I’ve just got back from a writing break at the amazing Anam Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat in Eyeries. The landscape of Beara is so stunning that it’s surprising anyone gets any work done. My bedroom window overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, and the bright blue sky and incredibly shaped clouds were mesmerising. It’s a credit to Anam Cara that the retreat exerts such a powerful sense of purpose and tranquility, that despite the desire to just sit and look at the view, I still buckle down and do the work for over eight hours a day while I’m there.
On my third day, I decided to take a break from the writing, and to visit local legend Mary Maddison. Mary is a singer, a storyteller, an artist and a seer. I went to visit her a few years back during another stay at the retreat, and though she hadn’t made any earth-shattering predictions, I’d really enjoyed the visit. I don’t often consult with fortune tellers. I’ve gone perhaps half a dozen times in the last twenty-five years. It’s a bit like a psychic aromatherapy session. It’s a bit of fun, it feels good to be the centre of attention, and it tends to lift your spirits. I don’t know exactly what they do, nor how they do it. My approach is to suspend my disbelief and listen. One should go to a fortune teller like one goes to see a film: you don’t spend the whole time trying to figure out how they made it, or reminding yourself that these are actors playing a role. You just sit back and enjoy the story.
I thought of the other ‘seers’ I’d consulted with in the past, as I drove through the delightful village of Eyeries on the way to Mary’s. Most of the fortune tellers I’ve seen over the years have each hit on at least one thing that really was spot on. A Buddhist monk read my ‘fortune sticks’ in a temple in the Philippines while I was shooting a documentary. I was very annoyed when he told me that my career in television would be short lived, despite his reassurances that my second career was what I was born to do. I was further annoyed when a tarot reader repeated the exact same prediction. Only a few months later the company I worked for went bust and I have never worked in television news since then. A classic fairground fortune teller at a West Cork festival, complete with caravan and crystal ball, correctly saw that I had ‘rocked the cradle’ four times, but that I no longer lived with the father of my four children. The White Witch of Cobh told me back in the late ’90s that I had a long struggle ahead of me — at least ten years. How right she was! (She also told me that I’d die when I was 88-years-old, but that I’d be healthy and have ‘all my mind’ to the end. How bad?)
Driving down the boreen to Mary’s bungalow is the perfect introduction to a magical hour. The track twists and turns, hiding and then revealing the Atlantic like a show-girl with a fan. A flock of peacocks, complete with chicks, greet you as you turn into the gate. The garden is decorated with shells, stones, pebbles and statues. Mary herself is a tiny, white-haired woman, with twinkling bright eyes. Her method is all her own, developed since she was a child and started collecting stones and shells. It involves sinking your bare feet into a large ceramic bowl filled with tiny polished stones and crystals. She then asks you to choose seven stones from a tray and line them up in six lines, representing the next six months. After the stone reading, Mary consults your feet, reading the tiny stones that have stuck to them. She also gets messages from spirits who have passed on. Mary is a very down-to-earth, no-nonsense seer: along with her predictions (I’ll be keeping an eye out for a some salient predictions she made for the next two months), Mary gave me some great practical advice about a property question I had. She told me some delightful stories about her mother, interspersed with a ‘chat’ with my two grandmothers, which was as comfortable as having a cup of tea with friends. But perhaps the most surprising thing she said was towards the end of our session. She said that my father’s mother was asking if he had a pain in his leg? My ninety-year-old father lives in New York and had been complaining about his left leg since last summer. She says to tell him that he’s pulled a muscle.