Journey to Ireland
by Richard C. Cook
October 4, 2013
Karen and I just arrived back home in Roanoke, Virginia, from a trip to Ireland. We both have Irish roots, so it was a journey of self-discovery, along with a pilgrimage to a place with many layers of spiritual inspiration going back thousands of years. While there, we gave talks and meditation programs at two different locations in southwest Ireland, making many new friends. We also toured by car through County Cork, Cork city, the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, and the area around Limerick. The trip was a marvel from start to finish, and we certainly intend to return if circumstances allow.
The first leg of our trip was supposed to be a flight out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It was a good thing I had an intuition to arrive early, since, after we cleared security and were on the way to our gate, we looked up at the video display and saw that our flight had been cancelled!
So we were sent on a train ride via Amtrak to New York City. At Penn Station we caught the Long Island Railroad to Jamaica Station in Queens, then switched to the Air Train to JFK Airport. After checking in at Aer Lingus, we reached our gate on time, then flew in just under six hours to Shannon Airport near Limerick, arriving under cloudy skies at daybreak. There we picked up our rental car and quickly got used to driving on the left side of the road as we headed south toward Cork city. Within about four hours we were at Castletownshend, a small village on the sea in western County Cork, at the home of Julienne, a friend we had met on-line who graciously invited us to visit and stay over.
After dinner with Julienne, her husband Richard, and two other couples from the area–Ian and Lynne and John and Anna–we got a good night’s sleep before heading the next day to Skibbereen. There we checked in to the West Cork Hostel on Main Street. From “Skibb” we drove to the An Sanctoir Holistic Center, just north of Ballydehob, located on a beautiful natural preserve of over 30 acres covered with maritime vegetation. We were met by our host, Michael Tanner, a bearded giant with sparkling eyes who originated in Liverpool but resembles one’s image of an ancient Gaelic chieftain.
Michael is a trustee of An Sanctoir and the organizer for the New Era Forum, where I spoke that evening on the topic of “Intelligent Infinity.” This was the title I chose to introduce the ideas contained in my new book, Return of the Aeons: The Planetary Spiritual Ascension. Karen sat with me and spoke up as needed while I tried to explain the basic concepts of how extraterrestrial presences who had helped guide human affairs for tens of thousands of years had returned to human awareness today, assisting us in passing to a higher level of consciousness. Among many other sources, I spoke of the channelings from the RA Material and The Nine. I also discussed modern-day channelings and visitations from Jesus Christ.
After my talk, Michael drove us to his home outside Bantry where he showed us property he had purchased around an old mill. He was fixing up the mill as a spiritual center. Surrounding it was an amazing few acres of streams and waterfalls running into a corner of Bantry Bay. Walking around Skibbereen that evening, we saw a monument to those who had fought for Ireland’s freedom from Britain, as well as reminders that the town had been among the hardest hit by starvation, disease, and forced emigration during the Great Famine of the mid-19th century. This had special meaning for me, as my great-great-grandfather William Forster had emigrated to the U.S. at the height of the famine in 1848.
The next day, Julienne and her friend Lynne, along with a man named John who was from Skibbereen but worked as a gemologist for Tiffany’s in Dublin, hosted us for brunch. This was followed by a drive to the Drombeg Stone Circle, a Neolithic religious site located in farm fields a few miles away. While meditating, I had images of the Indian god Shiva come to mind. It helped me realize that when these monuments were built, all Eurasia had a single religion, with similar structures appearing in the thousands from Ireland to Korea. I had also pointed out while speaking at An Sanctoir the identical qualities of the Indian goddess Kali to those of the Celtic goddess Cailleach.
On our drive, with Julienne behind the wheel, we crossed a bridge at the village of Union Hall that had been used in the filming of the movie War of the Buttons. This delightful film had been one of the reasons Karen wanted to travel to County Cork. We also stopped so Karen could take photos of a manor house that had been burned when the owner told his servants that he was on his way to court to defend his property in a lawsuit. If he didn’t return, he said they should burn it. Though he won his case, his return was delayed by celebrating. When he got back–well, you know the rest of the story. Afterwards we checked into a B&B in the village of Schull before returning to An Sanctoir to lead an evening meditation program, along with some Indian bhajans. Again, Michael Tanner was the gracious host, bringing with him a Tibetan prayer bowl he had made that I rang to take us into meditation. Fergal, a young man who had traveled to An Sanctoir from County Clare, made an impression as a fine representative of modern Irish mystical awareness.
