I want to tell you about a journey that I always meant to take but never did. It was an extraordinary pilgrimage into the past of Ireland with brief glimpses of the present here and there. It all began when I picked up a magazine in the Tourist Information Office in Glasgow Queen Street Station because it had a photo of a Gypsy vardo on the front. Reading the cover article, I found that a few farmers in the West of Ireland had vardos to rent to holiday-makers. This I wanted to know about. I settled down on a bench in the station to read.

The vardos came complete with a large horse to draw them, and a map with farms along the way marked. These farms would sell you eggs and milk and perhaps other things, but most importantly, they had fields set aside where you could camp and even have fodder for the horse. There were small villages also on the map where you could buy food or the occasional meal or knitted jerseys or rain hats or whatever else you might need. Country roads were recommended for you that would keep you from becoming entangled in traffic in big towns — single track road with passing places. Slow roads for a slow, aimless perambulation through the ancient countryside that I already knew was dotted with mounds and stone circles and dolmens and many other magical places, marked and unmarked on the map. I also knew, from my experience in Scotland, that there would be magical folk as well as friendly people.

I could do this, I thought. I'd prefer to go alone, but it would be sensible and a lot less tiring to have a friend along to help out, especially a friend who knew a lot more about horses than I did.

But I was busy. I wanted to take a minimum of three months for the trip, preferable six (from vernal equinox to autumn equinox and a few days to both sides). I planned to meander slowly through the countryside, having gentle adventures, sheltering in the wagon when it rained too much, basking in the summer sun. Writing. Sketching. Taking photographs. It would be heaven. There would be faeries and magical places. I could do this. I would do this. There might even be a book.

But I didn't.

Instead I got sick, very sick, nearly died, and never fully recovered. I even had to go back to the USA, out of the Scottish rain, and I'm still there in what now is the very best place for me to be — the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. But...

I can tell you what would have happened.

My friend Raine and I flew off for Ireland on the 10th of March with a few changes of clothes, some art and writing supplies, and not much else. We'd paid for the vardo and horse in advance so we had nothing to do but get there. Raine grew up on a farm and she still has horses. She drives them with a cart often. Most of all, she and I get along very well. I knew that, if I wanted to stop somewhere, the very things that appealed to me would appeal to her and vice versa. We both had notebooks, cameras, and sketchbooks. Raine brought her paints. She's an artist, I'm a writer — perfect. It was quite likely there would be a book.

We flew into Dublin, took the train to xxx, and spent the night in a hotel. Early in the morning we caught the bus to xxxy, a lovely little village, where the farmer met us in front of the post office. It was a fine day — a few scattered clouds but nothing that looked like it was going to help keep Ireland so very green. We spent most of the day provisioning the wagon and being brought up to par on looking after the horse. I could tell that the farmer was very pleased to discover how capable and experienced Raine already was, and that I was at least willing to learn. (Raine, I must mention, also has an Irish heritage and looks it, red hair and all, and that was bound to help.) So we spent our last "civilized" night in a nearby inn and made certain to each have a really good, hot bath. There really was no telling how long it would be before the next chance for that. Then we had a sound, somewhat jet-lagged but good night's sleep.

Dawn come at a reasonable hour in the Irish springtime, so we had an early, hearty breakfast, and went back to the farm. There, Raine harnessed the horse, we tucked our last luggage into its proper place in the wagon, and off we went. Loosely, our plan was to go to the southwest coast and work our way northward, seeing everything as we went.

Because we actually didn't go, I can't tell you what happened next. I can't tell you about the delightful people we met, the songs we learned, the magic we experienced. I know we would have done these things, but I don't know the details. I'd have to make them up, and that's no fun. BUT if ever a miracle happens and we're able to go, I'll certainly tell you about it then — and there shall be a book with both of our names on the cover.

Fare thee well and happy travels!

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Jessica Macbeth