I rode over on a blue and white boat named “The Happy Hooker” to the largest island, Inishmore in the trio of the Aran Islands… the farthest from the mainland. There are several Iron Age forts on Inishmore, all of which I was feeling honored to be able to bike out and see. I made it to these islands after the first week in Ireland, and sometimes when I think back, I wish I had spent so much more time here than I did. It is a place I intend to go back to. There was something totally magical about this place, and as you traveled the island, you could see the variety of places not only to stay, but how different each area felt. I have many stories to tell of this island, but today, I am reminded that things are not always what they seem.
When I arrived at the docks, people swarmed the abundant sweater shops the island had become known for I guess. Irish knit sweaters out the kazoo. Many crafters live on this island making these one-of-a-kind sweaters. This is how many locals make a living. I had never seen so much spun, knitted wool in my life. I bought one with a Celtic knot on the front of it. I also bought this totally cool Adam Ant jacket, that was anything but Irish looking or handmade, but it needed to be mine.
I rented a room in a bed and breakfast at the very end of the island by the tiny private airport, right on the beach. It was lovely. It overlooked to ocean and an old church no longer standing, complete with it’s own cemetery, filled with ancient cross stones carved with Celtic knots. It was perfect for me.
I would be here three days – maybe four, I wasn’t sure. I took all the weight off the bike, which felt like it lifted the world off my shoulders. My bike was LIGHT, and I could ride the island for days with no gear, no padded pants – I felt like I did when I went from 230 to 130 lbs. My bike and body went so much faster. I felt like a child, even though I was only days away from turning 40.
When the boat docked, maps were given to passengers with suggested bike routes to take based on ease and historic site, which I took, stuck in my bag and fully intended to look at it, but never did. I ended up going the opposite direction of every other biker I saw peddling around. I realized probably by day three, the way I chose, was going uphill mainly, and everyone was coasting the other direction. Hahaha….not unusual for me. Trusting your own intuition to make every move during a trip can be tough, especially when it’s in writing you’re doing it wrong.
After settling in my room, I rode back, went back to the sweater shops, looked around, got some food that I took and ate by the ocean, on the sea wall. There were a lot of people in this area. This is typically when I have to leave the scene. I have never liked crowds of people, don’t like getting bumped into, and feel so much better off on my own watching from afar. I noticed a group of people traveling together at one point, a few of them had trouble walking and I noticed other tourists pushing past them, everyone rushing, hitting some of them with their bags of sweaters. It made me shake my head and remember the small plant that I saw a few days earlier busting right through the road, right through the tar, just as healthy as ever. I stopped and looked at it, totally in awe that this fragile little plant could burst through this black heavy road, and right after I took a picture of it, I watched all the people unload the bus and walk right on top of it. This plant was now dead, or at least close. It made me incredibly sad. I know I was tired and over-thinking everything, but it’s funny how things jump out at you in times like that.
I didn’t hang long – I decided to go exploring. I was heading to a fort on the end of the island that I was staying called the Black Fort, or Dun Dúbhchathair. There would be plenty of time to see the site of the Seven churches, Dun Auengus, the beehive monastery, so much more that this island had to offer tomorrow – today I was heading here.
I could only bike so far, then it became impossible due to the size of the rocks on the road. My bike wasn’t having it. I parked it along a wall, grabbed my pack and walked in. I made it to more rock walls, and no clear direction where I was headed, as everything out there begins to look the same. Endless rocks, piled on top of each other, and the sound of the sea in the distance like a lion roaring. I followed it. There were no posted signs, and I had no map. I walked for a long while… climbed over some walls and finally made it to a standing fort on the very tip of the island, surrounded by layers of tiered rock walls. It was this spiraling, interesting formation. I met a German woman out here also by herself. She took a picture of me sitting on the edge, and I did the same for her. We sat together and talked for a while. She was in between relationships, and career. She came to think – what would she do next – where would she work, what, when and why…. Same as me. We were both staring off into the ocean looking for the answers. She went her way and I stayed there a lot longer. I think this became my favorite place on earth. I sat on this edge, unafraid, looking across the ocean into nothingness. I thought, I am almost exactly looking across from where I grew up, looking across. I was forever looking across this ocean. From the cliffs of Massachsetts, from my bedroom window. I always wanted to look back. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else at this moment.
One thing I noticed when I traveled to Ireland is, it rarely got dark. Not dark like I am used to in the Appalachian Mountains. It was always twilight while I was there. This made it hard for me to sleep, which is already a serious issue for me, but it did alleviate most of my fear about getting lost or stuck outside anywhere at night. But tonight, I wanted a bed, a shower, a window with a shade. Sleep.
The cliffs here were like the Cliffs of Moher; massive and unfenced. Rock fell away often, making the island smaller and smaller. You could look down and see giant collapses, and the awkward places they ended up, causing waves to now crash in incredible patterns hitting other rocks, reshaping the earth here. I wondered if someday it may just be gone all together. Huge boulders crashed into the sea. I knew the general direction to head, so there I went. I jumped around in the fort, climbed on piles of rocks, jumped over walls, headed back toward the direction of my bike. At least, I think that’s where I’m going.
