The long light evenings give way to leisurely after dinner walks with houseguests. We found ourselves up on the Cavan Burren yesterday evening just as the angle of light was its brightest before it gradually began to fade into the long twilight. Some summer solstice senryu seems to be in order for poetry practice this morning. We were up in the park a half hour before the gates close at 10PM. After a day of on and off rain the light show showed up a luminous green from the moss and lichen.
Which segues neatly into a photo of Cavan Burren Park’s iconic Calf Hut
Dolmen. Basically, the captstone slipped at some stage to create a
saltbox effect. At some point in the late 18th or early 19th century a
farmer decided to mortar up one end and make it a cattle shelter for the
new born calves.
By twilight we were home for dessert and tea. The guests had an early morning start. It wasn’t dark at bedtime.
I am revelling in the summer solstice light and the full moon’s light. I hope you are bathing in its fey joy, too. We are still three days of the exact solstice and the moon will be waning by then. In the meantime, let the yin and the yang sky dance and bring you delight.
Hearts can be sad and joyful, under a cloud or sunny skies. A heart can be open or closed. The region where I live, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, is described in other marketing tags. We overlap with Ireland’s Ancient East. We are at the head of the Shannon Blueway. Being so westerly, we are also on the fringes of the Atlantic Region. And now we have also been designated as part of Ireland’s Hidden Heartland. As taglines go, I think that is my personal favourite. But it also allowed me to contemplate the concept of heartland for poetry practice purposes.
Shall I draw you a map?
Is there an app invented yet
that will lead you on your way
into this special place?
Where a sacred tree grows
that will show you your desire
in its shimmering glory,
that’s both shelter and fire,
rooted by stone no storm
can rock, yet still opens out
embracing the wind’s movement,
quickening as it meets
what the day and fate visits.
It remains open. If felled
or fallen, roots exposed,
its pulse interrupted,
stilled, an open hollow
in the ground is where spirit
hovers, always open.
Copyright 2019 Bee Smith
And a card drawn by Hannah Dugan, Sketches by Hannah on Facebook
I am not feeling exactly on my game this morning. Either I have really bad hayfever, or I have a cold. This past week I guided local school children on a walk on the Cavan Burren. We are fortunate to walk on land that has been continuously, but gently, occupied for as long as humans have lived in Ireland. Most of these school children come from families with centuries long roots in this place that is very much on the map in the myths told about the first peoples of ancient Ireland.
I was pointing out how rocks and trees were the big story of this place. It is thought that high chieftains were inaugurated under a tree sacred to their clan. But we also have the inaugural stone for Clan Maguire not far from us. The Tuatha dé Danaan are said to have landed first on Slieve Anieran, which is twenty miles or less from them, just over the boundary in Leitrim. The goddess Danu is said to have married Bile, the old Irish word for tree. The school group in Glangevlin lives close to the Belavalley Gap, where the Tuatha’s smith forged their magical weapons. And then, because I have atrocious Irish pronunciation there was a brief discussion between the teacher and children about the word tuatha. Most often it is translated as the people, or tribe, or the children of Danu. But it also has a further nuance, which carries with it the sense of it being the place, or land, of Danu.
Which hit me like a big chunk of sedementary rock off of one of those glacial erratics in Cavan Burren Forest. Which also has its fair share of rock art cup and ring marks.
Poetry practice today is informed by some wildlife – a moth- found on our front door yesterday. Also the walking workshop I delivered to 50+ school kids yesterday up on the Cavan Burren. In a landscape with million year old furniture I was trying to explain when their first ancestors -these were local kids- turned up in Ireland mere thousands of years ago, when sea levels were lower before the last of the big Ice Age melt off. This is background information before these kids make pottery with local ceramic artist Jim Fee. Humans have been making pots for tens of thousands of years. Writing is a bit of an afterthought – after farming, domestication of animals, megalith making. It was a Bronze Age development. Although perhaps poetry existed in oral form or in singing before that. But the writing down – into stone, onto bark or papyrus- that came fairly late in the day as an art form. The first poetry was recorded by a woman – a princess and priestess- in 3,500BCE in Babylon. Art making was the hand work that filled the glove of the spiritual and sacred in the ancient world. It was deeper in our DNA even then the urge for food security. As was our human capacity for awe at the workings and movement in nature. We were still part of nature then.
It is one of the great pleasures and privileges of living within Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark that this sense of deep time and survival. Much will pass away, but the art will remain, and the rocks.
So, to the daily poem. I am keeping it short to allow contemplation to be long. A tanka today. A haiku capped with a seven syllable couplet. Which brings me back to that moth. Which my Collins’ “Complete Irish Wildlife” suggests is called the Angle Shade
Wakening to bright sunshine and blue sky after a nighttime that brought welcome showers on our acre plot. NaPoWriMo’s last Thursday prompt is:
I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that:
Is specific to a season
Uses imagery that relates to all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell)
Includes a rhetorical question, (like Keats’ “where are the songs of spring?”)
So the season I am writing about is just around the corner. In Ireland we call May Bealtaine. It is pronounced Be-ahl-ta-nah round where I live. Or you can have it as Beltaine in English. It’s also the name for one of the four cross quarter days of the pagan wheel of the year. It marks the six weeks up until midsummer . Or, the three month period up until harvest, or Lunasagh, at 1st August. Seasons are a bit flexible like that in Ireland. Call it late spring. Call it the official opening of summer. Beataine is the most sensual time of year. Living as I do in the West Cavan part of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, nature is providing plenty of sensory inspiration.
I heard the cuckoo calling its plaint for a mate quite faint last Easter Sunday, but full throated and hearty the evening of Tuesday. It will carol the uplands until the longest day when nights are shortest and dawn does not delay.
