Pilgrimage : Two Tickets to Dublin

Anna Liffey by the sculptor Éamonn O’Doherty

I bought my first ticket to Dublin almost 23 years ago.  I had made the decision to go to Ireland during a time in my life when I had been living out of a backpack and wandering around the continent.  I had been traveling for about 5 years at that point, navigating the streams and currents of modern nomadic cultures.  I sought out and fought the fights that I, as an angry young man, needed to, and I explored and met the places and the people who I, as a restless young man, needed to.  I was ready to study and to learn, to connect with my ancestors in a more profound and visceral way.  I was ready to take my trip to Ireland.  So I headed  back towards  the home of my childhood and bought an airline ticket to Dublin.

During my journey home I was met by a moment of choice and convergence of fates.  A message found its way to me through unlikely sources, accompanied by auspicious and fateful signs.  It was a message from a woman who I had a brief but passionate relationship with while living in a red desert cathedral.  The message was that she was pregnant and that I was the father.

She wasn’t telling me to pressure me, she wasn’t asking for anything that I didn’t want to freely give.  But she was going to have a child and I was the father of that child and she knew that I would want to know.  And I sat and faced that choice that is not a choice the only way I could and still be able to live with myself. I became a father, and Ireland became a distant island once more.

These moments where your life path shifts direction, these moments of decision, moments of trust in your fate, or your Wyrd, or the Gods, are the challenges and feats that define who we are and our place in the world.  The part of myself that made my shift from the identity of seeker to the identity of father so inevitable is the part of me that stands firmly on the path of honor.  There was no choice for me, and yet it was the best choice I’ve ever made.

So my life changed, and I went west and raised two brilliant and determined daughters, and I studied archaeology in California.  My love and connection in Ireland never changed.  As my studies went deeper my spirituality became more complex and tied to that place.  I learned its history, music, and culture and filled myself with the lore and literature of this land that dominated my inner landscape.

Death of Cu Chulainn statue by Oliver Sheppard in the General Post Office, Dublin

My life continued to change and evolve.  My marriage ended, my kids grew up, my relationship with The Morrigan grew and deepened, and 23 years after I had bought my first ticket to Dublin, I found myself standing in the Dublin Airport alongside a woman who was as brilliant, beautiful, and bold as a queen in the tales from this land.

Now I wasn’t just going to Ireland  for personal growth and exploration, we were there as the vanguard of a Celtic polytheist priesthood, called by and dedicated to the Morrigan.  We were there to pay respects to the sacred sites, lead a group of 17 people on a tour of sacred sites connected to our Queen, and to ground our tradition in the stones and turf of this holy land.

We had come 4 days earlier than the rest of the tour.  We needed to spend some time with the land, to make our own introductions and connections, to adjust to the change of place and change of time before we were responsible for other people’s experiences here.

We were giddy and bleary eyed as we approached the customs officer in the airport.

“What is the purpose of your visit?”

“We are taking a tour of sacred sites here”  we say, groggily, stumbling to get our brains working after 21 hours of cramped travel.

He looks at us and with a practiced air of indifference asks “What’s the name of this tour?”

Once again we stumble a bit with our answer, not expecting to need further details.  “It’s called the Coru: Body of the Morrigan Tour”

He stared at us and questioned “The Morrigan?”

We were a little confused, we helpfully added “The Irish Goddess of prophecy, sovereignty, and battle”

He stared a little longer making us wonder if we had somehow made a mistake, said the wrong thing to him, given him an answer that made him suspicious of us.

“Never heard of Her” he wryly declared as he stamped our passports.  “Have a good journey”

It was very clear to us that the first act that we need to do to make offerings to that land that we were finally standing on, so we quickly started looking for something that would make a suitable one.  We settled on a cup of cream from the cafe in the airport, went outside to find a piece of ground that wasn’t covered by pavement, and there, with the sound of jets, coaches and cabs surrounding us, we thanked Eriú and the land, and the spirits of that place for welcoming us and we thanked the guardians that protected us on our journey for helping us arrive safely and we poured the offering out on the earth.

detail of the The O’Connell Monument John Henry Foley (1818-74) Notice the bullet hole in her breast, a relic of the Easter Rising

Dublin is a city that has had a place in my internal landscape since I was a child.  As I grew I learned of the Rising, I studied the histories, I struggled through Joyce.  The music and poetry, the antiquities and the ancient art, the beauty and the seediness, all took their places in my imagination.

The city was exactly what I hoped for.  Grey and chilly, dark water and warm pubs, busy narrow streets and friendly faces.  We got off the bus and awkwardly dragged our bags across cobblestone streets, through streams of cars and coaches, toward our hotel in the heart of the city.  We could have stayed at a hotel near the airport but that seemed like a waste to me.  I wanted to immediately immerse myself in sights and sounds of the city.

