Category Archives: writing

Winding down in Ireland

We spent our last two ‘working’ days at the charming Old Ground hotel in the beautiful town of Ennis. After our last, and stimulating, official workshop with #GerardCollins we boarded the bus for a final tourism jaunt that included the amazing 8-mile long Cliffs of Moher , a visit to the Burren and a stop at the Poulnabrone Domen – an ancient portal tomb, surrounded by faerie trees. A magical day indeed and we were lucky to also enjoy clear skies and sunshine.

Atop the cliffs people were strolling and cattle grazed – hopefully with enough sense not to plunge over the edge to their deaths 700 feet below.

Cliffs of Moher

 

Very narrow roads through the Irish countryside.

One of many occasions when we were grateful for Patrick’s driving skills. This stretch was relatively flat with no serious drop-offs, but there were times when the sea was below us as we crept past oncoming buses or trucks.

After the Cliffs of Moher we headed to what was described as a lunar landscape of the Burren – well named. It reminded me of the area around Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia.

And then it was off to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. I’m a huge fan of the #Outlander series by #DianaGabaldon. Although her stories were set in the highlands of Scotland, I could imagine mystical characters touching these portal stones or witches dancing in the moonlight around them.

The stones date back to between 4200BC and 2900BC and no doubt possess some mystical qualities.

On the grounds there were also faerie trees. One of our number, Ann Brennan, was researching faerie stories for a children’s book she was working on. She pointed out one of the famed trees and left tokens of crystal and food for the faeries who blessed our visit. On our way back to Dublin the next day Patrick pointed out a spot where a major highway had been diverted around a faerie tree, so strong is the belief and respect for the traditions.

FaerieTree

 

#AnnBrennan telling faerie tales before placing tokens beneath the tree.

Continuing on with my tree fetish, I had to capture some shots of the way the branches grow in these mystical trees – perfect spots for faeries to climb, hide and keep an eye on things.

And so our adventure came to an end. We had a dinner back at the Old Ground Hotel that night and early the next morning headed back to Dublin. Once again we passed miles of dry stone walls and scenes typical of the Irish countryside. A final dinner was held in downtown Dublin followed by each of us reading something we’d written. The open sharing of experiences was amazing considering what a widely diverse group of people we were. There was a phenomenal amount of talent displayed that night – each piece read leaving us yearning to hear more from each reader.

Dry Stone Wall. Notice how the stones are placed to allow rain or snow to drain through, not stay to freeze, expand and destroy the structure. Clever builders those old craftsmen.

 

Farewell Ireland. I will miss the lilt of your people’s language and laughter, the sense of the mystical and magical that emanates from your very soul. I return to my ‘real’ life forever changed, for the better, I hope.

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Continuing on to Ennis

Jane Simpson greeting one of the ‘locals’.

Those who know me know I’ve been a horse-crazy person my whole life. Somehow, on this trip, I failed to scratch my equine photography itch except as we were leaving the Celtic Crystal spot. Right next door was a Connemara Pony breeding farm so I managed to catch a few shots.

New foal hiding behind his dam – a little camera shy.

 

We stopped for lunch in Galway City and had a chance to wander around the streets. At this point the cold / virus, whatever it was, that I’d been resisting for days really took hold so I made a beeline to a pharmacy right after lunch. Other group members managed to capture shots of the amazing street performers that seemed to be everywhere. Sadly I missed out on most of that – but that’s ok. I’m not really a ‘city’ person anyway.

Our next break came at Coole Park en route to Ennis. It was formerly the home of dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory who entertained famous writers and cultural icons of her time. There’s an “Autograph Tree” (a Cooper beech) in one of the beautiful gardens featuring carved signatures from Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and many others who spent time there. The 1000 acre park was developed by Lady Gregory’s husband and forebearers as a nature preserve and arboretum. The species of plants, trees and wildlife have inspired numerous literary and works of art. I could have spent all day there – but the bus was leaving for the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis.

A remaining corner from the original house on the estate before it was ceded to the Irish State in 1927.

I am, and have always been, fascinated by trees. Wandering the grounds of Coole Park I was totally intrigued by the scenes unfolding before me, any one of which would have made a wonderful setting for a book or movie.

Textures and faces revealed in the bark of this ancient tree.

Segments of the park were originally separated by stone walls like this.

I indulged my fascination with trees, their shapes, colours and textures. In the ones below I could imagine those long, skinny split branches as legs of an acrobat standing on his head, legs waving in the breeze.

There could be creatures here in these dark woods, reaching out to snag unwary passersby.

The urge to climb this tree and perch high in the branches to see what magical armies might be marching toward us was almost overwhelming. Such amazing settings for stories, folk tales and to stir the imagination.

Brave blossoms forcing their way up to the light and air through tiny crevices in the rock walls!

