Fifty Holy Wells, #10
I think the well is beautiful
Loved this one. There's an overwhelming fact about Ireland I've never heard anyone mention, yet this fact underscores the actual, visceral experience of living here (here being outside of Dublin and out into the countryside): this land is *voracious*. It is fecund beyond belief: consuming, wearing, rotting, covering anything left outside in thick clumps of moss in a matter of days. Ireland's history is extremely deep, but what's maybe most remarkable is how much of that history has surely been quickly devoured by the land itself and is now irretrievably lost.
And maybe most would read that as depressing, or tragic. "All these girls grown old now/All that long hair in the grave/Realise, what's done is done/It's far too late to be saved" (https://genius.com/Laika-black-cat-bone-lyrics) The more of this I see, the more I see the task as one of understanding that the transience *is* where the truth and the beauty are to be found.
American actress Jennifer Jason Leigh once said, "Seeing hope is what breaks my heart. Every time." Young people, young families, full of hope, all wondering, "is something good going to happen for me?" When all that's waiting is the damp mulch and the rain.
Great piece, really enjoying this series. I moved to a rural area of upstate New York during COVID and one of the things I soon noticed was how many old family plots are dotted around the countryside, including one on the property I bought. The difference here is that almost all of them are still lovingly tended to. The headstones may be worn and off-kilter, but the owners make sure the grass is trimmed, fences mended, etc.
A local veterans group keeps a list, and makes sure that a fresh American flag is put on every veterans grave each Memorial Day. There is a Revolutionary War vet buried in my plot, one of the original settlers of my little hamlet. Maybe in a few hundred more years, people will have forgotten, but as long as I live here, I feel a sense of duty to make sure I honor the old guy’s memory, and the work he did in life to help found the country that took in my own Irish ancestors when the famine drove them here.
God told Adam "Cursed is the ground for your sake" . It is comforting to me to know my bones will turn to dust. It will be a blessing to shed this body and finally be free. In Gods time though not tripping on death just think it would be horrible to be stuck here forever. Were born into the grave.
Someone once said that there's nothing sadder than an abandoned farm. There is truth to that, but I'd say the same about abandoned graveyards. I find sadness there, but also consolation, in the knowledge that the people buried there are "known only to God." I don't know if it's an Orthodox (or Catholic) custom to cross oneself and say a prayer when passing a cemetery, but over the years it's become a habit of mine.
I suppose it is how you see it. I find it comforting that we return to the mother (earth) all of us, despite our power or wealth. And from her (the mother) comes new life. Always liked this line from Mary Oliver. ' I think the earth remembered me she took me back so tenderly"(I'm not sure of the exact wording but close). Back to green shoots ,moss, mushrooms etc.
Reclamation of the gentle kind and fresh water with its own poetry.
Was intrigued by Alyward House - the family seems to have complicated if unsurprising later religious history. https://bit.ly/3uv8Yx7
I have valued over my lifetime the sensibility of the major poet WB Yeats who lived and shared Irish national aspirations and was unscathed during the civil war among the nationalists in the temporary Irish Free State, 1922 - 23. For what it is worth, Yeats was a friend and something of a mentor for the American Poet Ezra Pound, without sharing Pound's later hopes and faith in Mussolini, but that is another story.
This piece can be read as human history. For what do we leave behind but rotting remains, perhaps decorated briefly by our immediate descendants. A headstone, perhaps, or mausoleum or by a simple cross. For a shorter time, flowers will occasionally appear, but eventually, even the best-kept cemetery will fold back into wilderness or be paved over or replaced by buildings. Even buildings, like the big houses, will burn, be destroyed, or decay.
In Shakespeare's immortal words:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Banishment to Connacht seems to have been a constant theme among the Irish in America. I ran across a story involving the "Connacht curse", though the specific curse wasn't given in the story. The term has come alive again in videogames.
Given the thoughtful discussion in this thread I am a little abashed to contribute this tangential thought, but maybe Paul will appreciate it. In 2017 a Belfast man told me that what unites Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants is their mutual hated of The National Trust.
Back when I lived there in the 1990s, a visit to The Giants Causeway was like going on an unstructured hike to a wonderful natural site (albeit with tour buses).
Now it’s all “musee-a-fied.” Imagine what the Trust would do with the wells!
I am very homesick for Anglo-Saxon graveyards right now, in France, where graveyards look like miniature cities. The very idea of being buried (but the French are heavily into incineration right now, in their obstination to root out the Christian practice of burial) in a city makes my stomach turn. There is a beautiful graveyard in Newark, Nottinghamshire ? (forgive my imprecision) where you could spend hours walking through, looking at the tombstones, in a refreshingly GREEN PLACE that is not laid out like an American city street, and where there are not countless rows of identical little white crosses either. I have always loved wandering around GREEN graveyards, where a blade of grass can flourish without being doused with weedkiller. Where the tombs are set in the grass (but not little identical white crosses, I repeat).
On the National Trust houses... my midinette mentality made me pull up nonexistent roots in the "mother country" where old things are torn down regularly and incessantly to make way for the new, as much for ideological reasons as for other ones. The U.S..... is not a country for old men, and was not designed to be one. I wanted to be in a place with a physical memory, where the past was more materialized ? and I could still see it a little bit.
All the running to keep up/afloat rather tires me out these days, and makes me want for the pace to slow down, the monuments to stand a little more still (although places on the East Coast and West definitely have their still standing monuments), for a little longer, even if I know that we will all turn to dust in the long run. (But before I turn to dust, maybe I will turn to compost for my beloved little worms outside, who.... spend their days working on the soil, for their good, and mine, and the good of the earth.)
Yes, the well is beautiful. Thanks for taking us to see it, Paul.
I look forward to hearing your insights, Jack, and particularly as they must come from such a great variety of circles. My circles are very small. But sometimes I feel as though I am the equivalent of Pluto on its orbit, and... there is some value in being Pluto in orbit, when it comes to having a certain perspective on circles and orbits.
This was very good. Many thanks, Paul.
A haunted well, maybe not, but certainly eerie.