The next day we drove to Cork city via the stone circle and large standing stones at Kealkill, near the town of Bantry, which we visited with Michael and other friends–Aine, Jo, and Phillipa–from the programs at An Sanctoir. From Kealkill we crossed a mountain pass to Gougane Barra, a park with a lake that is the source of the River Lee and site of St. Finbarr’s Oratory, with ruins of an ancient monastery along with a more recent chapel. St. Finbarr is the patron saint of Cork. Once we arrived in the city we got lost in the narrow streets, so asked a man for directions who drew a map to our B&B. It was just one more example of the friendliness and warmth of everyone we met on our journey.
In Cork we walked and walked and walked, though on the second of our two nights we took a cab to a pub to hear traditional Irish music. Meanwhile we visited the Catholic North Cathedral near the bell tower of St. Ann’s Church, the 19th century Church of Ireland Cathedral of St. Finbarr, the famous indoor English Market, the Crawford Art Museum, the campus of the University College of Cork, and the Dervish Bookstore on Cornmarket Street where Michael Tanner had placed my book Return of the Aeons. We also visited a storefront with computer stalls where Karen sent greetings to her mom and daughters back home. We had not purchased a phone for use in Ireland, so this was our only communication with the U.S. during our trip.
While some of those we met along the way wondered why we would leave the beauty and history of the southwest coast for a stay in Cork city, we wanted a taste of contemporary urban life, especially since we were avoiding Dublin this trip. Cork is not much bigger than our hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, but, while congested, its downtown is much more bustling and alive. There are no suburban shopping malls here. Everything–shopping, entertainment, pubs and restaurants, and historical sites–is packed within one or two square miles downtown on the River Lee. The quays are lined with stately four or five story row houses painted in bright colors. But the economic downturn following the collapse of the Celtic Tiger is in plain view. Unemployment in Ireland is twice that of the U.S.–the official figure tops 13 percent. The newspapers contain headlines of domestic violence, drug abuse, and the throes of poverty. Downtown Cork is grimy–probably from automobile pollution–and, most disturbing, gang-type graffiti on building walls is widespread.
The only answer the government seems to have, other than some small-scale social welfare programs combined with public employment, is “austerity,” similar to Greece and Spain. Urban Ireland is clearly in crisis, while nationwide, real estate values have plummeted since the bubble days, more so than in the U.S. No wonder a large majority say they do not support government policies, while Sinn Fein, historically the stalwart advocate of revolution, controls a quarter of the seats of parliament and is calling for abolishment of the parliament’s upper house.
During the Tiger, a large number of Eastern Europeans came to Ireland for jobs through the EU’s right of migration, but most have gone home by now. Ireland seems currently mired in the worldwide scourge of poverty in the midst of the incredible abundance and potential of modern technology, though things are much better now than prior to 1973 when it joined the European Economic Community. Today Ireland has largely modernized, with decent roads and education, good food, the internet, and working showers. But it is spinning its wheels, with its young people largely left out of the economy, and no predominant spiritual force to replace a Catholic Church and Irish National Church that live largely in the past. Outside the cities it’s the tourist trade that drives the economy. One thing people in Ireland might want to examine is the worldwide movement for a basic income guarantee for all people. There is in fact a group in Dublin looking into it. I have been promoting such a program myself through what I call the “Gaia Plan.”
We left Cork the next day en route to the Ring of Kerry. The Ring is a drive of about 150 miles around the mountainous coast of the Iveragh Peninsula and one of the most beautiful roadways on the planet. We stopped for coffee and scones at Killarney, largely a tourist town and the starting point for the huge buses that maneuver around the Ring on half-day drives. We bought some CDs in a music shop, and Karen bought a small Irish flute in the key of D, which you need to play the traditional Irish music. We then headed for Muckross House in Killarney National Park, a huge English manor house on a lake, with flower and rock gardens and great views. The scenery was wonderful despite the drizzly weather, but the house was still a reminder of centuries of British oppression that ended less than a century ago when Ireland finally won its battle for independence.
We set off on a walk our guidebook described as “a delightful two-hour stroll” around Muckross Lake. An hour later we were one-seventh of the way around and clambering over rocks in the rain. So we retraced our steps, then drove to the lovely Torc Falls, before proceeding to Muckross Abbey, actually a ruined Franciscan monastery built in the 15th century. The abbey had a deeply peaceful atmosphere. Surprisingly, they let you walk up and down the old stairways and in and out of a variety of buildings and rooms, with none of the warning signs and roped-off areas you would find at an American historic site. But the fact that the abbey had been destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century religious wars was another reminder that British policy toward Ireland had been brutally genocidal. Another of Cromwell’s atrocities was the burning of a church at Cashel where over 300 Irish had taken refuge.