Walking along the jagged ledge, I see a man, stumbling so dangerously close to the edge. I thought, oh Jesus, this guy is totally going to fall in. If you were to sit and watch for any length of time, you could watch rocks tumble away into the ocean hundreds of feet lower, just on their own, never mind a grown man walking on top of them. I could barely get ten feet of this edge without feeling incredible gusts of wind, and a sick urge to drop to my stomach or just jump and be done with it. I watched him stumbling around thinking, oh great, another drunken Irish guy, just what I need. Seriously? out here? I have had my fill of this kind of stuff and I immediately copped major attitude and was irritated, but I still thought I better go get him or he was gonna surely disappear into that cold water. As I walked his direction, he started wandering away from the edge (phew) and stumbled to one of the walls to walk over to get to where we would be heading toward maybe some kind of a road. In the wall, a large rock had been removed for easy passage through to the other side. The rest of the walls had rocks standing straight up to keep sheep and horses inside them. This opening is how I knew we were going the right direction.
He made it to the wall before I did and when he got to the opening and he tried to get over the wall. He just couldn’t get his leg to cooperate. He stood frustrated trying. He tried to take his arms and lift his own leg over the wall. He tried to sit and flip backward. He tried to lift his foot by pulling his pants. During all of this, I just stood behind him watching him waiting for my turn, wondering really, what the hell is this guy doing? He could not get his foot lifted to get over the wall. At one point he looked at me and he smiled and I smiled back but was more uneasy than anything. I recognized this man from the group of people I saw at the sweater shops. It took him a complete 8 minutes to get over this opening in this wall. His leg had a mind of it’s own.
There was no one else here, but I didn’t want to embarrass the guy by helping him, and I felt at a complete loss as what to do. My intuition said, watch, let him, just be there. I felt totally patient, because I just couldn’t stop watching him and wondering what in the world…. He finally made it over to the other side. And as he stood, he put out his hand for me to hold, and I took it, and walked over the wall with ease; one step. He didn’t let go of my hand. I spent the next two hours holding hands with this guy.
This is when I realized, this young man, was not only gorgeous, he was French, and pretty seriously disabled. We had a long way to go on an uneasy road. We tried to communicate to each other. The French I learned in elementary school was not helping, nor was the one French phrase from a song we all know, (but I did say it, and he laughed.) His impairment was obviously brain-related, inhibited his speech and his movements. I thought, this is the strangest place in the world to meet a person like this. Alone, walking the edge of the earth – the middle of nowhere in some ancient Black Fort. We walked, then sat, laughed at each other trying to understand each other for two hours before we met up with another person from his group; a young south African girl who spoke English, and could offer translation. She explained that their group consisted of all brain trauma victims, who all share a group home in France and were traveling Europe together. She said it had been a horrible experience so far, as people were rude to them, impatient and frustrated, treating them unkindly. Her memory of the US was only in Chicago from a student trip, which she loved, but thought there were too many restaurants. And then made a comment about how much people eat in America. She couldn’t believe it. Food everywhere you looked, she said, everyone is so hungry there.
I asked if she could translate for us while we tried to talk. He was obviously trying very hard to tell me things and I could see his frustration, and of course me guessing in English was only making matters worse. He also has a serious speech impairment that took words five times longer to come out than a normal rate, I felt like I was on a game show.
Here’s what’s funny though, we didn’t speak the same language, but we did understand each other. In a different sense. I knew this because I felt completely at ease with this person, and my heart was just expanding with him. I swear, if you could fall in love with someone immediately, then this is what happened. He never let go of my hand, he smiled at me, laughed with me, and there was some kind of eye communication that I don’t know how to describe using words.
The translator helped us talk to each other. He told me what happened to him and what caused his disability. It had been in a car accident, he talked of where he lived and his trip so far. He told me of the pain his mother went through when he had his accident. He told me how it impaired him physically. We talked about what he wanted to be when he was younger, a taxi cab driver in Paris, and how sad he was to give up that dream. He touched my face and she translated, he said, You are beautiful, and the only person on this trip that has stood patiently waiting for me without pushing past, yelling. You waited for me. You stood silent, you smiled, You are beautiful! Happy Birthday Beautiful Lynn. Except when he said it, it took three minutes and involved drool. He then asked the translator how old I was going to be – I told her 40 and they both gasped and said NO!!! I said, yeah really, I know. Scary.
I was amazed that someone actually called me patient. THAT was a total first.
We all walked out. He joined his group and I needed to head in the other direction. This young man made my heart smile, and the Black Fort experience, one of the most moving ones I had in Ireland. I came home researching ways to get art grants to be able to work with disabled adults. He gave me an answer to a question I had been missing. And this man, was a beautiful soul. And for someone who could barely speak, he delivered a wicked powerful message to my heart.