It was in Ireland that I first learned to walk alone at night.  I was in my first week of travelling along the West Coast,  on an Island known around the world as a tourist destination. It was surrounded by clear water, and was in most ways as unpretentious as your own back porch.  Earlier in the day, I had gone for a walk and been caught out in the rain.   Afterwards I was treated to a simple vision.  A white horse stood  beside a pale green house.  Above them a rainbow crossed the light gray sky.  The scene is etched in my mind as if I had photographed it.  I wondered then just what being in Ireland meant.

That evening, Aiofe, mini skirted proprietress of the place where I spent the few nights on the island, offered me a torch and some directions.  I had a reservation at the communal table of a North African chef who nightly conjured up a full course vegetarian meal for seven euro a person.  It is possible that he is still there.  By now he must have raised his prices.

With much less trepidation than I would have thought, I walked out into the darkness, light in hand and not much else to go on.  I arrived as I had been told, at the first landmark I was given, after several minutes walk through damp, chill air.   What I saw there warmed me inside, and set the tone for many future nights travelling alone on country roads and pathways.   On some of those walks, during more than five years that I spent living  in the West of Ireland,  I carried my own light.  On others I looked to moonlight to guide me.

Statues of the virgin mary had never meant much to me.  They were symbols of another religion, one I wasn’t born into, adult child that I am of a conscious choice to turn away from organized religion.  It is a decision I have a clear memory of making on a Sunday School morning, age 8.  At that placemarker, found on my night walking out on Inis mor, she stood in a grotto lit by a candle burning steadily inside a red glass.  I thought of the person, unknown to me who tended her light., and was glad of his or her unseen protection.  Standing in darkness, on my own in a strange place, some part of me came home.