Millstreet to Shrone
When I climbed to the top of the hill and didn’t find any Way marker to greet me, but instead an ominous sign say, “Grieves Wind Farm, Highly Dangerous, Threat of Death from falling, drowning, and electrocution,” I knew I was in the wrong place.
I guess I should start this story from the beginning. That would be rain. Not the constant gentle rain of Ireland, no today it rained and at times it poured, then pounded and then simply rained some more.
I left Millstreet this morning feeling as if I was going in the wrong direction. After asking two people, I got myself back on the right path. As I was walking over the bridge leaving Millstreet, a woman stopped her car and asked me if I was knew where I was going. I should have taken this as yet another warning sign. I said I could always use some advice and told her my intention of walking to Shrone. She got out of her car and rummaged through the boot looking for some maps, but she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She obviously was a local hiker and wanted to let me know the hills were filled with multiple loop options for walking. I thanked her not knowing her comment would be my undoing.
The forest trek up the Claragh Mountain was through a dark forest path that was identical to the Claragh loop. At the shoulder of the mountain the Claragh loop and the Blackwater Way I was walking separated, sort of. The route I was on swung around the northern shoulder of the brush covered mountain. Every step of the trail was shared with sheep and cattle. The mud was overflowing with this mornings rain. At times the brush was pulling at my rain poncho and pants. I was walking in mud and water over the top of my boots and I was so thoroughly drenched I could feel the water running down my legs into my boots. Today would be the first day my feet got wet.
At one point I was walking up a sheep trail, which I knew was a sheep trail because I was following the sheep, at some point the rain got so heavy my woolen friends sought cover under some low brush. As I passed my more intelligent friends I could sense their amusement as I slogged down the hill. Eventually, I found some refuge under a low hanging tree propped up against a stone wall. I waited there until I saw that the sheep thought it was safe to come out. The rest of the path down the hill took me through three fields where I had to climb under a “hot wire” used to keep the sheep and cattle in their respective pastures. I don’t know if the wire was live—I was too drenched to chance being shocked.
The near three-hour rain pounded muck trail finally dumped me out on a road on the south side of Claragh Mountain. There were at least four different Way markers, all pointed east. My map seemed to indicate this was possible so I followed what I thought was the right marker, thinking it would eventually turn west and take me to Shrone.
Three hours later I was standing a top Grieves Wind Farm staring at twenty-one wind turbines and the warning sign. I backtracked to the last Way marker I had seen two miles ago. The marker was by a road juncture near a farm. I thought maybe I had misread the arrow. While walking back I looked for a possible missed marker, none was seen. When I returned to the last marker, I indeed had followed it correctly. Across from where I was standing was a barn with two farmers inside working on some machinery.
The men were talking to each other in Gaelic. When I approached they spoke kindly to me in a heavy Irish brogue. I told them my story and explained about the Way marker just outside their barn. Are there any other markers up the hill? I asked them. They chatted in Gaelic. One answered, “No, I’m sorry there aren’t.” That’s odd, I said. “We know,” they smiled. I asked them if there was a way to Shrone from where we were standing. “No,” they said. “It’s a six hour walk from here back the way you came.” I asked where the nearest village I could walk to, I knew it was late and I was going to have to call Cathy to pick me and start over tomorrow. “Well, the closest village is where you started. I’ll give you a ride,” one man offered. I wanted to cry but I knew they would consider my already curious plot just plain weird if they saw any tears. When he dropped me off near Millstreet I asked if I could pay him, he refused and wished me best of luck. I told him how much I appreciated his generosity and blessed him. He smiled. I am continually astounded and thankful for the Irish hospitality, which is simply their way of living, moving, and having their being in this world.
Tomorrow I will regroup and see if I can make my way to Muckross. I’ve walked nearly 315 miles. The time for giving up has long been passed. I can now see the lure of the beautiful Kerry Mountains that will take me to the western coast. A few extra hours don’t mean much at this point in my pilgrimage. I can see that ram still looking at me.
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.