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.



I am walking through a steady rain, the steely evening lit by the glowing reds and golds of fall’s colour display.

I feel the magic of this life, a quickening of the heart, an uplifting.

I pass under a bridge’s pale, soaring arches and its lights turn on, one at a time, matching me step-for-step:


In the midst of a life messy with family and work and responsibility, this moment feels like the perfected scene of a movie.


I don’t want it to stop. I feel I could walk for hours. And so I do.

Dreaming, I let fall all expectation, all requirement, all responsibility.

Dreaming, I walk in a twilight that hangs between day and night,


I make turns without thinking, following curiosity, letting whim form my path.

Until, rousing myself, I find myself facing my front door.


Life has been flying past me lately. Or rather, I have been flying through life. I recently spent close to three weeks on difficult negotiations at the UN in New York (New York, where everything moves on hyperdrive anyway), working long, lunch-less days, only to return home and continue working on the same negotiations from here, with the same hours.

My son, meanwhile, has been at camp for five weeks, with one more week to go. I miss him all the time, but this weekend I missed him something crazy. I found out yesterday that he’d been feeling homesick over the weekend, too. When we got to speak and I told him he was better off up in the great Canadian wilderness than being in the city while I worked, he was silent for a moment then said, “But Mum, you should be enjoying your summer!” Oh yeah, summer. Quite right. I remember what summer is like…

But there’s much important work to do, work I believe in, and anyway, it’s preferable to keep busy while he’s away.

Of course, when you’re tired and stressed and overwhelmed and missing a part of your soul, all the negative is magnified and everything feels bigger, worse, more dire. So in the end, working more probably isn’t the answer.

If I can catch myself when everything becomes too overwhelming, when it all moves too fast and I feel as though I might drown, I try to focus on the small, delicate details of the world around me. I remember how aware I was as a child, how intimately I knew the flowers of a specific plant, the terrain of the earth beneath it, the patterns of its leaves. How I followed and memorized the veins of quartz cutting through granite. Or the positions of the stars in the summer sky.

This weekend, disillusioned and overwhelmed and brain-tired, I went out to weed, to reconnect with nature and escape all the words and all the screens, and this memory of my childhood familiarity with the world came back to me. I sat down in the path, got as close as I could to the plant beside me, and looked. I forgot everything else. My world shrank down to the size of the plant – variegated leaves, pink flowers, knobbly bumps of earth and mulch beneath. Briefly, I let that feeling of childhood wash over me. I tried to hold onto it but, after 40 years, it’s elusive. Perhaps it takes practice.

Later, as I sat on our rooftop deck and let my gaze sink into the indigo sky of evening, a plane cut across my line of sight. Small, toy-like. The sun glinted off it, turning it copper, polished, bright. The expansiveness of the sky, the minute plane, and I, smaller still. I felt again the way I had in the garden. Real. Small. Connected to something concrete.

When life is flying past, whether we let it because it’s easier than stopping and feeling, whether it takes over because of factors beyond our control, the best thing we can do is reach out and take hold of something, anything. Reach out and hold on – to the flowers, the trees, the earth, the stars. Let them slow the spinning, if only for a moment. Let them bring you back, bring you down, let them ground you.

Remember to look around, then. Stop thinking and instead, feel.


Over stormy seas

The words don’t come when the mind is bound
when feelings are tossed and thrown around
on unseen seas

The currents swirl
alive with jolts –
is this lightening
or dark, hidden creatures shot through with electric sparks?

Above, the moon shines full
serene, all knowing
she betrays nothing of the churn below
benevolent, ageless
she waits for this, too, to pass

She has watched the ebb and flow of the human heart
for long enough to see the patterns
for long enough to know
everything changes —
even this.

The secret of fireflies

The sky presses down on me
its clouds glowing white
shift restlessly against the blue
always encroaching
but in this hidden garden you’ve built for us
the sky passes overhead
like a movie thread
distant, it disappears out of sight
here I am free to pause
to consider the black and orange beetles
fluttering between leaves –
ungainly, until I discover they are fireflies
although less magical in daylight
their secret bewitches
and at this I sway, drunk on dark thoughts
and lost in an imaginary wind
that whips down out of some other world