My husband, Michael, and I have seen some awe-inspiring nature scenes in our travels around this vast country of ours…snow-covered mountains, lush green valleys, lofty cliffs overlooking the wide ocean, thundering waterfalls, wide-open-stretch-for-miles desert terrain, misty rain forests, vast canyons, and dense, mystical woodlands.
But the trip across ‘the pond’ to visit Ireland changed us forever.
Michael had learned that the MacQuillen clan lived in Northern Ireland, occupying the Dunluce Castle during the 12th century, and we wanted to experience that part of his ancestry. Little did we know how much that country would take hold of our hearts.
We flew into Dublin and as the plane landed on the runway, lined with pastures and grazing cattle, we knew we had stepped into another world.
We acclimated ourselves to the time zone by walking the city and experiencing its many famous attractions: the Temple Bar District, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College Library and the Guinness Brewery.
Two days later we picked up our rental car. We would spend the next two weeks driving ourselves to Northern Ireland and then back down the western coast to Galway. Driving away from the city and into the countryside is where everything changed for us. The first thing to blind-side us (coming from California) was the intense green. I mean the kind of green that saturates your senses and permeates your very soul. That kind of green.
The second thing, that stayed with us the entire trip, was the lack of commercialization, even in the cities. The countryside looked just as I had visualized it—with rolling hills, thatched cottages, pastures with stone fences and cliffs overlooking the sea (as they refer to the ocean). And yes, there were castles and sheep. It was a picture postcard in real life.
I could write volumes about the places we saw, the political and religious divisions still alive between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the fact that it’s as if the Potato Famine and Bloody Sunday just happened—only days ago.
But the over-powering experience was seeing the unspoiled landscape and how connected the people are to that land.
It’s not an easy life. To a large degree they still survive on what they catch from the sea and reap from their fields. And as I stood in the ruins of the Dunluce Castle, overlooking the wild and windy sea where my husband’s ancestors had once stood, I thought about how hardy these people had to be, to just survive the elements. No wonder immigrants from Ireland to the new world were so successful. They already intimately knew hardship when they arrived here.
Michael and I lost a piece of our own hearts to that place as we walked the peat bogs and watched a sheepherder and his dogs pass us as if we didn’t exist—as if we watched from another time and dimension, invisible to his eye. The simplicity of life in this place hit us square in the gut. We would never be the same.
In Galway we watched throngs of young and old alike go to the pier and jump into the cold, icy waters of the sea. It was not a warm day. We questioned people about it. The teenagers couldn’t tell us why—only that “It’s what one does”. They thought our question quite silly and giggled as if embarrassed. We asked the older folks and learned that it’s a common practice to go out into that icy water for health reasons, sometimes as often as once a day. Tradition is strong here.
These people are one with their land, just as our ancestors here in this country were. I think we all miss that connection with our Mother Earth. I’m not naive enough to say I wished we could go back to those times—before we had modern medicine and electricity. But I do believe we can all live a more fulfilling life if we spend more time out in nature, experiencing those wonders and finding our place within it.
Michael and I live in the city now. But visiting Ireland changed us.
We know that spending time in nature, away from modern conveniences and the daily onslaught of media is how we can heal and refresh our souls. We plan to make it a bigger part of our life. I hope you can too.