Caribbean peaks By William Weaver...

MY BEST SHOT

April 02, 2000

MY BEST SHOT

Caribbean peaks

By William Weaver, Westminster

We left Maryland on Feb. 6 with 20 inches of snow on the ground. Eight hours later, we landed in St. Lucia, where it was sunny, 85 degrees, with flowers and beautiful Caribbean colors everywhere. St. Lucia is a hilly island, formed by volcanoes. The beaches have black sand. The Piton mountains were just waiting to be photographed.

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Holy rocks of Ireland

By Robin Farabaugh

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thousands of Americans journey to Ireland every year, but not many make the trip to the Skelligs, islands 12 miles off the coast of County Kerry. The Skelligs break high out of the water like shark's teeth. Skellig Michael is the larger of the two islands. The smaller one, called Little Skellig, is home to 20,000 pairs of gannets. Capt. Dan Murphy's fishing boat delivered us to Skellig Michael, home to a stone monastery begun in the seventh century and completed over the next 500 years.

The boat landing is nothing more than a wide ledge of rock that, in rough seas, requires a careful jump from the deck to the waiting arms of the crew.

After fighting seasickness on the boat, we faced another difficulty on land: The path changes from a wide stone walk to an ancient, hand-built staircase winding up the ridged spine of the island to the monastery at the top. The island drops away sharply from either side of the path.

"Watch your feet," I told two children, one in front and one in back of me. At our feet, clumsy, bright-billed puffins waddled to the edge of their burrows to spread their wings and leap into the breeze. We held on tight to each other.

At the summit was a community of stone huts, shaped like beehives, clustered around a paved walkway. Some were residences, and some were oratories -- places for private prayer. Alone for a moment within the stone huts, despite fellow tourists and the noise of wind, water and sea birds, my husband and I found complete stillness. It was easy to imagine that outside the door, monks still walked, fished, tended livestock and prayed.

Across the walkway was a small cemetery and the remains of a tiny 19th-century stone chapel, long roofless, housing the grave of a lighthouse keeper's child. Beside and under it were the remains of a 1,000-year-old church, built on a natural white quartz slab.

This milky rock also surrounds Newgrange, the famous Stone Age grave near Dublin. Here at Skellig Michael, the Christian monks had centered their church on it, even as the later chapel had been placed on top of the church. This was a common occurrence among ruins. The sacred in Ireland forms a continuous thread, unbroken from pagan times to the present.

" 'Tis a holy place," Captain Murphy said on our return boat trip, and no one disagreed.

Robin Farabaugh lives in Baltimore.

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Betty Parreca, Highland, Md.

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