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Day 23 - Irish Hospitality

Jul 02, 2024
A picture of an old graveyard with mountains and the Limerick countryside in the background, a road running through the middle and fields off to the right. A blue sky, pocked with clouds stretches across overhead.

What are the Irish famous for? 

To that you may have offered many answers, but one, the one that makes me adore being Irish most, is hospitality. In recent times, in some parts of the country, the open hospitality we've become famous for has got somewhat lost in the propellers of progress. Economic contraction and the squeezing out of the locals from cities to make room for the conglomerates and their affluent staff has changed the landscape and sadly soured the attitudes of many. Many - not all, and not everywhere. 

In the Limerick countryside, it is very much still alive, kicking and full of craic. 

Limerick Hunt

Last weekend, as of the time I write, I went gallivanting down the country on a bit of a pilgrimage. I was hunting for stones believed to cure and curse, for wells that might hold a cure for the limbs, and for the peace, solitude and pure joy of being blinded by bliss, soaking in the unspoiled beauty that is within Ireland's hidden heartlands. 

As you can see from the picture, I found some of the stones for which I was searching. I did not, however, expect to land myself in the middle of an old Irish bar listening to the stories of the locals. (Though, now that I think of it, that was probably naive on my part. I have a tendency to end up in odd places being told tales.)

 May I Introduce You To...

 

Dolores and Pat, not man and wife, "though I asked her enough," Pat might say to you. She turned him down, he told me, with an air of cheerful hope in his voice. Dolores is the proprietor of Molly's Bar out in a place called Inch St. Lawrence in Limerick. I love old Irish bars. They're rare to find out where I'm from nowadays so many of them have closed. Molly's has been in Dolores' family all her life from what I understand. As I drove up and saw it, I knew I'd have to go in for a wee look. But not before I found my stone. 

Why the Stones? 

Cures have been part of my life since I was a child. Curing, healing - and cursing - are part of the bloodline of Irish culture and tradition. For many years, I've used my connection to plants and the land to heal myself when ill, and help others heal when they asked. It's a tradition and practice I don't want to see die out. The land holds much more than the medical world would have us believe. (There's room for both, of that I'm aware). 

A while back, I started thinking about cursing in Ireland, why we curse, why it's so important for us to curse, and how we can teach the world of the importance of a good curse to the Irish. When I say curses here, I mean effs and blinds, as we might say. Or to put it more clearly, fuck, shit, cunt, bollocks, whore. They're good strong curses you need to use to get the venom out of you sometimes. Much of the world thinks ill of us for using them, but they're an important part of our linguistic culture. And that, I reckon, stems back to real cursing - curing someone for wrongdoing. 

But I'm not sure yet. Hence the initial search for what's called a Bullaun Stone, the stone you see above. That's the biggest one I've found so far. Bullaun Stones, though fairly well documented online, particularly in terms of locations, are a bit of a mystery it seems. This one had a location listing but no information. Bullan stones are believed to have been able to cure and to curse. The rainwater, which collects in the naturally rounded depression, or 'bowl', is thought to have magical properties. I didn't know what cure Inch St. Lawrence's stone might have, and neither did the man in the field walking his dogs. Where was I to find out only the local pub, so in I went. 

Cupán Tae 

"What can I get you?" 

"Would you do a wee cup of tea?" 

"Tea? Of course I would."

"Tea? You'll put a drop of whisky in it," Pat smirked. 

"I could, but I think I'll stick to the soft stuff this time," said I. "You don't know at all what cure that Bullaun stone out in the field might have, do you?" 

"Oh, Jesus, no I wouldn't know anything about that. You'd betther ask Dolores."

Dolores told me the stone cures warts, as many do in Ireland (we must have had a bad wart problem at some stage), and also cured something to do with the eyes, but she wasn't sure what. She's not seen anyone use it that she can recall, though maybe years ago they did. Nonetheless, the stone hasn't been touched by the farmer. It stands solo, in pride of place across from an old graveyard and the ruins of a church, just like fairy rings do on the grounds of estates and organisations across the country. We believe enough not to disturb that which may have the mark of magic. 

Pat, in his upbeat, jovial thick Limerick country accent threw in that if you told the young people now about water that cures, they'd look at you like you were mad. I agreed, adding that's until they have fingers thick with warts and the water heals them. "True," he said. "It's the limestone as far as I know. There's some chemicals that mix from it and the rain water and that's what makes the healing happen." 

Pat and Dolores told me a few more tales about the shenanigans at Knock Shrine many a year ago, the man who replaced the windows in a church called St. Munchin's and another tale of wealth and greed I'm forbidden from sharing, lest I get good old Pat in trouble. I daren't do that for I'd curse myself in the telling of it. 

Irish Hospitality

As I get up to leave, Pat telling me he hopes I won't be going cursing them or anyone else for that matter, I ask Dolores how much I owe her for the tea and biscuits. 

"Don't be silly," she says.

"But I have to give you something. It wouldn't be right." 

"Did you enjoy your chat and and your cup of tea?" she pressed back. 

"Very much so." 

"Well then, that's all that matters." 

Pauline McLynn as Mrs. Doyle taught us many years ago never to argue with an older woman about paying for things, so I didn't push. Instead, I asked Dolores if I could take a photo and share it on my social media, recommending anyone travelling out that way to go in for a drink along their journey, and make sure to leave something in her coffers. She very, very kindly agreed. 

Great to meet you, Dolores and Pat. If you're reading this and fancy a drive into Limerick's stunning countryside, go out to Inch St. Lawrence, pop into Molly's bar and get yourself a wee refreshment. She has a very cool ancient Greek calendar on the back wall, much like the Irish wheel of the year. I've a Greek friend I'm going to ask about it. Pat told me I have to go back if I find out the painting's worth money. I promised him I will. 

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