Five years go on 9-11 I was 3500 years away. Having yearned for Ireland my whole life, and heightened this yearning on my 1974 trip, I was spending my dream with my daughter, the best of company. My journal reminds me: on our way home from northern Ireland, we had stayed the night in Castlemane and had a magnificent dinner before retiring in a B&B. We rose on a glorious September day; the sky was brilliant blue and the air crisp and clean and fresh. We travelled down to Royal Meath, land of my ancestors. We climbed Slane hill and closed our eyes to imagine Patrick lighting a bonfire at twilight on Bealtane, to the dismay of Druid chieftains and ollaves- the nation would never be the same again.We travelled into the outskirts of Navan; in the countryside we stumbled on an artisan shop. Captivated by the craftmanship of Aine the proprietor of Imram (Journey), I purchased a beautiful handwoven woolen shawl of eggplant colour (who knew the bedroom in my little country farmhouse purchased later would be the exact colour?). I also bought a hand-chiseled Celtic cross by a phenomenal artist who also dabbled in the construction of curragh (Imram Curragh Mael Duin is a favourite book). We journeyed on to the Newgrange Center at the heart of the Boyne Valley. My Nana had described this as a fairy hill, where they left food offerings on Samhain each year in the 1870-s and 1880's when she was growing up. In the 1970's when I was there, it was being excavated. We entered the Visitor Center at Newgrange on September 11, 2001.
The center awed us. A series of massive stone structures circa 5000-3500 ad, built 500 years before the pyramids; Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. We learned the history and looked at the exhibits, and then we took the bus out to the main structure at Newgrange. We entered the structure and climbed down the long ramp to the center. Looking up at the domed ceiling, you can see the huge slabs of stone that fit precisely and securely, spirals and symbols carved deeply into the stone. The sense of awe and holiness was overwhelming. The docent cut the lights to demonstrate the phenomenon of the morning light of the December solstice illuminating the inner chamber. The stone basin she said they did not know the purpose of, and in my head popped the thought "It's a saining basin, don't be silly", knowing without knowing how I knew. When we exited, I walked widdershins three times around its perimeter, each time bowing in recognition of the four airts. How did that homage remain within me?
The bus then took us to Knowth, a series of smaller yet similar building. We photographed the shapes, the carvings, the positioning of these smaller buildings. One such building had a tunnel beneath, and we were invited to go down. No one volunteered, so, with a laugh, I went below the earth. Deep beneath the stone roof, I sat in the dim light on the gravel, smelling the earth and drinking deep the loamy scent of the air near the river. "This", I thought, "This is where I come from." How far back do we go? I go that far, and this is sure, I knelt in awe of all the universe that moment. I crawled back to the surface on my hands and knees, Kate took a picture of me emerging from the gloom. And as we walked among the ruins there, a docent named Emer came over and said to me "You are Americans, right? There has been an attack on America..." Her girlfriend was calling from town to describe what she was seeing on television. Disbelieving, I listened to the third hand report.
On the bus back to the center, the driver had the radio on, with live reports from New York. Not a soul could say a word- dead silence, and knowing, sorrowful glances from the other Americans.
I was in the holiest place of my antiquity at the moment of the greatest atrocity of my birth country. I was beneath the holy ground when the towers fell.
We checked into a B&B in Athlumney in Navan. We walked to Athlumney cemetery, past the remnant of Athlumney Castle. We did not find our sleeping family there, they rest elsewhere, but some of the wrought iron crosses were so obviously manufactured by Gus Curtis, my cousin the blacksmith. We walked the streets where my Nana walked so many years before and clung to the connection in our grief.
I wrote that night about the great joy of that day- the sense of connection with generations of women before me, and the generations my daughter represented stretching into the future. I wrote about our shock, our grief, our fears for the family behind in the US. I dreamed myself back in the dust and shock of the IRA bombing I had lived through in 1974. I saw myself reaching through the dust in the ruined building to the salvation of the policeman who led us to safety and sunlight. I woke with the taste and smell of stone dust in my mouth and nostrils.
The next day was my birthday, and I wrote about our day, our travels, our attempts to reach our family in the communications void. Boston was under siege and shut down. New York was devastated- a war zone. We could not imagine the loss of life on that scale. I ended my 9-12 journal entry with these words:"I know we will never be the same again-ever."
Five years ago, I was 3500 years away- and that was more real to me than the events taking place in realtime.
May the Lord bless you and keep you and perpetual light shine upon you. Amen.