The Golden Thread Tour
Céad Míle Failte Romhat A hundred thousand welcomes to you
Tour Eiriú : July 18th to 27th 2019 fully booked
Tour Eala : Summer 2020 dates to be announced in October 2019
As I prepared to move away from the West of Ireland to the USA in 2013, I knew well what I was leaving behind me and that the longing between these two places was only just beginning. In six years, my longing for Ireland has never ceased and for good reason. Coming to know Ireland from abroad has given me a very different insight into her extraordinary nature. Going home has become a pilgrimage to precious land. Ireland's significance in the lives of those apart from her and their longing to go to her is very powerful indeed and it has become my understanding that the feeling is mutual. Ireland is waiting for us too.
The roads less traveled
Ireland is a beautiful country in every aspect of that word. Much like the Goddess Eiriú her namesake, she is a land full, warmhearted, deep with history and as mysterious a place as you could imagine. Known as the land of welcomes, tourism is a valuable and thriving part of Irish life and culture. There is though places of Irish presence and hospitality, far from the din of the tourist trail that holds both an exquisite beauty and depth of experience. These are the places I grew up with, cherish on my return, and that beckon to me each day.
A Golden Thread Tour will bring you to places of extraordinary natural and wild splendor, to sacred holy wells, ancient forts and stone circles, castles, abbeys, a road six thousand years old, wild islands at the very edge of the world it seems and to mossy hazel woods with sparkling streams. And to Ireland's people, visits with her poets, storytellers, to family homes for Irish tea, and through thoughtfully planned experiences of herblore, Irish bread making, wild foraging and crafts. The bustling farmers markets, eateries and pubs are central to Irish culture and are woven through our journey together.
My approach to making Golden Thread Tours has been a creative endeavor in all senses. It was American friends who first inspired me to begin. I think through hearing my stories and seeing my sense of belonging to the place, I was often asked " when are you bringing us to Ireland ?"
It took me a while to hear that question and recognize it's call. Once I did, I went home and asked Ireland. Walking the hills, swimming the lakes and rivers, the seas, staring into rock pools wondering, sitting with trees and old stones, I asked "how and why" ? How and why do I bring people home and share with them these living places? The answer was in the question.
Bring them home!
Show them what you know to be alive, true beauty that runs deep and stirs over the senses. Fill their eyes with dream places and lodge in their hearts and minds the memories of a natural presence, embroidering a life with real experience of an odyssey like poems and paintings forever felt inside.
The moment I began then to work the canvas of these days I was inspired without end to bring you close in to the Ireland I love. The joy in its realization in summer 2019 has been bountiful. It was such an honor to bring my first two groups to Ireland. I am again planning our next tours and more.
For a small country, just 172 miles across and 300 miles up and down there is much to see and be seen. I have chosen to bring you to the places I know by heart, or like the back of my hand so to speak. We will also be joined by guides along our way to give you their personal insight into these places or to offer a special experience.
The Coast of Ireland, particularly on the west side is dotted with many smaller islands. Some are home to communities and some to wildlife alone. There is something very distinct about island life, from the adventure of getting there to the sense of being abroad, out to sea, away, and in truly wild space. They are culture's unto themselves and full of their own stories and sacred and special places.
You will be bought to some beautiful wild island places. I have been visiting these islands too since I was a young girl. I love the getting there part, the boat out, run by families for generations, leaving the coast behind us in the salty sea breeze and the coming in around the curves of the Island's bays and cliffs, the anticipation of having my eyes filled with beauty, sea birds crying above, and all the seaweeds swirling underneath, ambers and golds in turquoise clean sparkling waters.
The islands themselves are full of presence with a an ancient sites and early Christian monastic hermit dwellings, wild bird sanctuaries, colonies of puffins depending on the time of year, Gannets and many other sea birds. Seals greet you at each turn in the trails, swimming below in the blue waters popping up curious as to your progress. This is a place I remember often from my Appalachian home. So embedded in my memory bank it is that on a breezy spring day here in the US, I think I can smell the sea air on the islands.
The Making of Beautiful Days
Ireland was once a Celtic country. It may be the only land that was ever truly and solely Celtic. Its geographic location offered the element of protection. It has meant that it has been a forgotten outpost, a wild place of edges. Unwanted by the Romans and some parts left untouched, left aside by conquerers who had no desire to reach further into its rockiest places. Ireland was a haven, a safe house for tradition, wisdom and presence. As a result those roots run deep. The ancient world has been able to hold some sway in a modern Ireland. Many would say it is foundational to what makes Ireland and the Irish. Indeed if a renassaince of ancient wisdom and understanding of how we can be with the Earth is underway, Ireland holds a key to an old stony door that is cracked open for us to see.
Real evidence of this lays scattered across the countryside in what is known as fairy forts and fairy rings, stone circles, mounds, dolmens, ancient passage tombs and places of ceremonial rites. One can not underestimate the power of these places in their continuing conversation as they lay themselves open to the elements and all those who come upon them and remember them.
In Celtic spirituality as in most indigenous cultures of today, it was felt that the landscape was very much alive and we part of it all, interconnected. Many Irish myths are remembered today. Sang in song and told in story, shared in beliefs overlapping with Christianity. They talk of worlds mingled into each other, of places where there is no time or time being lost or gained, of fairies and creatures that live alongside us and are protectors of the water, the earth and the skies. Trees being doorways and holy wells places of dreaming, vision and healing.
Early Christian Ireland and Celtic Ireland were for a time a well made match. Celtic crosses are the sign of those early days of a mystic Christianity that bode well with the traditions of a Druidic Ireland. Some might say it was a mutual enlightenment. The high crosses and Celtic crosses of Ireland are surely imbued with that.
