Donegal holds a place in one of the most special parts of my trip. The sites were lovely but it was Shirlie’s brother, Luke that added heavily to their impact. I suppose I’ll just take it from the top.
I arrived in County Donegal, more specifically in Letterkenny at around ‘half three’ as they say here (3:30). Soon after, I met up with Luke at the Tesco (European Walmart-ish place). We went back to his apartment and we were chatting away. In no time we were discussing art; my writing and his surrealist drawing and painting. He showed me his portfolio and I just don’t possess the words to say how inspired and amazing the different pieces were.
After a quick pint, we were off to the Beltany Stone Circle. This circular rock structure was said to have been created between 1400 and 800 B.C., so yeah, it’s been there awhile. Like most of the things I’ve seen on my trip, it felt strange just parking next to a farm and walking up a hill to the site. I feel like any of the major things I’ve seen in America have always had ticket counters and mobs of people. Here, it was just me and Luke and two sets of couples on their way back down from the circle. When we got out to the field, it was just us and this ancient Pagan monument with, as Luke put it, “…a big question mark sitting over the top of it.”
I could go into all of the feelings I had, like not even being able to conceptualize the people that could have put the thing together and them practicing their religion where I was standing, but those type of thoughts are just a cobweb of confusion I’ll need years to work out. The best I can do is say that it felt right, being in the Pagan circle. It felt like something closer to any God I’ve ever known. It was connected wholly to nature—the place where I always imagine God to exist. But I won’t get too spiritual. That’s not my bag. Plus, I can hear that evil nun with the glasses and bad teeth, who used to yell at us for throwing snow balls outside St. Marks after Catholic school, spitting and snarling at the heavens as I write this.
After that, Luke drove me up to Malin Head. It’s the Northern-most point in Ireland. The site was gorgeous. It held an old tower that was used by the early I.R.A. and then again in World War II as a lookout for German boats. It was a great experience. But, I suppose I have to go into something kind of meaningful that occurred along the way. Sunday was Father’s Day, and as we drove to Malin Head, we drove through ‘Amazing Grace Country’— Inishowen, Donegal. I looked it up and the story goes that the man who wrote the song, John Newton was inspired to write it when his ship wrecked and he landed on those shores. Without going too much into it for many of my own reasons, it was a special little way to pay some respects. It was a place my Dad would have loved to see—I know Donegal would have been his favorite. There was a fish sculpture in the town and it had the only street that I’ve seen marked in all of Ireland and it happened to be Church Street. Make of it what you will.
The next day we woke up as ‘men with a mission’. Luke and I piled into his car and went over to climb Mount Errigal, a nearly 2,500 foot elevation overlooking some beautiful country. When we arrived at the head of our trail, it was rainy and the top of the mountain was covered by clouds. In the interests of brevity, I’ll say a few things quickly that I found amazing:
· The terrain changed once every twenty minutes; we’d be in bog (that I sunk one of my boots into at one point) then rock, then soft heather, then jagged mountain.
· At a certain elevation, we could only see twenty feet in all directions due to the cloud cover
· As we discussed our spirituality, I said my thoughts on God and Nature and turned around to find a religious-looking bracelet on an otherwise bare mountain. I think I’m onto something.
· On the way up, we lost the trail and took an extremely challenging route (way more fun).
Yeah, that about covers it. So we finally reach the peak and there’s a huge (man-made?) rock formation that looks like a dragon’s nest. Nearby there were big rock piles as well. We sat down and took our lunch. As I ate my sandwich, I turned around and the cloud cover opened up like a curtain and there was a view of Donegal that struck me in the heart. I have no qualms about heights but to have it revealed so suddenly was exhilarating. We walked over to the second peak (the two peaks kind of formed horns at the top) and the clouds gave us infrequent views of the world below. We hung out there and chatted and enjoyed our time on the mountain.
On the way back down, the clouds dissipated and we got to see it all on our leisurely walk down the path. In many ways I could connect the hike to my own life. There was a rocky climb, vision-obscuring clouds and a little bit of clarity when I finally pushed for higher ground. On the way back down, it felt a little easier. Then some rain came down hard but I just put on a poncho and pressed on knowing that it would pass. You just need to give it time, I guess. That’s life—I think?
After that, we saw Eddie the boat, checked out a church that I saw from the mountain and walked back up Errigal again because we thought we saw a cave (not a cave).
With my feet soaked and both of our legs like jelly, we decided to head over and see something that didn’t require hiking. Luke took me over to St. Columbo’s church and then to the farm where he was born. I think it reaffirmed something inside me, that you have to remember that these saints were just people like us. On the way to his birthplace, there were two donkeys and me and Luke stopped and gave them a pet for a while. For me, that experience meant more than seeing a place where a holy figure was born. And I’m not saying Columbo was a bad guy, hell, he might have been a really nice and wonderful saint. I hope he was but it doesn’t make him any bigger to me then say a great guy like Luke for example.
And I mean that. I think Luke and I are kindred spirits. There’s just a way about him that makes it immediately apparent that he’s a warm and thoughtful man. Sometimes he has a look like he’s carrying the world on his shoulders but then he’ll crack a joke and put the warmth of the sun in your heart with his fantastic smile. My whole time with him he was telling me about Ireland and showing me all the sites and continuously wishing he could have had more time to show me more. That type of person; an artist—someone who gives of himself. He’s aces in my book.
We had some beers and he showed me some of Letterkenny. This morning we parted ways and I took to the road like before. I listened to American songs and they started working on me, making me feel a little longing for home. Luckily, the Emerald Isle brought me through Sligo, home of my great-great grandmother Bridget Clancy and then to Westport, home of her husband and my great-great grandfather, John Walsh. So maybe I’m in a small little piece of home for the night. Tomorrow it’s beach and town and then the road to Galway.