In southwest Ireland there are many beautiful islands in Roaringwater Bay, the homeland of my O’Driscoll ancestors. We took the small red and white ferry to Sherkin Island to make a little pilgrimage to Cow Strand. I had fallen in love with this pretty little beach sheltered by cliffs on our visit last year and wanted to be with her again. We picked some colorful wildflowers and berries from the stone walls and hedgerows along the way. Arriving at the strand, it seemed a sweet synchronicity to find a stone slab already set up on two small boulders, as if waiting for us to beautify it in honor of the sacred ancestors of place and of blood.
On this altar we made an arrangement of the flowers and berries, placing in the center an almost skull-like object that my husband found. We put a shore-bird feather in the east for air, a little chalice of water we brought with us from a recent visit to a holy well in the west for water, a cross-scribed stone in the north for earth, and a candle in the south for fire, which we lit, invoking the One Light that shines through all the worlds. We circled the altar several times singing a favorite ancestor song, Ancestors, sky people all here today, hear my heart song, hear my respect, hear my love. Hear my grateful tears fall. I am truly blessed, you are truly blessed, we are truly blessed.
We sat in silence for awhile at the altar, facing the swiftly rising tide of the bay and Cape Clear Island beyond, sensing the web of life all around us, breathing the Light into us and out to all. I wrote this poem, then we offered all the fruits and flowers to the waters.
Later that day we saw an exhibit at the Sherkin Island Marine Research Station that described a type of sea creature that looked like ours as a Virgin Mary urchin, traditionally called a Virgin Mary Shell (you can see the dotted outline of a V and M on the carapace), truly a gift from Maire of the Sea.
When we arrived
at your small cove,
your cliff protected strand,
and made our altar
wildflowers, and blackberries
picked along the way,
there was no one here with us,
with you and me.
Now, a little annoyed,
I have to share you
with the other
parts of me
who have arrived.
I am the long, lithe man in
jeans the color of the blue-grey rocks,
sweater the green of the cliff-top grasses,
dancing, flowing, tai chi-like,
scooping the sand,
twirling a stick,
splashing the wavelets,
as he films his dances, camera on tripod.
I am the three children
skipping rocks into the water
on the shingle side of the beach
and the father who joins them,
his delight as giddy as theirs.
I am the four girls colorfully dressed,
chatting brightly as our scarves flutter
in the wind,
walking the hill road above the beach
along the exposed cliffs that reach
far out into Roaringwater Bay.
I am the young man lying
back against the warm rocks reading,
and I have fallen into a sleepy trance,
held in the embrace of the warm sun,
caressed by the cool breeze,
mesmerized by the rhythmic
lapping of the waves.
I am dreaming I am
the attractive artist up the road
in the small white cottage
on the edge of the sheltered harbor,
with the hidden garden of tomatoes
and vivid flowers
who paints expressive island-
scapes in my little studio white
by the lovely glow of my sky
I live surrounded by my waters
and can walk my whole breadth
freely in different weathers,
giving my heart to all