“Do you believe in the existence of God…?” asked the elderly Irish man. White Hair. Black cap. Dark sunglasses perched on top of his cap. Weather beaten face but kind looking eyes. Enormously large ears. He wore a dark jacket and loose grey trousers. He was perhaps in his late seventies but stood straight.
I was taken aback by such a direct question. We had just explored the fifteenth century Ross Castle in beautiful Killarney in Ireland, and were standing right in front of the lake Lough Leane.
I noticed that there was a ferry boat waiting behind the man. It took me a while to understand that he was offering to take us by ferry boat to the small island called Innisfallen, the ancient site of a sixth century Abbey.
Although we were not very keen to visit the island, the kind expression of the man helped us make up our minds. We decided to go with him. Little did we know that this would lead to a memorable experience.
It was a quiet afternoon. But it turned out that the ferry man was a loquacious talker.
First he explained that he had been ferrying passengers to the island for the longest time amongst all ferrymen in Killarney. He had clearly been chosen by God to do this service. We nodded out of respect. And wore the expression of being suitably impressed. Then he went on to explain how the Big Bang theory with its creation “out of nothing” and beginning with light, proved the existence of God. And how we have souls that are created by God and that we should learn to love God…
Meanwhile I started taking some pictures with my iPhone. The beautiful lake Lough Leane shone brightly under the late March sun.
Looking strangely at my phone the man said: “I think those phones shall soon get out of our control.”
“What do you mean by that…” I asked politely.
“Well, normally I don’t tell this story but you folks look like decent people to me. I was once driving my car and I felt some dizziness so I stopped by the side of the lake. When I felt better I took some pictures with my phone. When I went home and looked at those pictures I could not believe my eyes. On the lake was this old Abbey and out of nowhere the picture of a monk appeared, looking out of a window. At first I would not believe it, but then I slowly realized that the sixth century monks still live in that deserted Abbey.”
By this time we were already at the shores of the Innisfallen island, and we looked up at the ancient site of the sixth century Abbey. I looked at its windows with careful apprehension.
The Innisfallen monastery was in complete ruins. Its foundation is accredited to the 7th century St. Finian the Leper who first brought monks to pray here in the peace and seclusion of Lough Leane.
The island was attacked many times by the Vikings. But each time the monks repaired the monastery. At the close of the 12th century, Innisfallen had become a major center of learning.
Near the lake shore is a 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque church which has a round headed doorway carved with chevrons and covered by a hood moulding with grotesque animal heads. Inside the church is a small carved stone cross which was found in the lake.
There were no other people at the island. Perhaps because it was late and it was going to get dark soon. The whole experience was quite overwhelming and we had forgotten that the ferry man wanted us to be back at the shore in 30 minutes.
When we came hurriedly to the lake shore to look for him, we saw his empty boat waiting at the shore - but the man was nowhere in sight. I glanced anxiously at the old Abbey windows as I searched my pockets for my iPhone.
24 hours earlier…
The previous day we had visited the Blarney Castle. Time passes slowly here. The Castle was built nearly six hundred years ago. Millions have flocked to Blarney in the last few hundred years, making it a world landmark and one of Ireland’s greatest treasures.
The Blarney Castle sits directly on a steep cliff of rock giving us an imposing view. In the tenth century there was a wooden lodge here. Then it was replaced by a stone structure, which was later demolished for foundations of the castle to be built by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.
Legend has it that the treasure of the MacCarthys was thrown into the depths of the Lake. One of the ancestors of the current owner almost drained the lake in the search but did not find anything!
The MacCarthys are one of the most ancient clans of Ireland. They kept resisting with clever tactics when they were being asked to surrender to the English throne.
Queen Elizabeth I tried to bring them under her control in vain. Her emissary, Sir George Carew was charged with persuading the MacCarthy chieftain to accept the authority of the English throne. Every time he tried, he was met with long and eloquent protestations of loyalty and honeyed flattery of the Queen - but also with no agreement. In frustration, Elizabeth exclaimed, “This is all Blarney. What he says he never means,” and a new word was born!
For over 200 years millions of pilgrims have climbed the steps to kiss the Blarney stone and gain the gift of eloquence.
A witch who was saved from drowning revealed its power to the MacCarthys:
“There is a stone there, that whoever kisses, Oh he never misses to grow eloquent.”
I did kiss that stone during my visit. They gave me a certificate for that.
The real blarney began here.