Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lough Derg Revisited

Ok, now that some of the holy madness has worn off, I must confess (ahem) that I had a few "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here" moments on (in?) St Patrick's Purgatory, the other name for Lough Derg or Station Island. The most hilarious had to be that Friday night, trying to catch up on the mega 'stations' because we arrived on the late boat. My pal and I were out in the rain and the dark and the swarms of carnivorous midges, circling the stony beds in our bare feet. At one point I was down on the lakeshore, kneeling on a block of stone, hunched over a drenched pamphlet trying to read the Creed in the dim light because I didn't know it by heart (yet), rain lashing down, midges eating the face off me and one part of my brain saying "what the @#& am I doing here?" and another part saying "I'm going to finish this if it @#&'n kills me." And even though she was suffering equally behind me, my pal Berry got a fit of giggles at the state of me. I was like one of the tormented souls in purgatory. "I wished I'd had a camera," she told me later. Oh yeah and can you believe purgatory is still part of the Catholic canon? I was sure it had gone the way of limbo, but apparently not. And no one can get out of the place unless someone else intervenes and prays for them. Imagine believing the universe is that badly organised? Children of a lesser god, for sure. Though I happily practise many a religion (love the communal and ritual aspects), I am a firm believer in the Vedic philosophy of the Cosmic Game in which we are all aspects of the Divine engaged in Play, experiencing all the beauty and horror of life ... because we choose to. That said, I'm still planning to revisit Lough Derg next year.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Laudete Sanctam Insulam!

I have done a lot of weird and wonderful things in my day, but St Patrick's Purgatory on the island of Lough Derg definitely ranks up there with the best of them. It was an utterly amazing experience. The fasting, the sleep deprivation, the bare feet and sore knees on ancient stones of penitential beds, the midges, the suffering, the rattle of Rosary beads, the constant circling and praying out loud (I can whizz through the Our Father, Hail Mary & Creed at a mighty rate now), that first cup of tea after a day fasting, that first bite of dried toast, that first spraying of the head with insecticide by a kind fellow pilgrim who knew the ropes, the Taizé chants by candlelight in the Basilica, the golden ciborium of Benediction, the first soft sleep after 38 hours awake - ahhhhhh. And did I mention the Harry Clarke windows? I had only just started to read a book about him last week and there they were before me, a gift from the gods! (See Book Blog.) I nearly fainted with ecstasy, worshipping at the jewelled feet of his exquisite figures. (I have many gods and one of them is Art.) Below, you can see the boat that took us to the island, the penitential beds (remains of mediaeval monastic beehive huts which we circled and knelt in, praying continuously) and the stone blocks down by the lakeshore where we prayed some more, while being eaten alive by midges. (Those lads have been feasting on pilgrims for over a thousand years!) We said decades of the Rosary all through the night, circling the Basilica inside and out. (All that circling is definitely pre-Christian.) And throughout the time there, we went barefoot over grass and pavement and stone. I am still feeling the good effects physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I'm definitely going back next year!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lough Derg & Rosary Beads

I've spoken about my upcoming pilgrimage to Lough Derg in my Book Blog, as this is research for my new book as well as something that's been on my Bucket List for years. I'll be heading up to Sligo first, to stop at Finn's Dad's place ( where he's going to interview me before I head off on Friday morning. He's doing a documentary on Lough Derg and he wants to interview someone before and after they go. (I'm always game to be filmed.) I've almost finished packing and now I must go collect all my Rosary Beads. I've got gorgeous blue ones that Finn brought me from Spain, glow-in-the-dark green ones for night prayers which I found in the pocket of a Donegal Tweed coat I bought in Oxfam, and another antique pair with aquamarine stones that I think belonged to an old lady friend of my mother's. I'm in favour of a return to the fashion of wearing Rosary Beads as jewellery. Most Roman Catholics would feel insulted if they saw anyone wearing them, but the truth is they were originally worn, particularly in the Middle Ages, around the neck and around the waist. Other religions wear their prayer beads, why can't Catholics?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Thin Lizzy - Dancing in the Moonlight

Ahhhhh, memories of my plukey youth. This man is a beauty (those legs go on forever) and one of the people I had in mind when I described Finvarra. So sad that heroin, a big thing in Dublin, got the better of him.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Saga Dawa

Also known as Wesak or the Buddha's Birthday or Buddha Day. I will be heading off to Jampa Ling to celebrate same this Sunday. Alas after gorgeous sunny days that turned this country into a Happy Place despite the recession, the weather forecast is for rain. This may prevent an outdoor fire puja, but hopefully not. As usual at Jampa Ling - a fine big country house in Co. Cavan - we have puja and prayers presided over by our dear Venerable Panchen Otrul Rinpoche whose own birthday we celebrated two weeks ago in a big marquee (here's a pic from that day.) After puja we have a communal feast to which everyone brings food and then we have an Irish hooley where people sing, dance, tell stories or recite poems. At the Rinpoche's birthday party there were trad musicians including the great Tommy Hayes, bodhran player with Stockton's Wing. In a dream come true for me, I danced a reel to his drumming as well as the fine music of a fiddle player. Heaven. Or should I say, Nirvana. For more info on Jampa Ling see