I am currently engaged with a project to create a 35 mile hiking trail in county Mayo. It will start in Balla a small town in mid Mayo and finish at Murrisk at the foot of the Reek, or Croagh Patrick, as the holy mountain is known outside of Mayo. It will be called the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail.
Some months ago, in late March 2008, during that lovely period of cold clear sunny weather, I walked the last section of the trail. Across the face of Croagh Patrick from Boheh of the Rolling Sun toward Murrisk I trekked.
A lot of thoughts jumbled through my mind as I hiked along…… ideas about sacred place and the naming of place, ideas about the time of year that I was journeying here.
For instance Croagh Patrick has a much older history than the Christian one more recently ascribed to it. Formerly it was Cruachain Aigle – Eagle Mountain – most likely a Druidic ritual centre. Indeed there are some who believe that there was once an older pre Christian pilgrim path that reached from Rath Cruachain, near Tulsk in County Roscommon, home to Queen Medbh, [she of the Tain Bo Cuailgne] all the way to Cruachain Aigle. All around me as I walked were the archaeological remains of Bronze Age, Stone Age and Early Christian times. I experienced a deep sense of age old calmness, a serenity that recharged my spirit.
Along the way I met a hill farmer, and we talked of the impending lambing season. This led me to reflect on February – what an interesting month. Beginning with La Feile Bride, or St. Brigid, that most pagan of Celtic Priestesses, [now beatified by Christian tradition] linked to this feast is the festival of Imboilc – a term which refers to the lactation of ewes – the flowing of milk – the return of life giving spring.
Incidentally Februum was also a Roman festival/ritual meaning purification. Last Samhain I related how the Celts used Fire for purification at Samhain, here again the idea recurs. The Christian churches have designated February 2nd as Candlemass day, the day when all candles to be used in liturgical celebrations, during the coming year would be blessed. Again and older tradition overlaid with a newer dispensation.
As I meandered along I mulled over these ideas, the interconnectedness of all things, unfortunately I did not have anybody to share these thoughts with – till now.