Whimsical Ireland, Part III (Amazing People!)

Finally, these are some shots of wonderful Irish people, simply being their amazing selves.


Hurling Practice, Mizen Head Peninsula


Turoe Stone wasn’t there, but we found the Pet Farm!


Beautiful Flower Girls, Ballintuber Abbey


Departing a Ballintuber Wedding


Swimming at Lough Derg, Mountshannon


Pony walk at Bishop’s Quarter, Ballyvaughan


Séan Nós Dancing, Westport


Westport Arts Festival

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Man and Dog, Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula


Family Walk on a Foggy Day, Bishop’s Quarter, County Clare


Net Fishing, Lahinch, County Clare

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Napping at Brandon Point, County Kerry

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Solitude, Brandon Point, County Kerry


Woman Rowing, Lough Mask, County Mayo


Liscannor, County Clare


Surfers, Lahinch, County Clare

Whimsical Ireland, Part II

On this trip, I drove nearly 8,000 km or 5,000 miles through southern and western Ireland. I’ve discussed dozens of beautiful sites, monastic ruins, and ancient megalithic and holy places. But in this entry, rather than write about some of the places that made me laugh or gave me pause, I’m simply going to provide pictures. As much as possible, I’ll try to provide the locations for these photos, but I’ll leave it to you to spot the whimsical, magical, amazing things I saw. Enjoy!


Sacred Heart of Jesus, Dining Room at Bervie Guesthouse, Achill Island


Dilapidated House with Sacred Heart, Co. Roscommon


“Leave the Holy Picture” (See above)


“This Way”


Fairy Fort, County Cavan


“Equality Emerging,” Galway City Centre


“The Quiet Man,” Cong


Gougane Barra Toilets…


…but not just ANY toilet, “Top” Toilet


Bags of Wool for Sale, Maam Cross, County Galway


20th Century Antiquity?…


Yep. The Connemara Giant, c. 1999.


Bervie Guesthouse, Achill Island


Windowed Alcove, Quay Street, Galway


Lisdoonvarna, County Clare




Gulls at the Claddagh, Galway


Planted Flowers at Deserted Cottage, Achill Island


Cuppa Tea, Roadway in Fanore, County Clare


Jar for Leeches? Kitchen at Strokestown House


Directions to Omey Island, County Galway


Westport Quay Bicycle Rack


Ballyvaughan Harbor


Cemetery Stile, Ballyvourney


Beara Peninsula Daily Rainbow

Whimsical Ireland, Part I (Signs and Animals)

On this trip, I drove nearly 8,000 km or 5,000 miles through southern and western Ireland. I’ve discussed dozens of beautiful sites, monastic ruins, and ancient megalithic and holy places. But in this entry, rather than write about some of the places that made me laugh or gave me pause, I’m simply going to provide pictures. As much as possible, I’ll try to provide the locations for these photos, but I’ll leave it to you to spot the whimsical, magical, amazing things I saw. Enjoy!

Signs (Comharthaí)


Cliffs of Moher – “Don’t Disturb Nesting Birds”



Cliffs of Moher – “Don’t FALL!”


Cliffs of Moher – “Don’t Climb the Wall!”


Cong Woods (with no walkways)


Croagh Patrick


Warning at Conor’s Pass, Dingle Peninsula


“No Horses” 


Corlea Bog


“Wear Life Jackets” (It’s not a Sheep!) 


Ballyvaughan Pier

Animals (Ainmhithe)


Irish Traffic Jam, Dingle Peninsula



County Galway, Training Dogs

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“Stay Away from my Babies”


“Did you Bring Dinner?” County Galway


Beara Peninsula


Fanore, County Clare


“He’s a working dog. His name is ‘Dog.'” Achill Island


Burren Goat, County Clare


Horses in the Front Yard? Dingle Peninsula


Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare

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County Clare


County Clare


Waiting Dog, Westport




Samhain: When the Veil is Thinnest


5,000 Year Old Art, Newgrange, County Meath

Samhain, the Irish word for “November,” is the beginning of the Celtic New Year, the celebration of Harvest and the beginning of Winter, the Dark Time. Samhain, pronounced “Sow-win,” is often celebrated as a Festival of Fire, and where better to visit than the very place where Samhain originated over 2000 years ago?

