See more photos go to my ‘Ireland Ethnobotany Exploration’ photo album
I’m home now a bit over a week, still dreaming and waking with Ireland on my mind, a place that, though I’ve touched it, breathed it, tasted it, still feels like a mythical place in my mind. Each time I return I feel I go deeper and deeper into place and time. I returned for this journey with students on an expedition I titled ‘Ireland Ethnobotany Exploration’ to revisit and share each of the places I researched and visited last time- the oldwoods, the bogs, the glens; the megalithic places from beyond human memory; and the traditional knowledge keepers, the masters. Places less frequented and people little known by most tourists. I added in a few extra places, and then extended my stay solo to be in the sacred River Boyne Valley, to also revisit places I’ve been but to experience again with my greater wisdom.
It was the Oldwoods that called to me, the remnant stands of the once vast oak forests which covered Ireland, slowly cleared for agriculture, but completely devastated during the 1600’s, as of much of the world, for the production of charcoal to fuel the iron-smelting furnaces. I’ve seen poems lamenting the last tree cut in a forest, wondering how people were to survive now, records of when the forest was no longer. So I sought out the last remnants, and found some of the very few on my last visit. And they touched me to my core, filled me with knowing. It takes an effort to get to them, this time I hired local guides to lead us by foot and by boat to get to them, up and down barely worn paths.
A tiny, handwritten note found in my files from my first trip in 2001, led me to the most revered living basket-maker in Ireland, with whom I spent a precious week two years ago, and arranged to come back with a small group for our own private class, staying in stone cottages along the incredibly scenic Lough Nafooey in Connemara. We were so honored. And in the indigenous way, he opened the door for me, which I seemed unable to open on my own, to be with another magical person, one of the few remaining weavers of the Crios bands, whom we visited by way of a storm-tossed ferry trip to the Innisheer Islands, where we wove wool into sashes next to an open peat fire, cooking bread in a pot, and served tea in bright-colored china. I am bonded with love to these people now.
At every turn we encountered the deep history of this land, and incredible majesty of it, megalithic stone circles, cairns, dolmans, oghams, crosses, holy wells, forts and castles. The photos are magnificent and yet cannot come close to revealing the experience of it, the exhilaration, the grief and longing, the sounds of sheep and bird calls, seagulls and ocean waves, scents of the forest moss and berries ripening, the tastes of the land. We stayed in cottages and cooked our own foods following traditional recipes, using foods from the land of Ireland, a great pride for them. We made Criobs, potato baskets used for cooking, and drained our potatoes in them, reveling in that tiny connection to the past. We harvested hedgerow fruits, sloes, hawthorn, crabapple and rosehips and made hedgerow jelly to bring home to savor and remember for the coming year. We visited the local pubs and sang and played music with them, friends now in another land, and an inspiration for me take up my fiddle again to play that sweet music.
The River Boyne runs through the ancient lands of the kings and queens of Irelands myth, passing the Hill of Tara, Hill of Slane, the Bru’ na Boinne where Newgrange and Knowth reside. I stayed on after we all parted ways, in a sweet manor house in the ancient village of Trim, my room overlooking the river with views of ruins. I walked along this river, savoring my last days, climbed again to the Hills of Tara and Slane, and paid my respect to the mounds of Newgrange and Knowth. I left to fly home from this place and did not want to leave.
For most of us this is an ancestral return. There are no words which can describe what that means. I am still dreaming and waking with what that is for me, Irelaund runs as a discourse through my every action. Two days after arriving home I found myself on another ferry, this time with my car full of herbs to share at a tribal elder’s retreat, where I received from an elder and friend an amazing gift of my ‘sacred crane woman’ name beaded into a medallion, with a heron and a cattail, iconic of both of my homelands. And felt unbelievably grateful to be on the path that I am on, guided by the plants and animals and ancestors of these places. Thank you all who come to share that path with me in a good way.
To see more photos of the Ireland Ethnobotany Exploration
To join me for my upcoming classes