April 8, 2018
As I prepare to depart for Ireland, my 14th tour with an added 4 solo pilgrimages, all since 1998, I am often asked, “What compels you to return to Ireland so frequently?” The answer it that Ireland is the land of my soul and an integral part of my ancestry. Something comes alive in me there that I can’t quite name. Ireland has a way of getting into me.
I’ve also discovered that those who travel with me to Ireland on tours (for people who would never go on a tour), something comes alive in them as well. An elderly woman comes to mind, walking into the remnants of an ancient cathedral and suddenly bursting into tears. Later she was able to express that she had a sudden and profound memory around the loss of a child, many years before. I wonder how many Irish women mourned their children in that same cathedral?
I remember a middle-aged man taking his 80 year old mother on a tour. I did not know until the last day of the tour that she had one leg, and it didn’t stop her. She turned 80 during the tour and we threw her a wee surprise party. Same with a girl who turned 13 while on a tour. Makes me wonder how many Irish people immigrated to the U.S., never again celebrating a birthday with loved ones.
Then there was a woman in search of a crow feather. To her surprise it arrived in the form of a crow carcass, long dead, feathers still intact. The eye contact we made in that moment is still with me. It is her story to tell, not mine. Because of her, I relish receiving crow/raven feathers while I’m journeying about.
Another woman found herself one day in a constant flow of unexplained tears. This while we were roaming about the wild and romantic Connemara region, one of the hardest hit areas of the potato feminine. Was she feeling the feelings of families torn apart by hunger and death?
One woman who has traveled with me to Ireland 3 times found herself leaving the group for a bit to tend to a health need. In the one hour away from us, she encountered one of the premiere Irish scholars. They enjoyed a lively conversation. Mischief was afoot!
My own first call to Ireland was because of my mother’s only regret before she died in 1997. “I never did get to Ireland,” she said with a sigh. I told her I would go for her one day. There I was, on the one-year anniversary of her death, stepping into the ritual site at Newgrange. My world changed. It continues to change with every journey to Ireland.
I am a guide, not a scholar or teacher. I deliver people to sites and invite them to have their own experience. The land and landscapes of Ireland, and her people and critters, are our true guides. It will be so again this year with my 14 travelers. I will likely post daily photos on Facebook and write a follow up upon my return. If you are so inclined, we welcome your prayers for safe, timely and joyful travels to, around, and home from Ireland.
Kathleen, Daughter of Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern