Sunday, August 23, 2015

Life--and Death--on the Emerald Isle...

I'm in Ireland this week, teaching at a writing tour and retreat sponsored by Ireland Writer Tours.

We've visited some killer sites (pun most definitely intended) and seen more than our share of murders--at least, if you count the kind composed of crows.

In the weeks to come, I'll be sharing the photos and stories from the tour, and today we're starting with a trip to the Aran island of Inis Mór.

The Aran Islands--Inis Mór (Inishmore), Inis Meáin (Inishmeen), and Inis Thiar (Inisheer) sit in the mouth of Galway Bay off the Western coast of Ireland. Inis Mór is the largest, with an area of 12 square miles--and over a thousand miles of handmade stone fences erected over the last thousand years to divide the fields according to ownership.

Many stones, many fields, many lives.

While there, I visited the island's oldest cemetery, which dates to at least the 8th century--the date when this ruined church was erected, in honor of St. Enda--a 6th century saint whose monastic school on Inis Mór drew scholars from around the world and earned the island the title "Aran of the Saints."

St. Enda's church - a ruin, but not forgotten.
The church is now a ruin, but the cemetery remains in use. The graves, and gravestones, tell the story of centuries.

The oldest person buried in the cemetery died last year at the age of 107. Apparently, she continued her weekly shopping trips into Galway (a 40-minute ferry ride, or a 9-minute plane ride across the bay) until the age of 102.

The view from the cemetery on Inis Mor.

The graveyard bears testament to the lives of men, women, and children who lived and died on Inis Mór, as well as some who died across the sea. The gravestones marked with white Celtic crosses (as opposed to the grey ones) belong to Irish servicemen from Inis Mór who served and died in the U.S. forces during World War II.

Gravestones - spanning three centuries in this frame alone.

Our posts here at MIE often focus on the darker aspects of life and death...murder, mayhem, and all the things that quicken a crime-writer's (admittedly twisted) mind. However, this week I thought I'd take a moment or two to offer a somewhat more reflective look at life and death in a place that hasn't changed that much since Enda founded his ancient school. Electricity only arrived on Inis Mór in the 1970s, and many of the inhabitants still enjoy and preserve the older ways.

View through the window of St. Enda's Church

The men and women buried here span centuries, and yet the locals still remember many of them by name, by anecdote, and by reputation.

We should all be so fortunate in our legacy.

Sometimes, the old ways are worth preserving.

And lest you think I've taken too far a turn to the fanciful this week, here's a photograph of a crypt that seemed to have been propped open. I'm sure there's a logical explanation, but the first thing that occurred to me was "gives new meaning to last call at the pub."


We left it undisturbed. I'm sure the occupant will be back soon, and nobody likes returning home from a pint or two and finding himself locked out.

-- Susan, waxing poetic from the Emerald Isle.


  1. What lovely photos! Ireland is a place I've always wanted to visit and never have. Tell us more please.

  2. I agree with AMA, Susan. And I can't blame the missing occupant of your final photo. Who would stay cooped up in a craggy crypt in such a beautiful country. For sure the spirit(s) moved the bugger on to a higher (or one last) calling..

  3. I imagine it would get dank and gloomy in those crypts, so a crack of daylight and a cool breeze would go a long ways towards ameliorating the eternal boredom. I'd be curious to which compass point the crack was pointing: daybreak, sunset, day-long light, or day-long shade (heh-heh).

  4. I think I will sell everything I own and start traveling.

  5. I've said it before of this website Susan but in former times, some mad folk stood at the north of Ireland and pointed across the sea to Scotland. 'Let's go and live there,' they said, 'The weather is even worse!'
    The top of the morning to you!