The Magic Horses of County Galway

The following is the co-first prize, 500 words on a topic of one’s choice, for Turtle’s Caption contest. Themarvelousinnature asked me to write about “the prettiest place on earth”. I hope you like this little photo essay. All photos by Eyegillian.

My great-grandfather’s immigration papers state that he was a stonemason. There’s just the one word, and as he changed his profession on arriving in Ontario, no one knows how he plied his first trade, let alone where he plied it, for his county of origin is not mentioned in his papers.

Kilkenny city gate
He may have helped construction teams in towns and cities, such as Kilkenny.

green road
He could have been working on dry-stone walls in the countryside of County Clare. The stones are snugly fitted so as to hold together without mortar.

high cross & valley
Perhaps he was apprenticed to a tombstone carver. No matter; in Ireland, there can be no trade more honestly come by than that of a stone mason, for stone is everywhere.

Wicklow mountains
Stone is the hard fruit covered with skins of green or purple. It juts among the heather in County Wicklow.

cliffs
The sea batters itself against the cliffs of County Mayo, though the drama of the scene is ignored by a grazing brown cow. 

Ardmore view
A rainstorm sweeps the waves into the stony beaches of Waterford County. 

Connemaras
Sheep, their rumps swatched with dye, munch their way freely over the Connemara hillsides. Stone is everywhere.

In Ireland, everything of age and mystery is of stone, be it castles and churches of the Common Era, or walls and burial sites built before any Christian existed.

 Rock of Cashel
The great medieval fortress of Cashel was built upon a rock. It has always been considered a wise thing to see one’s enemy approaching from afar…

Loughcrew passage tomb
…even five thousand years ago.

cemetery + round tower
Were the round towers built to watch for, and warn against, Viking invaders? Or to shield monks, grain, and sacred objects from the assaults of their enemies? Or to hang the bells that summoned people to prayer in times of peace? Or for all three purposes? No one is absolutely sure.

In more recent history, more subtle monuments of Catholic worship dotted Ireland like sheep: the holy wells. These seemingly functional sites were named as places where one could slip away to pray, without fear of reprisals by the English Protestant overlords. Many can still be found, in various states of repair or disrepair. We found a few of them.

standing stones
The devout could pray while circling each stone on the way to St Brigid’s well in County Kildare…

St. Brigid's Well
… and leave a strip of cloth, in lieu of a votive candle, on the ragtree beside it.

At St Cuan’s well in County Galway, we had to climb a fence into the field. As we approached the fence, two horses trotted up to greet us. They bore no human-made trappings. Although horses usually make me nervous, these two seemed sprinkled with fairy dust. I half-expected them to speak.


The grey horse allowed me to pay my respects. Then he and the other one turned on their merry heels, and jogged ahead of us until they came to what we sought,

horses at St. Cuan's Well
whereupon they turned again to beckon us. The well itself was dry, but the magic of the horses has stayed with me, to make this quiet farm field in western Ireland the prettiest place on earth.

17 Responses to The Magic Horses of County Galway

  1. goodbear says:

    very pretty writing, lavender. a beautiful journey, both your trip and the tale. and as always, e.g.’s photos are wonderful.

    so peaceful.

  2. Shelley says:

    That is beautiful – and I loved how you tied it all together – even the equine visitors. Connemara ponies perhaps?

  3. eyegillian says:

    I love those stone walls, the rocky landscape, the mysterious bogs, the hardy horses. You’ve written a lovely tribute to the elemental quality of the Irish landscape… and you didn’t even mention Guiness!

  4. lavenderbay says:

    Thanks, Goodbear. I actually had a hard time writing enough, because the photos say so much. If you’d like to see more of them, E.g. has 122 photos in her Flickr Ireland set!

    Thanks, Shelley. Connemara ponies? They’re in the right county, maybe they are. I don’t know enough about horses to distinguish them, but Wikipedia describes Connemaras as beautiful, friendly, and intelligent, all of which attributes the St Cuan’s horses possessed.

    It was a wonderful vacation, Eyegillian. And if I were to write more about my great-grandfather, I’m sure I would have included the photo of the Black Cat pub!

  5. livingisdetail says:

    Beautiful! Horses, ruins, history, stonework, Ireland! It is all there – so many of my preoccupations. Thank you lavenderbay this is a magnificent post. I love journeys especially when they lead to magic horses.

  6. Alyson says:

    Exquisite photos. The softness on your face as you meet the horse speaks volumes. And the words – particularly the hard fruit of stones and their green and purple skins, is so lyrical and very lovely.

  7. jamesviscosi says:

    I love the shots of the old graveyards. I’ve always found such places fascinating.

    Horses make me nervous, too!

