Stones were a recurring motif for me this summer in Ireland. On the Burren, the megalithic tombs and fairy circles in Sligo, the neolithic Ceide fields found in the Mayo bogs and on Seamus Heaney’s flaggy shore shrewn with seaweed and pebbles washed smooth from the sea.
I popped a couple in my purse and thought no more about it. Until my bag was searched because of them at Shannon airport. Neither contraband nor weapon…just a talisman…something to hold for inspiration and grounding. We got through.
Three weeks later, I was back home for the wedding of a dear friend and stones surfaced again. She chose to wed in the little church on the summit of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain and a mecca for pilgrims since 3000 BC. Built in 1904, the caretaker estimates Meg and Chuck as only the 7th couple to wed in the chapel. He was half of the second, back in the 80s’. The bride’s niece carried a guitar on her back. Others had champagne bottles, glasses, flasks of tea and scones in their nap sacks for the reception 2507 feet above sea level. Hauling myself up was challenge enough for me.
Our children’s school and social lives were too complicated to play out with a sitter so my husband offered to stay behind in London. The bride set me up with an old pal, someone I had last seen almost 20 years ago. So re-connecting with her proved to be the proverbial icing on the (wedding)cake. She lives close to the Reek (local name for the mountain). Down a narrow road with a strip of grass running through it’s middle and sporadic bulges to aid “congestion” (i.e. two cars on the road at the same time) . She doesn’t lock the front door or her car parked out front. In her home every window is a picture frame. I looked out on meadows, lakes and mountain ranges. And of course on the conical mountain that is “Padraig’s stack”.
The happy pair met at a climbing club in Massachusetts where they live. Many of their intrepid friends had travelled over with them from the US. I was later to find that a number of them had also found their mate on a hike. They would be spending most of their vacation with Chuck and Meg on what they termed a “buddymoon”.
On the morning of the wedding we followed instructions and assembled at the base of the mountain by one of the approaches (“the local’s one”) for 8.30am. I was shown a selection of sticks and chose a strong ash that had made the climb before. I don’t think I could have got to the top without my ash. We started off walking through bog and heather occasionally finding ourselves on a well trodden path. More often making our own indent. The climb became steep pretty quick and I engaged with the mount as I tried to find firm footing in the loose quartzite stone. I didn’t look down and the mist that descended meant there was little to focus on ahead. I progressed a step at a time. When the clouds did lift, we’d catch a glimpse of the bay below. It’s said there are 365 islands in Clew Bay. The longer you looked the more you saw until just as a picture had appeared, it faded away again, cloaked by the mist.That’s how the church first appeared to me. Like a mirage. Meg’s cousin had climbed up the mountain the day before and dressed the church. The guitar arrived unscathed and the spontaneously assembled choir (I was in their number) had a quick practice. There was a cheer when the bride and groom appeared. Then disappeared to re-emerge in their full bridal regalia. The bride would walk down the short aisle in heels after all. She was flanked by her brothers. The ceremony was brief but sweet. The priest was mindful not to keep us standing still in a cold church for too long. We had the descent ahead of us after all, some finding that more tricky to navigate because of the loose rocks.
Champagne glasses were unpacked and corks popped. There was a toast, a speech and then a cup of hot tea with scones, baked by the mother of the bride and individually parcelled like a favour. Fuel for our journey down.
The bride’s sister-in-law, with a stiff hip and bad knees, didn’t make the climb but met us with a clipboard to witness Newton’s law of motion. Sixty-five went up and 65 came back down again.
The day was young with much merrymaking ahead. And I had climbed me a mountain. And a stoney one at that.