The Grainery in Avoca, Wicklow Hills

Ireland is rife with beautiful locations: sea vistas, mountains, pasture lands, and rolling fields of grain. One of the best places we stayed was a self-catering cottage in Avoca.

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The farm is at the end of a long one-track lane with verge on either side. Finding it was an adventure. The first lane brought us to a farmhouse where the lovely woman explained to us where we needed to go. We were close. Then another woman drove in and said she’d take us there. So we followed her to the right turnoff. I was nervous going down the thousand-year-old laneway because if anyone came at me, there was no way I could back out. Fortunately, we made it in and out three times without running into anyone.

It is an incredibly peaceful scene. The hosts live next door in Holly Farm. Sanchia explained some of the history to me:

The house has been here since the early 1600’s. There was a farm and people already living here then. The same family were here for eight generations before the farm was sold in 1918. It changed hands twice since then until we bought the derelict buildings in 2000.

The Granary was a farm outbuilding used for storing the grain used to feed a small dairy herd. It also held the milk churns before they were collected by the dairy.

The farm was a small one, 80 acres. It is now joined with the neighbour’s farm. He sold the derelict buildings and a couple of acres to us.

The lane is part of what used to be called ” mass paths”, going across hills and farms from outlying areas to the church–our lane went between Ballycoog and Croghan (the big hill with the windmills you can see from the deck) and Avoca church. The lane is possibly 1000 years old.

Croghan Hill is the scene of my research. We climbed it the day before and were now on the other side of it. The scene was remote, but we also felt wonderfully secure and part of the landscape. We were able to sit out on the back deck and enjoy the countryside. The weather is fickle; changing from sun to cloud to rain to wind and back again constantly. One of the more beautiful moments was this rainbow:

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We were able to watch DVDs, cook our own dinners, read, and generally make peace with ourselves and our travels. Avoca is the town where Ballykissangel was filmed. I can’t imagine how the film team managed with all their equipment. They must have parked in the large lot across from the church on the hill. There are not many stores there–a touristy Ballykissangel shop, a small grocer, the Fitzgerald pub, a Tourist Info shop with computers/wifi–but Arklow is about a twenty minute drive and has all the shops including Aidi and a Dunne’s store in the mall. We also spent a day hiking in Glendalough, which was gorgeous and is less than an hour’s drive north (remembering that I drive slow on these thin twisty roads).

We loved the animals. Three dogs met us every time we ventured out; in fact, two of them spent the whole day with us when we first arrived. There are also a pair of white geese and a flock of free-ranging ducks. Birds sing, sheep bleat, and the wind whispers through the pastures.

Sanchia and Richard have lovely gardens and she gave us fresh zucchini and cucumbers from her hothouse! She also provided duck eggs, almond milk, butter substitute, gluten-free bread, and condiments. She caters to people with food allergies. Just be sure to let her know in advance.

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ducks & dogs

Travelling with MCS

This trip to Ireland has been challenging for me because I suffer with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). If you don’t know what that is, Dr. Campbell offers this page. At home, I can control my environment and stay balanced, but on the road every environment comes with hazards. The city is rife with toxic chemicals from cigarette smoke to perfume to diesel exhaust. While every B&B is a potential bomb of scented laundry detergent, fabric softener, perfumes or air fresheners. The symptoms lessen when I leave the area but are persistant; for example, I can taste perfume almost constantly now. I’ve experienced new symptoms over the last couple of weeks: tingling tongue, tremors, fatigue, insomnia, and brain fog. I now carry antihistamines which help with some symptoms and an epi-pen, just in case.
Sadly, this may be my last road trip.
Some folks have been amazingly kind and understanding, especially women who’ve reacted themselves to different chemicals. One woman rewashed all the sheets before I arrived in hot water with no soap. But, let’s face it, anyone accommodating guests has to wash their sheets with detergent and a business can’t afford to use “natural” unscented soaps. Some places that I’ve queried send their laundry out so have no control over what the commercial laundry uses. My daughter says that I should open a B&B for people with sensitivities and allergies.
All of this creates stress and anxiety. I power on, but the threat is always looming.

 What can you do in this situation?

