“I love Ireland. I feel very at peace there. It’s just magical and beautiful.” Eva Green
I know what you mean, Eva. I like finding out that we are kindred spirits, at least regarding our mutual love for Ireland. But even more I like meeting people – and it happens all the time – who love Ireland even more than I do, if that’s possible. On the train I meet two American women, Kirby and Madeline, who come here four or five times a year. They save up their vacation days and come over for short five day visits. (Kirby lives in Philadelphia AND she works for Free People, but coincidences like this happen all the time here.) And then on Saturday I meet a mom and daughter from New Jersey who are here to see U2 at Croke Park. The city is vibrating with excitement. Maureen and her daughter Coleen have seen them twenty-one times! They tell me, “It’s what we do.” And I thought no one could love them more than I do. They tell me that I need to join the U2 fan club so that I can get tickets. And they tell me that they’re in the process of claiming citizenship here through their grandparents. Coleen sends me photos of the concert on Sunday with words of advice – “You really can’t miss the next one.” I won’t, Coleen, I won’t.
And then last year I met an Irishman who lives in the Wicklow Mountains, and he told me about the Glendalough Hermitage, a beautiful retreat in the village of Laragh just a few minutes from Glendalough – the valley of two lakes – and St. Kevin’s monastic city. So I reserved my cottage, one of only five at the hermitage, in March and I arrive there this Sunday at noon to be greeted by warmth, brilliant sunshine, and stunning natural beauty. I walk from the bus stop and up a hill to get to the main building, and as I open the door, a voice says, “Is that Kathy, then?” It’s Sister Margaret, and after telling me that this kind of weather is unheard of, she takes me to my cottage whose name is Cillin Lorchain – your place in solitude. It is the most adorable place I’ve ever been, inside and out. It has two Vincent Van Gogh beds, a wood burning fireplace, and a skylight. On the bed lies a piece of paper – “The Practice of Solitude…1. Arrive – You may find that you are tired to the point of exhaustion and just need to sleep. Take time to do what you need to do. There is no rush. You are here and this is holy ground. Whatever you need to do is enough.” It’s nice when you’re given permission.
I collapse on the bed and fall into one of the best naps of my entire life as a person. When I wake up it is too late to go into the village for something to eat, so I make due with nuts and fruit. I build a fire in the fireplace. I read about St. Kevin and for the next few hours contemplate giving it all up to be a hermit like Kevin was before he became a Celtic saint.
Kevin was born around 500 CE, and even as a little boy he loved nature and animals, especially birds. At the age of twelve he was already living in a monastery, but he ran away and hid in a cave on the dark side of the lake. He lived in shadow for six months of the year in order to test himself and through that hardship he found his own deepest strength. Gentle, loving, and kind, he was at heart a hermit and a Christian mystic who founded the monastic city whose ruins still remain here in Glendalough.
But of course my hermitic thoughts don’t last long. I like the idea of listening to “the echoes of those who have gone before us”, but by the morning, I want to be back in civilization. I walk down to the Wicklow Heather, the one restaurant in Laragh. I have Special K with strawberries and cold Irish milk and a cappuccino just because it’s the opposite of a full Irish breakfast, and I think that even St. Kevin would have had a hard time resisting this. Afterwards, I walk to Glendalough’s visitors’ centre and then I keep walking for four hours. I walk around the lake and then back to the ruins of St. Kevin’s monastic city that offered sanctuary, hospitality, and healing to pilgrims for centuries. The model of the city was that of a circle within a circle. It is believed that Kevin was buried here. Wisdom, poetry, and brightness – all a part of him – still reside here.
The next afternoon, I find myself at the wooden shed that is the bus stop for the St. Kevin bus which will take me back to Dublin. I am wondering if I am the only person who sees the irony of a bus line named after a hermit. After a few minutes, a man comes over to talk to me. He’s Tommy and he’s lived in the cottage across the street his whole life. He’s had a stroke and single tears splash from one eye every so often. He tells me about his neurotic exes, and his struggle with alcohol, and his loneliness. He tells me about seeing Liam Neeson when Liam was very young and what presence he had. He says, “You drink alcohol so that you can talk to people, but the more you drink the more people stay away from you.” He tells me that he used to go to Grogan’s and drink eight pints a night. He listened to and told the same stories night after night. But then he gave it all up, and now he settles for cigarettes and coffee and talking to strangers at the bus stop.
When he sees St. Kevin’s bus approaching, he waves it down for me. He tells me that I’m more than welcome to come for a visit any time. I say goodbye to him and to my little sojourn in solitude. As I get on the bus, the driver says, “So I see you’ve met Tommy.” I have indeed.