July 7th Hitching For Hope blog. Ruairí’s Hitching For Hope national listening tour is a one month project to hear, document and promote the visions and visions of the people of Ireland in advance of speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties on July 29th & 30th . More info
Blogging from the road, please excuse errors and sound quality issues etc.). Press the orange play icon on sound files to hear audio.
Latest blog (reviewing July 7th)
This was always going to be an interesting day. Climbing Croagh Patrick is a real Irish experience, something people have been doing for generations and well before it had anything to do with Saint Patrick. It’s an experience that brings you up close with Ireland, where you get to chat to people of all walks of life and hear the full range of stories. It didn’t disappoint.
I started off the day with a big full Irish breakfast at my bed and breakfast. My mart experience the day before didn’t prevent me eating the pork but it did make me think twice. I got chatting to two women over breakfast who I assumed had just returned from Sunday morning Mass. As it turned out they had just returned from some kind of poetry, breath-work and I think shamanic type workshop with a New York Jewish woman on Achill island. Definitely not what I was expecting to be chatting about! It turned out that one of them had been in a choir at the Possibilities event I helped organise a couple of years ago.
We got chatting about how retreats like this are increasingly popular as people continue to seek out new ways of making sense of themselves and of the world. One of the women, who were both called Mary, talked about growing up in an Ireland ruled by fear of authority, something she feels is at the heart of our current dysfunction – the fact we don’t stand up to bullies or abusers of power. Hard to argue with that.
I strolled into Westport to pick up some supplies for the mountain climb. I passed a church that had standing room only. No sign of a church in crisis there. Outside was an interesting plaque to a 1916 revolutionary who had also fought in the Boar war. I wondered what that same revolutionary would make of Ireland today. Beside it was a quote evoking the revolutionary spirit of the time.
Irish ways and Irish laws
I got a lift within 10 minutes of starting to hitch to Croagh Patrick, my first female ‘pick-up’ for want of a better term! This lady used to hitch all over when she was younger, taking lifts to wherever the driver was going and seeing where she’d end up. She explored Ireland that way and the memories of her hitching days got her thinking about the importance of living life to the max.
‘You’re never too old. You should always be doing something’ she said. ‘Life is tough but you have to get on with it, make something of it’. She told me that she had lost two of her brothers, one she claimed was killed in a hit and run when he was a teenager. She suggested that it was local public servants who had killed him but covered it up with the support of other agencies as the culprits had been out drinking on the job. She said her parents couldn’t pursue the court case at the time as they were too grief stricken. Given the axis of power that existed (and still does to a degree) I didn’t doubt it was possible.
She said life must go on and you have to find ways to heal. She somehow ended up on the subject of religion, just after she picked up supplies in a shop
and gave me a lucozade for my walk. ‘I’m just back from Africa and there’s evidence mankind has been around tens of thousands of years, way more than claims of the God people seem to worship was invented.
It’s about control and brainwashing, bishops and popes with robes that cost 40,000 euro while the poor remain poor.’ She said that the only religion that should exist is the sun as it’s the only thing worth worshipping. She said that Croagh Patrick was an ancient pilgrimage site that has pre christian origins and is linked to various local sites and stones that were used for solstice and other key point ceremonies.
I told her that the last time I was at Croagh Patrick was 5 years ago. I had made an impulse purchase of a camper van and I was driving around Ireland (in the rain!) and stopped at Croagh Patrick. Before I started the climb I read a little of my guide book which claimed the Irish God of Lugh, who Lughnasa is named after, was the sun king and that Croagh Patrick was apparently his mountain, meaning this was a sacred mountain for sun worship in the same way the Incas and so many other cultures worshipped the sun as they believed it was the most fundamental source of life on earth.
The funny thing was that I had wooden statue of Lugh, carved by the amazing Michael Quirke in Sligo, in the van and I decided to bring him on a bit of a ‘reclaiming the reek’ adventure. Up I went with Lugh, giving him a seat beside the statue of St. Patrick and knowing that anyone looking on was probably thinking this fella is a bit mad. Still, not as mad as not acknowledging all our history and culture, not just the Christian bit.
I took Patrick as a confirmation name when living in Australia at the time (aged 12) and have in recent years been intrigued by his role in history. I wondered if he was really a slave as claimed, a Roman missionary, or a tax collectors son, which have been different versions I had heard. Christianity was around before Patrick and that the feats he is credited with are most definitely a little generous in terms of the truth.His presence in Ireland was at a time of mass change, where Rome was on the march throughout Europe, and where sainthoods were handed out generously for those who played their politics the right way. Religion tended to be linked with control, control was linked with politics. Both were concerned with power over rather than power with the people. Some things don’t change much in that regard.