But today...well the bluebells are still out in the shade, mingling in with the aromatic of wild garlic, (which sharpens the appetite.) its star white flower crowding into the bluebell dell on the forest floor along with the white bells of wood sorrel, that not-shamrock tasting of lemon spinach. A munch quenches thirst on walks through this wooded glen, the river in full conversation rolling over the rocks from another epoch, the fallen trees downed
or bent like the crick in my back from sowing beans and carrots. I have an ache in muscles unused to industry, gone slack during the dark months. We mimick all these nesting birds who already have some hatchlings, or the energy of gamboling lambs ridiculous and bucking up their heels. Calves are appearing in neighbours' pastures sporting their new eartags. And the weeds! Everything is rushing towards being. The bees are at the nectar. The butterflies have been released from self-made cocoons. The blackthorn blossom is floating down butterfly kissing our foreheads. It's a benediction. It's a glory.
Bealtaine Go leor! Is everything not plenty? Is everything not enough? Everything is in a rush towards its blooming and being.
I am playing fast and loose with the NaPoWriMo2019 prompt for today. “Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that starts from a regional phrase, particularly one to describe a weather phenomenon.” I have a cracker of a regional phrase, one from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Which makes this very GloPoWriMo2019 and gives me a chance to vent about Brexit.
“Shar me hay-ed” is what it sounds like. This translates as “shower my head”. Or could even be used as “go shower your head.” It’s more to do with internal weather than external low and high pressure systems. My late sister-in-law came over to us in England from Armagh back in the late 1990s for her fiftieth birthday to “shar me hay-ed.” With a hard Brexit looming and living in border lands we may all be needing to go shower our heads more frequently. In a little over a week I will be escorting a group of school childrenthrough a sliver of territory that will cross international boundaries twice. This is just to take them for a guided walk in Cavan Burren Park, which is part of a cross-border global geopark. It’s supposed to be a fun day out during a Easter Holiday School doing arts and crafts.
I just realised I may have to pack my passport since I don’t have a photo ID driver’s licence. I have to ride on the bus to fulfill the mandatory number of adults for Child Protection Policy.
The point is that nobody knows what all the implications will be. To have called a referendum without a plan was just plain wicked and so disruptive of millions of lives. Blast Brexit! We all need to go shower our heads over this.
Go Shower Your Head
"I need to shar me hay-ed," she said. Not the power shower sort of head. A break from all the stress forcefed living with an army of occupation and hotheads A soft day cannot wash away bloodshed.
So go shower your head in a cascade. Change your weather channel in glen and glade. We all need to shower our heads to biodegrade our dismay.
I needed a few days to let all the mythology and mystical feeling of Uisneach to settle and process. It was only just Saturday when I was travelling with many of my Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark guide colleagues to Ireland’s Heartland to visit what is considered Ireland’s sacred centre, a nexis of mythology and ancient cosmology.
Just to prove how we are never more than three degrees separated from anyone in Ireland, we had no sooner disembarked when I met an acquaintance who introduced me as “The Poet.” (That was very edifying Kathleen!) By the time our tour had concluded ninety minutes later I saw more familiar faces and found that they were gathered for a memorial service for Kevin Hayes whom I had not met, but perhaps only my an accident given the number of common acquaintances.
Uisneach is a natural gathering point since it is near as damn all the geographical centre of this island. If you imagine Ireland as a shallow bowl, Uisneach rises out of the flatland to have a 360 degree view of Ireland on a clear day. You can see all the mountain ranges east, south, west and north. There were processional roads from each direction for the gathering each Bealtaine when the sacred flame was relit in a pit as large as a footbal field. And as soon as those not present saw Uisneach’s flame, they ignited their own mountain top pyres in a unique ceremony of call and response involving and uniting four kingdoms at the central place of the High King. Last May at Bealtaine, President Higgins took the place of the High King and lit the Bealtaine fire.
What is remarkable is that Uisneach’s mythology and cosmology is united in celebrating both the sacred masculine and sacred feminine. Lugh is the primal sacred masculine presence at Uisneach, a solar god upon which the agricultural calendar relied. The souterain beneath the High King’s Palace, may have been practically used for food storage. But it also symbolised the womb of the earth as life giver. With the invention of agriculture there was a secure food supply and that was symbolised in the fecunditty of Mother Earth. What is now called the Cat Stone is also known as Hiberniae Umbilicus, the umbilical cord of Eriu, Ireland.
And so now to the poem about Uisneach from the so kindly named ‘the Poet.’ The Poetry Daily:
The Sacred Centre
If you follow the sun and stars you will have plenty and peace. The earth's belly is full so feast.
Our King Lugh and Queen Eriu are the royal road to the sacred centre. Just follow the sun and stars and keep walking towards the centre. And do not make of it a mere altarpiece. You know that you owe this peace to the plenty.
You must follow the sun and stars sow in time, and hoe, reap and feast - an unmarred life follows sun, stars, royal code. Our King Lugh relies upon Queen Eriu. If you follow the sun and stars, give back to the earth as Eriu gives all fruit for the feast under sun, stars, you shall have great peace following the plenty
Thanks goes to Marty Mulligan, our guide and storyteller, who brought Uisneach’s ancient landscape alive. He pointed out that the original inhabitants were not a war like people. It was only with the incursion of the people we now call the Celts around 500BCE that warfare became the stuff of bardic lore. Uisneach was the seat of abiding peace and mediation of disputes at a time when under Brehon law men and women had equal rights.
Thanks also to Nuala McCann, the Cavan County Council employee for Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark programmes. She is an excellent event organiser! It was great to get an insight into how other Hidden Gems in Ireland are allowing sustainable tourism to evolve. Uisneach is a shining example.