There's a reason why European Yuletide is merry. Outside is dark and cold and if you depend on farmers in your own neighborhood to provide you with food, not much fresh is on offer. Agrarians are uneasy. While the priests watch the heavens for saviors and migration from the stand-still, the regular people drink apples and grain, and burn large trees for a week to push the inevitable to the back of the cabin. When you're facing death, Winter Solstice is time to party.
At the other end of the calendar stands Summer Solstice. For many years when I was a young pagan, I enacted the summer solstice rituals of various traditions, but none were memorable. I am left with the sense we were trying too hard.
There isn't anything joyful about mid-June. June has been the sad month all my life. People graduating and leaving town. Retirements. Tourists again. Fog until 11 am. Too many reminders that we work all the time and get so few vacations for ourselves.
So I started observing Summer Solstice as what it is: a time to commemorate that This, improbable that It Is At All, is going to End. We can take some solace in knowing that governments will fall, but the sting of our friends dying, households ending, hair greying, dogs dying, so much worse.
Therefore, today we weren't going to let our Summer Solstice in Ireland pass us by without Carpe the FUCK out of the Diem.
Near to us, is the Bonane Heritage Center. While one can find stone circles, bullaun stones, fairy forts, famine ruins, standing stones, and fulacht fiadh, at the end of many a thin road in Ireland, I don't think there is anywhere else here where you can find all of them in one short walk at the end of a generous carpark for the low price of €4 (adults).
At summer solstice, the stone circle at Bonane gives us a sunrise Phenomenon, similar to the Yule sunset at Turtle Rock in the Santa Cruz mountains. As the sun rises at 6:40, a sliver of sunlight passes through two stones and illuminates a center stone.
We started our Solstice Day at the circle, along with about 30 other local people and tourists. While this year clouds obscured The Phenomenon for the 4 minutes it materializes (Wait Till Next Year!), we all enjoyed ourselves, nobody taking it too seriously, drinking tea and eating scones.
I love this stone circle and have visited it many times. That's a lovely little rowan tree you can see in the upper corner of the photo.
Here's the circle from the other direction. Love that tree.
Since we left our house at 5:30 am for this gathering, now it was time for refreshments.
We continued east to Glengarriff, to the McCarthy's Bar and Bistro. We thought it would be ok for us to sit outside with Pippin, but after the tea came, the server mentioned that there was .... something? a cat? who wanted to get outside, but couldn't because it was afraid of The Dog. So we cheerfully took Pippin back to the car--don't want him to scare anyone. What wanted to come out of the restaurant was not a cat, but a pigeon. The pigeon proudly bopped around under our table and I noticed it had bands on each leg. A famous pigeon, that one, who deserves free range through the village of Glengarriff and we wouldn't get in its way for anything. At the end of yet another lovely poached egg, toast and tea breakfast, I went to the ladies. When I got back, Artemis said that someone had just run over the pigeon and killed it—see there are the feathers.
A Very Melancholy Solstice to You too.
We set off east toward a stone circle that I've long wanted to visit. Now that I have my own car, look out bucket list.
Kealkill Circle, north of Bantry. Sacred Ireland calls this "A magical place," in a book about magical places. So you know it must be magical. Like many of the places in Sacred Ireland, the directions only make sense once you have found the thing. My addendum: keep going up the hill, don't try to walk there, there is only parking for one car.
If you're interested in Kealkil Circle, there are several descriptions on the net. The bush that was growing in the center of the cairn has been cut out, making the cairn's radial stones easier to see.
I love this circle. Like many Irish places, it is of land, sea, and sky. Until I am there again, I will visit it in my dreams. I think Pippin may too.
If you want to see more photos, you'll have to find them on the web.
Most of my photos of stone circles look like this:
....because frankly I'm more interested in what is growing on a stone than the stone itself. Yes, I like ancient stones, but fungi is more to my likin'.
On to Our Lady's Well.
If you leave Kealkil and turn east on the highway, you'll see this sign, and if you are like us, you will stop.
This is a lovely devotional spot.
We wondered if all the Mary's were added at the same time, or if someone was offended if someone's newer grotto was added above their own, and does one add her own rosary to the BVM who she loves the most, as how is it that all the roadside wells seem to be painted in the same shade of blue and who coordinates that? Like most of the Irish families I know, there's always room for one more.
Here is my favorite.
She wore the wrong color dress to the party, but someone painted it on for her, and now she's perfect.
At this point, we were hungry again. There must be beer in Bantry.
If you google Bantry, you may find many photos St. Brandon, Wolfe Tone, and Bantry House, but who else has posted The Sea Mural?
"Let's all paint a picture for a tile celebrating the sea, children. Do you want to paint a picture of a vampire sucking the blood? Yes, that's fine too, we will include it."
I am not being sarcastic. I love every way that Irish people support their artists and I do not ever wish them ever to be restrictive.
After a restorative Murphy's, we decided we had time to visit one more place from Sacred Ireland.
Unlike many directions in Sacred Ireland, this one was accurate. I fear when that happens because I then trust the rest of them to much. More fool me.
There is four-trunked rowan growing at the well.
Surrounding the well are white quartz stones. Its water ripples quite delicately, then runs a short distance to the creek that you have been following as you approach.
At one time, this must have been a magical place in a dappled wood, accessible to everyone, giving and pure.
In our day, someone is inspired to paint the word "Bridget" or "Creativity" on a stone and leave it most reverently at the well. Or a baggie containing an organic solid. An eye glasses case, with, ew, eye glasses inside. Countless women have generously left their hair tie/ribbon/barrette as a token of devotion.
A broken biro. I'm leaving this neck tie to You as an offering, it is poor, but consider the sentiment. Dear Lady, please accept these mardi gras beads. I handmade this weaving of yarn on a hula hoop just for you, Great Goddess. I happened to have this 5 cent coin; thanks a million, BVM!
And a very Melancholy Solstice to You, Too.
After this we napped in the car for an hour, then drove east toward Cork, where we were received by our friend and taken to Skinny's for the Best Fish and Chips. The sun wouldn't set for hours yet, but we watched the sky fade over Ballycottin Bay.
The sun has died. I heard on a television show that death exists so that we can appreciate life. I am happy right now, and would be able to appreciate life indefinitely. I don't need death to know how lucky and happy I am.
A Very Melancholy Solstice to You, and another Half A Year of Dying Light. Blessed Be.