 

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Onward to Ennis

We left the town of Cong after touring the Abbey and exploring the side streets, not to mention a bit of shopping! Then our tour took us through Connemara – surrounded by mountains, punctuated with lakes and bogs. Patrick, our driver, educated us all on how peat is harvested, dried and used, the beauty of the many lakes, and farming practices in the area.

I was totally amazed by the endless ha’penny fences. According to Patrick, centuries ago children were paid a half penny a day to clear stones from fields. They were then used to make these dry stone fences delineating fields and pastures, primarily for sheep. An amazing craft, the fences are built with no mortar and constructed in such a way that any rain or winter snow won’t remain between the stones to freeze and destroy the structure. Mile after mile we saw these perfect, straight and strong fences and were astounded.

Ha’penny fences in Connemara.

Patrick then offered us an opportunity to diverge from our itinerary and visit the Celtic Crystal showroom to experience a demonstration of glass carving. We quickly agreed that this would be a terrific idea. The crystal creations are all created freehand by trained and experienced glass cutting craftsmen. No patterns or templates are used in the manufacture of these individual pieces.

 

 

We watched in fascination as the craftsman took a simple blown-glass bowl and began to cut the patterns, all by ‘eye’, into the crystal. It takes eight years of intensive training and practice to become so skilled in this delicate operation.

The Claddagh design

Irish Harp design on a portion of the 3′ high crystal cup

3′ high hand carved crystal cup.

 

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On the road again…

At this point I was beginning to think Willie Nelson’s song was our theme song as we piled into our bus to say goodbye to Sligo and head off to Ennis. Our driver, Patrick, was a marvellous man who regaled us with Irish lore, history and not a few jokes to keep us interested and amused en route.

Our first stop was in the charming town of Cong, County Mayo. Famed as the location for the film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, I was far more intrigued by the remains of the local Abbey. I couldn’t resist shooting the amazing stone structures, much of which is still standing in a beautiful park-like spot.

Town of Cong, abbey ruins

Apparently the abbey was originally built in the 7th century, destroyed in battle (several times) and rebuilt each time, the latest being in the 13th century. The stonework and detail totally intrigued me!

 

Mary’s Rock

One friend asked me to bring home a pebble from some place that intrigued me – and so here it is, Mary’s rock – from the Abbey in Cong.

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Insanity in Ireland

Did I mention that, in addition to staying in a castle, we spent a night in a former insane asylum? Oh yeah. Now known as the Clayton Hotel, the building served as a Victorian era asylum in a prior incarnation. Most of our group reported suffering through uneasy, if any, sleep that night and several felt eerie experiences. It is the one place where I felt no urge to take any photographs. When we left the next morning we noticed that, right next door, the more modern psychiatric facility had been built. Go figure!

Statue of William Butler Yeats

On the way to Sligo, after our tour of Lough Gill, we stopped at Drumcliffe, under the Benbulben Mountain, to visit the grave of poet W. B. Yeats.

Yeats’ epitaph

 

Benbulben Mountain

 

Benbulben Mountain

From there we headed to Sligo… and the asylum for a night.

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Magical time in Ireland

Spring arrives earlier in Ireland than it does here on Canada’s east coast. The flowers were beginning to bloom and the trees had fresh leaves – no doubt providing hiding places for all of the “little people” that the country is famous for.

Trinity College Library, Dublin

No trip to Ireland would be complete, for a writer, without a visit to the famous Trinity College Library. Standing in that massive hall gazing up and beyond over the thousands of books displayed was not unlike a religious experience. Did these authors share the doubts that we neophyte writers feel? Probably. But to see so many books of such historic significance was awe inspiring. I could have just sat there all day soaking it in.

Grafton Street

Just around the corner from Trinity College modern life exists in the vibrant centre of the city. Local residents and tourists alike roam the streets shopping, listening to street entertainers, hustling from place to place and, of course, dropping in to one (or more) of the ubiquitous pubs! Life in Dublin isn’t all about history!

Sligo

After five days in Dublin, attending workshops, site seeing, getting coaching from #GerardCollins and writing we headed out for a tour of the west country. The first stop was in Sligo for a quick walk about and a pub lunch. Narrow streets, ancient buildings and charming people made for an interesting, if short, time.

Sligo

 

17th century Parkes Castle on the banks of Lough Gill

An intriguing site to roam around and explore. Once we’d done that we headed out for a tour of the Lake aboard the #RoseofInisfree – known as the subject of several poems by Yeats.

The thatched-roof blacksmith’s shop within the castle walls.

 

Parkes Castle as seen from the lake.

Thank goodness for photos that allow us to remember at least some of what we saw on our whirlwind tour of western Ireland!

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April on the Emerald Isle

What a month! I spent the last 10 days of April in Ireland, the Emerald Isle! And there they really have spring. In the ten days between April 20th and 30th the trees went from buds and tiny leaves to full blown foliage.

I went to Ireland with a group of writers for a retreat called #GoandWriteIreland led by #GerardCollins. Aside from the opportunity to see some of #Ireland and experience the culture, it was a chance to improve my writing under the guidance of an experienced author and teacher and to spend time with like-minded people.

