October 2004 - Shane's and Colm's remembrances of the weekend.
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Colm: I left Galway (West of Ireland) and headed towards the midlands. I wasn't fully sure of my destination, but knew it was in the vicinity of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which bind together counties Offaly and Laois. There I would meet the guys from the Dublin Sri Chinmoy centre: Ambarish, Shane, Gary and Vinnie and also two friends Rastio and Jan - from Slovakia and the Czech Republic respectively. Rastio had come over to run the Dublin Marathon, in which he achieved an excellent time of 3 hours 23 minutes. Jan had come over for a business meeting, but I think this was just an excuse to come and explore Ireland. Ambarish had unfortunately appointed Shane (of all people!!) to navigate the other car, which resulted in them being over an hour late!
Shane: No, what actually happened was we happened to drive through Edenderry which was absolutely gridlocked - an old lady on the corner said it was the worst traffic jam since two Model T Fords collided back in ninteen rickety two. Anyway, we managed to meet up in Birr, Ambarish's birthplace, and duly went around to inspect all the statues he said had been erected in his honour. We didn't find any (must have been taken away for polishing) so we had to content ourselves with glimpses of the hospital where he was born and the barbers he used to get his hair cut at (awwww!).
Colm: With the day pushing on, we scoffed the last of our potato cakes and marched to our cars with the prospect of squeezing every bit of opportunity from the daylight before darkness would fall. To Clonmacnoise, a famous monastery on the banks of the river Shannon, we drove. We had an hour before it would close for the night, but this was all we needed. We walked amoungst the many ruins of churches, high crosses and gravestones with the two round towers forever keeping a watchful eye on our location. Jan, relentlessly trying to break the record for the most photos ever taken in two days, was snap happy. The churches and towers were ancient and fascinating, but it wasn't until a video presentation in the centre that you really gained an understanding and true respect for this religious settlement.Walking outside once more, every aspect of the monastery became more significant, more special.
Shane: The previous week had seen some of the worst weather I can remember; incessant rain, malevolent-looking clouds, biting wind and even more rain, and on our way down it looked like more of the same. On the way we passed scenes of devastation caused by flooding - the Shannon, the largest river in Ireland had burst its banks and whole fields were underwater. But thankfully the rain subsided as we left Birr.
Clonmacnoise was one of the great monastic settlements in the period 600-900 AD where great saints resided and many copies of holy scripture were elaborately calligraphed. The place grew into a giant cemetery because everyone wanted to be laid to rest there, so the outward appearance isnt spectacular. However when I sat down to meditate at the river's edge (the flooding had almost come up to the monastery walls) I found that whatever else had changed, at least the vibration of all those ancient prayers and spiritual toil hadn't gone away.
Colm: Outside, and clinging onto daylight, we spotted an adjacent castle. This is the most amazing castle I have ever seen, because it appeared to defy the laws of gravity. One of its corners - which was a huge mass of stone - was at forty-five degrees to the ground and looked like it would blow over with the wind, but it refused to give way; after centuries it was still having a huge argument with time over the possibility of immortality. We explored the castle, climbing spiralled stairs and openings.
"Football!" Ambarish exclaimed seeing the field around the castle,
but it was rough and full of cow dung. I looked up, and across the road I noticed a primary school with a lovely flat pitch... what a gift! We were blessed with a fine evening. We played until we could barely make out one another. We played until the only light was the light of the white ball which we chased. We held onto daylight long after it had passed; it lived on through us until we could play no longer.
With a welcome meal in Banagher we settled down for the night. Accommodation came in the form of a hostel and the back of my van, both equally comfortable!
I woke the next morning and was proud of my roommates for the lack of snoring, which was unexpected judging by the joking prior to slumber.
Shane: When I woke up the next morning I couldn't believe the contrast in the weather. Autumn/early winter for me is both my favourite and least favourite season - least favourite when cold and miserable, but my favourite when there is not a cloud in the sky, the air is fresh and makes you feel alive, and the light is so sharp and clear; in summer I always feel that the sunlight saturates everything and infuses it with slightly lethargic qualities, whereas the winter sunlight draws out a crisp definition in all it touches; you feel you are seeing the world newly-born, seeing things as they really are.... yesterday morning was one of the finest examples of that kind of weather I have experienced.