As my website explains, the primary purpose of this trip was to visit the thin places of Ireland, those places where the veil between this world and the otherworld is thin, and where people can find peace and healing. The Celts, Druids, and even many people today, believe that veil between the worlds of the living and those who have died is most thin at Samhain, that time when nature cycles into the darkness and period of rest before the spring and rebirth and growth. I wanted to visit the place where celebration of Samhain began.

Traveling with my new friend, Cindi, another of the residents from the Burren College of Art, I drove from Ballyvaughan to Royal County Meath in the east of Ireland. After visiting the Hill of Tara, we made our way to  the Hill of Ward, near the town of Athboy, where the tradition of celebrating Samhain began as a festival of fire. Fire was important to the early Celts as it not only pierced the darkness, but embers from the celebratory bonfires that were lit at Samhain were to be taken home to light the hearth for the coming year. As mentioned in an earlier post, the hearth was protected by Brighid or Saint Brigid, and fire remains as a significant symbol for the heart of the home.

On this night, 31 October, my friend, Cindi, and I joined with over 1,000 other people for the walk up the road from Athboy to Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward. People carried torches, lanterns, and flashlights, and there was excitement in the air. Logs that had been split and soaked in kerosene lit our way, as did bonfires that had been built along the mile and a half road to the Hill. Many people paused at the Druid’s Well on the left side of the road, before continuing uphill and then crossing over the stone stile into a pasture.

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Leaving Fairgreen, Athboy

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Burning Logs Light Our Way

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Druid’s Well

At the top of the pathway, we mixed with the crowd that stood five and six people deep on the bowl-shaped hill that overlooked a clearing where a large fire was burning in a fire pit. Following a brief program explaining the legend of Tlachtga and the observation of Samhain, the names of deceased loved ones were read by the leader or spoken by individuals in the crowd. Finally, pieces of paper on which people had written their intentions, or wishes for those things they wanted to release for the coming year, were placed on the center bonfire and the intentions were consumed by the flames. At the conclusion, the crowd dispersed and we walked quietly back to Athboy, in the darkness, symbolic of the dark time of year into which we were now entering.

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The Story of Tlachtga

The celebration at Tlachtga was powerfully moving. I left feeling part of a group with whom I had shared an ancient tradition. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the Christian holiday of Easter with the message of death and rebirth, and the belief that life does not simply end on earth, but that it continues in another realm, even if unseen. The veil, at Tlachtga, was thin that night. And later, when I uploaded my images from that night, I interpreted some pictures as visible reminders that we did not walk alone that night.

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         Bonfires on the walk to Ward Hill

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For more pictures of the Festival of Fire, check this public Facebook page.

A few miles from Athboy is the Hill of Tara, actually the site of several megalithic sites, and not just a single “hill.” The one-hundred acre site is one of Ireland’s most mythic Celtic sites, reported to be the location where the High Kings of Ireland resided. As one website describes, “In ancient Irish religion and mythology, Tara was revered as a dwelling of the gods and an entrance place to the otherworld of eternal joy and plenty where no mortal ever grew old. In the legends of St Patrick’s mission to Ireland he is said to have first come to Tara to confront the ancient religion in its most powerful sight (sic).”

There are several places of interest at the Hill, but the most important is the Lia Fáil, or the Stone of Destiny, atop the Hill of Tara. Legend says the stone was brought to Ireland by the Tuatha dé Danann or “tribe of Danú,” the supernatural race of people descended from the goddess, Danú. As part of the rites of confirmation, when the rightful High King touched or stood on the stone, the stone would roar its approval.

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Lia Fáil, Hill of Tara

The Mound of Hostages is a Neolithic passage tomb also at the Hill of Tara and it is illuminated at sunrise twice each year, coinciding with Samhain in early November and Imbolc on May 1. Alas, when we went to the Mound of Hostages at sunrise, the hill was shrouded in a heavy mist, so there was no penetrating sun, but another friend shared photographs he had taken of the passage tomb the week before as the sun was beginning its ascent.

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Mound of Hostages, Hill of Tara

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There is no denying the intensity of spirit at this place. My friend actually had a physical reaction when she climbed the Hill of Tara, at the Mound of Hostages, and at the location known as the Banquet Hall. While I didn’t have this type of response, I noticed when we climbed the hill in the early morning mist on November 2, a herd of sheep seemed to be guarding the Lia Fáil while we were there. As soon as we left the hill, the sheep were gone. This is noteworthy because the owner of our B&B told us sheep are never at that end of the Hill in the mornings, but that day, they joined us and kept us at bay, away from the Hill of Tara.