Old monastic settlements too ring out still with those stories of a time where the spiritual world and the living world were hand in hand. One such place can be found on a lake near my old family home. It is a particularly beautiful spot in the world. The first monks settled here in 520 AD
All tours meet in Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland. We have two bases of accomodations during the tour. One in The Burren of west Clare and the other in Kilkenny in the South East of Ireland. The Burren is pure relief for tired eyes, a natural invitation in a place to behold the world.
Accommodations, Journey's pace, Food and Weather
Carefully curated and considered, your accommodations will be an inspiring experience, a Georgian period home, to a B and B built over a holy well, with a chapel at its center. There are choices of single and shared rooms with comfort, character, and quality at their heart. They will be contrasting in period and style furthering your encounter with this country.
Having these beautiful homes on a journey such as this is an important component. These homes offer you space for reflection and rest, with window seats and nooks for quiet time and group rooms for sharing and socializing. They also offer us a haven from the weather if we have a rainy day, which is likely. There will be an opportunity to participate in contemplative art sessions on these days. The tour itinerary has been made flexible in such a way as we can work with Ireland's spontaneous weather changes.
Irish Food is wonderful, lots of fresh produce with lively farmers markets. Fresh seafood is often on the menu as well as traditional Irish fare transforming for modern palettes and a good mix of international flavors. Many of your meals are provided for you, some are organized to be in Irish family homes, breakfasts at B and B's, wild picnics, a foraged food lunch as well as a welcome dinner. There will be plenty of opportunities get a taste of the freshness of Irish foods in cafe and restaurants and pubs as well as stops at whole food shops and markets to stock up on supplies and snacks. In 2019 both groups were surprised by the high quality, freshness and choice of Irish foods.
The pace of the tour is carefully thought through so that there is a sense of flow, not harried nor hurried but carried and guided. Having just two bases means we have homes to go to at the end of our days. Comfort is a VERY important part of a Golden thread tour and that you are supported and your needs met. We are also traveling, adventuring and at times this can be both a challenge and a gift. We have an itinerary which we mostly stay with but ready to change if weather asks us or if a better opportunity reveals itself, like an invitation to a Irish singing session or a full moon over a starry coastline is too beautiful to miss.
We travel by comfortable rented vans and the tour is no bigger then 12 guests and two guides. There are ample breaks and time to rest and at the same time a very real understanding that this is a rare opportunity to be in Ireland.
We traverse uneven ground often and there are two hour long hikes in the tour. It is possible to sit these out. We get in and out of boats. We visit castles with some uneven steps and some steep places. All these can be supported and extra attention given to those who may need support. They are a special part of the tour and it is a wish that all can participate in them though clearly understood that safety comes first.
Irishness depends a lot on experience and whom you talk to. You will come to know your own kind on this tour. A profound connection to the land is for me a great definer and equalizer of Irish life. As mentioned above Ancient pre-christian Ireland was for a long time a Celtic land and held by the druids. The druids were interwoven with the liveliness of land and their spiritual world and physical world were intermingled. As early Christianity became more widespread in Ireland and with it the changing of laws and ownership it is said the druid people went underground and became what is known as the Tuatha de Danan ( peoples of the goddess Danú ).
Growing up in Ireland, these stories and many more like them told to me over the years, sung into songs and stories and poems, of the magical and protective presences in the landscape, were awe-inspiring to my childhood imagination and have never been lost to me. I have never felt alone in a field, or by a river, or in the woods in Ireland, and naturally so spent much of my adult life learning more about the existence of this numinous thread. In my coming to America, I understood far more keenly then I could have imagined how connected to Ireland I was. I decided not long after settling here to love Ireland from afar like so many do and to use the agency I learned as a child to wonder in the landscape, and learn to bring alive that imagination here in Appalachia, through my art and teaching and now through bringing people home to Ireland.
Irishness, a tragic history, a magic history, a brilliant sense of humor and a slower pace of life
The diversity of landscape is extraordinary in Ireland. Its common ground is so often the curving and surprising and inviting forms of valleys and hills full of presence.
Ireland's more recent history ( recent as in 900 years) has a great deal of tragedy. All to used to war, occupation, war, famine, war again and again, poverty, more war, and emigration. It is full of complexity and of survival against all odds and incredibly out of the bleakness of that, a North Atlantic outpost of extraordinary beauty remains. Ireland has offered the world her artists, poets, writers, musicians, and innovators for centuries, many of whom have fought for her, and inspired so many to take heart in the direst of circumstances. The amalgamation of suffering and love for Ireland that has stayed so alive for these thousands of years has created a very special country and kind of people that I feel I can safely say you will meet nowhere else.
The Irish sense of humor is as renowned. I don't know if it's dragging oneself through all that history alongside the living stories of the land around us, as well as the wild westerly winds of winter, that would make one laugh at the absurdity of being too serious about life. There is no doubt the Irish wit and humor is a powerful thing and is a gift of the Irish to be able to make light in the darkness. The Irish are perceived to be very friendly and welcoming. I think a great deal of that is the Irish valuing of conversation and storytelling and most importantly of life itself. And though the Irish pace of life has speeded up even in my lifetime it is still slower than most. It takes me a bit of time to slow down and adapt and recognize again too the value in stopping for conversations, sharing, and connecting warmheartedly with those around you. Ireland will show you how that can be, how a day can be a crafted thing full of life in all its shades.
In Summer of 2019 I brought two tours to Ireland. The first was with the high school students of SOLA, School of Living Arts and the second was the first official Golden Thread Tour. This was a wonderful start and a great exploration. I look forward to sharing here soon some of the words of these travellers and share more in blog posts about the deep and extraordinary journey we undertook.