Anam Cara

Just spent a week filled with grace at a writers’ retreat, Anam Cara, in Eyeries, on the magical Beara peninsula, Ireland. This was a treat for all the senses, five acres of woodland to wander freely in to find the waterfall and to cross the wooden bridge to the island in the middle of a stream and to follow the ducks to a gap in the hedge to circle the mown labyrinth. I felt as though I were nine years old again and rambling in my grandfather’s garden in Wales, a child’s secret garden where no grownups could see me hiding in the shrubs and the blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes gave me their tangy smells as I brushed past them. The hand of the gardener lies very lightly on this setting that nature has blessed. It’s still Ireland untouched on this peninsula. We wrote and workshopped poetry and ¬†Celtic mythology in the mornings with poet and writer Adam Wyeth. He has a lucid way with words to explain poetry that breaks through any blocks and provides inspiration. The house Anam Cara is a bibliophile’s delight–bookcases teeming in every room, and usually filled with signed books. Reading the inscriptions in some of the books, I felt I was in the company of the greats who’d stayed there: Billy Collins, Krista Tippett, and Jhumpala Lahiri to mention just a few. The owner and host, Sue Booth-Forbes, created this sanctuary twenty years ago after a dream she’d had.

During the afternoons, we replenished our creative wells with visits to standing stones and wedge tombs, a Buddhist temple for meditation, and a cheese farm. One of the standing stones is the Hag of Beara. She stands looking out to sea and waiting for her man to return. As she is the spirit of Ireland, the mother, the triple goddess, I left her with a wing torn from a kestrel that I’d found near the labyrinth on my morning stroll; maybe she can unite and heal the world as well as the bird. Others had left chocolate and tokens and messages for help. In the spirit of tradition I kissed her. It seems to be a male fantasy that if you kiss a hag, she will turn into a beautiful maiden, but I liked the idea of woman containing all forms of womanhood. In Ireland, they seem to accept the crone aspect of women. Time is not linear, but circular, so woman can be maiden, mother, and crone at any one time.

One “crone” I visited was the wise woman of Eyeries, Mary Maddison, who reads the small pebbles that stick to your feet as you tread in them, as well as the crystals you choose. A tiny, twinkly eyed woman in her 70’s, Mary plays a bodhran at sessions in the pub, as well as dancing until 2 a.m. some nights. While Mary is reading your crystals, she occasionally closes her eyes and gives you a message from the shades who are around you, wishing you well, she says. She was unnervingly accurate about a few of my relatives.

Another pleasant walk was to the farm that makes Milleens cheese, apparently the late Queen Mother’s favourite and which is exported around the world. Quinlan Steele, the ex-journalist son of the original cheesemaker, showed us around and explained cheesemaking and his philosophy. He cannot make much difference in a world full of problems, but he can do what he can in his corner of Ireland, and that is to help the dairy farmers and produce world-class cheese that keeps them going. Small dairy farmers are put out of business by vast corporations, agri-business, and Quinlan is fighting for the little guy. If an army marches on its stomach, then Milleens cheese has the right weapon to stick it to the man.¬†

Ah, Ireland, magical mystery land where time may not go slower but it does flow circular.