Avoid. This is number one and also the biggest challenge. You never know what’s coming around the corner.
Spend as much time as possible outside in the fresh air. I’ve done lots of walking in the pastures and fields of rural Ireland. In Dublin, I had to reverse this process because the downtown core is loaded with smokers, diesel buses, and perfumes. Boys, your cologne and after shave is the worst! One family I met at Uisneach, who have lived in Ireland for thirteen years, moved to the country when their children were born because the particulate level is so high in Dublin.
Communicate. Phone ahead, explain the situation, ask if they use scented fabric softener, and warn your hosts. Airbnb was good enough to refund two nights accommodation when I had to leave because the scents made me sick. Sometimes I feel like a whiner, but health is your priority. If you suffer in silence you will only get worse. Ask if you can see (smell) the room, and if it’s scented, walk away.
Hotels might be slightly better than B&Bs but not always. We checked into a hotel in Waterford because we were unable to find any other accommodation, went to the room, and had to leave within the hour. We both reacted to the old carpets, dust, and smoke in the hallways. That was our worst day yet. We drove another two hours and tried three other B&Bs before we found one that was suitable in another town. Even then we had to make some adjustments.
Air out the room as soon as you can and leave the windows open at night. A couple of places I slept in socks, slippers, pjs, sweaters, and wrapped in blankets, but the country air was fresh. At one location, we were able to find another duvet that had not been freshly washed in fabric softener. Cover the pillow with your clothes, then remember to wash your clothes and hang them out in the fresh air; otherwise, you’ll be packing the scent with you.
Be an advocate. I think that people with MCS have to talk about it. The truth is: these chemicals hurt everyone. People with MCS are just the canaries.
Try and stay balanced. This is difficult at times. I’m also food sensitive (gluten and dairy intolerant) so keeping myself fed is an ongoing challenge. Ireland is quite hip when it comes to food allergies. I saw this sign at the surf shack at Curracloe Beach.
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Some restaurants are excellent. One server said, “What would you like? I’ll make you up a plate.”
Another host, left us almond milk, butter substitute, gluten free bread, and fresh free range duck eggs; then brought us fresh zucchini and cucumbers from her greenhouse!
On the other hand, in one small town, after scouting three restaurants, the only thing we could find for supper was french fries and salad. Everything else was breaded, buttered, or cheesed. Tonight we were fortunate to find a Malaysian place in Kinsale (near Cork) and feasted on pad thai and curry!
Take vitamins, meditate, and sleep when you can.

The Outcome?

Despite all of this, I’ve undertaken loads of research, which is why I came here. I’ve learned much about myself and my subject. I’ve met wonderful folks and made new friends. And I still love Ireland, the landscape, the culture, and the people. If you’re planning a trip to this beautiful island, message me and I’ll recommend some people that will look after you.
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Uisneach: The Navel of Ireland

If you enjoy the experience of visiting sacred sites, Uisneach (pronounced ish-neck) is one you should not miss. It has all the magic and myth of places like Tara and Newgrange, but it’s off the tourist trail, so you can enjoy a heartwarming trek with a small group. It is in the process of becoming a UNESCO site, so this may not last. The space has a warm and friendly energy, and is staffed by just two (at least the day I went). Justin met me and invited me into the Visitor’s Centre for tea and biscuits. He is an archaeology expert and knows much about this site and others like it in Ireland. He also provided tea and biscuits after the two-hour tour and people had opportunities to converse and ask questions. (The tour begins at 1pm daily–closed Monday and Tuesday.)

Marty was our wonderful storyteller. Here he is explaining how this 10,000-year-old glacial rock is actually the bellybutton of Ireland.

The two-hour tour involves walking (some up) around the hills and pasture lands. We were several families from Europe and North America and the kids kept us entertained by asking the coolest questions. Marty didn’t miss a beat but incorporated their queries into his stories. (Unicorns even made it into the story). He told us tales of the Tuatha De Danaans and their battle with the Fomorians, and the triumph of the bright and shining Sun God, Lugh, who is said to have met his mortal end here in the pool.

This place is Druid HQ so many pagan groups come here for rituals. Local artists have carved the faces of the gods, Lugh and Eriu (Erin=Ireland).  Every May 1 on Bealtaine (Be-al-tin-a) Uisneach hosts a Fire Festival that looks amazing. This is now on my list. You can watch a video here.

