Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Ancient Well and A Powerful Rock

Yesterday was one of those days given by the gods.  Here in Ireland you never take fine weather for granted.  How could you, since it only flashes into your life when it feels like it?  We've had weeks of rain and gloom, so waking up to a glorious morning with fleecy white clouds scudding across a blue sky was an irresistible invitation to go adventuring.

We headed for Ardmore, a little seaside village just over the border from Cork, in Co. Waterford.  It has the most spectacular scenery and on a day like this, strolling the cliff path and getting the scent of the grass and heather and the sea breezes was as heavenly as it can only be when you've endured those aforesaid weeks of drizzle and damp.


This was our first destination.  St. Declan's monastery and its associated sacred well.  What a setting, on the clifftops at Ardmore (the name, Ard Mor, means The Great Height).

Here is a closer look at the well with the stone surroundings carefully put in place centuries ago.  Next week will be the Pattern Day (probably from Patron as in patron saint) when thousands of people will gather to circle the well and monastery sunwise, while reciting a specific sequence and number of prayers, and take water from the well.  It's a ritual far older than Christianity in Ireland, going right back to the days of the pagan goddesses who guarded and oversaw the proper use of such vital necessities as land and water.  It's hard to imagine now, but just try to think of good clean water not as something that automatically comes out of a tap, but that has to be sought and, when found, treasured and thanked so that it won't dry up and leave you with no supply at all.  Our ancestors here knew the importance of water.  Sacred wells, springs,  and the sources of rivers were regarded as especially powerful since they were often entrances to the Otherworld where the Good People dwelt.

You can understand Christianity slapping one of their own male saints down on the site, blotting out the original water goddess.  They were never going to stop people coming here, so they might as well make it look like a Christian custom.  And the Pattern Day?  Coincidentally near to the beginnng of August, isn't it?  That's the great sun festival of Lughnasa, when the first fruits and grains ripen, and a celebratory feast can be held before the hard work of gathering in the harvest begins.  (DH and I will be heading down to Mt Brandon in the far west next week, to see the crowds climbing the mountainside for Lughnasa.  I'll bring you there too, promise.)

A little stream dances out from below the well and runs down through the grassy slope of the monastery grounds.  Sophy had a good long drink from this and even lay down in it for a while to cool her paws and thereby receive even more blessings from the goddess.

Then we went down to the beach to find St Declan's Stone.  It's quite a long way from the monastery and well, but it's been firmly associated with the same saint for the same reasons - there was no way that the people, accustomed to coming here for thousands of years to beg favours, were going to stop coming.  So Christianity thought up this wonderful story of St Declan sailing across the sea to found a monastery here, guided on his way by a huge floating stone which carried his bell on top.  When the stone landed on the shore at Ardmore, he knew he was in the right place.

It's always worth looking back behind the layers of legend and then back a bit further again.  Don't be afraid to lift each layer, even if it seems stuck firmly to the bedrock.  It isn't.  There are more underneath.  This stone is one of those glacial erratic boulders, which doesn't really belong on this shoreline, and is regarded as a source of great healing power .  If you crawl underneath (and DH has made this look quite simple in his picture, but up close it's quite a small aperture, believe me, I got very wet trying) it is believed that you can be cured of a number of ailments.

In ancient times, I would think this was one of those fertility or birth stone alignments, similar to the Men-an- Tol in Cornwall, for example.    Pregnant women would crawl through to get an easy birth, while those hoping to have children would do the same to achieve the desired result.  Wherever you find a difficult passage through a limited space in an ancient stone alignment, it is usually associated with this particular purpose.

There is a very beautiful round tower at Ardmore too.  Much more modern of course - around the 12th century or thereabouts - but DH couldn't resist framing it in this lovely outburst of flowering stonecrop on a limestone wall.

This is the memory that will stay, though.  Those magnificent cliffs, the sea as calm as a millpond, and the sky smiling down on the purple heather.  A day to thank the goddess for, indeed.

On the way back we explored a couple of minor lanes and boreens.

