More than twenty-five years ago I took the ferry across the Irish sea from Britain to the land of my ancestors. I’ve always been fascinated with Ireland. Both my grandmothers had stories to tell about it; though they spoke from quite different perspectives. A lot of Australians attest to the uncanny experience of stepping off the boat at Dun Laoghaire and immediately feeling at home. That’s exactly what happened to me.
Ireland was just as I’d imagined it, perhaps because the place had been so well described to me. I’m sure my love of stories comes from having two grandmothers who were both talented taletellers. I dropped in at the Hare Krishna Temple in Dublin as I always did in a new town. I used to get very excited if I ran into any of the white-robed sannyasin I’d met in India.
At the temple one thing led to another and before long I found myself on my way to Bantry in the southwest with two of the travelling sannyasin; both of whom were Irish. In the Vaisnava tradition men who renounce married life and seek to abandon the pleasures of the material world are called sannyasi. In India entering the Order of the Sannyasa is an important stage of life. Generally men of fifty years or older take this path. But young men who’ve dedicated their lives to the spiritual path also become sannyasin. A sannyasin renounces family, friends, material comforts and all other attachments including identity.
As a mark of their detachment from the world young sannyasin in the Krishna movement of those days used to take to the road in pairs; one to watch over the other so neither would stray from the path. They had to keep moving. They weren’t permitted to sleep under the same roof for three nights in a row.
The pair who gave me a lift talked a lot more than most sannyasin I’d met. They seemed very proud of their country; passing on stories about almost every important landmark and, in true Irish style, making up outrageous tales when it suited them. I could tell by their accents they were from the north of Ireland but I was surprised when they spoke to one another in a language I recognised from my grandmother’s stories.
They were speaking Irish-Gaelic. Their enthusiasm for the language got me interested in Gaelic. In Bantry the pair introduced me, in a roundabout way, to an old lady called Sila who offered me a room for a few nights in exchange for some work in her house. I ended up not doing any work at all; but that didn’t matter to Sila. She was happy to have someone to tell stories to and ask questions about the old days. In the early eighties there weren’t too many young people in Ireland who wanted to learn about folklore.
Sila inspired me to learn the Irish language and set off travelling to all the old storytellers collecting their wonderful tales. And many of those tales sunk in to the deeper part of me. To this day I still dream bits and pieces of the sagas I heard at firesides in Ireland.
In the course of my obsessive search for stories I eventually met an old man who asked me to tell him the story of my life up to that point. In my innocence I cheerfully related all I could recall about my childhood; keeping it as brief as possible so I could get back to hearing what he had to say. I noticed his expression changed as I went on and I worried that I might have made him upset or angry.
When I finished he explained to me that I’d had a quite violent and hard childhood. I didn’t really know until then, that my young life had been unusually difficult or that I’d been badly treated. It was just normal for me.
That old man then said a few words to me in Irish that changed my life. In his own language he said I was as strong as a great stone fort to have come through all that and to have remained so cheerful. In his language Caiseal Mór means great stone fort.
‘That sounds like someone’s name,’ I said.
‘It yours, if you want it,’ he replied.
It was nine years before I threw off the baggage of my old identity and took the name I have now. From the very moment I started referring to myself as the great stone fort, my life was magically transformed. It was as if I was suddenly released from heavy chains that I’d grown very accustomed to. Indeed, I hardly noticed them until they were gone. In the alchemical tradition words and names are the very essence of magic.
When my name changed that old identity who had been unworthy, defective, retarded and unable to socialise properly bowed out of my life. With him went a lot of shame, guilt, remorse and anxiety. I instantly became a lot more optimistic about life even though I was scratching the rent together every fortnight and hardly had anything to eat but brown rice and boiled potatoes.
The alchemical process merged the name Caiseal Mór and the separate splintered parts of me into a single entity. Then I was able to reassess the direction of my life in a way that had been impossible before.
I decided to devote my existence to creativity without regard to whether I ended up poor or rich. I didn’t initially consider taking up writing but managed to compose eight chapters of a novel when I was put on the spot.
Within a few months of the name change I’d literally become a different person. I’d signed the publishing contract for my first book; ‘The Circle and the Cross,’ and I’d moved closer to the city to be near other people, book stores and my publisher. All the stories I’d heard in Ireland flooded back in my dreams and released themselves from the prison of my head. And things really haven’t been the same since.