I’m back in the red chair looking out at fog-covered mountains, feeling grateful.

The dire hurricane forecasts at end of our trip to Ireland gave us pause,

but all of us eighteen pilgrims on Tour I of Eklectic Pilgrimages to Ireland have returned safely.

Thanks be to God.

Our group of 22 pilgrims at the ruins of the monastery on the Hill of Slane, Ireland.

Our group of 22 pilgrims at the ruins of the monastery on the Hill of Slane, Ireland.

Our itinerary kept us stepping.

In fact, one day I clocked over 15,000 steps and 58 floors!

Climbing over rocks, gazing at new vistas, singing, praying, imagining,

these are the joys of the journey.

But the journey never ends. Each one leaves its mark on the spirit.

What are the the lessons I take with me from this trip, my third British Isle pilgrimage since 2012?

1. Dúchas. Spirit of the place in Old Irish.

Grace Clunie, an expert on Celtic Spirituality, introduced us to this term.

But before we had the name, we already had the experience,

walking among the huge trees,

listening for the history, the old stories, feeling the healing spirit of Genesis I:31

“And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

On the grounds of the Dromantine Conference Center, Newry, Northern Ireland. Easy to imagine leprechauns cavorting here.

On the grounds of the Dromantine Conference Center, Newry, Northern Ireland. Easy to imagine leprechauns cavorting here. An ancestral tree.

2. “Peace comes dropping slow.”

Ireland is as famous for its history of sectarian fighting as it is for its green beauty.

The fragile peace that settled on the island in 1998 brought an end to The Troubles,

but the tensions between Protestant and Catholic,

England and Ireland, have not disappeared.

The Brexit vote threatens the free border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

What a thrill it was, therefore, to spend two days at Corrymeela,

a place devoted to peace,

a place of conversation, play, art, song, and faith.

A storied place, a restorative culture.

The short video below explains how the mission began 50 years ago and what the place is today.


For me the highlight of the entire trip was listening to Pádraig Ó Tuama

describe the history of the Irish languages,

the Celtic Calendar,

the history of conflict, and the methods of the Corrymeela community.


Pádraig signs my copy of his book, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World

Pádraig signs my copy of his book, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World

I also gained a new appreciation for St. Brigid, one of the three patron saints of Ireland.

The icon in the church devoted to her in Kildare shows her standing on a jeweled sword,

indicating her dedication to nonviolence.

See explanation of the icon's symbols here: http://brigidine.org.au/about-us/our-patroness/the-icon-of-saint-brigid/

See explanation of the icon’s symbols here: http://brigidine.org.au/about-us/our-patroness/the-icon-of-saint-brigid/

3. Don’t romanticize Celtic Spirituality.

It’s easy to make of the Celts a Christian answer to all that is wrong with church and society today.

The Druids, pre-Christian Celts,

may have worshipped trees, developed the art of storytelling, and walked gently on the earth,

but they also lived “nasty, brutish, and short” lives,

at the mercy of both the elements and their enemies.

They were “absolutely rooted in the pragmatism of survival,” said Ó Tuama.

Navan Center and Fort, Armagh, Ireland, includes a living history museum.

Navan Center and Fort, Armagh, Ireland, includes a living history museum with a replica of an Iron Age (800 BC to 43 AD) dwelling.

When they responded warmly to the Christian message brought by St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid,

the Celts developed a vital, muscular faith that still inspires

both Catholics and Protestants in Ireland

and around the world.

Pádraig Ó Tuama, who spoke to us at Corrymeela, scoffed at some of the ethereal

language of spirituality, words like “liminality,” and “thin places.”

He prefers less abstract, more concrete, terms.

In fact, he ended our session with this admonition from the poet Mary Oliver,

“Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

The Shenandoah Valley this year has been as green as Ireland!

The Shenandoah Valley this year has been as green as Ireland!

I’m about to “arise and go now,” not to the Lake Isle of Innisfree,

or to Connemara,

the place that will live forever in my memory as the place I recited Yeats’ poem by memory,

but to the pilgrimage path outside my own door here at home.

I bring with me the dúchas, the spirit of the place, that spoke to me in Ireland.

I was astonished by it. And now I am telling you!

I’d love to hear what has astonished you in recent weeks. It’s been too long since we’ve talked!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Audrey A Metz on September 15, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Ireland, Padraig, Mary Oliver, and St. Brigid – magical memories that you called up this morning – Thank you!