Hill of Tara, County Meath


Also in the Royal County is Brú na Bóinne or Newgrange, a large passage tomb that is remarkable for its astrological alignment with the sun. Built over 5,000 years ago, making it older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the 19 meter long interior passage and chamber of the tomb are fully illuminated at sunrise during five days surrounding the Winter Solstice as sunlight passes through a roof-box above the entrance. For more information about this incredible stone-age site, click here. http://www.newgrange.com/ Other passage tombs at both Knowth and Dowth are also located in the Boyne River Valley, but were not open to the public during my November visit, but are also examples of the incredible ingenuity of the ancient people who lived in Ireland.


Another important historical site in County Meath is the round tower at Kells, famous for being near the site where monks hid the Book of Kells, the illuminated gospels created c. 800 AD and now housed at Trinity College Dublin. One of Ireland’s most prized treasures, the beautifully illustrated manuscript has been digitized and is available for viewing online. Click here to view individual pages of the Book of Kells.  In the addition to the round tower, some high crosses are in the cemetery in the heart of Kells.

A final site I visited in Meath was the large Anglo-Norman castle at Trim, famously used as a set for filming of the motion picture, Braveheart. Trim Castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland and was built, and rebuilt, during the period from 1172 to 1220 along the southern banks of the River Boyne. The keep is accessible for a guided tour and is remarkably well restored. Its walls are three meters thick, and the keep and other buildings were enclosed by a large curtain wall as well. It must have been an impressive, intimidating structure to the native Irish in the 12th century as England began its domination.


Trim Castle




Royal County Meath’s many sites reveal the mysticism, indomitable spirit, and wisdom of the ancient Celts. The ancestors are here and the veil is thin, if one is willing to be still and listen. I left County Meath knowing I had taken important steps in my personal journey of healing. Being there, especially at Samhain, led me to experience a significant sense of closure as I said goodbye to my beloved, and walked into a season of rest before the eventual new beginnings.


I’m Picking up Good Vibrations (in County Clare)


There are several types of historical sites in Ireland, including megalithic sites that date from the Stone Age, places that are considered sacred because of Christian or pre-Christian significance, some are remnants of Norman, Viking, or English domination, and finally, places that pertain to Irish rebellion, independence, or An Gorta Mor, the Great Famine. I’m focusing here on those sites in or near County Clare that gave me “good vibrations,” the places that resonated deeply with me.

20151022-BurrenKilfenora-2015005One of the most well known Stone Age sites in County Clare is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, frequently referred to as the Hole of Sorrows. Poulnabrone is a portal tomb, with a flat stone resting atop other vertical stones, and was probably built between 2500 and 4000 BC. In 1985, during excavation after one of the standing slabs cracked, skeletal remains of over 22 people, including a newborn infant, were found under the dolmen. The tomb stands on limestone pavement in the Burren, just off the road between Ballyvaughan and Corofin. I don’t understand how or why the stones were physically placed here 5,000 years ago, but I find this a powerfully moving thin place.

Down the road in Kilfenora, a cathedral dates to the 12th century, although a monastery founded by Saint Facthna was probably built on this site in the 6th century. The Clare County Library provides an excellent description of the Cathedral and its history. Click here to read more.


Cathedral at Kilfenora

20151022-BurrenKilfenora-2015057While the Cathedral is relatively intact, more impressive are the high crosses of Kilfenora. Again, the Clare County Library provides text by Jack Flanagan titled “The Stone Crosses of Kilfenora.” This link provides detailed information about the different crosses.

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20151022-BurrenKilfenora-2015039Many of the high crosses have been relocated into an enclosure attached to the Cathedral. Several are Celtic crosses, commonly believed to represent the blending of Christian and pre-Christian traditions, with a circle that encloses the four arms of the Latin cross. There are various theories about the creation of the Celtic cross but there is no definitive evidence to support one theory over another. Most high crosses in Ireland are from the 8th century onward, while St. Patrick came to Ireland in 432 AD, so it is unlikely that St. Patrick created the symbol. Nonetheless, Celtic crosses dot the landscape and are prevalent in both Catholic and Protestant cemeteries and graveyards around the country.

