Sometime between 923 and 1013 AD, in the town of Meelick, County Mayo on the western coast of Ireland, a 21 meter round tower was built. Around it, we can only assume, a monastery came to be. What the rest of the structures contained, how they functioned, we simply guess at in this modern time. The rest is gone. Sure, there is a short, stone wall here and there. Some crumbled cobbles here, too. But that is all. Yet there is too a cemetery. A collection of headstones, some small, some large, some tall, some laid flat, speckles the countryside alongside that ancient tower. It now watches over the dead. Perhaps, on some particularly wild evenings, the opposite may be true.
It was once that I found myself in the town of Meelick. I took the M18 down from Galway, followed directions scribbled on a napkin, to find it. A turn at the end of the white fence, a left at the fork where the sheep are grazing, guidance such as this took me to Meelick. It was there I asked the local priest of the Catholic church where I may find the tower, the Meelick Tower. He wondered why I was searching for it, my accent betraying any familiarity to the region. I had my reasons, and I assured him with a smile that they were not born of malice. He trusted me, seeing before him a sinner looking not to sin, but to find something else. And so I was then given more directions to the tower, a turn at the pond, straight until the stone fence collapses, until the tower emerged on the horizon, unmistakably.
The next part becomes rather difficult to describe. I am driving in a current-year Pugeot through a countryside older than most of known human history. The simple wall beside me knows more years than the ideas of Democracy, space travel, Gravity, a round earth, more years, nearly, than weeks I have been alive. Simply by running the engine I feel as if I am disturbing some sacred, promised peace from long ago. The car is parked much further from the tower than necessary to return the quiet.
There is nobody around. The crunch of the dirt beneath my feet seems to echo off of oaks and willows and elms and alders thousands of feet away. Larks sing a simple song. It is mid-July in western Ireland, it is a time to be singing. As I near the tower, without any knowledge of what there I will find, I begin to see stone crosses poking out along the horizon. From here, they appear to be saplings, starters, fresh life. The air is thick, oddly so. It is humid and the wind does nothing to alleviate the closeness of the moment. Surely, I do not belong here. Yet, I am searching for something. There is something for me in the town of Meelick.
Walking amongst ancient headstones, worn by wind and water and time, brings little comfort for the living. I feel as if I've cheated death and those now surrounding me wish to take their dues. Why do I get to enjoy the fragrant breeze and birdsong? Why must this beauty be here for me, surrounded by so much death? The dates upon the stones around me tell stories of lives lived and finished long before Columbus sailed West, before Da Vinci thought.
I cannot find what I'm looking for. The tower is imposing, capable of hiding secrets. It should be, it is a thousand years old. I will not lose the light of day, it is the middle of the afternoon, yet the clouds have a certain means of creating haste. It will not rain. Suddenly, the sound of a small motor startles me. I turn around. Where I once believed to be alone, now a man walks through the far end of the cemetery, mowing the grass growing tall. He is a keeper of this place, and I must be who he keeps it for. Or maybe I am who is being kept.
It's an impossible task. The ground is jagged, the gravestones, some eight feet or longer along the earth, some too near together, have created angles and dips and dives that no mower could manage. There is an impenetrability to death, a finality of placement in the earth. I've been searching for what feels like an hour, but it likely has been no more than twenty minutes, before I find the reason I came.
In the far end of the cemetery surrounding Meelick Round Tower is my Great, Great Grandfather's grave. It laid there, and still does, long along the earth. It felt ten feet at length and four feet at width. The stone is impressive. It is cracked along the middle, most are here. It, like his body, has begun to sink in towards the center of the Earth. There is a surprise upon his stone. An unexpected name. His brother shares the headstone, killed in World War I. I do not know what foreign land he died upon. As an Irishman he would have been the cannon fodder of the English detail. It is nearly impossible to imagine what foreign hell he experienced. Yet, I stand there, for longer than I can remember. Attempting to imagine.
You see, what he experienced is true pain. He lived pure suffering. And there he lay, alongside my great, great grandfather, together, in a peaceful, emerald countryside of Ireland. I stood there and felt the earth, now composed of the molecules of their bodies due to decay. I breathed the air of the nearby trees, grown from the nutrient of their death. I ate from the countryside, fostered by the care of their suffering. I was nourished by their former nourishment. It was all so very quiet, so very circular. There was nothing to touch me. There was a motor's drone, a bird upon a stone, and a boy, alone. And that is my melancholy place. Those hours in Meelick, I'll never forget them.
The answer, why I am allowed to enjoy the beauty of Meelick while so many surrounding it have long-passed, is simple. That I was there. That I am alive, now, and only now. And so are you.
The Seattle Mariners lost 8-0 on a green field of dirt, surrounded by green seats and a vengeful sky. It is early in their life, in this season. They have no headstone marked. There is birdsong and wind in the willows. There is melancholy, sure. There is beauty, too. Both were always to be.