Grocery shopping this afternoon...there was a huge amount of snow left lying about, especially on the Ox mountains and Crough Patrick...looked very pretty actually. You 've heard of Crough Patrick haven't you? The mountain that St. Patrick sat on for weeks...then he threw a bell off the top and it's been a site of Christian pilgrimage ever since. The mountain used to belong to the Pagans of course, but the Christians nicked it.
And they stole all the special wells that used to belong to ancient gods...even the one in the village which has 'cursing stones' on the wall behind the well...they're called 'prayer stones' now and they've been cemented in because somebody filched one and put it in their garden. It's been dedicated to St.Attracta who was one of St. Patrick's followers...the water is supposed to cure the rickets and warts.
A bit further up the narrow lane from the well is Tommy's Sallie garden...Tommy is an elderly man who makes baskets...beautiful baskets...he's won awards in shows in Dublin. The Sallie garden is where he grows all kinds of different willows for his lovely baskets. And across the facing field is a much ruined portal tomb...the sort that have enormous cap stones placed perilously on the top of two or three surrounding stones...it's fallen over though and hardly discernible anymore.
If you go straight past St Attracta's well you come to a circular graveyard...still in use today. And it's in here that you'll find a slab of concrete which covers the top of a deep drop into a tunnel or souterainn. It travels under the graveyard...under the road...through some woods...until it comes out at the edge of the stone fort. That end has been blocked up as well but Christina...you remember Christina, the Swedish lady...she went down into the souterainn and crawled on her hands and knees from one end to the other. Before the council decided to block it up of course.
It is said...though it's probably just a story...that the souterainn branches off and another end comes up in the kitchen of Coolavin Hall...quite why Neolithic people would be wanting to emerge in a 19th century kitchen, heaven only knows...
I'd only intended to tell about St Attracta...she set up a hospice about five miles away for travellers and people of the road...her fellows were the daughters of wealthy merchants and landowners who had taken a vow of poverty and chastity...that place is now a graveyard and is set in the middle of fields...although it's beside a main road, it's a lonely and bleak sort of place. We went once to record some gravestones and the entire area gave me the shivers... there isn't a single stone left of the hospice itself...not even lines of the old walls in the surrounding grass.
Right at the very top of the graveyard are just a couple of graves...and a macabre gathering of old bones, half hidden under a tangle of briars and nettles. Old bones don't bother me in the very slightest...ancient places I find fascinating rather than un-nerving...but there are some sites we go to that have the hairs on the back of my neck standing up-right and I cannot wait to leave...that is such a place.
There is an vague sense of disquiet about it as though the people who are buried here and those who once stopped by, a thousand years ago, for a bed and a meal, are somehow reaching out to tell tales of unhappiness and unrest.
And there is one other place where I feel particularly uncomfortable...it's an ancient monastery right beside a lough. I cannot bear it there...I cannot look at the 'lepers window' or loiter to read the headstones...I loathe the narrow stone steps up to the monks dormitory...the carefully raked and levelled gravel where the dining hall once was gives me the jitters...the little wooden jetty to the lough gives me the creeps. It's beautifully kept...the grass is mown and there are neat notices on each and every wall telling you what part of the building it used to be...one room is full of plastic chairs used on the days there is an open air Mass. There is a explanation about the lepers window where those so afflicted could listen to the daily Mass without being seen by the rest of the congregation...but the entire site gave off a strong sense of some evil intent...an underlying current that whispered all was not as it seemed.
The burial ground where I feel completely at home, no matter the time of the year, is crammed with graves...mostly old. It's so small...surrounded by stone walls covered in lichens...the remains of an early church is here and there are wild flowers in abundance and huge clumps of soft mosses...tiny Wrens flit to and fro and chatter loudly and there is often a big Ginger cat lying fast asleep on a bed of moss. There are bones a plenty, disturbed by Foxes and Badgers...and coffin handles and scraps of shrouds...it is a safe and a loving place...a kindly place where time has stood still for the last four or five hundred years or more and the people laid to their rest have eternal peace. I can sit here and imagine the days when there would have been fairs held in these grounds...when priest's in badly fitting hob-nailed boots stood before open graves holding a tattered missal and wishing for a glass of the porter...when mourners could hire a black cloak at the gate for a penny and a man with a chisel would carve out the name of a loved one on a bit of stone.
Isn't it strange though...that some places have an aura of almost evil...while some are gentle and kindly.