  2. Leigh Morton on September 15, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Hi, Shirley!

    I just finished your wonderful book, Blush. I loved it so much… and at the end of it was surprised to read that you live in Harrisonburg… I live in Waynesboro and am also a Virginia transplant, from Alabama. I love it here and obviously you do, as well!

    Your trip to Ireland looks magnificent. Ireland and the UK are definitely on my bucket list! Blessings to you!

    • Shirley Showalter on August 7, 2019 at 2:22 pm

      Hello, Leigh, sorry that this comment somehow never showed up on my wall until I went looking and found lots of lost ones. Here’s a friendly wave from Harrisonburg!

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on September 15, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Yes, I have missed your blog posts, Shirley. I’m astonished at how quickly the summer has passed. Nothing new in that! But I’m determined to enjoy the autumn season, and the autumn of my life. It is so lovely.
    Someone has said, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.”

    • Shirley Showalter on September 15, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      The summer has indeed flitted by so fast! That is an astonishing quote. Hope you get to slow down as the seasons change and enjoy the letting go, Elfrieda.

  4. Tina Barbour on September 15, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Your trip sounds wonderful! Ireland is one of the places I would love to visit someday. It’s good to hear from you. I always enjoy your posts and learning about what you are learning.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 15, 2018 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you, Tina. I do hope you get to visit Ireland some day. I expected to love it, but my expectations were superseded many times! How is your writing going?

      • Tina Barbour on September 15, 2018 at 3:50 pm

        I’m still plugging along! I’m having some writer’s block midway through the novel, but I’m trying to get a little done at a time.

        • Shirley Showalter on September 15, 2018 at 4:01 pm

          “One more step along the road” is the motto of the pilgrim. Hope the steps open up the heart and hands for you, Tina.

  5. Marian Beaman on September 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    I enjoyed the Facebook photos you and Stuart posted along the way and now the distillation here. Your blog called me to re-visit our trip to Ireland recorded in a 2002 picture album and journal, neither of which is digital. We visited quaint villages like Ballyvaughan with houses of red, yellow, green and blue and stayed in B & B’s hosted by hospitable Campbells, O’Sullivan, and Flaherty. Our trip did not include a spiritual dimension like yours unless you count fervent prayers for cars on narrow roads passing us within inches and not missing (by seconds) the Irish Sea Ferry.

    We loved the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and the Book of Kells made of sheepskin, manuscripts that truly turned darkness into light. I’m glad you are back home safely and can ponder what you have seen and learned in your beautiful valley.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      It would be fun to compare notes on our trips, Marian. I laughed out loud about prayers on those roads! I would never attempt driving there and was so grateful to our great coach driver, Martin, who not only managed to keep us out of accidents, ditches, and far from cliffs, but also regaled us with stories about his red-headed wife.

      We saw many of the same iconic places and carry many similarly cherished images. Glad you too have had the privilege.

      You were astonished and you tell about it.

      Not sure I have been able to keep up with all your posts. Wifi was hard to come by and not very good.

  6. Laurie Buchanan on September 15, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    Shirley — Ireland is among my favorites of the countries that I’ve visited. I especially enjoyed your photo titled “Pádraig signs my copy of his book, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World.” And I loved the quote that Elfrieda added: “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” I’m glad that all eighteen pilgrims made it home safe and sound.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2018 at 1:20 pm

      I’m so glad that you know Ireland from your own travels, Laurie. And that your eagle eye caught Elfrieda’s wonderful description. I’ve enjoyed following your book tour adventures. And I am absolutely astonished by your skill as dedicated author and marketer.

  7. Elaine Mansfield on September 16, 2018 at 10:22 am

    As a spiritual practice, I look for “astonishment” and find it everywhere. In the big oaks and hickories in my forest, in the flight of the 7 Monarchs I released this morning (all packaged in a small chrysalis just a few days ago), in sunsets on my land, in the reddest of red mushrooms my son and I found in the forest illuminated by a ray of sunlight, and in witnessing the most surrendered and peaceful death I’ve ever seen. My mother-in-law was able to hear and let us know she could hear, so both her grandsons and I said goodbye. After our goodbyes, she closed that one open eye and didn’t open it again. She went softly, leaving behind the gifts of astonishment, wonder, and deep relief.

