A day on an island – Lismore

The cat awoke me with her usual routine, a continuous circuit of bouncing from the floor onto my chest, onto the bedside cabinet and down again. Only the padded protection of the quilt absorbed some of the weight of her landing, but I was still winded, enough to sit up bleary eyed and reconcile myself that it was feeding time. Opening the curtains I realized what it a beautiful morning it was. The sun shining in the clear blue sky was occasionally obscured by a small white cloud meandering westwards whilst in the distance the gentle ripples of the loch glistened like a flitting shoal of silver fish.

Pulling on jeans and sweatshirt, I made my way to the local shop for some essential provisions, namely bread and cheese and perhaps a little chocolate; well why not? Over the years the store had become a convivial meeting point. Local news and weather were the main discussion points of the day, the latter being far more dramatic and changeable depending upon the season. Friendships were also formed over the purchase of apples or potatoes and today was no exception as I became acquainted with a neighbour’s wife, cheerfully recalling her recent trip to her sister’s in the city. As I listened, out the corner of my eye I noticed a rather dusty shelf with a small but rather eclectic selection of DVD movies. Presumably, available to help pass the long, dark, wintry nights. As I read the sign above, I discover that the only rental obligations are the jotting of a name in a tattered old ring bound notebook followed by a discretionary donation into a hand fashioned cardboard box. No viewing deadlines, no late fees – try that one Blockbuster!

Trundling back to the manse, I realize that I spend more time watching the activity in the passing fields than the road ahead. Fortunately, there are few cars, mainly farm vehicles, which luckily have the equipment to drag wayward motorists out of ditches, undone by the abject beauty around them. Though here there is the luxury of time. Time to stop and just be, a thread that seems to pervade every living thing. The livestock are the embodiment of that overpowering sense. I have seldom seen sheep, so laid back. Their passage, unrestricted by traditional boundaries, leads them from hillside to bayside, lazily grazing grass and seaweed alike. As I travel onwards, I catch the sunny yellow-headed flag lilies waving to and fro on the roadside, like bystanders waving farewell to a passing parade.

I have found no better place to immerse myself in my studies of the sanctity of the Celtic Saints. Many, contemporaries of St Moluag would have been met with the same challenges of evangelisation on a remote island. Little imagination is required to understand that the ascetic lifestyle was more of an enforced practicality than an ascetic ideal. Whether by divine intervention or not, rough weather or water did little to deter the burgeoning Christian community. St Moluag’s Cathedral became the centre of the island's rich church economy. Although the churches impact upon the landscape has since receded, there is no stone, tree or stream untouched by its spiritual potency. The subject has come alive just being in its midst. Sitting in the sunshine, I temporarily glance up from my books, resting my eyes on the ‘Swan Stone’. Only a few feet away this stone, roughly resembling a cross, marks the church boundary for those seeking sanctuary. Touching or running ‘sunwise’ around the stone granted protection to the desperate. Northward, a well fabled for its curative properties would have attracted pilgrims, willing to travel weeks or even months for the hope of healing. Overgrown and silent now, day or night, summer or winter, this landscape would once have witnessed a constant way fare of worshippers. The rising wind wakes me from my daydream by whipping the pages rapidly, purposefully closing the book and bringing my studies to a natural end.

Standing at the back door, my lungs fill with the freshening evening air; a delicate mixture of scents of the sea with a trace of wild garlic from the neighbouring field. In the distance a horse whinnies contently. I realize that coming here has been like waking from a dream. It is a place to reconnect with ones’ past and present and without sounding too clichéd be at one in spirituality and faith. My eyes move slightly upwards towards the church and graveyard overlooking the manse. The white flowers that gracefully grow upon the overgrown monuments move wistfully in the darkness, like shadows between the stones. Profiled against the dusk sky, the gravestones in their varied shapes, sizes and condition are the only earthly reminder of those long departed, though the depleting light creates the illusion of a miniature city skyline. The moon, now nearly full illuminates the little white washed church, sitting serenely on the hillside like a beacon. I nod goodnight and close the door.

Sharon Casey (21st June 2011)
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