We then embarked on the Ring of Kerry itself, stopping for dinner at a restaurant with a quaint thatched roof just before the town of Cahersiveen. The views along the drive of mountains and ocean were truly spectacular, and the traffic this late in the day was almost non-existent. At Cahersiveen we walked through the large Catholic church dedicated to the town’s most famous son, Daniel O’Connell, a remarkable statesman and orator from the early 19th century. Known as the Liberator, O’Connell spoke to outdoor rallies attended by 100,000 people, was a member of the British Parliament, and obtained the repeal of many of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws that dated from the early 1600s.
After Cahersiveen, we turned onto the even more remote Skellig Ring, drove past the beach town of Ballinskelligs, and arrived at St. Finan’s Bay with a sand beach that formed a gateway to a lush green valley of farmhouses with a small village called The Glen. Our B&B stood across the road from the beach with its surrounding rocks, an area Karen said was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. The next day, when the mist cleared, we saw several miles out in the ocean to the famous Skellig Islands, including Skellig Michael, where monks had lived in austerity and isolation from the 6th through the 12th centuries. Today the island is a World Heritage Site where visitors can travel by boat from a local harbor on days when the sea is not too rough.
We spent the next three days touring the vicinity of the Skelligs, including the towns of Portmagee and Cahersiveen, the Iron Age Staigue Fort in the mountains between Waterville and Sneem, and across a bridge to Valentia Island, where, from Knightstown at the end of the island you could take a ferry back to the mainland. In Knightstown we stayed at Coombe Bank House, where Christine Nolan and her partner Gary Murphy had invited us to conduct a meditation program that evening. We did so and were joined by Michael Tanner, driving up from Bantry, along with Frances Micklem, a healing practitioner from Kilkenny, and other new friends. Coombe Bank House had once been a British manor house and then a hospital but had been rented by Christine and Gary for their spiritual center. Situated out on Valentia Island it was remote and peaceful, a place we hope to visit again. Also on the island we hiked to the Well of St. Brendan on the seacoast, near rocks overlooking the ocean, along with herds of sheep and old abandoned cottages. There was also a pub, long shut down, with a sign advertising the “Last Pint Before New York.”
At all our stops in Ireland we slept soundly and ate well, so never tired ourselves out. After a night at Coombe Bank House we made our farewells and retraced our drive on the north side of the Ring of Kerry, stopping near Killorglin to visit a replica of a traditional Irish bog village. From there we continued north to the Dingle Peninsula. After stopping at Inch Beach we arrived at Dingle Town, walked around the pier and the narrow village streets with many shops and pubs, then checked into our B&B. That night we attended a service at St. Mary’s Church, where Bishop Raymond Browne had arrived to start the young people on their confirmation training. We had a great meal at Murphy’s pub where the locals were watching the Irish hurling championship between Clare and Cork taking place in the huge sports arena in Dublin. Clare won the game, after which the team captain gave a long speech to the crowd. It was obviously a major national event. That night we went to two different pubs for traditional music, which can be found more in Dingle than anywhere else in this part of Ireland. Also in Dingle, along with parts of Kerry, we heard Gaelic spoken in areas known as the Gaeltacht, along with English which everyone uses with visitors from outside.
After another good night’s sleep, we drove west from Dingle toward Slea Head, which is the westernmost point on the Eurasian mainland. On the way we stopped to examine one of the famous beehive huts that is part of the remains of a farmstead with stone walls and foundations of outbuildings dating from the Iron Age. The drive above the cliffs of Slea Head is barely wide enough for a car and tour bus to pass, with the cliffs and surf roaring several hundred feet below an unforgettable sight. We stopped for coffee and scones at Dunquin, the westernmost town in Europe.
From Dunquin we continued clockwise on the drive, stopping to go inside a functioning church in the village of Ballyferriter, then on to the renowned oratory at Gallarus. This small church, completely intact, is over 1,300 years old and was built entirely of mortar-free stone. It’s about 12 feet high inside and has a lovely, peaceful atmosphere. Built in the early Christian period, when Ireland earned a name as “the land of saints and scholars,” the oratory dates from a time when Rome was distant and non-interfering and the monks and lay people of the Emerald Isle were largely left alone to worship God and Christ as their consciences saw fit. It was truly Ireland’s Golden Age. A couple of miles further up the road was a much more recent, though decrepit, church that someone was working on to turn into their country home or perhaps a spiritual center. We also saw in the Dingle vicinity, as well as other locations in western Ireland, outdoor shrines to the Virgin Mary. Combined with the pristine closeness of Nature and the presence of stone monuments from the long-ago era of goddess worship, our spiritual awareness of the closeness of the Divine Mother was greatly enhanced. We meditated at many of the places we visited and found peace everywhere.
