Chelsea Goodrich is a spirited, positive-thinking woman living in Sun Valley, Idaho who is not only an excellent song-writer but also a certified health coach and well-respected medical and science writer. She also facilitates groups and individuals through the grief recovery process. Chelsea was a participant in the Travel Writing Retreat earlier this year and this is one of her writings inspired by her experience on the 'Wild Atlantic Way' in Donegal.
I could see my foggy breath on the cold damp Donegal air as I entered old Teach Mhuiris, a blazing fire calling to me beyond the table spread with butter, scones and hot stew.
This cozy restored thatched cottage is more than just a charming piece of preserved history. It’s a time-traveling experience that whisks you back to a dramatically different era where hard manual labor of turf-farming, ceol (Gaelic for music), dancing and storytelling by the fire was a way of life.
This all somehow seems far less long-ago as the strikingly lovely creature sitting next to me, sean nos (Gaelic) singer, Noeleen Ni Cholla, shares with charming animation between bites of vegetable stew how she used to come to this place often as a wee child to play and sing.
I and the others listen with rapt interest to Noeleen as well as Cathal Ó Gallchóir (a gentleman who knows lots about local history) as a river of stories about people, places and lore of the area come flowing out of them at a pace that makes it clear we’re only getting a small glimpse into the treasure trove of information they have to offer.
One of the most intriguing of the magic tales, is one Noeleen shares about the legend of ‘the red ribbon,’ about how her great grandmother and some other related women used a red ribbon to heal an illness known as heart fever.
She described various healing rituals performed by her gifted progenitors, and the fact that she didn’t even know about these things - that her great grandmother, for example, had healed over one hundred people - until after her grandmother had passed away. This was because some of her relatives had stopped sharing these stories, deciding they were only superstition.
As we sit around on mismatched antique wooden chairs around the tables, there are also some tales swapped of a local ‘white witch.’ And an intriguing account is given of a man nearby who can see the spirits of the dead and is a clairvoyant seer of sorts, with whom an appointment is vehemently requested by popular demand from our group. A meeting with a real, living, breathing Irish fortune teller is certainly not an opportunity we’ll let pass us by.
As I snack on traditional wheaten bread lathered with a butter infused with indigenous yellow gorse flowers (very tasty) I decide the stories and music I’m hearing could convince even the most hardened skeptic to consider the possibility of things mystical and magical.
And I think of how glad I am that people like Noeleen, Cathal and the local councilman, John Sheamais O'Fearraigh, who also shared in the discussions, exist. Remarkable people with a burning desire to preserve and pass down their intricate history, traditions and unique local offerings of this part of Ireland's wild Atlantic coast.
The afternoon ends beautifully with the same childlike wonder felt throughout this experience when Noeleen stands in front of the warm hearth on Teach Mhuiris' rugged floor of huge flagstones and within its lovely round-roofed acoustics sings the most haunting of songs. It is music to rival the melodies of any Celtic Goddess and make gnomes, faeries and leprechauns swoon.
And that no doubt makes the soul of her grandmother smile, as it was she who passed the love of sean nos singing on to her raven-haired grand-daughter, and one of Noeleen’s songs is dedicated to her and their last moments together in this life. This song especially touches me because of some of my own personal experiences.
As my eyes fill with tears at the gorgeous history and humanity of the soulful Irish melodies I’m hearing, I know that after this wondrous day in an old cottage along the Wild Atlantic Way, I’ll never ever be quite the same.
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