Kissing the Blarney stone and seeing a fairy or two were on my wish-list when I visited Ireland last summer, but I never expected a West Virginia-style welcome.
My husband and I popped into a pub and upon venturing to our table, heard the live band singing John Denver’s, “West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads.” Here I was 3,500 miles from home and feeling as welcome as I would at a tailgate party in the mountain state in which I’d grown up.
Ireland’s green pastures did remind me of West Virginia’s lush countrysides. Even the winding roads in the Celtic territory were similar to the ribbons of concrete wrapping the state that is referred to in Denver’s song as “Almost Heaven.”
One of those curvaceous, Irish roads carried us into the quaint town of Enniskerry, 17 miles south of Dublin, where we strolled the grounds of St. Patrick’s Church — not the famous cathedral, a small stone church a stone’s throw from the town square.
The saint who is credited for converting the pagan nation to Christianity must’ve had the gift of persuasive speech even though the Blarney stone tradition hadn’t yet begun. Legend has it he explained the Godhood of the trinity by comparing it to a shamrock. Although considered one plant, it has three leaves just as the one God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The three are equally important, just as is our own mind, body and spirit. For us to thrive, all three aspects of ourselves need to be nourished.
As I ventured from The Cliffs of Moher to the Newgrange megaliths that are older than Stonehenge, I fed all three of mine. I hiked and laughed and ate. I developed an affinity for fresh figs and learned that I loved black pudding even though it isn’t pudding at all. It’s sausage with oats and pig’s blood.
I also learned that the reason that the color green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day has absolutely nothing to do with the lush green hills or with the green shamrock. Green is a bitter reminder of over 1 million Irishmen who died during the 1840’s potato famine. Those who were starving resorted to eating grass. They died with green mouths.
When I heard this, I silently thanked God that I didn’t need to eat grass. I had pig’s blood in my belly.
I stood absorbing the views of cattle and castles and wishing that those people who had perished, could enjoy the bounty that now rises high on the sheep-filled hills and wheat-strewn fields. I stood hoping that before they had laid their precious, lifeless heads on the ground, green mouths gaping wide, that they had reconciled the three pieces of divinity represented by the shamrock and allowed the oneness of truth to herald them to their heaven.
During my visit, the fairies, if there were any, remained sequestered in the glens. I did kiss the stone that bestows eloquence on the person whose lips touch it. Had I known that the locals get a kick out of peeing on it, I contend I would’ve still have dared to plant my kiss. Communication means the world to me.
I returned to the states, my mountain mamma heart singing. Both Ireland and West Virginia are almost heaven — and both conducive to balancing mind, body and spirit in the hills of green.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.