Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Those Odd Places in the Center of the World

Here is the description of Gurteen stone circle that I read on Megalithomania:

Every so often you come across a site that is perfect and this is one of those. What a beautiful stone circle this is. Of the eleven stones that make up the circle just one has fallen. ... The more you look at this one the more amazing it gets. ... What a beautiful place. The views are amazing and being so remote there isn't a sound in the air to disturb you.

Who wouldn't want to visit that spot? And it is only just near Kilgarvin! We go through that town on our way to Cork all the time. Shouldn't be too hard to find. 

I've written before about how when I look for stone circles and other places described my worn copy of Sacred Ireland I get into a state of incompetency. 

I have a good sense of direction and nearly always know where I am, how to interpret directions, and how to find home again. All that ability drains from me like strength from Super Man as I bounce along country lanes paved with Irish kryptonite. 

Last month, Artemis and I took a drive out that way, but couldn't find Gurteen stone circle. I thought I had coordinates saved to my phone, but they weren't there when we arrived in the neighborhood. We found the turn-off, near a stone barn, but nothing was visible from the road, as I had remembered incorrectly, and I felt all muddled and the phones had no signal. It was long, long lane, too narrow for a u-turn. Had fun anyway. 

A few weeks later, when two friends from California visited, we looked for it. When we got to Kilgarvin, I stopped and asked about Gurteen stone circle at a pub. The usual old guy was there, and he gave me directions as far as going past the Motor Museum and MacCaura’s Grave and the turn-off from the main road. He suggested once we got there to ask someone else for more directions. We went down the road, and asked for directions from someone who told us to go past the Motor Museum.

But that's ok, because I had the latitude and longitude from Megalithomania. I hadn't bothered to put them into my phone before we left. When I did, google maps sent us to somewhere in Germany. I later figured out that I entered them backwards, but didn't think to reverse them in the moment because muddled

So we gave up and continued down the main road toward Ballylicky. Five minutes later we stopped to take photos of gorgeousness, and I chatted with a sheep farmer. We talked about California, and Trump, and how he was there to meet a guy who would put a value on some sheep he had inherited, and then it was ok to ask if he knew where Gurteen stone circle was. He said he hadn't been there in twenty years, but could tell me how to find it. 

"Go back down the road until you get to the stone barn there, do you know it? " 
"Yes, I saw that on the way here."  
"Turn left up the hill, and continue until you come to a fork in the road, I guess you would call it a t-junction, and take the one that goes up hill. Then go around and around, there are some houses there, keep on, you're going up the hill, do you see? and then just there, that's where you will find it."

We never found it. Giving up, we drove south through two of the most beautiful valleys in Ireland I have ever seen, and I'm not even sure what their names are. Later that day we visited Kealkil and Bonane stone circles, and will remember that day forever. 

Actually, I'm pretty sure this is the valley of the Slaheny River. Looking north toward Kilgarvin.


View from the same spot as the previous picture, other direction. There's a yoni waterfall.  See the post called Pareidolia if this phenomenon is new to you. 

Last week, I learned how to put latitude and longitude into my phone properly, and Artemis and I found Gurteen stone circle, no trouble. That's a photo of it at the top of this page. 

Such a quiet,
 lovely spot, with views of the Paps of Anu to the north, and so many peaks all around. Like many stone circles, it's built a high spot, but low between hills. The proportions of the circle are human sized, not set across a lawn like at Kenmare, or in a tight five-stone circle like Kealkil or Uragh. Just right. I wonder what would happen if I slept inside it. Better ask the fairies for permission, Goldilocks. 

Given how hard it was to find it, the circle seems remote—until you arrive. Once found, the circle is the center of its own place, and the feeling of muddlement fades away. 

I stayed with this circle for a good long while and started to think about the passage of time, and the apparent permanence of stone circles. A circle of stones resting on this mountainside while languages and empires rose and fell. While people in this neighborhood fell in love, shared secrets, held grudges, wondered about god, worried about cheese, raised their children and pigs, and then died, over and over and over for thousands of years. 

In contrast to the enclosing abbeys where men contemplated foreign texts, these circles are fantastically large cathedral observatories. Beyond granite walls, under the hayfields and forestries, outside the lines of stone fences and bouncy lanes, the circles bring us back to an earlier landscape, an Ireland of, as the phrase goes: land, sea, and sky.

All clarity without certainty. 

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