Come with me again to the well of stories on the Hill of Tara. Remember the ritual. Breathe deeply. Stay focussed on the deep desires of your heart. Remove your shoes. Now reach for a solid handhold among the stones on the inner wall of the well, close to the top. Let your body drop into the water, waist deep, searching with your toes for a foothold below. Let go. Sink. Down, down into the cool water, a welcome blessing on this warm spring day. Drift downwards, and notice that here you can breathe easily. Wait for the opening in the wall of the well, let the water carry you through it until with a gush and a rush you are in the pool within the cavern. Climb out of the water onto the rock surface. Notice that you are entirely dry, as dry as the rocks themselves.
Just over there, see where the Storyteller awaits us. Your purpose and desire must have been strong to have drawn her here so quickly. Greet her in whatever way seems best to you.
Now I speak to the Storyteller, reminding her of her promise: Before we left you after the story of the Stolen Bairn, you promised us a tale about the homeplace where the Beloved dwells within us. Will you tell us that tale now?
For answer, she speaks no word. Instead, with her gaze upon us, her eyes alight as though with some great secret, she stands. Slowly, gracefully, she extends one slippered foot from beneath the hem of her robe. She begins to dance.
For the length of several heartbeats we watch her, astonished, utterly perplexed. What is she doing? And why?
You are the one who first understands her intent. You whisper to me, “I think she is going to dance the story, like the performers at Siamsa Tire who danced the Children of Lir.”
It’s true. I see now the graceful dance, the joy of her body as it turns and bows and flows to unheard music. But how shall we follow this story? There are no programme notes, there is no singer to hint at the plot through the rise and fall of his song in melodious, if, to us, incomprehensible, Irish.
Suddenly the dancing stops. A look of terror, of unbearable loss, crosses her lovely face, and we watch as she searches desperately for something, searching low on the ground, turning round and around and …. I know!
I whisper to you.It’s the tale of the Seal Woman and her son! I know it well. I shall tell it to you as she dances it.
But now the Storyteller’s body stiffens, assumes the aspect of a man who swaggers forth, bows, extends his hands…
This is the fisherman, I tell you. He has stolen the woman’s sealskin as she danced on the rock in the moonlight. Now he is asking her to marry him, promising he will return her sealskin in seven years’ time. See how unhappy she looks at this offer. For she is of the place beneath. Her homeplace is the deep sea and she cannot return there without her sealskin. Yet she sees that she has no choice. She will have to go with him
We continue to watch this dance of grace. We watch the Seal Woman embrace her newborn son, dance with him, tell him stories. Now we see her slow her dance, see her stumble, limp, move awkwardly with hands outstretched as though she is growing blind. We see her pleading, begging, kneeling before someone as though in supplication. She lifts her hands, holds out seven fingers to remind him of his promise to return her sealskin in seven years’ time.
The Storyteller assumes the stance of the fisherman who shakes his head in refusal, once, twice, three times, before storming off in a rage.
Now she makes herself small, curled up like a child asleep. Suddenly the child sits up, alert, listening.
The Old Seal is calling from the sea, I tell you. It is time for the child to seek for his mother’s Sealskin.
Still dancing the role of the child, she runs off, returning with something that the boy carries behind him like a banner!
Now dancing the Seal Mother’s part, she begins to climb into her sealskin. She looks at her child with immense love, takes his face between her hands, breathes into his open mouth three times. Then she lifts him into her arms, and runs …. look! She is poised to dive into the sea, her homeplace, still carrying her son under one arm.
Our Storyteller is miming grace, a swimming dance of wholeness, restored health and well-being. She is joyously swimming with her son in the deep homeplace. She smiles at someone. That is the Old Seal who is her father, the boy’s grandfather, I say.
We see her mime a swim upwards, with her son under her arm. With care, with love, she sets him down on the shore.
I remember from the tale that the moon lights them both as she embraces her son for the last time, I tell you. And I know her words to him by heart:
I am always with you.
Only touch what I have touched,
My carving knife,
the sea creatures I made for you,
And I will breathe into your lungs
A wind for the singing of your songs.
We watch as she dives again under the water, returning to her home in the sea.
The tale goes on to say that the boy became in his time a great drummer and singer and storyteller. People said it was because he had survived swimming to the deep homeplace of the seals, returning unharmed.
The Storyteller pauses, sits down to rest after the dance.
You and I both need time to draw her tale into our souls…