Regular readers of NOVA will be very familiar with the name of Rosamund Burton; in fact, there's even a feature written by her in this month's issue titled "Future Visions". Now, Ros has ventured into new territory and, in the process, as is the way of any pilgrimage, discovered as much about herself as the country she has traversed. Castles, Follies & Four-Leaf Clovers is the story of her trek along the ancient pilgrimage route of her homeland Ireland called St Declan's Way. While St Patrick has taken hold of the world's imagination as the patron saint of Ireland, it was St Declan who first left his imprint in this beautiful yet complex land, introducing Christianity around 400AD. Over the centuries his influence has been largely obliterated, lost in the entanglement of religious and political divides, much as the pilgrimage route itself has become hidden in overgrown brambles, boggy byways and fading memories.
But Ros has never been one to say no to a challenge. I remember her excitement when she first told me about her forthcoming adventure, sparked by being lent a faded map of the 60 mile route meandering from the fishing village of Ardmore on the south coast to the town of Cashel in County Tipperary . It has always been a surprise to me and many others that Ros, so English in her speech and mannerisms as many will remember from her time managing Sydney 's Mind Body Spirit Festival, is Irish. Yet as she wends her way along the arduous route, walking in the reverse direction to the norm from Cashel down to the coast, her true Irishness begins to blossom. It's revealed in her connection to the landscape where flowers and plants evoke legends of a pagan past - cream coloured meadowsweet we learn is the favourite of the moon goddess Aine, protector of women, and a plant considered sacred by the Druids -, her love of wild exposed hilltops particularly as she crosses the Knockmealdown Mountains that recur almost as a leitmotif throughout her journey, and most of all in her easy and effortless interaction with the locals she meets along the way.
In many respects, walking St Declan's Way is a homecoming for Ros. Although born in Ireland, she grew up in England (hence the accent) before coming home again at 18 when her father was appointed land agent to the Duke of Devonshire and the family moved into the east wing of spectacular Lismore Castle, situated almost midway along St Declan's Way. A highlight of the book for me was her meeting up again with so many old friends of the family who open their warm inviting hearths and a welcome bed for the night as Ros trudges in after yet another day battling the elements and often literally hacking her way through the bracken. It was her misfortune (although it adds a rather perverse flavour to the story) to encounter Ireland's wettest summer for 150 years and we sense the journey may have been just too much without these kind people to fortify her spirits with their food, shelter and good Irish fellowship. Nevertheless, with an earlier successful completion of the Camino behind her, it's obvious Ros has grit in her soul (and probably her boots as well) and, one way or another, would have made it to the end of this journey too.
Along the way, we're treated to some fascinating legends, and equally fascinating fairy folk - Ros describes seeing a photo of a 1.5 inch grey fur hat found on a foxglove which mysteriously disappeared from inside a locked room and can only have been reclaimed by its tiny fairy owner slipping through a crack, so the legend goes. Her book is peopled with eccentrics, many in touch with the psychic realms which seem to be interwoven into Irish life, many others surrounded by memories of fading grandeur as the new Ireland, the Celtic Tiger, changes the fabric of society.
And as befits a true pilgrimage, Ros finds herself changed at the end of her journey. No longer so sure of her commitment to Eastern philosophies like yoga and Buddhism, she finds a reawakening of her Christian faith; no longer feeling adrift in her homeland despite its hold over her, imbued with its physical beauty and the kindness of old friends and strangers, she feels a deeply fortifying sense of connectedness with all of life.
Where you have Irish blood in your veins or not, Castles, Follies & Four-Leaf Clovers is a rewarding read in the company of a charming, original and insightful wanderer.
Margaret Evans has a background in teaching, journalism and publishing. She is the editor of NOVA Holistic Journal.