  8. themarvelousinnature says:

    What a lovely tribute, and the photos capture your writing so well (or your writing captures the photo?). The wells are neat. I love the old stone architecture of ancient Britain. My family on both sides traces back to the British Isles (mostly Scotland, though my maternal grandfather is English), and we have distant relatives and friends there, but despite this I’ve never been there to visit. The stereotype is for the Isles to be gray and rainy, flat and stark, compared to the varied landscape of Canada, even though this is probably far from the truth. Your post really captures the beauty of the place.

  9. lavenderbay says:

    Thank you, blogfriends, for your lovely compliments! I suffer from a rather common brain defect: all insults are directed to the velcrotic lobe, while all praise heads for the teflonic lobe. So I’m always grateful for your kind feedback.

    I really like the horsie quote on your sidebar, Livingisdetail, and thought you might connect with this piece, but then there’s all that history and architecture stuff in it too; praise from you, then, is high indeed.

    Alyson, my Australian published-author blogfriend, I’m so glad you liked the writing. I began at 04 00 when Fergus woke me up, and hammered away at it until noon. That’s less than a word a minute, if you don’t subtract the Frequent Fergus Feedings and doggie outings and suchlike.

    Horses are too big for me, James. Goats — now there’s a decent-sized animal.
    If you’d like to see an entry on an Australian pioneer cemetery, James. Livingisdetail wrote one on March 4th. Go here.

    I think the words and photos were a collaborative effort, Themarvelousinnature, each medium having a hand in influencing the choice of the other.
    You really should go someday. I know you’ve been reflecting on your roots; I have found it very important to walk the land of my ancestors.
    As for the U.K. landscape — what I’ve seen of it — I was surprised at all the treeless hillsides. And yes, Ireland is the only place so far where my Tilley overnight-dry-underwear failed its guarantee, but that was in Foulksrath Castle Hostel on a very rainy night. In contrast, when we were visiting Glendalough, I found it so similar to our Ontario terrain that I thought how grateful our ancestors must have been to arrive here and feel so much at home. I expect much of Scotland might be similarly familiar, but I’ve only barely crossed its borders so far. Maybe another trip, someday…

  10. Alyson says:

    I was really worried for a minute that you actually DID have a worrying brain defect, but then I had a think……

    …..OHHH! Yeah, I have those ones too. You clever!

  11. lavenderbay says:

    I’m glad you figured that one out in a hurry, Alyson. The stroke (?) of genius in the wordplay, I think, was deciding to insert the letter “t” in “velcrotic”, making it sound like such real words as “neurotic” or “biotic” . I just hope no one else went and googled “parts of the brain” to locate these chimerical neural areas!

  12. What a wonderfully evocative blend of words and images. I don’t know that I could choose one place as THE most beautiful place in the world, but Ireland certainly would be in the running.

    Bobbie

  13. lavenderbay says:

    New Zealand runs a close second in my mind, Bobbie, for its amazing diversity of landscapes and seascapes — turquoise glacial lakes, snowcapped mountains, giant ferns, tranquil lagoons, rugged seacoast, bubbling mud pools, arid rangeland, albatross, penguins, pukekos, keas and kiwis — the scenery changes with every leg of the car trip. (And I apologize to my Aussie friends, because I haven’t seen their country yet. )
    Hawaii was nifty too, but being my first experience of a tropical country, it pummeled my northern sensibilities with its — what? — “vegetal culture shock”, I guess. I’m extremely grateful that my week there came before the big trip to New Zealand, where I didn’t waste any time with “landscape lag” !
    But when Themarvelousinnature asked me to write about “the prettiest place on earth”, it was those horses that immediately sprang (trotted?) to mind, and stayed with me as first choice.

  14. futurechaos says:

    Excellent stuff.

  15. lavenderbay says:

    Thanks, Futurechaos! It’s one of my favourite pieces.
    Btw, I see you have an avatar but your URL isn’t linked up. If you scrabble around in your dashboard a bit — like I did only a couple of weeks ago — you should find where to fill it in so that others can go check out your blog.

  16. C says:

    hi lavenderbay!

    in the film PS I Love You, there’s a scene where a field full with Lavender was shown.The filming took place in County Wicklow. i’ve been trying to see the pics of lavender field in the wicklow’s places to visit but found nothing.can u help me??do u know the exact place in wicklow or during what month can i see it??

    thanks a bunch!!!!

  17. lavenderbay says:

    Hello, C!

    I don’t live in Ireland, but this may help you:

    If you go here: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=lavender+wicklow , you’ll see some photos people have taken of lavender fields in County Wicklow. The photos mention Powerscourt and Enniskerry — one photo even has a link to a map that pinpoints where the woman shot the photo! The photos also give the date they were taken.

    If you’re traveling to Ireland, and are prepared to drive around, people there are very friendly and you should find someone to point you in the right direction.

    Good luck!

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