Sunday, 16 September 2012

Ireland - Part 1: Kildare

It's been three weeks since Ireland. I had been planning it for so many months, and so much happened while I was there, that I wanted to give it some time before writing about it. And then I found I couldn't put a lot of it in words. But I thought some people might like to see my pictures, with a few comments. 

So let's start with getting there, and Kildare. 

The gorgeous little Welsh village where my friend lives, where we stopped overnight on the way to the ferry -  little slate cottages nestled in the mountains.
We left on the Thursday, and it took us half a day to drive to the Welsh village where a friend lives. She had kindly offered to give us a bed for the night, since she lives near the Anglesey port that we were headed to. She lives in the most gorgeous cottage. My witchy friends would have been seriously jealous - and I entirely failed to take any pictures inside the cottage. This (above, far left) is the cottage from the outside. The town hall (I think) is the Tudor-style building to the right.

On Friday morning we got up at some ridiculously unreasonable hour, drove to the port, and got the early ferry to Ireland. I should say at this point that I was determined to see the whole trip, from ferry journey to hanging out in the Cork hills, as a pilgrimage. I'm sure that's incredibly counter-intuitive for most people - this is somewhere I go back to every three to five years, and given my mobility impairments, the whole thing had to be a driving trip. (I have crossed Ireland by bus and train before, and it's a different experience, but any way that I can see the country is fine by me.) That said, Ireland has been a very special place to me for a long time - and I had some specific spiritual intentions in mind. 

Three realms (OK, only two that you can *see* - but this is the view back towards Britain from the ferry),
Given my pilgrimage aim, I had a few things I wanted to stay aware of throughout the trip. The most important was not to get stressed out. Another was to seek the gods in the least likely places. We had an incredibly rocky crossing, three hours during which I was mainly focused on not falling over, but I managed to say hi to Manannan mac Lir out on the very tiny deck. Next to the small children vomiting over the side of the boat.

We arrived in Kildare in the afternoon, for our first overnight stop. It's famous as a site of pilgrimage to St Brigid. She has various sites here, including the cathedral and the holy well. I didn't get to see the church just outside the town where a woman has created a statue that reflects both the Catholic and Pagan aspects of Brighid - that would have been fantastic.

Statue of St Brigid in the town square
I went to see the cathedral on Friday afternoon. For the most part, it struck me as a cathedral like any other, but with Brighid's crosses all over the place (it was hard to get good pictures inside, but there's one example below) and touches of Celtic imagery and history woven throughout.

14th Century vault in the grounds of the cathedral - known locally as 'Brigid's Kitchen'
Inside St Brigid's Cathedral

Celtic artifacts on display in the cathedral - some authentic, some copies of the real thing housed in the National Museum of Ireland  
There was a lovely display that told the story of St Brigid - she's believed to have been ordained a bishop in the Celtic church. Given that there was far more equality for women in the Irish Celtic church than in the later Roman Catholic, it's believable that this happened to someone.

And then I found the fire temple.

The foundations of the fire temple
The remains of the fire temple are just outside the cathedral, in the grounds. All that's left now is the foundations. Apparently, fires are lit here every Imbolc/St Brigid's Day, and her sacred flame was rekindled here in the 1990s. Before that, it is said that the flame once burned for at least a thousand years. It was extinguished during Cromwell's invasion of Ireland.

Offerings inside the remains of the fire temple
If I was vaguely aware of Brighid in the huge cathedral, with all its altars and dedications to her, then she was so much more present in the tiny, bare foundations of the fire temple. Stone crosses and remains of pillars had been dragged in to form makeshift altars. Catholic prayer cards sat next to crystals, reed crosses and personal trinkets. There were beautifully arranged offerings, and there were lengths of cloth that had been ripped off shirts and improvised into votive ribbons. And there were a lot of candles.

I was meditating so long there that I got locked inside the cathedral grounds. If you go, do remember to leave by 5pm, or you'll end up attempting to climb through the fence, realising you can't get over the wall, and being rescued by accident when they come to find someone else (who they had locked inside a tower in the grounds. Possibly the Brigidine Sisters are recruiting).

St Brigid's well, Kildare
Saturday was my visit to the holy well, set in a park. A silent, deeply peaceful place, it seems to be largely overlooked by visitors. The stones leading up to the well are stations where prayers are said; the tree by the well is hung with ribbons. Not many, but enough to glimpse a community of seekers.

In good 'caught unprepared' tradition, I realised that I had already given all my offerings at the fire temple. There was a fabric belt around my dress, and I tied it around the tree with the other ribbons. Then I spent some time under the trees and at the stream.

It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to - and that's where I run out of words.

The stations, leading away from the well towards the stream

Statue and stream

If I ever get to go back, I'd like to see the perpetual flame at Solas Bhride, and to try and find the second holy well in the area - a local person told me about it, but I couldn't find it anywhere. A lot of these sites are so unassuming you can walk right past them.

I'll pick this up again soon, on the subject of the rest of the trip - which turned out to be quite different - including some much less well-known sacred and ancient sites.


  1. I am having difficulty even finding words to comment with. What a beautiful place. You do it mysterious justice, creating hunger.

  2. "Mysterious justice" is perfectly put. Beautiful photos. Now I want to visit.

  3. It's absolutely worth a visit. If you ever go anywhere remotely near, *go there*. (Is my advice!)

  4. So many wonderful pics, I want to go there and see all these lovely sights of St Brigid. Love your blog, the background is stunning. If you would like to visit me back I'm at, blessings to you, Alison xx