The Burren, Co. Clare, Days 2-3: “Night Songs”

Routines

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Sunrise in the Burren is an amazing thing. I wake with the sun every morning. I could block the light with curtains, but waking early is worth the view. Even on rainy mornings, the sun rises bright over the horizon line of the field.

After watching the sunrise each morning, I make a breakfast of fresh-pressed, hot coffee (the camper can get chilly at night, though a space heater helps), muesli, porridge, and fruit.

This simple routine energizes me each day for hours of hiking and creative work. My camper is comfortable and full of all necessities, but my daily tasks require more time and planning than they do when I’m at home. I have to bring water in from outside to make my coffee and do my dishes. I have to put on my water resistant boots to walk out through the wet grass whenever I want to use the restroom. None of these routines are particularly tasking, and I enjoy having to think a little more about the actions I take for granted.

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In the evening, I take my time preparing dinner using the organic vegetable basket. It’s nice to have the time and ingredients to make really special meals. Using a grill in my stove unit, I make the best grilled eggplant I’ve ever had. Over the course of several nights, I also make roasted winter squash, sautéed leeks and onions, roasted hazelnuts and Roman cauliflower, grilled bell pepper pasta, and other delicious vegan dishes. I usually start making dinner around 6 or 7 pm, and the entire cooking, eating, and especially cleaning process takes until about 10 pm, at which point I’m ready to settle down with a book for the night or do some tune-learning on my fiddle. Sunrise and sunset, food, music, solitude. Routines.

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Day 2: Sightseeing

My second day is the Burren is a day for tombs and churches and ringforts! The Burren is one of the most important archaeological sites in Ireland, with excavations constantly taking place. I plan to spend most days just hiking in the natural, tourist-free areas of the Burren, but these sights are definitely worth my time.

Portal Tombs

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Ringforts

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Church Ruins

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The Kilfenora Crosses

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Day 3: Tobar Chrónáin Trail and the Burren Perfumery

There are a few main walking trails winding through the Burren, and the biggest is called the Burren Way. One of the connection points to the Burren Way is about 1.5 hours south of my camper, so I take a long walk on Day 3. The road I’m looking for also passes by the Burren Perfumery, where Julia works, and where I know there to be a tea shop that would make a nice resting point in my hike.

My provisions on this hike include cherry tomatoes, whole carrots, seaweed, and grapes. I know that I’ll need more carbs and sustenance later on when I reach the perfumery.

The main road south takes me through the town of Carron and then forks. I turn and there are farmhouses to my right, cows leaning their heads over the stone walls to watch me. To my left, a field slopes down into a valley, an unadulterated path of green bordered by bushes and walls. There is sunlight over the valley, but stormclouds further south.

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I reach the trailmarker for the walking path. There are two optional loops, both of which connect to the Burren Way. I choose the shorter trail that will take me by the perfumery, the trail marked “Teampall Chrónáin”. The trail begins on parted grass and the ruins of the church of Saint Cronan quickly come into view, along with the slab shrine where the saint was once buried.

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Past the church, I almost miss Tobar Chrónáin, a holy well nestled into a ring of shrubs. The well itself is a U of still water, full of dropped coins. There are effigies left to the saint, including the holy family within post-and-lintel logs, and conjoined stones at the top of a small earth mound.

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite book trilogies: The Song of Albion by Stephen Lawhead. Lawhead writes fiction based primarily on Celtic and Anglo-Saxon legend. Among the Lawhead books that I love are the King Raven trilogy, a re-telling of the story of Robin Hood that blends history and myth, and Patrick, a novelization of the life of Saint Patrick. The Song of Albion is one of the few real world / mythic world crossovers that I enjoy, and features two Oxford students crossing into an old Celtic world by means of an earth mound.

Whenever I see even small earth mounds like the one at Tobar Chrónáin, I think of the history of the passageways through these mounds, of the way the sacred and the superstitious blend within a single earthwork. At the Hill of Tara in Co. Meath, there is Neolithic passage tomb known as the Mound of the Hostages, and inside, a passage aligned with sunbeams on the midpoint days between solstices and equinoxes. The same yearly points that determined the old Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. These festivals were among the features of pagan Celtic religion appropriated into the Christian calendar after the conversion of Ireland, and at the Hill of Tara, you can find a Christian church and a standing stone side by side.

Here, I see stones left upright at the top of the small mound alongside Christian effigies and the stone archways of the Church. Whenever I see ruins in Ireland, I see evidence of the blending of cultures and religions, the transitional points between an ancient druid world and a Christian regime.

I reach the Burren Perfumery just as the rain starts and enjoy tea and a scone. I rest, I write, I recover my strength and prepare for the walk home.

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A quiet, eerie surreality pervades the three episodic stanzas of Thomas Kinsella’s “Night Songs”. The simplicity of the first stanza implies, for me, an absolute solitude as the speaker lies down at night with nothing in his heart. The dream-images of the “crippled leopard” and the “woman with a golden skin” bear undertones of darkness, but the animal nature of the images and the repetition in the final stanza also brings to mind Anglo-Saxon riddles.

 

Night Songs
by Thomas Kinsella

1

Now, as I sink in sleep,
My heart is cut down,
Nothing—poetry nor love—
Achieving.

*

Turns again in my room,
The crippled leopard.
Paw-pad, configured
Yellow light of his eyes,
Pass, repass, repass.
Quiet, my hand; he is tame.
Soon, while I dream, will step
And stir the sunken dawn.

2

Before I woke there entered in
A woman with a golden skin
That tangled with the light.
A tang of orchards climbed the stair
And dwindled in the waxen air,
Crisping the midnight,
And the white pillows of my bed
On apple-tasted darkness fed.
Weakened with appetite
Sleep broke like a dish wherein
A woman lay with golden skin.

 

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