Immersion into the culture began with our arrival at the airport in Dublin. The country is bilingual Irish/English with the original Irish (Gaelic) taught as part of the public education system to retain and revive the language. At the airport, and as we found out later, throughout the country, signs are posted in both languages.

Bilingual sign at Dublin airport

We spent our first five days at the #ClotarfCastleHotel – an impressive structure created from the ruins of the original castle.

One feature that I particularly liked was the castle’s “art trail”. According to their brochure, “Art is not an afterthought…it’s an immersive journey that will help you unlock the story of one of Ireland’s most unique castle hotels…carefully curated collection brimming with curiousities and waiting to be encountered.” The hotel commissioned local artists, including photographers, to create works that reflect the culture and history of the region.

Castle ruins and remains of churches, abbeys and other structures are everywhere in Ireland. Just behind our hotel there was a graveyard with inhabitants that had been buried as long as 300 years ago and as recently as a very few years ago – a strange counterpoint between the old and new.

I wandered there several times seeking peace of mind and wondering about the stories captured in the walls and tombstones. Some commemorated the burial of whole families, while others were ostentatious in their singularity.

The roof on the chapel is long gone, and you are barred from entry to certain sections – no doubt for your own safety. But still, it must have been impressive when it was whole.

And from the churchyard the castle was visible – overlooking all around it all the way to the harbour and the Irish Sea.

 

 

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New Year and new focus

The door closed on 2016 and the sun rose on a new year a couple of days ago. We are conditioned to think that as one year ends and another begins we should reflect back on the happenings of the prior year and plan for changes in the new one with an emphasis on improvements and perhaps doing more.

I’m not immune to such thoughts. In the new year I will have a new focus as well – a focus on slowing down to allow myself more time to be creative. Slowing down to make time to think about what I want to create, and how, and in what medium. A new photograph? Something written? Some music played on my recently resurrected violin? Who knows? But, without slowing down and thinking about it, how can anyone truly be creative?

Although we are now in the midst of winter, the solstice has passed and the days are already becoming longer and brighter, although at a glacial pace so far, and it’s noticeable. For those of us that crave light, this is an unimaginable blessing. Although the coldest two months are still ahead of us, sunshine and more light in the morning and late afternoon makes it bearable. Even our dogs have to bundle up at this time of year!

So, with plans to write more, photograph more, make more music, the new year has begun with a focus on creativity. What do you have in mind?

Happy New Year!

 

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Coping

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with loss or drastic change. For me it means grabbing a camera, putting a leash on the dog, and going for a walk on a country road just to stretch and breathe slowly, letting the stress out with each deep breath.

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Sometimes if you take the time to peek into the ditches you’ll find remnants of the amazing fall foliage colours the Maritimes are famous for – and it will make you smile in spite of yourself.

Not letting go

Not letting go

And at the edge of the road a loan leaf clings to the naked branch of a bush, its comrades blown away by the last strong wind.

After two weeks of travelling in to the hospital to sit with my mother, brothers and sisters while her life ebbed away, and another week of frantic activity after the not-unexpected 6:a.m. call, the hubbub has slowed and the exhaustion has set in. When you are sad it is hard to get motivated to bundle up against the cold and go outside, but Mother Nature offers solace, encouragement and the rejuvenation needed to keep coping and moving on.

 

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Last night I had intended to go out and set up my gear to capture the rising of the Supermoon over the local hills. One of the side effects of grief and attempting to cope is the inability to remember things properly and motivate yourself in a timely way. Instead of preparing, I sat down and ate dinner with my husband, only realizing after the fact that I’d missed that moment of the moon appearing over the crest of the hill. The best I could manage was a quick snap of it rising rapidly through the naked tree branches across the road.

Supermoon setting

Supermoon setting

My alternate plan, since I’m an early riser anyway, was to get out this morning and capture the giant orb setting over the Town of Sussex to the west of us. Mother Nature played a cruel joke on my plan and hid most of the moon behind cloud cover, showing just enough to taunt me!

Look closely and you'll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Look closely and you’ll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Everyone has different coping strategies. For me it will be more walks with Harley and perhaps a camera over my shoulder too. It’s been a long several months and no matter how prepared for someone’s death you think you are, you aren’t. A death brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Hopefully those who cope by striking out against others will find their way back to those who support each other in coping with the loss of the linchpin that held it all together.

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Surmounting Obstacles.

There are obstacles that apply to any endeavour, but perhaps even moreso when it is something ‘artistic’. Sadly, there is less support and empathy for anyone struggling to create something – a book, a poem, a photography project, painting, sculpture – whatever – if it is not ‘traditional’ work.


Want to build a house? There’s support for that. Want to write a book etc.? You have to create your own support system – one that works for you – and that depends on, as this writer said “How bad do YOU want it?”

Check it out at: How Bad Do You Want It?

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