Today you can buy an airline, rail, or bus ticket for travel at any time of the year. Winter snowstorms, Spring tornados, or Fall hurricanes may disrupt your plans, but the odds are good you’re going to make it just fine. It wasn’t always so.
The weather impacted our trip to Ireland and Wales, but most of it fell under the category of minor annoyances. Cold? Add another layer. Rain? Wool hats and hooded jackets work wonders. Rough seas have the ferries running late? Nap on the ship and catch up on sleep when you get home.
That changed at Lough Gur. There were heavy rains and high winds all day. One of our taxi drivers said it was the worst rain he had seen in 15 years. Now, that doesn’t compare to being stuck at the airport for three days – much less at the Donner Pass for six months – but it gave us a clear choice: miss out on some places we really wanted to see, or put up with being cold and wet, and take a chance on something else happening too.
We decided to go anyway.
Lough Gur is a lake about 13 miles south of Limerick. Around the lake are the ruins of a Norman castle, a Bronze Age wedge tomb, the largest stone circle in Ireland, and the Lough Gur Heritage Centre. The Heritage Centre has some small exhibits, a few books for sale, and – most important on this day – an authentic thatched roof that does not leak.
The guided tour normally begins at the stone circle, but because of the weather we started at the Heritage Centre. That let our guide do her “talky bits” inside rather than outside.
Then we went out in search of the Gates of Tír na nÓg.
The Gates of Tír na nÓg
Tír na nÓg is one of the names of the Otherworld. Legend has it that a cave in the side of a hill overlooking Lough Gur is one of four entrances in Ireland. Cyn had arranged for our guide to take us there. She took us around the lake, pointed up the hill, and said “just follow that path.”
The rain had eased up a bit, so we started trying to climb the hill. Apparently this isn’t a popular tourist stop – the path was pretty much overgrown and it wasn’t clear which way we should go. Every time we thought we had found it, we realized we hadn’t.
The phrase “pixie led” came to mind…
Then we looked up and saw our guide – whose name was Aine, a name she let us know she shares with a faerie queen – standing above us and to our right. “You’ll never find it if you don’t know where it is.” We had to go back down about half way to get around a thicket, then climb up a steep and muddy path. Sacrifices were demanded: thorns ripped clothes and took blood. But with the help of Aine, we found the cave.
From a mundane perspective, the cave is rather ordinary. It has a low entrance but a high roof, and it’s not very deep. But go inside and it becomes apparent that this is a special place… and not a particularly welcoming place. We made offerings, took a few pictures, then headed down.
Going down a steep muddy hill is harder than going up, at least if you want to stay on your feet. We managed.
The stone circle
For all the ancient and powerful caves and tombs we visited, I feel most at home in stone circles. I know, I know – the Druids didn’t build any stone circles. They had been built and abandoned long before Celtic culture and Druidry arrived in Ireland and Britain. But I have to think the ancient Druids used the stone circles for something (how could they not?), and we know the Revival Druids made extensive use of them.
With the delays due to the rain and our trouble finding the Gates of Tír na nÓg, we were running out of Aine’s time. We only had time for one more stop – we chose the stone circle.
By the time we got there the wind and rain had reached its worst. We took what shelter we could in the lee of the largest tree and the largest stone, while Aine described the archaeology of the place. We were pretty miserable. When she finished her talk, she went back to her car and left us to explore the circle on our own.
I wanted to make three loops of the circle, like I did at the Ring of Brodgar in 2016. I made the first loop quickly, making offerings and saying prayers along the way. I made the second loop even faster, shooting as many pictures as I could. That turned out to be a mistake – my camera stopped working shortly afterwards, presumably from the rain. As I write this, it’s on its way to the repair center. Hopefully it can be fixed for a reasonable amount.
I wanted to make a third circuit slowly and deliberately, but I could tell everyone else had already had all the wind and rain they could handle. I was committed to doing what I needed to do, and I knew they would stay for me for as long as I asked, but I didn’t want to ask them to stay one minute longer than necessary.
Facing the wind and rain
I moved into the center of the circle and faced the entrance, which also happened to be the direction of the wind. It was not pleasant.
I said a series of short prayers to the Gods and spirits of the place, and to those who brought me there. And as I finished, I heard several of Their voices together saying
This is an ordeal and you are enduring it. Good. But this ordeal will be over in a few minutes. Are you willing to do what must be done in the days and weeks to come? It will not be so cold and wet, but it will be just as trying, and it will not be over so quickly.
I have some assignments with rather tight due dates (yes, another book is one of them). I’ve been warned that by mid-year my devotions will have to become even more committed than they already are. I have some other work that is of critical importance and its success is far from guaranteed. And I still have a paying job and all the ordinary challenges of ordinary life to deal with.
But just as the rain and wind – bad as they were – were ultimately annoyances and distractions to be overcome, so too are these deeper and more serious challenges. There is work that must be done, and once again I am being called to do it. So are some others.
Your path is not my path – unless it is
It is no great accomplishment to stand outside in a driving rain, in a stone circle or anywhere else. Any devotion is good devotion, and you should commit to the level your Gods and spirits request and that seems right to you, not to the level that seems right to me or anyone else. Trials and suffering can be transformative in the context of a proper ordeal, but they are simply bad things to be avoided otherwise.
This is not a call to action. This is my story of my journey, and of the journey of those who are walking it with me. Make of it what you will and nothing more.
But at Lough Gur in a driving rain, I was asked for a commitment. I said yes.
Gods help me, I said yes.