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The God Lugh

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One of my favourite stories was about the souterrains used by Iron Age people. A souterrain is a cave structure dug out beneath the ground. Marty gave us a slapstick retelling of his experience crawling down a channel into a souterrain that was as black as night. After getting over his initial terror, he fell asleep in the womb of the mother earth. The hidden entrances were marked by rocks. If another tribe invaded to steal your cattle (cattle were highly valued as status and currency) the tribe would hide them along with their women and children below ground in these darkened caves where they would be protected. This gorgeous Angus bull would have been a prize, I’m sure.

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To take a tribe’s women and children diminished their tribe and strengthened yours. Slaves were always needed in this hierarchical culture.

It reminded me of a story I heard many years ago on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. The Coast Salish people did something similar when the Haida came down the coast in their war canoes hunting slaves. On top of Mount Daniel (in Pender Harbour) is a beautiful space with a fresh water lake. The women and children would be moved up the mountain where they would be safe and protected from the Haida. I like this idea and wonder how we protect our women and children now?

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A Stone Map of Ireland

The same 10,000 year old glacial map depicts a map of Ireland from this angle. You can see the four provinces: Connacht in the west, Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, and Munster in the south. Mide was in the middle where we stood at Uisneach. In ancient times, ceremonial centres were located like spokes around Uisneach and were joined by log roads over which horses, chariots, wagons, people, and food moved. (This brings to mind that image of Gandolph pulling into the Shire with his wagon full of fireworks.) Marty says that each Sabbat festival was celebrated in a different location. This is fascinating sacred geography and it can still be done.

On Winter Solstice, the sun is aligned with the passage tomb at Newgrange. You need to win a lottery to get inside, but it’s worth a try. You can always just camp out on the grass and soak up the magic.

The Spring and Fall Equinoxes are aligned at the ceremonial complex at Loughcrew.

Bealtaine was celebrated at Uisneach.

Carrowkeel in Co. Sligo aligns with Summer Solstice.

The Mound of the Hostages at the Hill of Tara is aligned with the sun at Samhain (sow-in)

To celebrate the turning of the wheel of the year and the passing of the sun through its annual phases brought stability to an agrarian world that depended on the weather for survival. In fact, in times of weather upheaval, whole tribes could be wiped out or have to relocate. This is something to think about given our current predicament.

Blessings from the Faerie Tree at Uineach!

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I Do Believe in Faeries

I do believe in Faeries. It’s true. And not just because I am named after Wendy Darling in Peter Pan. Or because I write urban fantasy. Faeries or Spirits or Angels (whatever you want to call them) exist beside and around and between us. They see and hear us, and sometimes answer our prayers.

This is a true story.

I arrived at my AirBnB late on Saturday after a full day. I’d driven from Jampa Ling in the north of Co Cavan, down to Uisneach (which is the naval of Ireland and close to Athlone). After touring the site with Marty, the amazing storyteller, I drove on to Navan and finally found my BnB (4+ hours of driving and it was only my second day driving on the left, seated on the right–a tad stressful).

The host was lovely and accommodating and the room looked lovely. But I suffer (and I mean suffer) from multiple chemical sensities/allergies and the house was awash with scented products. I lay in bed all night, taking Benadryl, terrified that I was going to need my epipen. I dozed off around five or six for maybe an hour. I mentioned the problem to him the next morning but there wasn’t much that could be done. The chemicals from scented laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and plug-in air fresheners cannot be magically removed. So, I went off to explore the Hill of Tara wondering what to do. I’d booked three nights there, you see.

Now, Tara is a magical place, the Seat of 142 High Kings of Ireland. The entrance to the Otherworld. The Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny brought to Eiru by the Tuatha de Danaan (the Sidhe) rests here. And beneath the Faerie mounds are carved Neolithic stones with ancient symbols.

