The Aran Islands hold stories. Stories told as only the Irish people can tell them. But they don’t stop there. If we are open, even the sand and stones will speak to us.
It’s true, the Irish make a ceremony of a sentence. And lucky are the rest of us when we sit with the Irish storyteller. Whether it’s the performance type or just good conversation, our Irish friends are standard-bearers for the sacred oral tradition. They are uniquely gifted with eloquent expression.
In my experience, when stories start, the Irish quickly command center-stage, while I willingly recede with a stage hook left. The spoken word of Irish expression is, for me, a soul massage. So soothing is the lyrical accent, the poetic turning of a phrase, natural cadence, inflection, and perfectly choreographed body language. And there’s no better place to relax with it all than the magical, mystical, metaphorical Aran Islands.
There are friends we meet on the roadside, in the pub, at the shops,but there other storytellers out there, too.They speak through visual language. They are the bards of the natural world-the sensory seanachaí-the elemental orators.They are the wind, waves, sea, stone, land, and light. In their ebbing and flowing, swooshing and swaying, they, too, capture the imagination and emotion of the listener. They rise, they fall, in powerful inflection and musical cadence and it’s impossible to wander without sensing their metaphorical truths.
It seems as if the elements are in constant conversation and cahoots for us-whispering ways they will delight us—even change us—as good stories often do.
This long-loved tale is not set in the Aran Islands, yet an Irishman told it to me and I think of it when I walk out there. I believe the Aran islands, in all their sensory splendor, pair perfectly with the truths and wisdoms of this timeless tale. Here is the written story and I thank my friend, Vera Fabry, for the visual story she’s paired with it.
SAND AND STONE
Two friends were traveling across the dessert. The day was hot, the two were parched, and the traveling was taxing. The friends began to quarrel. In the heat of it, one slapped the face of the other. The victim, hurt from the pain and insult, bent—and taking his finger—wrote upon the sand..
“My best friend slapped my face today.”
Then he turned and walked away. His friend followed and the two traveled silently until they came to an oasis with a cool pool of water.
The victim, still stinging from the slap, leaned over to splash water on his face. Losing his balance, he fell into the deep water and unable to swim, he began to drown. The friend jumped in and rescued him—pulled him up from the depths.
Once recovered, the victim went over to a large stone, took up a sharp fist-sized one, and carved these words into it.
“My best friend saved my life today.”
Shocked and confused, his friend said, “When I slapped you, you wrote into the sand. When I saved your life you carved it into stone. What are you trying to say to me? What is it that you want me to know?”
The victim said, “When you hurt me, I wrote it in the sand, so the winds and waves of time and forgiveness will sweep it away. When you saved me, I sealed it into stone, so the blessing might never be forgotten.”
“What I want to teach you is this…Write your injuries in sand.Write your blessings in stone.”
So ends a good story for all of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve known, or where our paths are taking us, the Aran Islands is an oasis for contemplation, resolve and pure island pleasure. The storytellers of the Aran Islands are patiently waiting for our souls to come and sit down with them.
- Vivienne Nichols writes from her home in Tennessee. She contributes to her local newspaper and has honed her craft in creative writing workshops on Inis Mór. Vivienne spends summers in Aran and loves to write there and of her unique experiences and relationships with the landscape and Aran friends.