The rain continued to follow us as we drove further south to Cashel in County Tipperary where we headed immediately for the famous, dominating feature on the landscape:
Jeff was eager to get a close look at St Patrick’s cross which was reported to have a labyrinth-like carving on the base. Could it be? Fortunately, the cross is now indoors, but it is extremely weathered after centuries of exposure to the elements. Nevertheless, as we circled it in the protection of its new home, the circuits could be clearly seen, though the paths were indistinct and difficult to trace, or even to count. There was something very moving about being able to gently touch the ancient carving as we manipulated the lighting and shadows to get a closer look so that we could gather the clues to the details of this rendition of the labyrinth symbol. Now that we are home, Jeff is working with the photos so that he can make a conclusive report in due time.
We then began our search for the other carving that was of particular interest to me: a Sheela-na-Gig set into the outer wall of one of the buildings on the rock.
Sheela-na-gigs are curious stone carvings of naked females who are usually squatting or standing in such a way as to accentuate the vulva. Found on medieval churches, castles and other structures throughout Britain, but especially in Ireland, these enigmatic figures compel interest and stir the imagination. We happily go out of our way to seek them out; the Cashel Sheela was the first of three we found on this trip. For some reason, I was quite startled to see the strange sideways orientation of this one.
We spent the night at Hill House, looking out across the valley toward the Rock of Cashel, but left early the next morning to drive down to the walled town of Fethard, where there are two Sheela-na-Gigs. One is set into the city wall:
And the other is on the wall of the ancient Augustinian friary, very close to the modern priest’s house:
Driving back towards Belfast, we had one last labyrinth to explore, a small carving mounted on the wall of a ruined chapel… and it was here that I had my most memorable moment of the trip. It was cold, very cold, and we could see the chapel out in a field quite some distance from the road where we had parked our warm and comfy car. Contemplating the barbed wire fence we would have to scale and the muddy field we needed to cross, my heart sank. I agreed to the excursion only because I knew Jeff would do the same for me… Bundled in two jackets and several layers of hats each, we climbed into our boots and set out into the rain. Halfway across the field, I realized that it was that moment for which I have been working so very hard for so many months. My slimmer, stronger body absolutely rejoiced as we slogged forward, in total comfort and confidence! Rathmore Chapel was a joy… I read the tombstones outside, then explored the nooks and crannies within, feeling the poignancy of the structure that had served the spiritual needs of so many for so long. I felt connected to myself, to these long-gone faceless strangers, and to the divine thread that weaves between us all.