport. Matt, a founding member of the Chieftains is in the black jacket holding his flute. Ann (second from left with her fiddle) was beside herself. We all were. What a night!

Grace O'Malley's Castle on Achill Island

This is the Grace O’Malley’s Tower Castle on Achill Island. Not a big castle by today's standards, but pretty impressive for her day. And  we were told, she owned more than one castle. Quite the legend in these parts, and we were impressed.

A Musical Tribute to Grace O'Malley

Grace O’Mally’s Castle, on Achill Island, is over 500 years old.  Grace, the female pirate, was quite a colorful character, and quite well educated too. She is remembered for a great many things (including a visit with Queen Elizabeth in a effort to maintain control of her territory.... Grace spoke no English, the Queen spoke no Gaelic, so they conversed in a common language; Latin).  Way to go Grace! We celebrated the feminine energy of this wonderful Irish feminine Icon by having Ann and John play a few fiddle songs inside.

A Visit to an Abandoned Famine Village, Achill Island

On a drive to Achill Island, we visited an abandoned famine village. It was quite moving to see a whole village deserted from the atrocities of the Great Hunger. It was also amazing to see how close these houses were to each other in the village. They had a great view of the ocean, but sadly many died before they relocated to another area now inhabited by the relatives of the survivors of the Great (Famine) Hunger.

Tea Time at the Ashford Castle

One morning we went to the town of Cong, where we learned, they filmed the movie, The Quiet Man (John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara). It’s also the home of the Ashford Castle, and some of us stopped in for a cup of tea. Simply Brilliant! This is how the other half lives and we liked it.

A Morning at Kylemore Abbey

We spent the better part of this morning at Kylemore Abby, a castle estate built over 150 years ago that is now owned by Benedictine Nuns. It is a beautiful estate which includes some amazing gardens and a small cathedral. Simply stunning.

An Afternoon with P.J. Curtis

One of the highlights of our trip was an afternoon with music luminary P.J. Curtis (renowned music producer for the likes of Moira O'Connell and many others. P.J. shared with us the influence of Irish music on American music by taking us on a historical tour of songs. We were spell-bound. What a national treasure he is. Did you know that the melodies of the Yellow Rose of Texas, The Streets of Laredo and Love me Tender were Irish folk songs that came over with folks who immigrated during the potato famine and well, the rest is history, as they say.

Summer Solstice Celebration on Sky Road, Clifden

After a wonderful private house concert with acclaimed folk singer, Don Stiffe, we took a drive to Sky Road to honor the summer solstice (no direct sunlight but good vibrations). It was a short ceremony, but we managed to get a few words in, and Dan sang a few songs, including Here Comes the Sun.

An Afternoon in Galway Town

On the way back to Shannon from Clifden our group invaded Galway town for some shopping where we tried in vain to help the Irish economy get out of their economic doldrums. Not sure if it helped them, but it sure made us feel good.

A Final Fiddle Song

Our last night included a dinner celebration, some awards, lots of laughs and LOTS more music, including a rendition of Thank God I’m A Country Boy, by the song’s composer, John Sommers (who used to be in John Denver's band years ago) John graced our tour with great music every day on fiddle and mandolin. Thanks, John. You're the best!

A most memorable tour in Ireland

We ended our tour back in Shannon, but stopped early on to get a group photo back on Sky Road. Trust me when I say... these are a bunch of happy campers. Thanks everyone for a most magical and memorable trip to the Emerald Isle.. Let’s do it again!

PS. Plans are underway for the 2013 Spirit of Ireland tour with three nights each in Dublin, Donegal and Doolin. Stay tuned….