Getting rid of the snakes wasn’t something Patrick did (the ice age took care of that) but maybe his era did say goodbye to the druids and pagans who saw the snake figure as a symbol of healing and regeneration, hence it’s use to this day outside of pharmacies where you often see a snake symbol. The snake is celebrated in cultures worldwide for this symbolic link.
I’ve been thinking recently that we celebrate St. Patrick’s day as a keypoint in our cultural year whereas Patrick himself may be responsible for the loss of Irish culture. Could it be that Croagh Patrick became ‘Patrick’s holy mountain’ after being a sacred site long before, hence bringing people into a new faith while keeping aspects of their old places and beliefs?
It may be that St. Patrick’s Day in itself is a transplanted day that super-seded the Spring Equinox festival (where light and dark are equal) in the same way Christmas took over the Winter Solstice (the re-birth of the sun – of God), St. Brigid’s Day took over the Imbolg festival,and All Saints Day over Samhain, which in turn became halloween? The same way holy wells and other sites were pagan sites before them.The wheel of history keeps moving and history is written by the winner (and the literate) they say.I wonder how much of Irish history was oral and how those who lost power, for whatever reason, have not had their stories and their ways documented and appreciated. How is it that we see Christianity and Catholicism as something Irish where it is in fact foreign. Not saying this is a bad thing but it would be good to see more awareness and discussion around our heritage.
And we’re off – up the mountain
Starting up the mountain I took my time to look back on the spectacular view of Clew Bay and it’s 100s of islands. I noticed that it seemed there were lots of young families and young couples doing the walk, as well as older people, some of whom were on a fundraising walk for a local playground. I love the Irish fundraising spirit for charities but I really wish we had a state that provided playgrounds, hospitals and schools, rather than leaving people to fundraise for these basic essentials. Still, it’s great to see people doing it for themselves, a D.I.Y culture that is empowering in so many ways.
Fairly soon in I decided I’d have my first punt at interviewing someone. I looked around…no…maybe this one..no, I kept looking. It’s a strange process deciding who to stop and how to approach them. I never want to interfere and it can be hard to explain what I’m up to. I approached a youngish couple taking a break by a stream. They were Dutch and looked at me with caution. ‘We’d prefer keep walking’ the lady replied. Fair enough. I decided to reconsider. Maybe people deserve to be left alone on this walk, to have their time alone, or with friends and family to connect without having to think about life or the country. Sometimes it’s good to let the brain go silent.
New York Irish
The first half is the toughest going on the reek. As the sun bet down on me I got chatting to a northern man who has lived in New York for 27 years. He was climbing with his 3 teenage sons who are all immersed in Irish culture in the U.S. They were home playing Gaelic football. He described life in the GAA in New York and his work in the construction industry. He talked about how he feels Obama is getting his pay back for hundreds of years of oppression by ensuring black people are in key positions in government.
I don’t think I agree with him on that one and have often found elements of Irish America to have a racist undercurrent, which is ironic given the discrimination the Irish faced when they first arrived. Surely those who arrived as slaves and are trying to work their way up would be allies by nature rather than seen as a threat. There’s a book on that called ‘how the Irish became white’ and it documents the Irish journey to start looking and acting like the people who kept them down. Still, I’m on a listening tour, so I listened and didn’t debate. Good to hear these perspectives.
Another thing he said was that he feels the people in the republic keep getting shafted because they don’t stand up for themselves, in the same way northern people have had to. No argument there.
My northern friend got chatting to all sorts of people as we walked and it turns out he could make connections with people from any county
he encountered. He knew footballers who had emigrated or spent time in New York, many of them working with him, and it gave me a connection into communities throughout the land, something that I don’t have. There this man was, from the north of Ireland, away 27 years (Since he was 19) and in some ways he was more Irish than me.
The view from aboveAt the top of the mountain there was a general euphoria among all who had made it, a collective celebration of our common effort, despite the many motivations for climbing this 2000 feet sleep and rough climb.
Some were true pilgrims, most were Irish day trippers, holiday makers, young couples (one with 2 small babies), and there was the odd runner who sprinted up the mountain in 45 minutes compared to the 2-3 hour climb for some.
I sat around, ate my sandwiches and enjoyed the view at the top. We were in the clouds and the mist came and went as people seemed to spent more time texting, calling and photographing than any visible sign of praying. There was also a fair bit of rubbish, something I’ve noticed a lot of around the country. I’m miffed as to why people would rubbish their own country and especially a mountain they took the time to climb. Bizarre.
I decided it was worth a shot at interviewing someone. I approached a group I had taken a photo for previously and a man called Lorcan happily obliged.
He told me about the joy of climbing the mountain and how he had been made redundant two years previously. He said he had retrained in the culinary arts and wants to be part of a new vision for Ireland that sees local Irish food at the heart, thereby bringing tourism, feeding exports, and creating jobs.
