Author Archives: judithharway

Blog Wild

As we enter the second week of our time in Ireland, Bruce and I can’t help feeling that we have a nearly perfect group of students with us: smart, skeptical, funny, game to hike across the mountains in pouring rain, and so enthusiastic about being here that they’re almost exhausting us. :-)

The first weekend was, in theory, “off” for us, but weekends are busy by Ballyvaughan standards. On Saturday we all went to the farmer’s market in town, then hiked nearly two hours to Ailwee Caves. This is one of my favorite walks in the area, along the green roads that connect low and high pastures, with beautiful views back down over the village. We had discount tickets to tour the caves (thanks to Robert Wainwright), and also to visit the Birds of Prey Center, where Kaitlyn, Emily, Erin, and Quinn got to handle a Harris hawk, and Chloe, and Michelle Z handled a beautiful owl as part of the demonstration. The show was cut short by rain (surprise!), but we had time to see the aviary before heading back to town.

On Saturday night, there was traditional music at Greene’s Pub. Though I have trouble staying up to enjoy sets that begin at 10PM, this was a particularly lovely session: not a band, just a bunch of local people who like to play together. Add in a harmonica player from North Carolina who’s working at the Burren College right now, and it was a pretty cool performance all around.

On Sunday a few of us went to mass at the Catholic church in Ballyvaughan. Given the importance of religion in Irish history and identity, this was one more way for us to understand and show respect for community that is welcoming us for this month. Afterwards, we checked out the craft fair in town, and at night we went to a ceili (dance) in Kilfenora, a nearby village with a grand tradition of dancing. We had arranged for a lesson in Irish set-dancing beforehand, and the instructor (a moonlighting special-ed teacher) liked our students so much that she stuck with us through the entire evening, coaching us and matching up partners. The locals were very welcoming and very forgiving of our many missteps. Good craic! (and another late night)

Tomorrow we are leaving bright and early for a couple of days on Inish Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. It would be reasonable to ask when, with all this touring, do we find time for study and art making? Somehow, it happens. When we met for “class” in the studios today, I was impressed by everyone’s readings of Eavan Boland’s nuanced poetry, and the students already have proposals for their visual work evolving.

The Blog Queen (with apologies to Seamus Heaney, whose lovely poem “The Bog Queen,” we discussed yesterday)

Let’s start by playing catch-up: as I narrated our hikes to Glenaragah and Rathboney Churches yesterday, I neglected to mention our encounter with the Book of Kells. This masterpiece of early monastic manuscript illumination has survived from the 12th century. It contains period versions of the gospels, along with commentary and marginal notes. In the 1970’s, the Irish government underwrote the creation of 100 facsimile volumes so that the singular calligraphy and illustration of the Book of Kells could be viewed around the world. One of those copies has found a home at the Burren College of Art. Donning cotton gloves, we were able to page through all 340 surviving folios, and to find inspiration in the beautiful meldings of nature and religion, text and image, that characterize this remarkable work.

Last night, Eddie Lenihan came to Orchard House. One of Ireland’s most famous traditional storytellers, Eddie started out 30 years ago as a linguist who intended to analyze dialects that survived along Ireland’s west coast. As he interviewed elderly people, he realized that he cared less about their accents than he did about what they had to say. And so he began to collect their stories as well. His presentation last night was mesmerizing: whether he was telling a recent story about being mistaken for an Orthodox priest as he rode the Moscow subway (well, he really does have extraordinary whiskers!) or relating an ancient tale about innocent pedestrians being forced to play ball with the faeries, we found ourselves immersed in vivid and inspiring narratives.

This morning, Friday, we woke to something entirely unfamiliar: SUNSHINE!! And, almost unbelievably, it lasted through the entire morning, as we explored Corcomroe Abbey and its grounds. Occupied from the 11th through 15th centuries, Corcomroe’s location in an isolated valley speaks to the rugged ethos embraced by Cistercian Monks throughout the Burren. Though the modern village of Bell Harbor is within walking distance, the vistas you see from the Abbey might be largely unchanged from the early days of its existence.

The warm, windless morning allowed us time to learn about Corcomroe’s history, explore its ruins, take stock of the many historical environments and human experiences we have encountered so far, spend some time on creative writing, and reconvene to share our reflections in a sheltered alcove. There were only minimal interruptions from other tourists.

Back to the BCA for lunch. En route, Robert Wainwright showed us the house owned by Luna Lovegood’s parents — I mean the actress that played Luna Lovegood, of course, since her father’s house was destroyed in one of the movies. Apparently, Mad-Eye Moody also has a house near Ballyvaughan! Very appropriate attractions for those of us who come from the MAGICAL Institute of Art and Design.

Back at the college, we finished up sharing our home-made myths. They were wonderful, explaining everything from the soggy weather, to the creation of the mountains, to the supernatural density of the moss, to the reason why rabbits grow so big here in the Burren.

Perhaps it’s best if I stop recording this day’s events at this point. I tried to show several students the back way from the college to Ballyvaughan this afternoon, and lost the trail. Rosie, one of the village dogs who had accompanied us, stood around impatiently until we figured out where we were going: then she bounded ahead, reminding us that she knew the route all along. Thank you Rosie! I hope you’ll speak up a little sooner next time.

Tomorrow we’re hiking to Ailwee Caves. Stay tuned!

Erin go Blog

“Erin go Bragh (pron.: /ˌɛrɪn ɡə ˈbrɑː/), sometimes Erin go Braugh, is the anglicisation of an Irish phrase, Éirinn go Brách, and is used to express allegiance to Ireland. It is most often translated as “Ireland Forever.” — Wikipedia

We’ve had a very eventful six days in Ballyvaughan so far! I’ll leave the details, photos, and creative writing to the Orchard House gals, and catch up with a log of our itinerary.

