by Susan Harold It would have been three years this July since I had traveled “home” to Ireland. Seeing the Aer Lingus ticket sale in the Denver Post one frosty winter Sunday Prompted me to once again travel toward the Isle of Tears, good Craic and precious friends. My plans were to circumvent the island starting in Dublin moving down to An Daingean, up to Westport, on to Convoy, then to Cushendall, Belfast and back to Dublin. Along the way I wanted to visit four places: Ceann Sle”, the Abbey Church on Clare Island (St Bridget”s Church to some), the North of Ireland where I have spent very little time in past travels, and The Hill of Tara. However, for this particular article I would like to focus on my visit to Cushendall and the Ballyeamon Camping Barn owned by storyteller Liz Weir. Pat McCullough introduced Liz and I through email and plans were set in place for me to spend four days at the Ballyeamon Camping Barn. Liz offered me the option of renting a separate room, which would allow more privacy and quiet. We made plans for her to meet me at the train station in Ballymena, Liz”s birthplace, and from there we would drive to the Barn. This would be my last full week in Ireland. After saying goodbye to my cara (friend) Sorcha in Convoy, who happens to be Mick Bolgers (Colorado band Colocannon/Irish language instructor) sister, I headed by bus to Derry to catch the train to Ballymena. The stop in Derry was a bit tense because I could not get a straight answer about the connecting bus to the train station. The fun part while anxiously waiting was watching all of the uniformed students coming from school and going directly to the snack bar for munchies. They had that end of a long day look: Shirts were un-tucked, shoes scuffed, and hair all askew. The students use the city buses, which scatter in all directions in and around Derry delivering precious cargo when school is out for the day. Relieved to see the correct bus appear I was happy to be on the move once again. The train station was just over the bridge much to my surprise but too far to walk with heavy suitcase and aimsir ceobhr”nach (drizzly weather). This leg of the trip was uneventful and go h”lainn (beautiful). The train tracks run along the sea for many miles and signs inside the train suggest we travelers watch for different kinds of birds and waterfowl. The trains also allow space for people in wheelchairs and they were being used. As we chugged along the late afternoon light softened the landscape and seascape. Clouds of white changed to pale blues and pinks that reflected in the water. It was lovely to watch evening come. I was happy I had chosen the train for this part of the journey and would recommend the trip. Liz was waiting at the station in Ballymena as she said she would be. By now it is dark and snowing. She immediately whisks me off to a writing workshop she is facilitating. I am happy to say I learned new ways of approaching writing and how to develop ideas. The students were all veterans of the class except for two, a mother and daughter, and all were serious about improving their writing skills. After the rang (class) we drove toward Ballyeamon Camping Barn. The snow continued to fall but the gritters had been out clearing the roads making for a safer journey. By the time we arrived the sky had cleared and we could see the realta” (stars). The air in the hills was crisp. We breathed deep before going inside. Liz showed me to my abode, introduced me to her barn manager and said she would be very busy that week. I would see little of her for the next tr” days. We were by then very tired and made short the conversation. On Tuesday maidin (morning) I awakened to a clear view of the Antrim mountains surrounded by the Glenariff National Forest: A view soon to disappear behind a wall of white. For the next three days the snow fell wet and heavy. It blocked the view of the hills, as did the fog coming in from the sea. I was without a cell phone, a computer, a car, and I did not turn on the teilifis. I stayed cloistered in my artist studio leaving only for two meals a day, breakfast and tea. It is normally a self-catering kitchen however because of the weather I was able to use some of the food in the kitchen. In my room I had a stash of apples, dates, almonds, and of course the daily supply of seacl”id (chocolate) agus cup”n tae. I can survive on simple fare. The barn is a two-story structure painted white with red trim. The bright exterior is a welcoming sight. It is a very attractive building lovingly cared for with an interesting history. Behind the barn is an area that looks like an old canal but is actually where the train tracks were that went to the mianach iarann (iron mines). Liz lives in the attached cottage at one end of the barn with her two beloved German shepherds. Rick the barn manager had the kitchen turned upside down while he hurriedly plastered cracks and finished painting for he was soon to leave to work near Corcaigh. Because of this we ate in the activity room where there is music and storytelling every Saturday night unless the weather prohibits travel. As I looked around this room I felt this haven that Liz has provided for friends, neighbors, and strangers like me was a healing place, a place where we put down our swords. She is a respected storyteller, works with conflict resolution, writes children”s books, teaches people to express themselves through writing, and hopes for a continued moving forward and away from the conflicts of the past in the North. And sometimes she stops and breathes. As most of you know who have visited Ireland the heating system is different from ours in the United States and used sparingly. The Irish are a hardy breed. There were times when I had on three or more layers of clothing. Thank goodness for silk thermals and the exercise machine in the studio. I am not complaining. I am spoiled. There was a great classical BBC radio station, which helped me focus on reading, editing some writing, and painting small watercolors. In spite of my struggling with the cold it was a fruitful visit and a spiritually challenging experience. My time at Ballyeamon Camping Barn was what I had hoped it would be. Liz Weir was welcoming and generous. I felt renewed in spirit and rested for the last leg of my trip to Belfast and then on to the Hill of Tara. If you are hoping for time off the beaten track while in Ireland find Ballyeamon Camping Barn and Liz Weir owner both on the Internet. Take time to appreciate the quiet beauty of the Antrim Hills and the surrounding forest. (Susan Harold lives in Greeley Colorado where her hobbies include gardening, visual arts, music/singing, and Irish language)

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