Homecoming — for St. Patrick’s Day

croagh patrick with sheep

Rolling fields of emerald, forest and grassy green fill the fields.

The cattle and sheep graze gently as the amber sun sets.

The farmers come in from working in hard on the land

To tea of boiled potatoes, butter, and cabbage.

The scent of the turf fires fills the countryside,

A scent of homecoming and warmth to my senses.

My little car chugs gently down the boreen.

The low stone walls all around, the reek as a backdrop.

The tall grass smacks my car as I pass,

Just past the new church and school now.

I’m home at last,

At home, here in Killawalla.

 

This poem is dedicated to my dad who is from Killawalla, a small villiage in the west of Ireland.  Yes, this is a real place.  A boreen is a very small road that really only one car should drive on but often you might meet someone coming the other way.  That is not a fun experience, but it happens and I have lived to tell about it.  Luckily the cars are small.  It is St. Patrick’s Day after all and what a better tribute than this I don’t know.

As for the reek.  The reek is pictured above.  It is known as the reek but also known as a hill, a mountain or best known as Croagh Patrick.  This is a very special mountain in Ireland and many pilgrimages are made here.  The traditional way is to climb the hill barefoot, which my grandmother used to do. It’s said that if you climb the reek 3 times, you’ll go straight to heaven.  My mother did it twice that I know of, but I know she went straight to heaven.  She was a saint to all who knew her.   I’ve tried with shoes on and it’s not an easy climb.  Granted, I’m petrified of heights too.  It’s very rocky near the top with lots of loose stones.  There is a tiny little church located at the top of the hill that was built many years ago using donkeys to carry the materials up. I can’t imagine.

Patrick’s sacred mountain, AKA the reek, has a rich religious history.  Pilgrims have flocked there since 3000BC.  It is said that St. Patrick ended his 40 day fasting and penence Lenten journey on the mountain, hence the tiny church was built there.  It’s also said that it was from this mountain that he banished all the snakes from Ireland.

My father’s village is near the town of Westport which is 5 miles from the reek.  To me, growing up and going to spend a good part of my summer in Ireland was better than anything I could have ever had wished for.  I not only got to visit and know my relatives, especially all my fabulous cousins on both sides of my family, I also got to learn about my grandparents’ farm.  I learned how things worked and was expected to work too.   I loved it and dad knew that.  It wasn’t just a visiting vacation for this family.  We always were there during the time when calves were born, hay was harvested (which meant haymaking, haystacks, pitchforks and long hours in the fields), as well as the normal daily chores.

I learned to make butter, milk cows, make haystacks, tie down said stacks, tend chickens, wash clothes without a washer and dryer, take the cattle out to pasture and bring them back in and so much more.  We said the rosary every night. Those are my very fondest childhood memories.  So many cousins.  So many animals.  So much hard work, but good, honest work in a time and era that is now past.  And my grandma’s fresh brown bread with a fresh soft boiled egg in the morning with fresh butter and a cup of tea.  There is nothing in life that tastes better, except maybe if you follow that with chocolate, but only the best chocolate.

So you can see why even though I grew up in a different country, Ireland is my home too.  I am truly blessed to have had the best of two wonderful Irish parents who came from different back rounds but who shared them both with my brother and I.  I was the one who loved to get in there and get dirty though, so the farm suited me very well.  One day soon, I will be back to visit my wonderful family there again.  It can’t come soon enough.  One day I will be able to share it with my kids too, even if it isn’t quite the same as it was before.  Soon, I hope.

 

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