The weather that day was overcast and the long-distance scenery somewhat dark and cloud-cast, so we decided to leave the Dingle Peninsula and spend our last two nights near Limerick in the village of Adare. We found a B&B for less cost than the ones we had reserved in advance and walked around the town, which had a row of thatched-roof shops, homes, and restaurants, said to have been built in the English-style. We traveled in the rain the next day to the village of Kilmallock, said to have remnants of its days as a medieval walled town. When we arrived at the edge of town there was a large cathedral-type church from the 19th century where the local secondary schools were having their celebratory mass to open the school year. We joined in and heard some really lovely singing by the school choir, including a rendition of “The Everlasting Arms” in the style of an Irish folk melody. The presiding priest gave a homily on the importance of reflecting God’s love by treating each other with kindness in the school environment, and the principal gave a short talk on a similar theme.
We saw many glowing faces of Irish youngsters as they went in and out of the service but wondered what adult life would have waiting for them down the road if the current economic conditions prevailed. At the same time, as a small nation that is also politically neutral, Ireland and its people have the blessing of not having to labor under the weight of a gigantic military-industrial complex and the type of negative thinking and aggression among its populace such phenomena inevitably entail. So its young people are largely free of that burden, with Ireland earning a reputation in recent years as an active participant in international peace-keeping efforts.
Moving on to the town of Kilmallock, we toured the ruins of the Collegiate Church of Saints Peter and Paul and a 15th century Dominican friary that was also one of those places destroyed by Cromwell. We also saw the two medieval towers at each end of the town that served as its gates, along with a couple of solid stone buildings with small windows from that era. As we drove back to Adare, we got lost on a rural dead-end but were able to retrace our path and return to the national road. Both nights in Adare we ate at Pat Collins’ Pub, celebrating our last dinner with a delicious desert of chocolate cheesecake.
At breakfast the next morning our host told us the U.S. government had shut down, but he let us borrow the house phone to call Shannon Airport and confirm our flight. We could not imagine that the government would leave thousands of Americans stranded abroad over a budget dispute, but you never know. Of course we were rehearsing various “stay-in-Ireland” scenarios in our minds. With the morning rain continuing, we drove back to the airport and checked in our vehicle. 16 hours after leaving the B&B we were on the ground at Baltimore-Washington International without mishap. The trip lasted 14 days with travel on each end.
Overall, the journey to Ireland was a wonderful experience for us both. We were occupied the entire time, made new friends, absorbed countless impressions, and imbibed many stirring vibrations. In a way, it was like a continuous two-week meditation, leaving us invigorated, while encouraging a fresh view of our everyday reality. We did not romanticize our experience, but we lived it with open hearts and minds and found it positive throughout. Indeed there were some discordant impressions, including some drunks on the streets in Cork, the crowds associated with tour buses in Kerry, signs of economic recession, and reminders of Ireland’s sometimes horrendous history. But those factors also tend to find their places and teach their lessons within a larger spiritual perspective involving acceptance and compassion.
I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone with my previous remark that there is “no predominant spiritual force to replace a Catholic Church and Irish National Church that live largely in the past,” as the case is the same in Ireland as everywhere else in the world. Sectarian religions everywhere have failed to respond adequately to a world where science has crossed the boundaries to infinity and the power of money to control and degrade humanity dominates all economic, political, social, and religious structures.
There is in fact today a new world spirituality, though it is not found in any highly organized or centralized form. Rather it lies in the emergence of teachings like yoga, meditation, shamanism, contemplative music, and other spiritual expressions from eastern religions or indigenous western traditions, along with more esoteric sources like the channeled teachings found in my book Return of the Aeons: The Planetary Spiritual Ascension and similar works. Among these are Christ-centered messages such as A Course in Miracles, Love Without End: Jesus Speaks by Glenda Green, or Yogananda’s The Second Coming of Christ.
Sometimes clustered together as “New Age” teachings, these works from various sources doubtless form the basis of the spirituality of humanity’s future, even though they await the person or persons who can meld them into a global reality. There are a few within the organized religions who sense and accept this great change, including some within Catholicism such as John Wijngaards, author of God Within Us. But such insight remains rare. Meanwhile, places we visited in Ireland like An Sanctoir, Coombe Bank House, the Dervish Bookstore, and others, are part of a worldwide movement preparing humanity for what we believe can only be a splendid future.
Richard C. Cook is a former federal analyst and NASA whistleblower, now a teacher of meditation and spirituality at the Lifestream Center in Roanoke, Virginia. His latest book is “Return of the Aeons: The Planetary Spiritual Ascension.” His website is www.richardccook.com. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2013 by Richard C. Cook