I have sat in St. Patrick’s chair. I have walked where the legendary patron saint of Ireland roamed for six years. And it is my happy place.
Today, as Irish descendants and not-so Irish progeny wear green, drink beer and sing Irish folk songs to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I mark the festive occasion with a video tribute to Slemish Mountain.
Legend has it that Slemish was St. Patrick’s first Irish home. It is where he is reputed to have roamed for six years as a shepherd boy before he found God and brought Christianity to Ireland.
I first heard tales of Slemish as a child from my paternal grandfather. Pop Pop lived with us from the time I was 12 until I was 24. I used to sit with him in his room at the front of the house and he would regale me with stories about growing up in Northern Ireland. Son of a stone mason, he lived near Buckna in County Antrim just outside Ballymena and near to the base of Slemish. As a boy he would climb the basalt plug that was the central core of an extinct volcano.
I made my first pilgrimage to Northern Ireland in 1981 with my sister Heather. Pop Pop’s youngest sister Aggie and her daughter Mae took us to Slemish for our first climb. My second trip to Slemish was in 1990 when I visited Aggie and Mae for Easter. Mae and I climbed Slemish with my young second cousin Stephen. Stephen was only 12 at the time and is the son of Mae’s brother Ivan.
It would be another 20 years before I was able to return to Slemish. In 2012, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking our girls to the U.K. While Hannah and Emmalyse had met Stephen on one of his visits to North America, they had never met Mae or Ivan. We stayed with Stephen and his family in Scotland where he lives now and then made the trek to Antrim to reunite with Mae and her husband John and Ivan and his wife Maureen.
Mae knows that Slemish is a rite of passage for me every time I visit the Emerald Isle. She and John toured us through the Glens of Antrim and brought me back to Slemish so I could make my tertiary climb.
My daughter Hannah was the first to reach the summit and to capture the panoramic views that have remained unaltered over time.
My husband and I weren’t too far behind.
Last year in 2016 I had the privilege to once again return to Slemish. Emmalyse was studying at university in Edinburgh. She and her friend Helena had spring break so Donald and I decided to visit. We met up at Mae’s in Antrim.
Once again, Mae and John chauffeured us around and gave us the royal tour and returned us to my happy place. Reaching the peak of Slemish we were able to amble on some of the same trails where St. Patrick had once tended sheep.
I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to acknowledge my Irish roots and pay tribute to a family heritage. Pop Pop was the only grandfather I knew. He brought to life stories of Slemish and an unknown Irish family.
When I hike the rugged terrain of Slemish Mountain, I think not only of that young shepherd boy from the 5th century who became a patron saint, I reflect on a man who immigrated to Canada when he was only 20 and who meant the world to me. I think about my Irish family who I love and treasure, and I ponder a young girl’s childhood memories of her own personal happy place that she can share with her daughters and pass on to future generations.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2017.
If you want to see more of Slemish Mountain, here are a couple more videos from our 2016 visit.
And in the words of a traditional Irish poem:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.