Clonegal to Borris – The South Leinster Way
The local knowledge about the South Leinster Way is that it’s not marked very well due to the fact it doesn’t get much foot traffic. Both those statements are fairly accurate. There are places where markers appear though the markers are so far apart it’s easy to miss them. And because the trail is not well traveled some markers have been overgrown with brush. I quickly learned I need my map, guidebook, friendly locals, the ravens, God’s speed, and some luck to make it down the trail.
Today’s fourteen-mile walk was up the shoulder of Mt. Leinster, the highest point of Southern Ireland. White, black, brown, and spotted longhaired sheep roam the steep, grassy, and treeless slopes. Large outcropping of quartz boulders litter the hills. Thankfully, the walk was around the shoulder, which in itself was a good upward climb. The height of the trek was to a spot known as Nine Stones. There are nine two-foot stones standing on end. The stones form a line about twelve feet long. The Nine Stones overlook a long sweeping hillside rising above a deep and wide valley. One story about the stones is they are pre-Christian. The other story is the stones are markers from the thirteenth century made for nine shepherds who tragically lost their lives near the spot. Whatever is the story there is plenty of room for lots of imagination and possibility.
Nine Stones is the halfway point of the walk. The rest of the walk is downhill working its way into the valley where Borris resides. The problem is, where is Borris? Like where’s Waldo. That depends on whom you ask, or which map you rely on, or which guidebook you study. Fortunately, today, there were plenty of friendly souls along the way who would stop their car when I flagged them down, or open their door when I knocked, or would talk to a stranger backpacking down the road. Everyone was generous with information. Every offer of directions included a story, an alternative route, and a question as to where I was from, where I started the day, and why I was walking. Thankfully, today I made the trek without getting lost, off track, or having to backtrack.
The most joyous site of the day was as I finally entered Borris, Cathy was turning the corner in the car she has named “Cocoon.” There she was, her smiling face and warm greeting, just in time to give me a lift to the B&B, which happened to be a bit out of town. Cathy has done an amazing job of traveling from small village to tiny hamlet, most without locations on the map or names for the roads she must travel. She stops and asks a hundred questions for every ten miles traveled. She does all this with great joy. I imagine she has made at least forty new friends on her own pilgrimage. Besides that, she finds me the best energy bars and little snacks to take each day, arranges for our next B&B, and brings wonderful, loving joy into my life. I couldn’t imagine making the trek coast to coast without her.
Priest, pilgrim, writer, alchemist—living into the mystery, the knowledge, and the practice of sacred alchemy. I've walked across Ireland, almost 400 miles of mountains, valleys, forests, and magic. The pilgrimage was a mirror of my life's journey, coach, president, priest. Traveler of the life's struggles—from failure to re-imagination—still walking.