I wandered the fields as long as I could feeling horrible. My tongue was swelled and tingling and the antihistamines weren’t alleviating it at all. I was frightened, to tell you the truth–anaphyalaxis is terrifying. It also creates brain fog, so I can’t think straight. This happened to me a few weeks ago and it took days to go away. I was afraid to go back to the BnB, yet I was supposed to stay there again that night and the next. I breathed in the wind and sun, hoping it would magically cleanse me. Tara is largely pasture lands and mounds, a dog-walkers dream, and it’s still run like a farm, so you can wander the grassy vales for hours.

At last, I saw a few people off in a far corner of a field. They were photographing a Faerie Tree.

I took the only scrap of fabric I had in my bag–which happened to be a dark red lens cleaner–and tied it to the branch asking with my all heart for the angels or the spirits of this sacred place to help me with my health…to please just help me feel well. And then I left.

On the way home, I passed a restaurant/motel called Tara House and thought… hmmmm. I turned the car around, went back and inquired about a room. They had a room, but it wasn’t quite right either. You have to understand that once my immune system goes berserk, I react to everything. What a “normal” person might smell as a two, I smell as a TWENTY! On top of all the chemicals, I am allergic to dust and mold. I told the woman what was happening and she said, “Ah you’re suffering. Have you tried Josey’s across the way?” “Where?” I said. “Show me.” And she did.

I left my car there and walked across the road. Josey was out in the driveway. She had a room for two nights. She took me upstairs and showed it to me. Suddenly, I felt like a princess in a faerie tale. She understood all about chemical sensitivity and said she’d cook me an Irish fry-up in the morning that was gluten and dairy free. Oh my! I almost cried. I told her that she was my angel.

I couldn’t believe it. And yet… Manifestation is rapid-fire magic!

I went back, packed up my things, and left a note to explain. And then I came back to Bothar Alainn

Today I am much better. The swelling’s gone down and I was able to explore Newgrange and Knowth…two other places made sacred by the faeries. So, remember, when you need them, the spirits really do come through. But you must believe.

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Walks at Jampa Ling

The Golden Way

golden wayThere are some lovely walks around the Jampa Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Co Cavan. One of my favourite Sacred Web songs is a Tree Chant where the names of trees from around the world are repeated. I found myself singing this as I meandered the forested trail to the lake.

My favourite trees are old deciduous trees. Beech, ash, oak… And they all grow here intermingling with wild ferns, holly, and ivy. It reminds me of Robert Graves’ work in The White Goddess.

One spring I will come to see the bluebells!

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Wild Shamrocks!

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I did not expect to find wild shamrocks in the woods at Jampa Ling, but there they were, pushing through the ivy and covering the mossy nurse logs. Shamrocks are a type of wood sorrel, belonging to the Oxalis genus.

IMG_2770The old beech tree guards the path to the lake.  The sign says: “this ancient tree casts a canopy so dense that no other trees can thrive under it leaving an area as you see free from undergrowth. Nature has created here for us a beautiful quiet place of reflection and contemplation.”

Not long after you reach the lake.

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In the field behind the centre I discovered this massive old grandmother Oak, the Druid tree. Ah, she is beautiful. I wanted to climb into her arms and sleep.

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The Jampa Ling Dog Sangha

Several dogs hang out at Jampa Ling. I am told that the Venerable Pachen Otrul Rinpoche, who is the spiritual director of Jampa Ling, calls them the dog sangha. Ruffus, the border collie cross (wider in the middle and darker) is the neighbour’s dog but appears at the centre every day before morning puja and stays until evening puja is over. His family now call him Buddha Dog.

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One day, one of the guests discovered a black and white border collie (longer hair with a white ruff) on the road and thought it was Ruffus. It wasn’t. The dog had been abandoned but came to live at the centre. That is how Pema arrived here.

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Ruffus and Pema are the official greeters and walk guests around the centre. Pema, a typical border collie, lies in the grass waiting for a stick to fly and barks at the wheels on my suitcase.

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Pickles belongs to Evelyn and is ever so sweet and shy. I love that I can step outside and be immersed in this wonderful dog love!

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Rubio, a gorgeous four-year-old golden retriever/lab cross belongs to Fidelma. When I emerged Wednesday morning, Rubio was waiting outside and went for a walk with me to the stupa. Rubio is always ready for cuddles and walks. The healing dogs of the Jampa Ling Sangha.

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“May all sentient beings be happy and free of suffering.”