Geopark Ghosts

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New month and another inspirating jaunt out with fellow creatives on Cavan Council’s Ancient and Wild project. Journeying with the Cavan Arts Officer, we met in a remote corner in the southwest of the county. At Trinity Island we contemplated place and its impact on people, as well as the function of memory and time, and how all interplay in creating art in all genres. This project seeks to explore the relationship of artistic expression and the unique landscape of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, which straddles the Cavan/Fermanagh region.    And, as well, the subject of ghosts and haunting cropped up in conversaton.

Trinity Island is an watery outpost as the rim of the geological ribbed moraine, the largst on the planet.  A causeway links it to drier, higher ground.  Privately owned by the O’Dowd family, who steward this heritage site, we viewed the ruins of its Abbey and learned of its long history of humans inhabiting this space.

Trinity Island

Trinity Island Abbey was one of three abbeys in this ancient landscape. Founded by the Premonstratensian order of monks, it was a daughter house of the Abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Key, Co. Roscommon.  Tom O’Dowd describes them as ‘White Canons’. The ‘White Fathers’ or Augustininians had their Abbey in nearby Drumlane. Elsewhere in the Geopark Augustinians had an Abbey in the middle of Lough Erne at Devenish Island; they also give their name to the White Fathers Cave in Blacklion, West Cavan.

Trinity Island Abbey

With their white cowls it is little wonder that the lady who was the solitary congregant at Mass in the ruins of the Abbey one wild Christmas morning mistook a ghost for a real priest. Tom was told by another priest that if one of the ordained died before saying a Mass for a Special Intention that sometimes their souls suffer from a guilty conscience. And they come back looking to fulfill their promise. Because the lady could find no mortal priest who had journeyed out into that Christmas storm to say Mass that morning.

The other Abbey in the area was a remnant of the Celtic Catholic tradition that was subsumed after the Whitby Synod in CE654. So the Trinity Island area had three abbeys all within a short paddle along the tributaries of Lough Oughter.

The O’Dowds have uncovered various archaelogical treasures over the years, which have been whisked to the secure haven of the National Museum. Replicas of finds are given to the landowners and we were shown a Celtic cloak pin and a stone face of a man circa 700BCE.

We had thought provoking talks by artist Patricia McKenna and musicologist/musician Sean McElwaine exploring the interplay between landscape and art and music.  Sean also introduced me to new Irish trad band The Gloaming. Check out a sample of their work on You Tube, which includes the haunting fiddle of Martin Hayes, here.The Gloaming.

But what haunts me is that long jawed, wide, generous smile on the face of a man sculpted sometime more than 1,300 years ago. The horizontal lines across his cheeks might have been facial tattoos.  Which might have been interpretted as fierce. The weathering over time has given him a bit of a cauliflower nose, but this man looks more of a lover than a fighter. That smile speaks to me of an ancestor preeminantly happy and confident in his own skin. I would have been happy to know him and imagine him living close to the water and fenland. Perhaps he carved the wooden boat, or cot as it is called, discovered in the Trinity Lough’s mud. It was resubmerged, unlike this visage who smiles out at us from the ages.  He thrived. Possibly his descendents survived. I hope so. Who would not want to descend from such a Happy Cavan Man? Whatever his personal story, that face shines out, immortalising our ancestors long before they began to document the story.

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At Home With Heritage

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This summer I have been participating in a Cavan County Council Artists in the Geopark project. Musicians, animators, a ceramicist, visual and landscape artists, and writers have been viewing various sites within Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark as a touchstone for individual projects. The wider project is the brain child of the Cavan County Arts, Heritage, Tourism and Geopark officers, and is a a great example of how imaginative an interdisciplinary approach can be, especially when it comes to supporting the arts.

For those of you who may wonder what the heck a geopark is then, in brief – UNESCO recognises certain regions around this good earth as having a unique international significance for their natural, geological features, as well as ‘built’ heritage. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was the first cross-border Global Geopark, in the world. Its sites extend from Louth Melvin on the Donegal boundary, through a swathe of south Fermanagh, onwards east through to mid-County Cavan. Cavan is the location of the world’s largest ribbed moraine on the planet. You can only see it from an aerial view, but it gets geologists seriously excited.

Of course, the land formed the people and the people made the built heritage. So this week I had a date with twelve other artists at Corravahan House near Drung, County Cavan. It is an example of how people used local materials to create homes of both beauty and utility. Formerly a rectory built in 1840 by a Reverend Beresford on a career trajectory toward the Archbishopric of Armagh (which is as good as it can get for a Church of Ireland clergyman), Corrovahan House is a building full of grace, as well as full of individual quirks from its succession of owners.

