Cill Rialaig

A year ago on a dank day in February, inky clouds draped a grey blanket over the sea and landscape as I parked up outside Browne’s shop in Baile an Sceilg. Inquiring about briquettes and sticks the owner astutely tagged me as a Cill Rialaig candidate and after loading up my car with fuel despatched me off in the direction of the pier and instructed me to take a right and a left, or a left after a right or after the house on the bend to take the next right and veer on up the hill. My last trip to Baile an Sceilg had been in 1978, too many years previously, when I boarded a bus at Tralee station with my school friend Dearbhla , skittish with sceitimíní áthais in anticipation of the three week Gaeltacht odyssey. No peat was required then, instead my case was a trove of tennis rackets, swimsuits, shorts , tee shirts , denim jackets and jeans and illicit miners lip gloss and eye liner pilfered from my mother’s cosmetic bag. John Betjeman wrote that “childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.” Passing the house where I’d stayed with a very benevolent Bean an Ti´, I indulged myself in a reverie that transported me back to those sounds, smells and sights, a time of céili´s cómhra and camaraderie. Swimming on the Trá near Maine’s hotel, giddy walks home from the Coláiste on sultry nights along narrow boithrins , the ditches bountiful with crocosmia and fuschia. Last night promises were made to be forever friends, Baile na Sceilg Abu´, address books were filled with
entries sealed with loving kisses by lips garish with pink lipstick .The pathos of the long bus drive back to Tralee , the back seats occupied by love struck students wrapped in a final embrace before life conspired to send them home to Crumlin , Cahir, Galway and Westport, back to school, exams and the dark hour of reason. Someone played The Jackson Brown song “Stay “on a tinny tape recorder over and over again, the chorus punctuated by sobs and wails adding a whiff of romantic melancholia.
Taking the sharp left or was it the right before the pier I drove up a narrow road clinging to the mountain, the darkness obscuring all except the row of cottages. Waking on the first morning I am treated to a valiant February sun illuminating the churning sea, a surreal confection of stone wall, sky and grazing sheep, such a vista that evoked a strong sense of pantheistic delight, in the words of Wordsworth feeling “ a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused.” Michael Hartnett in his poem The Gaeltacht Place wrote of such terrain “old hills/ now made of Irish tweed” and of “ kelp on the stones , oh yes-like drowned crocuses; pools full of purple creatures/ a bird as black as hunger is.”
Baile ‘n Sceilg is named after Sceilg Mhichil , a rocky outcrop which thrusts violently from the Atlantic , founded in the 7th century as a monastic centre for Irish Christian Monks. Ley lines are hypothetical alignments that run across ancient landscapes connecting both natural and sacred prehistoric structures, their existence first suggested in 1921 by the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins, whose book, The Old Straight Track brought the linear phenomenon to the wider public.
Skellig Michael is, according to believers in these ancient energy lines, at the juncture of two leys lines, one the archangel Saint Michael leyline which runs for several hundred miles and includes St Michael’s Church Glastonbury, Thor and a second ley line that goes on to connect to Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, to Mont Saint Michel in France and all the way to Egypt and Israel.
Dublin poet Colm Keegan was also keen to get a good picture of the ancient rocks and we set off on the Sceilg ring towards Portmagee. Egged on by his adventurous spirit my mini spluttered up a vertiginous road and onto Glen pier, St Finian’s Bay. There framed by a spectacular sunset were the iconic rocky outcrops jutting up from the foaming Atlantic, majestic, magical and sublime, emanating their druidic power. Whether ley lines exist or not is irrelevant to my romantic heart, as human beings we like to find patterns and connections in the world around us. And memory is the most powerful ley line of all, a magical path and portal to the past, connecting us to all the moments that we store in the monuments of the heart.