Sustaining Stories

The Longest Journey

Patrick O’Neill

The longest journey, they say, is from the head to the heart, but I’d like to recount an experience I had a few years ago which came close.

On paper, it should have been one of the shortest house moves in Irish social history, about a mile from one townland to the next, Toberpatrick to Rosnastraw. The summer chalet I was renting was not winter compliant. I’d had to move out twice during storms Ophelia and Ivan, the Beast from the East, when the water and electricity shut down.

In the morning, the farmer revved his tractor provoking the yearlings into a barrage of fretful mooing in the barn next door. The dogs laid siege to the front door in a feeding frenzy although I enjoyed the dogs and became friendly with a few of them. They were sustaining – a reason to live, but I felt frustrated I couldn’t get any writing done, so when the opportunity came to live in a two-bedroom stone dwelling down the road, I took it. If I’d packed everything carefully, I could have made one journey less.

As it was, I drove my loaded car down the pot-holed road to the bridge at the bottom of the hill past Toberpatrick or Saint Patrick’s Well, an ancient spring dating from fifteen hundred years ago, that fed into a stream running nearby.

About the size of a large bath or jacuzzi, huge flagstones flanked the well on two sides, a hawthorn tree over-hanging the pool. Usually, clear water bubbled up from an unknown underground source in a foot or two of water, the bottom obscured

by stones and pebbles. Historically, adjacent families used it as a source of drinking water.

As I passed the well, I ran into a herd of cattle approaching downhill from the farm, returning from milking. I panicked and reversed the car into a culvert next to the wall. I tried to manoeuvre out but couldn’t get traction.

I switched off the engine as I didn’t want to sink further into the ditch, scraping the drystone wall and damaging the car even more. I waited for the farmer following the herd in his white van.

‘Could you give me a lift out?’ I sheepishly asked.

‘I will when I get back from putting the cattle in the field,’ he replied.

As I wasn’t going anywhere and the well was nearby, I decided to visit. The caretaker, a man in late middle-age, in bucket hat and overalls, was strimming the grass in the narrow grounds of the well while his daughter sat on the bench by the spring. I got chatting with her, thinking, maybe she’s available. I’m single and looking to get married, and I started thinking romantic thoughts about her until she revealed she was married which put an end to that! So, I just had a chat with her and her father, enjoying a pleasant social moment while I waited for the farmer.

As I talked with her, I noticed that the well was bubbling up very lively. I’d never seen it that active before and thought, it’s probably Saint Patrick having a good laugh at me because of my accident.

I continued to chat with the caretaker and his daughter until somebody else stopped by who wanted to get some water. And we had a discussion with him, and

what I’d thought would be a simple matter of moving from one house to the other, a straightforward anonymous event, had turned into a social occasion.

The purpose of the well is that you’re supposed to hand over your burdens. Surrender to your Higher Power in the material form of pinning something on the hawthorn bush, like a pen if you want to succeed in your exams or a ring if you want your marriage to work. The tree was festooned with pens, rags, ribbons, rosary beads, miraculous medals, photographs, keys; each object carrying a symbolic significance.

Frankly, I hadn’t handed over that morning. Owing to my worsening arthritis, I’d gotten out of the habit of getting on my knees and didn’t hand the move over. I didn’t bring God into it. I hadn’t checked it in with the Higher Power. Getting trapped in the culvert wasn’t a punishment. Just a nudge, you know, a reminder of who’s in charge. That’s what I believe. That’s what sustains me. And it’s a form of Christian belief that has sustained people in Ireland for thousands of years and still sustains many.

A lot of people have turned off, they say, ‘I’m spiritual, not religious.’ Well, that’s OK. I wanted to write something for the website because it’s about the Gap, and Toberpatrick is only a few miles away. If you’re at the Arts Festival and you’re having an enjoyable time, that’s great. But always remember you’ve got a Higher Power in times of trouble.

Maybe if you get a chance, visit the well, (I went the other day), and sit there. God already knows what you want. Just sit in silence for five or ten minutes. You never know what might happen. As they say in AA, if you get out of your seat for long enough, you might get goosed by the Holy Spirit.

I see this diversion as part of God’s plan to get me out of my head and back in touch with God Himself and other people, to free me from my fixed ideas and learn again a little more of the language of the heart.

PATRICK O’NEILL is originally from Dublin and now lives in south County Wicklow. He is passionate about writing and looks forward to sharing his work with many readers.

Read more sustaining stories

The Dubs ( by: Bernie Walsh )
Munch ( by: Bernadette Colfer )
The Precious Little Black Honey Bee (by: Bruce Copeland)
The Gooseberry Bush (by: Rona Fleming)
Zaventem (by: Joy Redmond)
The Longest Journey (by Patrick O’Neill)
I Can Fly (by Jacinta Hayes)
The Marquee (by Kieran Tyrrell)
Ten Minutes (by Jacinta McGovern)
The Turkey is in the Post (by Lucy Nolan)

Follow by Email