It is Heritage Week here in Ireland. This part of Ireland breathes an ancient and wild heritage. But it also domesticated itself, a bit like my semi-feral cat Felix. Home comforts are welcome, but there is always an air of the wildish about him. Corravahan House encompasses how there is practical adaptation of a house to social context and status, but  how it also includes certain whimsicalities that are very individual to the people who inhabited its space. While Corravahan House is part of Irish Heritage Homes and is open to the public for sixty days each year, it remains a family home with much evidence of the current layer of heritage archaelogy being built up.

I am also a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark local guide. When I am showing certain archaelogical sites in Cavan Burren Forest I like to imagine how it was to live in that ancient time. There is a particular glacial erratic split by neolithic inhabitants. Archaelogists reckon it was a project to create a capstone for a dolmen. But plans went awry when it split at an unprojected seam.  The remains are proximal to hut site foundations. I always feel sympathy for the husband who had to have the remains of his DIY disaster in the backyard for an eternity. Literally. Possibly having to listen to his wife kvetch about it, too.

In Cavan you have many opportunities to see the layer of human interaction with landscape. You can see it in carefully conserved homes like Corravahan House. But you can also see it in relict landscapes like the Cavan Burren Park, where there was continuous human habitation from the earliest human arrivals in Ireland, right up to when Coillte, the Forestry Commission took over when the last farmer retired.  Thousands of year, eons even, have all wondrously brought us to this place.

I feel fortunate, blessed and humbled, to have had a walk on part in its ever unfolding story. Meanwhile, I need to get back to my own project. I am editting, revising and collecting my own Geopark inspired writing from over the years living here. Watch this space.

 

 

 

Writer Displacement Activity

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Into every writer’s life comes the siren call of distraction and diversion from the page or screen, from crappy first draft to the editting of Version7.docx.  Suddenly, there is a pressing need to groom the cat, to separate out the recycling bin under the sink.  Don’t talk to me about social media either, it is both friendly diversion and foe-like distraction in the digital age. It’s called displacement activity and it is all about not wanting to face imperfection, failure, one’s own un-original face.

Actors have a (probably underserved) reputation as being the divas of The Arts. But I will tell you, the Pity Party that I can throw in my head makes them look like Am-Dram Night. It all goes on in my busy brain and my husband is wise to it.  Duly noted, it disrupts the brutal, flagellistic pleasure of the Pity Party. Witnessing becomes a form of diversion, but in a healthy way.

It’s at these creative/artistic self-loathing times that I turn to Anne Lamott, she whose father told her brother to take it ‘bird by bird.’ In other words, when you are overwhelmed by the big picture of a project just take it one digestable task at a time.

Her TED talk pep talk can be found at:

Sometimes you need the Pity Party, to vent your Poor Pitiful Pearl (a doll that my aunt owned, but my mother used to conjure up when cajoling me out of a sulk.), to confront your ugly. This, too, is a displacement activity. While Pity Partying and Poor Pitiful Pearling there is no writing happening. Because it is all no use! Pointless! No one loves my words!

In the same video Lamott gives us several pearls of her own wisdom now she is 61. I am approaching my 61st birthday in three months and I would add just one of my own to the pot.

You can be guilty of really heinous acts, imperfect behaviour, distrastrous decisions and be good right at your core and it can still shine through. That the last one to forgive anyone of those actions is the one who perpetrates them. That what Lamott calls radical self-care is compassion for oneself and is forgiving what feels unforgiveable.

Sometimes this compassion requires a change of scenery. Sometimes it comes in absolute silence. Sometimes it arrives with a really hearty laugh at one’s foibles, posturings, the ego-driven folly of it all.

Then I can come back to the page, the pen or the screen. It is smooth and virginally blank of words.  It has the requisite line spacing that soothes my faint heart. My special pen (writers are also deeply superstitious, not just actors) is to hand. Then it doesn’t matter if I am sitting at home with the dogs all around me, or in a cafe, or even in a bus shelter jotting down some lines before I forget them. It is time to let the words flow out onto the page, my particular or peculiar, imperfect way of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling about this, that and the other thing.

That latter is often the distraction, the diversion and can turn out to be compassion, too. Compassion that is for all of us who are both guilty and good in large and infinitesimal ways.