I insisted DH take this picture, so you could see the kind of lane he considers driveable.  There were places I thought we would just get stuck and have to remain, living caravan-style in the car and fetching milk and bread from the nearest farmhouse, a few valleys away.  Driving slowly along, the brambles (all in flower, with luck it will be a good blackberry season this autumn) clutched at the sides of the car, while the hazel saplings leant right in the open sunroof and tapped us gently on the head.  You could just see the young hazelnuts forming, but they'll be a while yet.  Our ancestors would have depended on autumnal bounty like nuts and berries and we shouldn't scorn them either.

Is there any knitting at all going on, I heard someone ask plaintively, or is it going to be all kittens and travel from now on?  Not a bit of it.  Been working on far too many projects since the start of the year, and the half of them not finished yet, shame on me.

There was this nice ruffled shawl, a la Duchess of Cambridge, which was whipped up in a boucle yarn of which I had a large cone (stashbusting, you see, stashbusting!).  That, at least, got finished.

And it made me feel so virtuous that I headed off to This Is Knit in Dublin to find a suitable Aran weight to make a stunning jacket as my personal challenge for the Ravellenics, coming up on July 27.    As a digression, let me exclaim with delight upon the re-blossoming of knitting and yarn crafts generally in Ireland. Those of you who have been with me from the beginning will remember the many loud lamentations concerning the total unavailability of lovely things like Local Yarn Stores or indeed yarn of any kind.  It took its time, but at last you can find half a dozen knitting magazines in my local market town, and some really good yarn shops in Cork and Dublin.  Vibes and Scribes in Cork deserves a mention too, for seeing the future and having the courage to seize it when knitting was still very unfashionable here (too many memories of having to knit Aran sweaters for household finances).  Which brings me back to that Aran weight..

Of course I didn't end up with Aran weight at all, but this stunning kettle-dyed silky merino from Malabrigo which is only DK (sport?  worsted?) weight.  That's OK, we can adapt.  And the people at This is Knit were simply lovely and I had a great time. Worked a big swatch while returning triumphantly home on the train, to get the feel of it, and on the strength of that have now decided on a completely different pattern - the Debbie Bliss Cabled Jacket, which will be soft and drapey enough to show off this yarn as it deserves to be.

And of course there was some dyeing.  Here is the basketful I'm going to put up on eBay tonight (unless any of you contact me first of course, to say you can't live without one of them).  Back row three greens:  Fresh Lime and Olive Grove, both merino/tencel fingering, plus Water Lily, which is merino/silk fingering.  Front row, Firebird, a real tour de force of overdyeing, if I say so myself, and Summer Skies, both merino/tencel, plus Wild Roses in merino/silk.  All delicious and happy colours.  If I do get them up on eBay (they tend to sell before I ever get to that point) you'll find them under Celtic Memory.

See, a whole posting without a kitten in sight!  But where are my manners?  I never even introduced her properly.  She is of good breeding, mother an exquisite red Maine Coon, father a long-haired European domestic tabby.  Want to see her when she was very little, with her mum?  Thought you might.

Why do I look different?

She did take those first steps into the garden the other day, with Sophy, who has constituted herself Nanny in Chief, in careful attendance.  It was all a bit too much to take at first for someone who had thought World consisted of a couple of rooms, and she peered out from the terrace with a very worried face before venturing further.  No, no more pictures, I promise.

Oh all right then, just one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Sadness of Sophy, The Serenity of the Sea, and a Storybook Ending.

Let me start by apologising if this post looks a bit untidy.  New Blogger has its own ideas of how it should run, and it isn't very helpful about telling me how to achieve a neat effect.  It can only get better.  Onward!

Things got kind of sad here earlier in the year. You will remember that Maeldun the Wanderer Kitten came to join us, but then left us far too soon. Shortly after that, the dowager duchess Natasha de St Petersburg II also handed in her room key.

Dear old Muffy the Yarnslayer did not long outlive her half sister. She got tireder, weaker, and finally in early May (old May Day now that I come to think of it, which is of course eleven days later than the current May 1) we couldn't pretend any more that she wasn't suffering, and took a very hard decision.

 Didn't want to talk about it then, don't want to talk about it now. Please.

But the row of little headstones in the orchard was getting a bit much. And of course all these losses had a dreadful effect on poor Sophy, who had lost her wandering companion, Maeldun, and then both her comforting aunts in a very short space of time.

She took to moping on her favourite chair, uninterested in walks, rambles in the garden, anything really.