Into the zone
As the sun came out on Lugh’s – and Patrick’s – and our – mountain I wandered off to the back of the chapel area and found a quiet spot to try some meditation. My mind was more interested in taking photos than calming down but I gave it a lash and managed a few moments of tuning in and feeling the great calm from sitting in peace at the top of this great mountain.
Just as I decided to leave I heard a type of chanting which turned out to be a group from Claregalway who were praying and saying the rosary. I stood beside them and recorded the sound, knowing these were prayers my parents, grandparents ancestors prayed and that we are at a turning point in history that makes praying like this rarer and rarer.
Poor quality sound recording but some sounds if you skip to 2nd half:
A young woman among the group of mostly older people called out prayers for those who have emigrated, for those who are unemployed, for those who are new to our communities, and the group responded in unison with prayers of hope. The sound of the chant like rhythms reminded me of mantras I’d heard in India or what could be chants from any other culture around the world. There seems to be something about people coming together and creating a sound vibration to uplift hearts, minds and souls, regardless of your spiritual or non spiritual beliefs.
On the way down I got chatting to one of the pilgrims. Phil is a retired teacher who had witnessed extreme poverty while working in Fatima Mansions in Dublin in the sixties. He later became involved in community development with Galway VEC.
I asked him about the prayer group and he said it was a parish council that is about giving more power and taking more responsibility for citizen action within the church. The group organise events and welcome newcomers to their commuter-belt area and generally work to keep their community alive beyond just their religious brief.
I asked him how he maintained his faith given all the abuses of the church. He said his son was a priest who had left the Philippines after his colleague was murdered for inter-faith work, and that he knows there are still good priests in the church and that the church is made up of people, good and bad.
He spoke about it in a very relaxed way, as if his faith was a simple private thing for him and I felt his values were his driving force and that the church gave him some expression for those. Like most people I met he said his ‘blood boils’ when he thinks of the banking corruption, how he has no faith in career driven enquiries and tribunals, and how he wants to see justice. He said he worked hard all his life, paid his taxes, and now is pension keeps being attacked because of the fraud, negligence and corruption of others.
Phil took a huge interest in my trip and said he admires idealism, something that should be encouraged. I told him that I take the view that we have to be idealistic to progress society but that it can be hard at times when you have no money and no obvious prospects for getting a mortgage or a house. He said that life should be about living it to it’s fullest and how he travelled to China and elsewhere.
Minutes later we said our goodbyes but not before he turned around and gave me a 20 euro note as a contribution towards my trip. Pure generosity.
A well earned pint
At the bottom I treated myself to a lovely pint of Guinness in Campbell’s pub and chatted to some of my fellow hikers who were all looking pretty pleased with themselves. The menu was standard pub grub and lacking in healthy options but I figured my afternoon activities allowed me to tuck in guilt free to a burger and chips. Chatting to a young Irish family who were travelling around by camper van, we discussed the beauty of the west of Ireland, how Croagh Patrick might be one of the last free activities in Ireland, and how important it is to get out and experience life beyond just the daily grind of work.
Within 60 seconds of hitching I had a lift into Westport to collect my bags and chatted to the lovely Galway based couple who took a great interest in my trip. Sadly we didn’t have enough time for me to hear more from them but I promised them I’d publish their photo and remind people that Irish people, just like them, were essentially kind and generous by giving lifts to people like me.
After 40 minutes standing at the side of the Newport road I was starting to worry. It was 9pm on Sunday night, my legs were tired, and there was next to no traffic on the road. Susan phoned me and suggested I get a taxi. I didn’t want to spend the money but shouted over at a taxi guy who was parked across the road with a trailer on the back. I didn’t expect he was free but he said it costs 15 euro but would do it for 10.
He told me about how trying to make a living in Mayo but said Dublin had it worse where taxi volumes have gone from 2,500 taxis to nearly 14,000, meaning there are more than in Manhattan. More evidence of a lack of regulation in Irish economics. We chatted away and he dropped me off near my aunt’s house in Newport before asking if my ask was Rosaleen. I said she was indeed and he immediately asked ‘are you Ruairi?’. I was stumped.
Maybe he had heard me on the local radio several days before saying I would be visiting. But no. He said he remembered meeting me as a child and remembers my big head of hair. We had a good laugh and I offered him the ten euro. He wouldn’t accept. He didn’t know about my hitching for hope and despite the hardships of taxi work he just wanted to give some goodwill to someone he met maybe 25 years ago. The goodness of people.
Loneliness and generosity
At Rosaleen’s house we chatted until midnight and talked about the busyness of life and how things have changed. She said she doesn’t get many visitors any more and to my shame I realised it had been 5 years since I had visited. She was right, things have changed in terms of putting value on friends and family beyond just facebook interactions. These changes fuel isolation and loneliness, especially among older people, and I was part of the problem in ways.
The day had once again brought me back to a simplicity I had lost tough with in the busy urban digital world. It had reminded me of an older Ireland, a more generous Ireland, and a people that I am proud of.