First item on the daily programme was the 2-mile Self-Transcendence race, held just before the sun rose - on a 1-mile-and-back course measured by car practically from the door of the hostel! Seeing as we were away, we allowed ourselves a minor concession to luxury and held our pre race meditation inside. Rastio is always joking that he likes to hang in behind the leader and make him do all the work before leaving him for dead with the last minute kick (so to speak)...well, he got a taste of his own medicine this time. I was just hanging on behind him, suffering away, suffering away...and then the turnaround came and we were headed straight into the sunrise....the dewy mist still rising off the fields...flocks of swallows off for the winter....still suffering, mind you....I dont know what came over me to pass him out so early, maybe I was thinking he had run the marathon and he won't have the kick....almost home....whats that noise behind me?...uh-oh, Rastio coming through....I struggled for one last burst.....
We both came home in 11.18. If the course was five metres longer, he'd have definitely had me. In fact, if I were absolutely sincere, I suspect he'd have won the photo finish....but I dont think he'll read this webpage - so lets keep the 'if's' hypothetical! Ambarish was home in 12.32, Gary in 14.08, Colm in 14.30 and Vinny in 14.32. There was a little debate as to whether the course was short or not, myself and Rastio both ran our second-best times (Rastio 5 days after a marathon!) but the others seemed to think it was OK.
We thought we was just going to peek in to Birr Castle on our way to the mountains, but little did we know...
Colm: Never could I have conceived of the magic that waited inside the boundary walls of this domain. I was spellbound. For hours we strolled through an enchanted garden overwhelmed by the infinite colours of autumn: reds and yellows, brighter than any flames in any fire. Noblemen, as they were, had planted many types of exotic plants and trees throughout this giant garden. A fast flowing river, a gentle waterfall, a large lake, bridges, tunnels, wells and passageways captivated the landscape. Every part of this expanse offered something totally unique and beautiful. The birds sang so loudly because they did not have to achieve anything to be in heaven. Jan, more frantic than ever, tried his best to break that world record for snaps.
Amongst this beauty, some of the world's most intellectual minds had walked. Down through generations these wealthy land owners had devoted their time to science, engineering and astronomy. To read all the facts about this family of inventors and scholars would amaze anyone. To see all of their inventions and innovations was incredible - the most notable invention being the massive 72 inch telescope with huge supporting walls which could be seen from almost anywhere in the garden.
Shane: Everyone at work is going to ask me all kinds of scientific questions when I tell them I was in Birr Castle - I won't know what to tell them; there was an exhibition of sciencey stuff collected by the family through the ages, but I had been so blown away by the gardens that I could only stare at the exhibition with a wonder quite unconducive to the gathering of facts. There was also a photographic exibition of space photos - supernovae and nebulae and cosmic dust and stars and stars and stars and stars - if I were able to see these photos at the pace I would have wished, I would still be there now, I daresay.
It was well into the afternoon when we did manage our mountain stroll - these mountains (the Slieve Blooms) are largely planted with trees for commercial use, but there is quite a lot of lovely deciduous trees there.
Colm: We set off again, but did not know what the day had left for us. At one stage I stopped the van at the summit of a large hill, and Shane and I got out to watch the mesmerising sunset. We could see the entire midlands from where we were, and the setting sun shone like a glorious torch from left to right.
We found Ambarish parked outside another primary school. These small pitches were perfect for only seven of us. We played a bit of Gaelic football so as to give the guys a taste of our national sport. They were definitely equally as good as us as we tried to kick points over the bar. We then played soccer, and at one stage I landed badly. I thought I had broken my leg or badly hurt my knee. The pain was intense. The guys gathered round me to help me. Rastio straightened my leg and as soon as he touched my knee the pain dissipated. It was as if the collective concern and care of everyone had expelled the pain. I was lucky!
We all sat on the hill behind the goals and looked at Jan's photos. At the same time, we took in the beauty of the sunset which lit the sky. It softly touched the landscape and our hearts.
We stopped for a meal just before setting off for home. Sitting at a large round table, seven boys sat with seven big smiles on their faces, telling jokes and laughing loudly. This is one trip which we will definitely call on for inspiring memories for quite some time.
This article is an amalgamation of Shane's and Colm's postings on the
Sri Chinmoy Inspiration Group
Photos: These are just a selection of the 200-odd photographs Jan took in a space of 36 hours (and he was asleep for at least eight of those)