    • Elaine Mansfield on September 16, 2018 at 10:29 am

      I didn’t say how much I love the experience of pilgrimage and the return–and enjoyed hearing a little about your journey. I love knowing the little I do about the Celtic tradition, St. Brigid’s Day or Imbolc on Feb. 1, and the Green Man who came in a dream as a guide at my darkest time and whose roots are Celtic. We’re all deeply rooted in the traditions that came before.

      • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

        You are living in the twilight of a sacred passage, Elaine. And these ventures into the natural world must have a special, shimmering, quality. I remember that after my father’s death I saw everything differently for awhile.

        Your lifetime cultivation of the gift of astonishment, your devotion to nature and to mythology, mean that you are on pilgrimage wherever you are.

        O you would have loved being in Corrymeela, especially.

        Blessings as you find a new rhythm to your life after the long, hard, painfully rewarding journey of caregiving.

      • Shirley Showalter on September 18, 2018 at 7:29 am

        Elaine, Dolores (below) suggested a name of a woman Sharon Blackie, who speaks and writes about myth. You might enjoy this talk also. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5-b2__qRM8

  8. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 16, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    I am so happy to hear about your pilgrimage to Ireland, and I lingered with many of your details and photos and the video too.

    Is it a synchronicity? On the day you sent this, I was with a group of almost all women to hear Irish author speak on The Mythic Imagination. Blackie is one who is nourished by myths of her native land and by mythmaking, in the service of relating to the earth. She had us all speaking in voices of the land; such activity and deepens our sense of belonging.

    • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 16, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      nourishes and deepens our sense of belonging.

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 16, 2018 at 9:28 pm

        Irish author Sharon Blackie

        Sorry about my lack of proofreading!

        • Shirley Showalter on September 17, 2018 at 9:35 am

          Don’t worry about proofreading, Dolores. I loved knowing about your synchronous encounter, and you have given me a name to look up. It nourishes and deepens my own sense of belonging. I recommend that you rent the film Man of Aran, a gorgeous documentary from 1934. Watch how the family turns a rocky landscape into rich soil. And we thought we worked hard on the farm. ?

          We need all the ancient wisdom we get, and Ireland is one good place to get it. I hope you and David get to go sometime.

          • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 17, 2018 at 12:16 pm

            Thanks for the suggestion; sounds good.

          • Shirley Showalter on September 18, 2018 at 7:26 am

            I found and enjoyed this TEDx talk by her. Thanks for the suggestion, Dolores. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5-b2__qRM8

          • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 19, 2018 at 2:13 pm

            I watched Man of Aran on you tube and was astonished at the ocean and life on the rocks. It felt a little contrived while also feeling authentic, and I was grateful for your suggestion. Thank you. It’s neat you found Dr. Blackie’s ted talk too.

          • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2018 at 6:33 am

            Glad you saw it. I thought you would enjoy it. Yes, I read a review that said the shark fishing scenes were not accurate to the time (how on earth could they have filmed them?) but if you want a story about how hard it is to survive in that environment, this is a very good mythic depiction. At some point in history people did all these things. Beautiful photography too.

  9. Roxanne Landis on September 17, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    I just loved this! Made me homesick for my home away from home….Northern Ireland. My 17 visits there always brought me such joy and introspection. We were involved in the Children’t Friendship Project For Northern Ireland, Inc from 1989 until we successfully worked ourselves out of a job and were able to hand over the reigns to our hard workers in NI. The project placed pairs of teens, one Catholic and one Protestant in American homes for 6 weeks in the summer in the hopes they would begin and continue a friendship that was almost impossible to do during the “troubles.” Rick and I hosted teens from 1990 until his death one month after our last pair of teens left. I served as secretary from 1994 until the American part was over a few years after the Good Friday agreement was signed. We made many friends over there who taught us so much and I am very familiar with Corrymeela. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 18, 2018 at 9:02 am

      Roxanne, how deep these memories must be for you. You played a role in bringing peace to N. Ireland. The young people who had those experiences are probably serving as beacons of light for many others today. What a great mission. Thanks for sharing this story, made all the more poignant by Rick’s death so soon after your role as hosts ended.

      I hope you can get back to Corrymeela! The volunteers there seemed very happy. The work is needed now more than ever. There are new and wonderful buildings, and the setting, as you know, is glorious.

  10. Shirley Hershey Showalter on September 22, 2018 at 8:29 am

    A haiku I wrote for Brigid

    Stepping on a sword
    She steps boldly, powerfully
    Bringing fire, and peace

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