At the Neolithic Passage Tombs of Carrowkeel, County Sligo


This is a wild place, for shaggy sheep and vigorous shrubs and gusts of wind. A trail led me up the hill. It’s completely silent here. The sky is an expanse of cloud and the stone cairns are powdery gray, streaked with lichen and time. This view is extraordinary. Round-topped mountains and misty blue ranges beyond, a great lift of land over the satin surface of the lough. I’m sitting alone on the brink of a cavern lodged in the hillside, a rocky depth obscured by shrubbery and shadow. I wonder if the people who built the cairn monuments, five thousand years ago, ever ventured down into this cavern. Into the dark.


In the Grange Stone Circle at Lough Gur, County Limerick


Diane, whom I met twenty minutes ago, told me to meditate here. She gave this advice after placing a daisy chain crown on my head and saying, “You are cherishing what needs to be cherished.” I’ll never see Diane again, but I hope I can live up to what she saw in me. Now I’m sitting on the ground and surveying this wide stone circle that was erected in the Bronze Age. Some of the larger stones are being used as modern pagan altars—bedecked with seashells and coins, colorful yarn and folded notes, a graying jar of coconut oil. On the grass in the center of the stone circle, there’s a careful pile of feathers, pinecones, and chunks of rose quartz. This place is immersed in its own history, while humming with a current of something new and very much alive. I’m not sure what that is, but I want to cherish it.


On the Quay in the Town of Westport, County Mayo


I’m nibbling on chocolate, two whiskeys deep. Resting on a breezy wall over Clew Bay, looking out at cloud-sheathed Croagh Patrick, a sacred mountain. The sun has appeared with just enough time to set. Today, I hiked to the mythical burial site of Queen Maeve on Knocknarea, after a gorgeous morning spent rambling in damp, buttercup-laden, snail-strewn, grassy dunes. The day has been wrapped in coastal fog. Now I’m settling into my body and my solitude. The sheep are helping.


On the Edge of the Bay, Galway City Center


I have been visited by a small white seabird with gray wings, a chestnut face, and coral webbed feet with a beak to match. His tail feathers are blotched with dark brown. He’s beside me right now. He doesn’t seem to be much of a flier, this one, and he’s a bit jumpy. I like him. Maybe this is my reward for sitting on the edge of the bay, at seven a.m., in the wind. The swans are dipping their long necks toward the lush green growths beneath the water. My little friend is still here—is he waiting for something? Or just getting acquainted? Not even the rumbling street cleaner truck has scared him away. 


In the Ruins of Athassel Priory, County Tipperary


The sky is darkening; its hint of rose just disappeared over the hills. I’m on a high perch, my seat cushioned by flora that has crept up the walls. I hear a swoosh as little birds zip past me, in a dizzy frenzy of aerial diamonds and shrill chirps. White cows are swaying in the field. The priory stands tall, painted with gold lichen. A breeze blows through the arching windows. Wilderness has become the chief curator here, in a gallery of human effort and belief. This is why I love ruins—nature shows us a new way forward, moving through time by standing still. My body is at home. The cool evening air; a sweep of wings overhead; the yelp of a cow on the hillside; my cheeks kissed by the wind. It feels like I sit on the edge of time, surrounded by a heritage that I wish I could know, could claim. I see the crumbling stone and smell the manure. I have this peace, for now.


At a Booth in the Music Café, Dublin City Center


A cup of ginger tea, a silver pot. Floor-to-ceiling windows, a jazzy soundtrack from big speakers. The faux wood floor gives off a gleam of green, like the Liffey’s surface. A bottle of caramel liqueur glows amber. An American girl tried to order Baileys with a shot of espresso. The barista’s skater sneakers squeak on the rubber mat behind the till. On the street, the light turns red. Traffic jolts, unjolts. A woman in a yellow raincoat crosses the bridge, her gray hair matching the sky. There’s so much energy in this dewy, smoky, shimmery, gusty city of Dublin. I’ve been remarkably sad, yesterday in particular. But it occurs to me how pleasant it is to be alone right now, with my thoughts, my body… and my spirit? I’m not sure about spirit, not sure I know what that means, if anything. I came to Ireland to delve into the spiritual, for the sake of academic study. And it’s hard not to be a skeptic. But sometimes I do believe.


On the Cliff at Howth Head, County Dublin


This sunlight turns the Irish Sea to wrinkled silk. I’m resting on the cliffside in the middle of a hike. Far below, a seal pokes its whiskered snout through the curtain of water. Two gulls are sitting with me. They have a daub of orange on their beaks, yellowish eyes with a bead of black, large webbed feet that smack the stone. My shoulders are warmed by the sun. I smell the murk and the cliff’s dust, notice my own permeability and heft. I feel safe, and it almost hurts to feel safe, because that means there’s something precious to lose.


By the Ruins of Carraig Aille Stone Fort, County Limerick


There is so much around me. The reddish succulents tucked in rock, the grasses quivering, the call of hidden doves. In the valley, a black cow nodded twice in my direction. I see the distant lough like a slab of Connemara marble set between the hills. This must be what healing feels like. Sunlight on a hillcrest amid soft evening shadow. Infinite hues of green. A single bird. The gloaming sky. This country, a land with such quiet confidence in its magic. I wonder about magic more than about God. Not a deity, not some blinding light from heaven, not a will, but a softer, sensual kind of power. The magic of millenia, of moss and lichen, stone and bark; the magic of erosion, of smoke and wind; that which herds endless moments like cows going out to pasture; the enchantment—of reverie, temporality, permanence—that I feel here.


Upon the Hill of Tara, County Meath, on the Eve of Summer Solstice


We’ve gathered this evening, a community of strangers, on this ancient ceremonial site. To watch the last sunset before the solstice and to witness something, some mystery. The fields are lush with buttercups and clover, embroidered with clusters of foliage. The birds make no apology for their chatter, for their lucid joy. I walked barefoot on the winding path with a spear of hay held between my toes. Do the cows beyond the wall know that they ramble on sacred ground? Maybe they lend their sanctity to the ground. A nettle scratched my knee, and it started to itch. I was grateful for the discomfort, to be held in my body by sensation. The fading sun casts a golden haze on everything. What am I now making contact with? What is this glowing in my chest? Is heritage so palpable? A lamb bleats somewhere in the pasture. When I’m in love with someone, I will bring them to this luminous place, and I will hold their hand.


On the Morning of the Solstice, the Longest Day of the Year


I stayed up late last night, at the bonfire on the hill, and woke early. The sky is a soft gray. Behind me is the huddled graveyard of a Christian church, dark and cool. An owl coos from the shadows. Before me are grassy mounds, grand earthworks, the passage tombs of the Celtic past. What will I make of this summer solstice? I can take it, like the pagans do, as a turning point, a gasp of delight followed by a settling and stabilizing: an immersion, closeness, and affection rather than critical distance. For now I sit in a place that is not mine, but into which I’ve been welcomed. I hope I can start to welcome what is mine, and to love it because it’s my own. In the middle of the field stands the Hill of Tara Fairy Tree. Shreds of ribbon flutter between its star-shaped leaves. I watched a group of people tying blades of grass to the branches of this tree—to make a wish. Once they left, I tied one too.