As we crossed a bridge over the Liffey, we stopped to greet the river.  Like a sluggish, sleepy beast, She slipped under us, mutely dominating the city.  We poured offerings, we thanked her, we made formal introductions, and we listened, as we stood between a the flow of water and streams of traffic. She accepted our offerings and answered us.

on Stephan’s Green

The loudest voices in Dublin are the voices of the dead, and the revolutionary dead dominate them.  We had time to kill, hours to force ourselves to remain awake in order to start shifting our bodies to a new time zone, so after we dropped off our bags, and struggled to eat a meal, we wandered through the city alongside the ghosts.  We wandered  through grey streets, past cathedrals and castles, through legendary universities and places from the books of my youth.  We slipped in and out of welcoming and warm pubs and bookstores.  We played the tourist, wide-eyed and excited as children, grabbing each other as each new sight or recognized place revealed itself.  All the time we were being led to the place where the dead spoke the loudest, St Stephan’s Green.

As we entered the park the revolutionary dead crowded around us, curious and quiet.  We stood with them and spoke of their struggles, we thanked them and we poured whiskey offerings to them, we listened and drank with them.

One of the lessons that I learned that day way that when giving offering to the dead in this land,  they always want you to drink with them, to share a sip or raise a glass, speak their names fondly and tell tales of their deeds.  And so we did.

Joyce bust on Stephan’s Green

Dublin

Grey brick upon brick,

Declamatory bronze

On sombre pedestals –

O’Connell, Grattan, Moore –

And the brewery tugs and the swans

On the balustraded stream

And the bare bones of a fanlight

Over a hungry door

And the air soft on the cheek

And porter running from the taps

With a head of yellow cream

And Nelson on his pillar

Watching his world collapse.

This never was my town,

I was not born or bred

Nor schooled here and she will not

Have me alive or dead

But yet she holds my mind

With her seedy elegance,

With her gentle veils of rain

And all her ghosts that walk

And all that hide behind

Her Georgian facades –

The catcalls and the pain,

The glamour of her squalor,

The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river

With a concertina movement

And the sun comes up in the morning

Like barley-sugar on the water

And the mist on the Wicklow hills

Is close, as close

As the peasantry were to the landlord,

As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,

As the killer is close one moment

To the man he kills,

Or as the moment itself

Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town

And she is not English,

Historic with guns and vermin

And the cold renown

Of a fragment of Church latin,

Of an oratorical phrase.

But oh the days are soft,

Soft enough to forget

The lesson better learnt,

The bullet on the wet

Streets, the crooked deal,

The steel behind the laugh,

The Four Courts burnt.

Fort of the Dane,

Garrison of the Saxon,

Augustan capital

Of a Gaelic nation,

Appropriating all

The alien brought,

You give me time for thought

And by a juggler’s trick

You poise the toppling hour –

O greyness run to flower,

Grey stone, grey water,

And brick upon grey brick.

— Louis MacNeice

Cozy Pubs!

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8 thoughts on “Pilgrimage : Two Tickets to Dublin

  1. Pingback: Pilgrimage to Ireland :  Introductions and a Tale | Strixian Woods

  2. All of the words and images you’ve shared are powerful. I especially like the Louis MacNeice poem and what you wrote about the revolutionary dead. And I’ve always loved that statue in the GPO, with the crow on Cu Chulainn’s shoulder, no less. The bullet hole on the O’Connell Monument is intense as well. Perhaps that statue “took a hit” for someone…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you are enjoying them. There are actually bullet holes all over O’Connell street, where that statue is. There is something haunting and powerful about seeing them still there .

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      • I can only imagine. Animistic worldviews would suggest that stones have memories, and when a human can still see those marks, they can share (in some small part) in those memories and stories as well.

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  3. Thank you. It was a journey I will never forget. Still processing parts of it, still going back to captionless photographs in search of memories which blaze so brightly they blind and staunch the flow ofother senses.

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    • It was wonderful having you on the journey Susan, your spirit and determination inspired us all 🙂
      I’m finding it difficult and therapeutic to put my experiences into words. There were almost too many profound moments packed into the trip to easily describe, but as I do it I’m realizing some of the lessons don’t even reveal themselves until you have had some distance from them.

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  4. Pingback: Pilgrimage: the Cave and the Mound | Strixian Woods

  5. Dear Brennos,
    I am going to write about the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising for my The Wild Hunt column in March, and am hoping to interview Irish polytheists for the article. Would you be interested in participating? If so, I can send you some questions by email. You can reach mere here: https://heathenchinese.wordpress.com/contact/

    Also, if you are willing, could I use one or two of the photographs you took for the article? You would be credited, of course.

    Thank you,
    Heathen Chinese

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