Editor’s note: This is the third article in a five-part series entitled “Writer’s Notebook: Ireland.”
The Green Road, Dingle
“The Green Road”
I walked up into the hills above Dingle today, for about two hours, along the Green Road of the Wild Atlantic Way. My only company is the monk and fields of sheep that extend up to the very top of the hills – their bleating, and the gurgling of the flowing Garfinny river, the only sounds along my way. He ventures down into a fairy fort, one of the very few ancient stone circles he had never seen in all his years of living his life in the area, so he is intrigued. I walk onward past the scorched Furze that blackened the otherwise green and tan patches – like puzzle pieces of different sizes, the land having been measured out into individual plots with brown ditches creating the boundaries and creating the patchwork look.
It was a cold day, but without a wind. It’s where Brigid might escape to get away from the town and its people below, putting it behind her as she walked the Green Road. It offers her a change from her life nearer to the sea, a different kind of bearings she might seek more closely resembling the hills over Belfast where she would retreat to in her youth.
When I met the Irish writer, Anne Enright, at the Sun Valley Writers’ Festival many years ago, she had just written a novel called “The Green Road” and she inscribed a copy for me. Now, I am walking up it. The Green Road is a grass passage that was the only way through the Conor Pass before the present road was built in the 19th century. Now, it is part of the Wild Atlantic Way walking trail that takes walkers along the west coast of Ireland. It still feels primitive, its path uneven and the grass long in places. It’s scattered with small pieces of dead wood which we collect for much needed kindling.
There is an exquisite line in Enright’s book that captures the feeling I have being here, away from all I know and surrounded with such rugged and transcendent scenery: “Beauty, in glimpses and flashes, that is what the soul required.” I imagine Brigid’s soul requires that too.
Later, I attend Mass at Saint Cáitlín’s in Ventry. It was an Irish language Mass, so I don’t understand any of it except the occasional “Amen.” It was gentle and intimate, and I enjoyed it more than almost any Mass I’d ever attended with the exception of when I attended Italian Masses in Rome. There is something mystical about hearing the Mass in another vernacular because all you really hear are the intonations and rhythms of the service and there is a musical quality to it that washes over you. Maybe it’s because my earliest experiences with Mass were all in Latin and it was only after I studied it in high school that I fully understood what I had been hearing on Sunday mornings. My first spiritual experiences were just sounds in that way. There were only about thirty of us, gathered in the back half of the church. It made the priest at the front look all the more isolated from his congregation and I wondered why it is such a seemingly universal preference for the faithful to flock to the back of a Church. The musicians sat among us in the pews, playing soft Celtic tunes and the sung portions of the liturgy on their guitars and accordions. It was magical, so pure and unaffected. As I left the Church, the stained glass, illuminated from within, became fully visible and vibrant against the night sky. Some of the faithful walked over to Paidí Ó Se’s pub, conveniently located directly next door.
Brigid wouldn’t be attending Mass, but she most certainly would stop into a Church on occasion to be with her own thoughts or to light a candle for her sisters and mother. Maybe, she would stop into Saint Cáitlín’s on her way back from town or after a walk along the Ventry beach nearby. Sometimes, what is bred into us – the traditions and the sacraments we follow as children – become part of a subliminal roadmap that we return to when we are without any other means of navigation in our lives. Without fully understanding or even accepting why she is comforted by some of the Catholic faith traditions, Brigid still relies on them at times. I do too.
I’m in a reading group, made up of American academics and Irish scholars, that meets virtually each month to discuss the writings of the Irish mystic and philosopher, John Moriarity. Some of the members of the group are related to him, others knew him as a friend, and the rest of us are just intrigued by his nearly incomprehensible ideas. We soldier on, reading short excerpts of longer works each month, guided by someone in the group who has taken time to dig into some of the particularly interesting passages. Mostly we ask questions of Moriarity’s work, rather than reach any conclusive assessments or understanding. It’s mainly enjoyable because of the challenge, but also to hear the Irish members of the group read Moriarity aloud in their lilting accents. Moriarity would have been alive when Brigid lived on the Dingle Peninsula, although he wasn’t widely known for his ideas or writings yet. His father was from the area, and it was where he visited his cousins each year. He would have been allusive in some ways, hermit-like almost, enjoying being in his own thoughts, although I’m sure friendly if someone like Brigid came upon him walking the Green Road or other hill. He was dedicated to the rural landscape, but also to Christian mysticism, stemming from an existential experience in nature.
When thinking about why Brigid returns to some of the traditions of a religion she has fallen away from, I think of Moriarity’s own experience. He believed, according to the Monk who was a good friend of Moriarity, that in times of crisis we “fall back into the mother tongue”. What we are born into – a family, a religion, a region – is so elemental to our nature and soul, as to refuse to be pushed away.
Day Four: Writer’s Notebook: ‘Inspiration in Dunquin’.
Marie Hulme is a local writer who resides in Weston and teaches at Sacred Heart University. She earned her B.A. in English from Smith College, an M.A. in British and American Literature from NYU, an M.A. in Teaching from SHU and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. Prof. Hulme has received national awards for her creative writing in fiction and non-fiction, and previous to her life as an academic, she worked as a journalist for ABC News in London.