Tuesday morning we had class in the beautiful studio area at the Burren College, discussing the purposes of myth and strong female figures from Irish lore, from pre-Celtic goddesses to pirate queen Grace O’Malley. The volatile weather patterns of County Clare kept it cold and very rainy through the morning and lunch hour, but in the afternoon we checked out “Bells Across the Burren,” a musical installation on the mountainside behind the college. After that, we went up to visit the ruins of an abandoned village. I had been there two years ago when archaeologists were excavating the site, and told everyone they couldn’t possibly miss it. After more than a half hour of clambering around in soggy woods unable to find the place, we suddenly discovered that we were right in the middle of it: the excavation work stopped, the moss and vegetation grew in densely, and even I didn’t recognize the place I had seen in 2011! It’s a haunting spot, though, and testifies to the ruggedness of human life in the Burren throughout history.

The great drama of Tuesday afternoon was the loss of Bruce! While searching for the ruins of the village, we kept calling out to one another through the forest. Apparently, one of Bruce’s shouts was to tell us that his knee was hurting and he’d meet us back at the castle, but none of the rest of us caught what he said. After exploring the foundations of houses and farm buildings, we emerged from the woods thinking that Bruce was lost up on the mountain. After more searching, hollering, and phoning down to the college, we got everything sorted out, and we all met later at Logue’s Lodge to celebrate that all’s well that ends well.

Wednesday we covered a tremendous amount of ground. In the morning we hiked to the ruins of Glenaragah Church, which was in use until the mid-19th century, and explored the lovely faerie fort behind it. The ring was pocked with many brocachs, or badger dens, and there was ample evidence of recent home improvements around their openings. We hiked back to the Burren College in the rain, stopping often to photograph the lovely newborn calves in the fields. This group seems to operate by some important unwritten rules: every dog we meet must get lavishly petted; every horse we meet must get an apple; every cow we meet must get photographed. You could do a lot worse.

After lunch we headed out to the famine graveyard around the ruins of Rathboney Church. The church sits alone on a windswept hill, and the graves that can be accounted for range from the early 19th century to the present, with a great big gap through the middle decades of the 19th century. The hummocky land is a mix of grass and moss growing over broken stones and sinking graves. Another beautiful and haunting place. A boisterous pot-luck dinner ended the day.

I’ve got the best excuse in the world to cut this account short right now: Eddie Lenihan, a great traditional storyteller, will be visiting Orchard House in just a few minutes. More on all of our adventures tomorrow!

Judith’s first blog post!!

We’re off to a wonderful start with a wonderful group. Here’s a quick accounting of our adventures so far:

Saturday morning, we managed to assemble in Shannon airport. The flights were pretty much on time, which gave the early arrivers (Judith, Bruce, Emily, Meg, Quinn) a chance to have a quick snooze on the benches before the last plane came in. Then we picked up Kaitlyn and Erin at the West County Hotel and enjoyed a spectacular drive through the Burren to Ballyvaughan.

Bruce’s famed cure for jet-lag is daylight and exercise, so after just enough time for a rest we took off for a hike. We checked out the Burren College Campus, then trekked the long way down to the waterfront. Along the way, a beautiful little sheepdog mix adopted our group, training her puppy-eyes especially on Bruce (today a whole herd of cows followed him down the road — who knew he was such an animal whisperer?). Our group named the dog “Hike,” and she cheered us through a pelting rainstorm as we walked. We ended up at Monk’s, where the staff thoughtfully brought in space heaters and closed off the back room to warm us up (or were they perhaps keeping us out of sight?) for our first shared dinner of the trip. Afterwards, tired as we all were, we met at my house and performed Gaelic language skits. I was so impressed by everyone’s efforts!

Sunday was a marathon tour of the Burren. Mike and Stephen, our driver and guide respectively, took us to Caher Mor, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Leminagh Castle, and Kilfenora Cathedral before much-needed stops in Ennistimon for groceries and in Lahinch for l-ah-unch. (Michelle S and Chloe bravely tasted periwinkles from a sea-front vendor.)The afternoon saw us whizzing through Liscanor to see St. Brigid’s Well and O’Brien’s monument, buffeted by winds at the Cliffs of Moher, photographing gentians at Fanore, then taking the coast road back past the Pinnacle Well to Ballyvaughan. (Hey, gals — please post pictures and your own highlights from that day — If I had a nickel for each time one of you said, “Let’s come back to this spot….” I could singlehandedly prop up Ireland’s sagging economy).

Today, Monday, was actually our first day of “classes.” It started with tea/coffee and cookies, and a welcome from Mary Hawkes-Green. Robert Ellis took us on a tour of the college and everyone picked out their studio spaces. After lunch in the BCA Cafe (thank goodness Anne and Martina are still cooking!), we convened in the tower to talk about mythology in front of a peat fire. (Thank you, Kaitlyn, Meg, and Erin!)

The weather had turned lovely, so we hiked out to the ring fort near Ailwee Caves…. where the weather turned un-lovely again, just as we arrived to do some writing. If you don’t like change and surprises, don’t visit Ireland. Despite the wind, some of us remained to write in the ring, while the rest hiked back to write where the pages of their notebooks weren’t whipping out of their hands with every word. We finished the day (and the writing exercise) back at the studios.

That’s all just a quick overview of our itinerary for the past 48 hours. We’re windblown, footsore, and a little bit damp, but I am so impressed by the spirit and good nature of this group. And our adventures are just beginning!