August 27, 2008

Singing for the ancestors

After Jim’s first Irish breakfast (mine too, but not substantially different from and English breakfast), I presented him with his pilgrimage present – a magnetic sign I’d had made for the car door that read: In Search of George Tanner. Jim & Sandy’s Irish Ancestry Tour 2008”. I thought he might have thought it tacky, but he was chuffed!
We headed off towards the town of Roscommon to get a bead on the local area. According to the Griffiths Valuations of 1848, the Roscommon/Longford area is one of the two most likely locations in Ireland (the other is county Tyrone) that our ancestrors might have come from. Along the way, we found everything charming (especially Jim who even liked the blue metal storage sheds by the side of a barn) and were particularly drawn to old, ruined farmhouse/barn structures, wondering if they are in any way similar - or (against all reason) perhaps the very structures our ancestors may have inhabited.
Along the way, Jim spotted a sign for St. Patrick’s Well (just outside Athleague) and said, “Let’s go THERE!” so we turned up the road (in what was to be the first of many unplanned adventures) and drove a few miles - all the way to the end of the road – where another sign for St Patrick’s well pointed us back the way we’d come. We turned around and again came to the other end before spotting anything. Neither of us was in a hurry to get anywhere particular and we both wanted to find the well, so we turned and headed up the road again and I was just about to suggest that we park the car and walk up and down the road, when Jim said, “There it is”. Sure enough, and not really all that difficult to spot, was a beautiful clearing with 2 huge (and I’d guess ancient) Yew trees. The first part of the clearing was well maintained and contained a small well presided over by a statue of St Patrick as well as a number of other shrines - a small one to the virgin, another featuring Jesus on the cross, another one a sort of plastic encased image (of something now indecipherable) hanging from a tree.

Beyond them all was (for me and most certainly it would seem, for Jim) was the place of real magic: an ancient well under a giant and spreading yew tree. Covered in moss and surrounded by a tangle of overgrowth, it was a quiet and deep place that caught Jim’s attention immediately. He said later that it had almost felt as if he was being drawn there.

He sat by the well for several minutes and then asked me if we had any food we could use for an offering. I got a bag of mixed seeds, dried berries and nuts from the car and Jim offered prayers to the five directions and to the ancestors for their guidance and help.He then sang a traditional song about the Irish experience of the famine - of being impoverished and driven from their homeland by starvation and desperation. Given that our ancestors left Ireland sometime during the 1840’s (the height of the famine), Jim’s song very well could define their very experience and by the end of it, I was in tears: feeling very connected to the place and what happened to the people there. He finished his impromtu ceremony with a Lakota song – which brought on even more tears.

When he finished, Jim saw I was crying and walked over and put his arm around my shoulder. I had no words.


Katie and Emir said...

That Jim is one cool cat, I like him already. I would have cried too!

Hope your nova scotia adventure yields us a holiday home! xxxk

Max, Ebbie and the Fuzzheads said...

Thats really cool. Glad you guys had such a fun and profound time together, not that its a huge suprise, seeing as Jim isn't exactly a slouch on the fun-scale.