Silver Branch Perception - a walkabout with John Moriarty,Patrick McCormack, Diarmuid Lyng and Tommy Tiernan
“In the silver branch way of seeing the Otherworld becomes this world, comes alive more fully, and we in turn become more continuous and consonant with the cosmos. Silver branch perception is a way of returning to reality as-it-is rather than as we imagine it to be. We can, in a sense, ground our cultural mythology in the supernovas, galaxies, mountains, wind, and trees. I think though that the rub is that we can’t quite do this with our ordinary egoic minds. We have to do it through the silver branch”.
The Salmon in the Spring
Over the last few years I have gradually surrendered to the magnetic pull of the wilderness. Connecting with the Irish landscape has become a part of my daily ritual. A dose of pagan wilderness - forest, mountain, bog, river, waterfall or ocean is powerful medicine for the soul.
Being in relationship with nature has a mysterious effect on the human spirit. It helps us to navigate new territory and explore places that are often out of bounds. Our bodies and brains respond well to being in the Great Outdoors, science shows that this relationship restores and recalibrates us. Nature invites us to access deeper states of consciousness and reminds us of our human fragility. She reminds us of our interconnectedness and our place as a species in the ‘web of nature’ and the natural order of things.
Maybe this is why so many writers, philosophers, artists, poets and seekers have found consolation and restoration in the wild Irish landscape. When humans really connect with the sacred power of nature, it evokes new ways of seeing and being in the world. The great Irish philosopher, storyteller and sage John Moriarty called this ‘Silver branch perception’, adopted from the ancient Irish Story of Bran mac Feabhail and his quest to the Other World. Silver Branch Perception can be understood as a return to perceiving this world as if for the first time
“ a marvellous way of seeing and knowing things that, in effect, is paradise regained” Dreamtime John Moriarty
John Moriarty has always inspired and intrigued me and I have dedicated few personal pilgrimages over the years to his memory. One of these expeditions led me to the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise, another to Ballinahinch in Connemara and another to the archives of RTÉ to ‘The Blackbird and The Bell’, a very brilliant and very trippy series of late-night discussions that John hosted with a merry band of musicians, poets and writers .
One of these Moriarty inspired field trips led me to the home of philosopher, poet, and fifth-generation farmer, Patrick McCormack who lives on the Burren, on County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. Patrick lives in the infamous Fr.Ted house and I was invited to meet him, his wife Cheryl and their family in preparation for We Need to Talk About Ireland – a creative produced by The Trailblazery in 2014. My time with Patrick had a big impact on me. We had lots of tea in that kitchen. I remember petting the tiny baby lambs wrapped up in blankets and hot water bottles by the Aga recovering from the loss of their mother the night before. We walked the land together, Patrick pointed out the beautiful peregrine falcons soaring above us. We talked and listened and made a heart connection. I was delighted that he was willing to travel to the big smoke ( Dublin) on St. Patricks Day and share his passion for the power of our Irish landscape with the whole world as the show was being broadcast around the globe via The Washington Post and RTÉ Television.
And then just as nature reveals the mysterious patterns of life, I found myself circling back to Patrick’s world last weekend at the opening of a magnificent creative documentary called The Silver Branch at the Irish Film Institute. This debut from director Katrina Costello, who shot much of the breath-taking nature sequences herself is simply breath taking. A eulogy to the Burren landscape - this is a beautiful meditation on the fragile relationship between humans and landscape, between tradition and spirit, and between body and soul. The Silver Branch essentially reminds us of our role in protecting our vulnerable planet home. The bill reads
“An uplifting and emotional celebration of people and place, which captures the delicacy of the natural world; the heart and soul of a farmer-poet, Patrick McCormack; and the ancient rural spirit of Ireland which stands behind him. The Story is centred around Patrick and the land, The Burren, Western Ireland. A wild place where Mesolithic tombs, famine villages and present day small rocky fields are like jewels telling of our long human story on these hills. Patrick longs to farm in the quite pace his ascendants did. But his life gains a different momentum when he’s called to Battle in the Supreme courts to decide on the fate of this iconic wilderness”
The Silver Branch won the 2018 Winner of the International spectrum Audience Award at HotDocs, North America’s biggest documentary film festival.
Another trailblazing spirit who has found himself interrogating the pull of Nature is campaigner and father Diarmuid ‘Gizzy” Lyng. Diarmuid is a former senior hurling captain for Wexford who found him self moving out of the city to West Kerry with the writings of John Moriarty as his travelling companion and guide. We invited him to share his story at Freedom | Saoirse, a live event produced by The Trailblazery at Kilmainham Gaol on Easter Monday 2017.
Diarmuid has now settled in Kerry with his partner Siobhán and their young son Uisne. Together they run Wild Irish Retreats consisting of weekend retreats through Irish which include wild food foraging, yoga, meditation, hurling and poetry workshops. He works in Television and radio and was the subject of a documentary on RTE last year. He is currently developing facilitated workshops to work with young sports players on masculinity and youth culture in team sports.
He recently wrote this powerful piece A Hurler’s Silver Branch Perception which tracks his own heroic journey ‘back to the great and sacred Earth’.
“What I found in West Kerry is that when the fences around me fell away, when I went out to the wild places, the boundaries in my mind disintegrated too, and these thoughts and feelings had their way with me. It brought me back to the soul of the game: to Silver Branch Perception..”
To read this in full please click here
Another force of nature who went on a pilgrimage to meet the mystic Moriarty is the much loved Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan. He paid him a visit in Kerry in the Summer of 2002.
It seems fitting to leave you today with the words of the great John Moriarty (1938 -2007). His spirit is still alive and inspiring many.
“When people ask me are you happy, I’d say that isn’t quite the question. The real question is am I still growing? Have I become a finished creation? Am I dead or am I still growing? Is my life still an adventure, an adventure full of trouble, full of joy, full of pain, full of cataclysm. Am I still living dangerously? So am I still growing is the real question….”
I look forward to blazing bright and beautiful trails with you in the near future.
PS: To receive your copy of A Trailblazer's Guide to the Universe click here