Now, I hear you exclaim, was the time for that New Black Kitten to play her part, surely? To come forward with messages of comfort, and paw cuddles, to reassure Sophy there was still a friend around?

The heck she did. Black Brat (and that wasn't the word I first typed, believe me) turned into a monster. I think she'd always been one in waiting, but nervousness on first arrival here had hidden her true character. She cuffed Sophy, she hissed, she spat, she even drew blood on a couple of occasions. And of course, the bigger she got, the more trouble she could cause. If I had known when I picked up that kitten that she had been tossed by an Alsatian when very tiny, I wouldn't have taken her. But I only found out afterwards, when enquiring delicately into the possibility of early traumas. That experience, combined with being born a barn cat to a very wild mother, and I knew it wasn't going to work.

 Oh I kept on trying, hoping that somehow she would soften, but she just got worse as she became more confident. The heartbreaking bit was seeing Sophy bringing toys and little offerings to the cat's basket, with pleading, imploring eyes, and receiving only a loaded claw paw across the face in response. So eventually I persuaded a friend who had given Black Brat's brother a home, to try taking her too. She was doubtful but the cat had no such reservations. She and her brother welcomed each other with open paws and proceeded to celebrate in a junket of mayhem and chaos that doesn't show any signs of abating several weeks later.

No, of course I didn't like doing it.  What cat lover would?  But Sophy's heartbreak deserved more attention than a little wildcat's shenanigans.  A solution had to be found.

And it was found.  But we had to wait for it.  It wasn't old enough to leave Mum yet.  So Sophy had to be patient.  If you can discern that Access All Areas badge on her chair, by the way, it is there because she always insists on every single door in the house being open.  Doesn't matter if she doesn't need to use it right now, she must have it open and available.  Shut just one door, anywhere, wait five minutes, and you will hear disgruntled staccato yaps that continue unceasing until you give in and remedy the mistake.  Access.  All. Areas.  Did you HEAR me?  Access.  All.  Areas!

In the meantime, we took her out for plenty of fresh air and stimulating circumstances, in the hope that this would lift the gloom.  'Won't be long now,' we told her comfortingly.  'Things will get better very soon, you'll see.'  And Sophy stumped along, despair in every lineament of that small face.  She stumbled over stones, fell into rabbit holes, ignored the bracing sea air.

This was down at Toormore, not far from Crookhaven and Barley Cove in West Cork.  It was a fine afternoon during the school holidays, but as is usually the case in West Cork, we had this stretch of coastline to ourselves.  There are tiny orchids growing on that grassy headland, and wild pansies too.

Coming down by Drimoleague, I just happened to glance sideways down a tiny boreen, and saw this wonderful old bridge, which once carried the much-loved West Cork Railway.

The bridge still stands, built to last, although the train is long gone. I do really believe though that if you wait there late at night, you will hear the whistle of the train and hear the steady chug of the engine as it heads towards the bridge, carrying its passengers and freight safely to their destination. Maybe you could get on, but you wouldn't know what century you were in when you alighted at the next station, which could cause problems.

On the way home, we stopped to photograph a lovely battered old gate with the grass growing long around it.  Don't you just love these gates, in the middle of nowhere, which quite evidently haven't been opened in years?

And then there were these marguerites beautifully backlit by the late evening sun. So many lovely things to discover, even at the roadside.

But the happy ending, you shriek! Sophy's Solution!  What happened next? Well,at last, at long last, the solution arrived.

Tiny Mishka (Little Bear) was a bit confused at first, having only just left Mum, and not being at all sure about this strange new world.
But very soon she began to explore wonderful things like doors
and delightful dangling distractions
and discovering that one could after all climb these things oddly called 'chairs'.

 Did it work? Did it work? Well, of course at first there was a little worry, a tiny hiss or two. But Mishka had been carefully chosen from a household where not only had she been handled and cuddled from birth, but had also been sniffed and licked by two large dogs who liked cats. So the end result wasn't long in coming.

Sophy is lonely no more. Mishka leaps up quite happily and cuddles down to sleep in the comforting circle of her surrogate mother's warm furry body. And they are both looking forward to a day very soon when Nanny will take her charge out on a first exploratory journey around the garden. Happy times ahead.