Black Valley to Glenbeigh
Black Valley rests under the watchful eye of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a twelve-mile long mountain range of the highest peaks in Ireland. The valley is so remote that its residents were the last in Ireland to receive electricity in 1978. Automobiles must share the narrowest of patchy roads with horse drawn jaunting carts and riders on horseback. The walk out of Black Valley is like moving through the history of Irish civilization. Long abandoned rock structures, once small rustic homes to eighteen-century farmers, stand along more modern houses of these fourth generation sheepherders. The people and the land are infused.
The mountain range is named for an eighteenth century chieftain. The reeks are a “black stack” of glacial rock. Fortunately, I did not have to climb Macgillycuddy’s Reeks highest point to get out of the Black Valley, but instead, a smaller ridge of the reeks at the end of Macgillycuddy known as the Cahir, about 400 meters high. The ascent began at an active farmhouse where a standing stone from an ancient people stood in the front of their house, seemingly as commonplace as the barn. The fifteen-foot stone stood as reminder of the Irish interweaving of the ancient and the postmodern. Though, I doubt the people living in this valley may be aware they are living in a postmodern, post-Christian world. If told, I’m sure they would simply raise an eyebrow.
Having climbed above the farmhouse quite some ways across the hill of black rock, I sat down for a drink of water. As I raised the water bottle my eyes fell on three standing stones not twenty-five yards from where I was resting against a large stone. There wasn’t a historical marker or any notation of some significance to mark this ancient holy ground. There in the flow of human time, I was alone to marvel in respect of another’s belief, culture, and ritual. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the mystical cycle of life.
Across the day’s twenty-two mile walk I would climb three steep hills and descend to their valley below. I wanted to revel in the completion of my 354-mile pilgrimage, but as soon as I did I would be reminded of the task at hand as I slipped to by bum on the wet loose boggy grass. Today required my focused attention. Any thoughts of celebration would have to wait for ten hours.
There was some odd justice in the final day of my walk being the longest. Currently, though, I have no earthly idea what that justice is—I’ll have to wait for such a poignant thought to occur, if it ever does. For now, I am simply exhausted and feeling very blissful at the end of the journey. Tomorrow and the rest of my life there will be good enough days to reflect on the meaning of this walk. The pilgrimage, however, continues. Pilgrimage is more than a walk—I have found it is a way of life.
Cathy and I refer to each other as ‘anam cara,’ soul friends. During this journey she has said we are anamorphic cara. Indeed, to be pilgrims as a way of life is to embrace with every morsel of being our personal renaissance of the inner beautiful, the haunting, the frightening, the hated, the adored, the soft, the cruel, the humorous, the damaged, the hilarious, the pitiful, every sliver of our conscious and our unconscious, and claim it as our own, who we are, who we are becoming transformed into for the sake of the other—anamorphic cara.
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.