Creation relies on womb-like darkness and dark places can be scary. But there is light at the end of the birth canal. There is light at the source, too, that navigates the darkness.

Even displacement activity eventually finds its way back home in darkness and light.

Art in the Geopark

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Over this summer I am participating in a project initiated by various Cavan County officers – the Arts officer, Catriona O’Reilly, Heritage officer Anne Marie Ward, and the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark Cavan link officer, Grainne O’Connor.  The project brings artists from all mediums to various Geopark sites where the built and natural heritage will be wellsprings of inspiration. So it was that a dozen or so artists and writers gathered on Summer Solstice.

There are many types of visual artist represented – film, installation, ceramics, painting in various media. There is a musician, as well as poets and storyteller. By early autumn there will be a large body of work that has the landscape of Fermanagh and Cavan as both cornerstone and touchstone.

What is a geopark? Well, it’s a UNESCO designation and recognition of a region’s outstanding international significance for both the built and natural heritage that makes it a global treasure worth conserving and preserving. The Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was the first international, cross border geopark in the world. It straddles much of south Fermnagh in Northern Ireland and a swathe of central and west Cavan in the Republic of Ireland.

The limestone geology defines much of the geopark. The dozen artists and writers visited Templeport’s St. Mogue’s Island, Cavan Burren Forest Park and Claddagh Glen on summer solstice. And more inspiration will follow in August.

Walking down leafy, calm Claddagh Glen I overheard two artists’ conversation. “I just love what you do with blues!” “Oh, but you have such mossy greens.” It made me wonder that artists are a kind and complimentary species of maker. I can’t imagine poets complimenting enjambement or elegant line endings!

This is an old poem of mine, but it is straight up versification inspired by a turlough in Cavan Burren, now known as Tullygubban Lough. There is a legend of a fairy horse associated with it. This is my telling.

Cautionary (Fairy) Tale

Young women, beware handsome men

with slicked back watery hair, ken

their fetching grins that show a lot of teeth.

For once in your ever young lives

defer to those older and more wise

who can read the reality beneath.

Handsome men that go wandering lough side,

all snake hipped swagger in full lust cry,

need heeding . Fleet foot yourself away!

For once in your ever young lives

defer to those older and more wise.

Head for home without further delay!

Handsome men wandering lough side

often lure with kisses and love sighs,

tempting young women to get carried away.

Yet at least once in your young lives

defer to those older and more wise.

Don’t yield and be led well astray.

Handsome men with their slicked back, watery hair

have a habit of making young women care.

Don’t be fooled – he’ll have you at his call and his beck.

Please for once in your ever young lives

defer to those older and more wise.

That devill’ll shake your life clear off its track.

That handsome man will turn to faerie beast.

That stallion will seek you for his own mortal feast.

He’ll love you. He’ll lave you but never’ll leave you.

So for  Heaven’s sake of your ever young lives

would you not defer to those older and more wise

who’d save you from riding to your doom.

For the skin turned water horse has only one true enclave.

Tullygubban Lough will always be his current consort’s grave.

© Bee Smith 2011

Finding Your Purpose

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When I began to write this blog back in 2014, the purpose was to document the progress of a creative writing program sponsered by Cavan Arts office with EU funding. A group of us spent a week at the Arvon Foundation’s Centre at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, and a week in Manchester. Once back in Cavan it was time to give back to the community. (Thank you, taxpayers!)  Cavan’s Office of Social Inclusion asked if I would be willing to give a workshop in the nearby Open Prison, Loughan House. I said yes. And that has made all the differance.

Purpose, at least for me, is linked to a sense of vocation. After facilitating two workshops at Loughan House,  I realised I had a passion for working with beginner creative writers. They are inspiring examples of ‘first thought, best thought.’ I had facilitated a few workshops in a past lifetime when I lived in England. But I was still too uncertain of myself then. My boat was pretty rocky and the sea rolled beneath me.  Cavan living has been good ballast to my boat.

What is such a privelage in working with beginners, whether they are living ‘inside’ or out, is communing with virtual strangers on a soul level.So my passion and purpose unite when I lead these workshops. They may be called ‘poetry workshops’ or ‘creative writing’, but really they are held spaces where the participant can listen to that still, small voice inside and begin to record what their soul wishes to speak.  I have worked with women only, men only, young people, literacy challenged, Travellers, the settled and everything in between. They all shine on the page as they (metaphorically speaking) clear their throat and tell the story of their soul journey.

