Old Ireland, especially the West, was known to be a place full of piseog… or, superstition. These included, ring forts, believed to be fairie forts which were left undisturbed by farmers plows or roads; a belief in little people, Banshee and fairies, or, “good people”; stories of changelings replacing human infants, ghosts wandering the countryside and holy well cures, to name a few. Though little, if any, of this superstition remains in modern Ireland, remnants can still be found. For instance, counting magpies to tell the future is still quite common, though I highly doubt that anyone doing the counting these days thinks of this practice as anything more than a fun poetic tradition, not to be taken seriously…

Two Magpies, courtesy of http://www.guardian.co.uk/

One for sorrow

Two for joy

Three for a girl

Four for a boy

Five for silver

Six for gold

Seven for a secret

Never to be told…

You see, I am superstitious enough to have searched for a photo of two magpies to insert here, just to be safe! Personally, I am not one to believe in anything 100%… nor do I disbelieve in anything 100%! I ‘knock on wood’ – religiously, and though I’ve never seen a ghost, I have a healthy respect for the possibility of their existence. In fact, during our final walk-through on the day before closing, I ‘jokingly’ asked our auctioneer (realtor) if he thought Rose Cottage might be haunted. Mossie quite emphatically assured me that it is not haunted, for if it were, he would know! Now… he may have had a bit of fun with the American, or was just ‘joking’ like I had been, sort of… or, perhaps he was being forthright and there remains a bit of piseog in West Clare afterall! However, for the most part I would say that today, any refusal to disturb ring forts, talk of ghosts or habit of counting magpies, is not based upon superstition but more likely, a respect for the traditions of the past with a bit of fun thrown in.

Traveling around Ireland, especially in the West, it is not hard to understand how people of long ago would have experienced blurred lines between what is seen and unseen; the present and the past; reality and the imagination. People walk daily past buildings far older than our country, drive past ring forts, witness medieval fortresses and church ruins dotting the skyline and stumble upon megalithic passage tombs and standing stones scattered all around the country. Add to these man-made structures, the natural environment of, not only forests and mountains walked upon by the likes of St. Patrick and Cú Chulainn, but dramatic, constantly changing weather and a sky that seems to hang much lower to the ground than any sky I’ve ever experienced in the Midwest of the United States. Clouds hover so closely at times that you can see them touching the tops of trees, their misty fingers almost within reach, mist and fog clings to the ground on cool, damp nights and an approaching storm can seem to swallow up the landscape in its path.

We saw a great example of the magic of nature in Ireland during our last trip when we made another visit to The Cliffs of Moher. On this particular day, the weather was changing by the minute and we left our car with the sun shining brightly and a soft breeze blowing only to have to duck into the Visitors’ Center minutes later to escape a downpour that approached from a distance like a towering, grey wall. Finally, when we were able to venture outside again, we made our way to the top of the Cliffs where, to our delight, we found O’Brien’s Tower open to the public and were able to climb the stairs to the top and look out at the surrounding view. While standing at the top of O’Brien’s Tower, Anton, Eóin and I watched another approaching opaque wall of grey move along the Atlantic and swallow up the Aran Islands causing a magical disappearance worthy of The Mists of Avalon! This was followed by a short downpour that ended with a rainbow, which came out of the heavens and landed directly on top of the Cliffs. It is no wonder that people exposed to such dramatic natural displays and surrounded by ancient structures and historical sites, would have an open mind to possibilities outside the realm of the everyday world, especially people who lived in a time before such modern wonders as air travel, television and computers!

On a small-scale, we had an experience at Rose Cottage during our last visit that illustrates for me just how the combination of very old, man-made structures and the strange West Clare weather, can create a haunting display. Due to the harsh weather during most of our trip, Anton was not able to spend any time clearing the weeds and brier growing around the outbuildings on our property. Not wanting to leave Ireland without at least tackling some of this job, on the last night of our trip he put on his new, Carhartt work gloves and got to work with some hedge clippers next to one of our two old, stone outbuildings. It was dark outside so we repositioned the car and turned the headlights on his work area. Within a half hour Anton had cleared a nice walkway next to the building and exposed an old stone wall that has probably been covered for years. Pleased with his work, and probably wanting proof that he did it, Anton took photos. Following are two photos taken in succession. Now… I am not saying that the second photograph shows anything more than a bit of misty fog floating past… but I think it is a good example of why the West of Ireland was at one time so rife with piseog!

Anton's last minute brush clearing completed...

Anton's last minute brush clearing completed, with 'ghosts' parading past, perhaps admiring his work...