Ireland: Innis and the Lake Isle of Innisfree [Part 2]

After munching a few of my lunch crackers I stood up and continued my journey to Innisfree.
Once past the river and bridge the path cut through a forest. The trees had thin trunks, like they were young, and the ground was smooth hard packed earth.
As the forest ended there was a stonewall, with a sty to climb over, and beyond was the remains of a church. It was made of stone and at least 500 years old. The roofs were missing and half the walls were crumbled or missing, the weather-beaten stones were intermittently coved with moss.
I wondered what it was as I walked through, and found out when I stepped through the front gate, as I had come in through the back
There was a man standing by the gate, with his fedora cap, grey vest over white dress shirt, and the lines of his face and the stoop to his shoulders said he had lived somewhere close to 70 years.
He gave me a tour of the church with a thick Irish accent that I could barely understand, and told me it was a monastery. It was old, I don’t remember how many years old he said it was, but had been abandoned to the elements many many years ago.
Behind the chapel was a small court yard, surrounded by tiny stone rooms, and suddenly I was back in Umberto Eco’s book The Name of the Rose, which is a murder mystery set in a monastery just like this. I could see the monks growing their herb garden, and walking to chapel here.
It was beautiful and wonderful and I couldn’t thank the man enough for the tour, so I gave him all the of money I was carrying, which was sadly not very much.

Beyond the monastery the path continued to follow near the edge of the lake, and as I walked I thought about the end of Innis.
It was a dark and wet night in Canterbury. Davy, Hugh, Mark, Anya and I sat in the Old Locomotive pub listening to the rain and wind on the windows. My car was parked at Ayna’s apartment. She had said, the day before, that I could park it there so that I didn’t have to drive home. Anya and I had been hanging out a lot lately and I took it as an invitation to take things further.
I found out later that it had just been a flippant comment that I took to mean too much.
At closing time Anya and I walked back to her place together, and she invited me up for another drink. We had a drink and we chatted, until suddenly she was angry at me for one of my usual sarcastic comments. I couldn’t understand why she was mad, the sarcasm usually flew about like lightening in a storm.
Before I really knew what was happening, I was standing on the sidewalk, with the rain splashing on my glasses as I looked up at her yellow window.
Suddenly I was angry, what the fuck just happened? So I jumped in my car and spun my tires on the rain-slicked road as I drove away. The drive didn’t last long, as I made a hard left at a roundabout, flicked the steering wheel, and was suddenly sitting on the sidewalk with the hood buckled up and the passenger window broken.
I was unhurt, I had at least put on my seat belt, but I had broken Innis’ back.
The front was smashed in by the retaining wall, which was not that bad, but the passenger door had been pressed in five inches by a lamppost, twisting the sills and therefore the frame, making her unfixable.
While I stood in the rain, with Innis’ blood running out from the radiator, the police arrived and eventually took me off to jail.
Through the court date, and the fines and the finals that were rapidly arriving, the one thing I wanted to do was get away, to disappear in my Innis, which was the one thing that I couldn’t do. I kept thinking that the one thing that I was proud of in my University career was my Innis, and I had broken her.

At the end of a field of swaying wheat, there was a small berm, and then a road.
I had come across Innisfree.
A few cars were parked in the dirt by the ten foot wide black asphalt road. There were other tourists here, and I instantly -irrationally- disliked them. This was my quiet place with Yeats, this was my piece of solitude. What right did they have to be here?
Their voices carried across to me.
“Did you grab the thermos and the rug?”
“No, Scotty can stay in the car, we won’t be very long.”
“I wonder where the island is?”

There was a sign at the end of the road announcing that we had reached The Lake Isle of Innisfree, there were also a few beaten and half collapsing wooden huts, and an old wooden jetty. Standing beside the jetty, with their row-boats floating in the water, were men selling trips to the isle.
If I had been alone -with a rowboat- I would have gone to the isle. To sit in the quiet and relax in the memory of Yeats and Innis. But not with all these people around. I had not come to see all these people, I had come to be alone.
The locals with their rowboats offered trips to the isle, but I declined, not just because I had no money, but because it didn’t feel right. This was a place of solitude, not tourism.
I sat on the end of the jetty, with my feet dangling over the water, and looked out at the island. It was not very exciting, just a mound of dirt sticking out of the water covered with trees, but it must have been supremely peaceful all those years ago, a perfect location to plant nine bean rows and contemplate the world.
Pulling out my lunch of crackers and cheese, I was joined by a local. She looked at me with huge eyes that contained all the suffering in the world. The fur of this black and white collie was clean and smooth, but her eyes said that she had not eaten in weeks, while they swiveled between my crackers and my face.
When I paused in giving her a cracker, she told me –in her greatest Monty Python voice- that she was beaten to sleep each night, and had to work in the salt mines during the day.
I gave her a cracker.
After inhaling it, she asked for another.
We split the crackers, one for her, one for me, sitting there on the edge of the jetty.

There was something wrong. The experience I expected when I saw the poster, the vision I had when traveling to this place was different from the reality. I was expecting some sort of vision, some sort of epithany, something to make me feel better to what I saw as a complete failure at University.
But that wasn’t here.
I walked away from the jetty, back up the road and on the path. After a short distance there was a smaller path leading back toward the lake, to I took that.
At the end there was a small outcrop of rocks, where I sat down, with my luncheon companion. The jetty wasn’t visible through the trees, but the isle was, so I sat there and absent-mindedly rubbed my friend’s head.
After some time I felt, well, good again. The world ahead didn’t look like it was going to be a continuous selection of failures. I suddenly felt optimistic, all the fear of what to do with my life was ebbing away. I still had no idea what I wanted to do, no idea of where I was going next, but it felt like it was going to work out, no matter what I did.
I would get myself another Innis, I would find another place of solitude, or even better yet, set up my life so I didn’t need a place of solitude so often.
I also knew, that this feeling of peace and optimism was a fleeting moment, that the insecurity would come running back, but maybe this time I could keep it around for a little while longer.

On the walk to island that W.B Yeats wrote the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree about, I was given a tour of an abandoned monastery by a local resident, by the town of Sligo, Ireland.

My luncheon companion sits and looks out to The Lake Isle of Innisfree set on the southern edge of Lough Gill, near the town of Sligo, Ireland.

This entry was posted in Writing: Travel: Ireland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.