I recently posted about a workshop I facilitated at the Wise Woman Ireland Weekend last month.  Last week the feedback sheet comments popped up in my email Inbox. Here’s a sampling:

  • A wonderful workshop given by an amazing women. Got over my anxieties and learned some great tools Thank You Bee.
  • Bee is very patient and caring,her workshop inspiring. I can write a poem.
  • Fabulous got so much out of it.
  • I actually ended up in the wrong workshop, but it was the right one for me. I got a lot from the writing exercise and finding my omen Thank You Bee.
  • I wrote 3 poems fantastic energy!
  • Really lovely! A lot of thought and energy had gone in to creating it. Facilitator very responsive and able to handle what came up with gentleness and attentiveness.
  • Nice structure for us newbies.
  • I really needed this workshop it was the reason I came I know this now. Thank you so much.

In 2015 I was accepted on to the Irish Arts Council’s Writers in Prison panel. Prison work isn’t for everyone, but I have witnessed a great deal of soul getting a buffing up in a workshop. I love these guys even though I am aware that they have done harm. They are often vulnerable in their writing, so doubly brave given their circumstances.

This poem appears in my collection “Brigid’s Way: Reflections on the Celtic Divine Feminine.” (The Celtic goddess Brigid presided over justice.)

For the Lads at Loughan House

The poems always start outside.

The lough is a wind rippled plain,

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

Matt blue sky forms another side,

Slant of October’s light a golden vein.

The poems always start outside.

 

Starlings scythe the sky then abruptly divide.

Loneliness could drive a soul insane.

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

A way to be free. A place to abide.

The dock stops here. With that I have no complaint.

The poems always start outside.

 

Freedom is a grace, just as the swan pair glides.

Time well spent is eternity’s gain.

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

Behind and beyond no escaping  inside;

A way to be free, the words are that golden vein.

The poems always start outside.

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

© Bee Smith 2015

Writing isn’t about fame or fortune. It’s about these precious moments of being. Also, those precious moments of being shared with others as they break through into that state of excitement when the words and emotions meet on a page, the elation of finding voice.

It’s a Wise Woman That Knows Omens

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“Go forth and make poetry,” I proclaimed at the end of my creative writing workship at the 2017 Wise Woman Ireland Weekend.  This year’s gathering of wise women was at Newgrange where we were able to view both the Brú and Dowth from the field beside our accommodation.  The Boyne meandered on the opposite side of the road. The theme for this Bealtaine Wise Woman Weekend was Passion, Purpose and Purity. All very timely and seasonal for the Celtic wheel of the year.

On Sunday morning ten women from around Ireland joined me on a hunt for omens and auguries using symbol and metaphor.  By the end of the two and a half-hour workshop several women had completed their very first poem.

I set us the task of creating a Treble Elevenie  using the themes Passion, Purpose and Purity as either the beginning or concluding line of the elevenie.

Nightdress

Black lace

Starlight and moondust

With body I worship

Passion

***

Connect

The points

Let magic begin

Tricking around with words

Purpose

***

Being

An urn

Complete in itself

Scenes from a life

Purity

***

Over the course of the weekend I attended two other ‘word’ workshops. In one there was a collective poem created using the ‘cut up’ method.  In the other we looked at lines of poetry in a deeply spiritual context and how it resonated within.

And did I get an omen? Yes, of a sort. But I won’t say exactly what it was, but it is summed up in this quotation from Rumi

May the beauty of what you love be what you do.

I love this writing life. I love living in Ireland. I love the deep nurture of nature and living deep in the silence and solitude of wildish West Cavan. I love how the land speaks. It makes me a wise woman and a very grateful one, too.

Day 4 NaPoWriMo

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Today’s challenge; “write a poem with a secret – in other words, a poem with a word or idea or line that it isn’t expressing directly.” As usual, the titling was a bear!

Taking Tea in Liberty

 

Taking Tea in Liberty

 

 Let’s lay the tea things

On the tray, shall we?

Speak of this, but never that

Keep our cards tucked in Daddy’s drawer

 

Let’s talk of granny’s silver sugar prongs

But not the rise and fall

Of all our futures

Speak of this, but never that

 

How was your journey? Shall I be mother?

You still take sugar?

Speak of this, but never that

How was your weather?

 

See this hallmark stamped

On the saucer’s bottom?

A wedding gift from my Uncle Tom

Speak the speech, but just not yet

 

Leaving so soon? What a shame.

My dear, Your taxi’s here.

Speak soon. We’re on the phone

Safe journey. Safe home.