“I think the telephone box is a symbol of Irish life…I preserve it as a shrine to all the mothers and sons for whom it was a lifeline through lonely times” (Richard Cullen).
The sacred space that Richard refers to is an old disused telephone box in Roscommon. Can you imagine the conversations, the secrets that these old phone boxes contain? Mothers calling sons, lovers separated by distance and work. So many memories held within its space.
When I was a youngster, we didn’t have a phone at home, but my granda had one in his house, a large black Bakelite thing with a chrome dial. There was an outside bell attached, a bit like a factory bell, which was mounted high on the wall, just under the eaves. This enabled us to hear the phone ringing if we were down in the fields.
My aunt had the phone installed before she emigrated to America. Up until the late 1960s, it was the only house phone for miles. It seemed out of place somehow, perched on a high shelf in the hall, barely used to make outgoing calls, as no one else had a phone. But people would ring from abroad to contact their loved ones; neighbours of ours in the area, and I would be despatched by bicycle to ask them to come to grandas house for the phone call. We became the place where people could connect to loved ones in far-away countries.
As a child I once got a toy phone from Santa. It was charged by battery and connected to another receiver by a long trailing wire. I remember excitedly demonstrating it to granda, me in one room, him in the other and asking him to talk to me. Instead, he laughed and laughed. If I think of those moments on that phone now, I can still hear that deep laugh. Special memories created by a phone.
Right up until the 1980s in this part of rural Ireland, making a call abroad was a complicated affair, as you couldn’t direct dial. Instead, it involved the connections being made through the local operator at the telephone exchange, and then she would connect to the operator in England or the USA. You’d stand patiently, listening to the clicks and the conversations across the wires, jingling a pile of coins in your hand in readiness for your time to begin talking. Then your spirit would lift as you heard the words “Connecting you now!”
It’s worth reflecting that the term ‘sacred’ doesn’t just apply to places of worship, (or even old phone boxes). Sacred means ‘to set aside’. The old phone box was a sacred space. A place where memories were created, and emotions were shared. Conversations of love, yearning, sadness even. A place of temporary shelter from everyday life, where for a while, a connection could be made; a mother could feel at peace joining her life with her son or daughter living far away from home.
Here in Ireland there are many places that we hold sacred. The landscape is dotted with sacred sites that have been created by our ancestors. Stone circles, forts and holy wells, shore lines; where, from the mists of time, people walked for miles and gathered to communicate & hold ceremonies. They left a palpable imprint that can still be discerned. The sacred spaces from these early times still have the power to shape us, and once visited, leave an indelible imprint on our memory.
Last week I took some guests to Beaghmore Stone Circles. There had been a snowfall the night before, leaving a dusting over the stones, and a pristine ground with no footsteps. The area was hushed and sparkling in the winter sun. There was no sound apart from birdsong, and we had the place all to ourselves. It was a magical time to reconnect to ancient energies, and feel time slip away. An opportunity to be still, away from the everyday hurly burly of life, where the chatter of your mind can slow. Where your imagination can be set free and you can be profoundly affected and influenced deeply by the setting.
This is a place of healing. Our ancestors were attuned to the nuances of the stones, and despite the passing of time, it is a landscape that is special, numinous, powerful and alive. It’s that “connecting you” feeling, not in a phone box, but from a sense of being in a hallowed space where time doesn’t matter.
Original article about the sacred telephone box: