Peace, Ballydavid (Ireland III)

Two friends sit on a wall, sipping their coffees in the silent, grey morning, watching the sea.

It’s early. Before the others stir, I’m walking the flower-draped hills of Ballydavid, or is it Feothanach, or maybe more precisely, it is the space in between these two named points, a place that remains unmarked.

Aside from the wild beauty of this place, it is the forgottenness of it I think I love the most.

I pass a tiny shell-strewn beach where gulls dance and shriek, then follow the road, not much more than a narrow track, as it climbs steeply up, past waterfalls hidden by exotic, garish blossoms — orange and purple — past farms, abandoned holiday homes, and the odd cluster of sheep. Songbirds sing and chirp from every bush.

I’m trying to find a path I’ve been assured will take me up to the peak, to a cliff-top that sweeps up to the sky only to drop off, plummeting to the sea hundreds of feet below.

I can imagine the view – nothing but waves stretching into forever; I remember everything from when I lived here one summer 19 years ago. The memories are crystal clear, but the path remains elusive.

Behind me, Mount Brandon is cloaked in heavy clouds, as always. I smile as I recall laughing with a friend all those years ago, betting each other we’d never get a picture of its crest. I still have the postcard she sent me later that year, triumphantly displaying a Brandon without cloud.

Stretching between the hill I’m climbing and Brandon are the emerald fields of a million songs and tourist brochures, rivers, more sheep, the distant dots of cottages and stone houses, the black winding road with its Irish language signposts. I keep turning to look – this is my heaven, my favourite place on earth. I still can’t believe I’m back here.

The landforms feel deeply familiar, soothing in a way that suggests a connection, a belonging I can’t quite explain by simply saying I lived here once, briefly. Ancestral perhaps, though my ancestors came from somewhere else.

Looking at the peaks of the Three Sisters further down the coast, the slumbering giant of the Blaskets, Sybil Head, Brandon, I feel finally calm, finally at home. As though in the intervening years since I was last here I was just stumbling from place to place, task to task, lost.

I stand for a while looking down the coast as it tumbles, rock-strewn and jagged, until it turns inward and jags out of sight. I smell the briny salt of the cold sea, the dampness of the low clouds, the earthiness and sweet grass of this land. I breathe it in, trying to hold on to it, knowing a time will come when this all feels like a dream.

I never do find the path, but I do find something I had lost, something I hope I can carry with me now forever. That missing piece of me.

I pass the two people on the wall again as I pick my way back toward breakfast. They are still sitting on there, looking out to sea, talking. I wonder what they are talking about, and I think of the friends I have here, in Ireland, friends I could sit on a wall with and talk to until our own coffees went cold. And I wonder, what if I’d never left? What would my life be like now if I’d stayed? Can I ever come back?

I will always live with this tension, the pull of this place, the pull of my other home.



I’m not sure where I will end up, whether I will ever move back to Ireland, if it would be the right choice, or if I will stay put for the million reasons I can drum up in a pinch. I dream of living in so many places, and I fear never living in any of them.

But I think no matter where I am, I will always feel torn, I will always wonder about this place, the place of my dreams, this quiet, tucked away corner at the Western tip of Ireland.


Autumn commute (but also, Ireland II.)

Even at this early hour, the deep, jewel-blue of evening is already fading to night’s darker hues beyond the buildings. Still in the city’s small heart, though, the sky glows and refracts between windows, brightened by the lights from inside, the street-lamps outside.

There is a quickening, an energy as commuters move away from the centre, a flow that pulls us all along for a block or two until the shift to calm that comes with the transition to neighbourhoods.

Then it is dark, night descends quickly, a blanket sprinkled with the twinkling of porch lights. The cold wind refreshes, blows nostalgia at me through a small park; the scent of fallen leaves.

This is home. It is familiar. Canadian.

I love this about where I live – the familiarity, the nostalgia, the ease of moving around here, of knowing what to expect, season after season.

And yet, the other half of my heart continues to tug me, as it always has, toward Ireland.

Ireland I.

It was momentous for me – going back. In the months and weeks leading up to the trip, I had been so busy with work and life that I hadn’t really considered how it would feel to be there again. At some point, I had actually thought I didn’t want to go, though I suspect now that was some form of self-preservation. Steeling myself against the onslaught of emotion.

It wasn’t until we were on the plane that I allowed the excitement and anticipation and meaning of it all to cascade over me. I smiled, my heart tripped over itself, my eyes filled with tears.

And now, on the other side, it is all just a memory. Ephemeral. Wisps of not-quite-real.


We all have our personal myths, our stories that make up who we are, gathered and guarded, told and re-told to ourselves, to anyone who might listen.

Mine has always been Ireland.

First it was Ireland The Dream. That began when, at the age of 2, I had the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem as my imaginary friends. This dream followed me through school – my room a deep green and adorned with a map of Ireland – and an undergraduate degree in Celtic Studies, when I was also President of the university’s Celtic Society.

Next, I moved to Ireland and my myth grew and spread. I was the one who stayed. The one who moved there.

I never wanted to leave. It was a whim, really. I followed a boy back from Ireland to Canada. At first, I pined for my memories, my life there, my dream. My pining turned to bitterness when the relationship fell apart. I gave up all thoughts of going back.

Until this year. It was my mother’s 75th birthday and I suggested we do a trip to mark the 20th anniversary of the first time we had gone, bringing my son along on the adventure.


And so there I was. On the plane. The full significance of it all just dawning.

Aiteacht* (The poets saw it first)

Hail forever, poets, harpers, artists:
you of privilege who
by your dream-trance visions
have seen and heard
we recognize your right of demand;
sing and bring to us
(mere mortals)
the truths of existence
the extent of extent –
the time of distance,
the space of time.
You alone among us sense
the secrets from beyond
you alone have crossed boundaries
we may not cross.
Bring forth now to us your Death Tale
from the mists of invisibility.
As you have seen it,
so be it.


*meaning “sensation of things being not quite right but not being able to tell why.”

A long overdue poem inspired by a Druid Gaelic Dictionary I found online, prompted by the NaPoWriMo day 17 prompt which suggested creating a poem around words found in a specialized dictionary. Interestingly, there is a druidic term (achar feadha’s feadh achair, which the dictionary explains is “untranslatable”) for what quantum physics now tells us about gravity; that it is not a force of attraction but a curvature in the fabric of space-time.

The bleakest months

In winter’s bleakest dark-day months
when winds whip in from churning briny sea
and wraith-clouds storm and race each other –
grey shades scudding o’er ragged countryside –
ravens soar and call for war into the solitary void;

when only rocks will shelter sheep from rain,
tumbled down through browning gorse and broom,
still stonefenced pastures hold their brilliant green
from white-dressed hills down to steely waves,
and fog-kissed leaves sparkle in the gloam;

Those cruel months would call me out to stand,
hands skyward,
to watch and feel and breathe the power of the land.



The cruelest months, I find, are the most beautiful. NaPoWriMo day 4.