The Healing Beauty Of Ireland's Wild West
"Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore, May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul." – John O’Donohue
To stand on the lush landscape encapsulated in God’s greenhouse, overlooking wild seas and rolling fields gridlocked by ancient stones, there is a sense of nirvana no amount of urban meditation could possibly hope to achieve. Place your hopes and your feet on the old, warm earth and let yourself be carried away by the lowing of cattle and the whisper of rainy winds coming in off the miles of untamable coastline.
In a modern world, it is easy to be swept up in the madness and the slapdash chaos of the everyday. To-do lists ten yards long only grow the longer you’re awake. The kids, the yard, the car, the job–a hundred things need doing and the very idea of doing them is exhausting to conceptualize.
All of that disappears when there’s an ocean between you and your troubles. Geographically invisible, the whining grind of daily life fades away, taking a backseat on a ride that is as unforgettable as it is fulfilling.
Places exist as pockets of revered silence, opening to a select few who want nothing more than to softly dip and dive into the quiet emerald velvet. Forests centuries old are gateways to blessed water and echoing caverns. The watchful eyes of empty abbeys are fond; not frightening–every frond of green unfurls in an approachable motion to come hither. Come home, say the woods. You’re safe, sigh the streams.
It’s easy to get lost. But it’s much more pleasant to get swept up in matters in Ireland than the life you’re taking leave from: to lose oneself wholly and lovingly in the forests, in the moment, in the people who open their arms and homes to you. A tour might be encouraged. Preferable, even. That’s where the Wild West Irish Tours comes in.
But, you protest, a tour is what a tourist takes. You don’t want to be seen as someone there for the usual spectacles. Your soul is craving something more; some youthful renewal of plenty in the form of wilds and thrills. With utmost warmth, I can assure you that you are not a tourist in Ireland. And certainly not when guided by Irish descendant Michael Waugh and his delightful wife Trish; not to mention their entourage of wonderful teachers, hosts, and guides.
Let’s say you go to Ireland. Just a theoretical daydream. You book with Richmond, VA locals who migrate between Ireland and the States because those sound like people you might consider neighbors. There’s something so much more personal about flying with friends. Perhaps that’s why geese do it. But since you are not a goose, you’ll have to take a plane to Shannon or Dublin—your choice.
You arrive on day one admittedly tired from a transatlantic overnight. You stumble, bleary-eyed, into the airport lobby and are swept up into the reliable and capable hands (and van) of Michael and his brilliant wife Trish.
At once you’re whisked off across a ribbon of tar wrapping haphazardly around a land bursting with freedom, with mountains that shoulder the roads in shrugs of nonchalance, effortless earth heaving old civilizations ever closer to the heavens. The cairns of the West serve as monuments of solemn promise; that wishes and prayers are answered here. You roll into the West across the river; are greeted by a woman (Geraldine) of immeasurable warmth, hospitality, talent, and cleverness, who shows you into a bed and breakfast with equally immeasurable panache.
The sleep you get that night will probably be the best of your life.
Waking the next morning to indescribably good food, mysterious skies, and the feeling that something surprising is about to happen, it all begins unexpectedly. An exploration of twisting trails and home-spun stories of celebrations the Celts did best is a carnival for the senses, a tilt-a-whirl that sends one’s soul skyrocketing into the heavens. Be it the soft spoken woman weaving a story by the fireside or a serene walk by rushing water bathed in the dying light of day, the elements are there to envelop any who enter them with love and welcome.
It’s as if you become yourself when you’re situated amidst the fluttering leaves and hillsides dotted with gossamer suggestions of sheep. Waterfalls blessed by legend and love renew the landscape and its people. The soft rainfall drapes the world in a blanket of silver that in no way detracts from the monuments you come to, guided by a bright and knowing man in a cap pulled low, emulating the true gift of Irish storytelling by losing track of time in the best possible way. Each hour spent with strangers feels more like an hour spent with family; swapping tales and adding insight to sites old as the Pyramids (if not more so, but that’s still up for scholarly debate).
It’s a journey that not only unrolls a carpet of welcome, but likewise extends a hand to pull you back into yourself. There is a placebo to be found in emerald grass and shaggy cliffs. In breaking brown bread with hot tea, in sounds and songs around an inferno of shortcomings dismissed for the sake of a New Year, you too can be reborn like a Celtic phoenix from the ashes. Samhain is the celebration; fueled by rigorous jigs and the banging of drums. As life wears on, there is a tendency to believe the dark and cold can be terrible, frightening things, but it isn’t so. The Celts believed the waning of the year was not the end, but a new beginning. That rebirth occurs not in light and fire necessarily, but also in darkness and damp from the winter season into Brigid’s time of spring. The promise of being reborn is found not only without, but within. Sometimes it takes an ocean and a dream to find it, but it’s there, waiting for you to dig deep into the soil and pull your yourself out of your own shadows.
This is one person’s experience, however. Who knows what you might discover on your own personal pilgrimage?
Solitude is something one can seldom come by in the modern world. We are constantly connected—travels limited primarily to specific things. To open oneself up to all universal possibility is to reach a point of nirvana wherein “go with the flow” cannot even begin to cover how free one can feel. A pilgrim starts out not with a destination necessarily in mind, but a purpose. And if you can find that purpose, and travel towards it, then perhaps peace is possible: because you have found your way.
You may find it on a path through craggy valleys full of houses left to be devoured by time and reclaimed by the Goddess; the Celtic land a living, breathing feminine figure constantly renewing and revitalizing herself in various stages of storm and stone. It might be found looking over windswept dunes and unforgiving oceans. Trailing your hands across ancient sacred spaces; caverns and temples, peering through church windows or standing stoic in resonant abandoned abbeys. It’s really a matter of pushing yourself to take that first step, because once you do, the rest is a mix of freefall and sprint, as the Goddess herself seems to whisk you away to a dance you somehow know the steps to.
People come alive when they’re on these trips with Michael and Trish. They find their private sanctuaries and tranquility; but they also find youth and friendship and a great deal many other positive elements. They see also that there isn’t simply a wall between man and nature, but a veil—a veil that can be brushed aside if one has the insight to do so. To be so deeply connected with a place; overlooking wide spreads of natural wonders is to absolutely feel as though you’ve come home or come back to yourself. There is resilience here, in the blessed waters of holy wells whose lore outlives all attempts to ever change it that echoes the quiet steadfastness of the Irish spirit.
It’s worth exploring, if that spark of hardiness resides in you. And if not, there’s no place to better find it than the Wild Irish West and no duo better prepared to fan it than Michael and Trish.
Spring is coming, and thus will begin the next stages of resurgence.
Now is the best time to step forward and find out who you are by journeying to the West.