On the way back from Coole Park near Gort in County Galway (former home of Lady Augusta Gregory), I found the ruins of an amazing monastic village at Kilmacduagh. Technically in County Galway, I include Kilmaduagh here because I discovered it during my time in Ballyvaughan! In addition to an abbey that was probably built in the early 7th century by Saint Colman MacDuagh (son of Duac), there are several other churches and a 112 foot round tower dating to the 10th century. Incidentally, here’s a little Irish language lesson. The word “kil” or “cille” means “church,” so Kilmacduagh literally means, “church of the son of Duagh” (Duac or Duagh was a 6th century Irish Chieftain).

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As I walked through the cemetery at Kilmacduagh, and around the “seven churches,” I felt I was in a sacred space. There is an almost palpable intensity of spirit. Since I’ve been in Ireland almost three months now, I’ve become more comfortable with this type of thick atmosphere. I realize that sounds contrary to a thin place, but I think some of the thinnest places are the ones that have the heaviest … presence. I don’t know if it’s the spirit of God, the ancestors, or just my imagination, but all of my senses respond as if they are on “high alert.” “There is something here: let yourself just feel,” I sense in my heart. And so I walk, and I wait, and I feel, and I come away feeling renewed, touched by something outside myself.


Corcomroe Abbey

If a place can be dignified, Corcomroe Abbey certainly is. This monastery, off a little side road near the curve in the N67 of Bell Harbor, is also known as Sancta Maria de Petra Fertili or “St. Mary of the Fertile Rock” and was built in the late 12th century by the O’Brien clan. The abbey is built in the shape of a cross, and the architecture is simply amazing: arches and ribbed ceilings, carved tombs, gorgeous windows. The site is entirely open to the public and even weddings are held here! But on the days I visited, no one was present, except some cow friends and crows. It is a still, powerful place, set in a quiet pasture in the midst of the rocky Burren.

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Ireland’s past is present here in County Clare. The final place I’ll discuss is where the past and the present are intertwined. A holy well outside Liscannor, just a wee bit south of the Cliffs of Moher, is a sacred site pilgrims still visit, similar to the Tobernalt Well in County Sligo. Brigid’s Well near Liscannor sits directly beside the N67 roadway. A large statue of the Saint is enclosed in a glass case in the middle of a flowery courtyard, with the well to the left of the statue. The interior walls and shelves of the constructed cave are covered with mass cards, photographs, statues, ribbons, and other objects. Messages are written on the walls, usually requests for prayers. It is a sacred place, and I felt a bit like an intruder.


Saint Brigid’s Well, Liscannor

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Dedicated to Saint Brigid, Ireland’s most popular female saint, the well is also believed to be connected with the Druid goddess, Brede, or Brighid, who was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a mythological supernatural race of the native Irish. Both Brighid and Saint Brigid are protectors of the home. Brighid is associated with fire, since originally the hearth was the center of the home, and she is also goddess of poetry, creativity, and fertility. She is generally seen as the Mother figure. In blending the ancient with the more recent past, Saint Brigid’s feast day is also at Imbolc, February 1, the beginning of the spring planting season. On this day, it is traditional to weave a Brigid’s Cross from rushes or straw, to protect the home, and throughout Ireland, these crosses are placed above or beside doorways. To read more about the goddess Brighid, click here.

Outside the enclosure, a walkway leads up the hill to the cemetery. On either side of the steps are two trees covered with strips of ribbon and string. These are often called clootie trees, rag trees or wishing trees. As a child, my own mother told of the superstition that when fabric belonging to a person who was ill was tied to one of these trees, the person would be healed once the rag had rotted away. While the origins of this tradition of tying strips of fabric on sacred trees are unknown, Nigel Pennick in his book, Celtic Sacred Landscapes (1996) suggests that perhaps the tradition began when traveling Celtic priests would hang their valuables in trees while they slept.

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Saint Brigid’s Holy Well is clearly a thin place for many people, and throughout County Clare, I saw the blending of both Christian and pre-Christian belief systems: the overlap between faith and what some may call superstition, the marriage of past and present, the mystery of the ancient and sacred. Saint Brigid’s (or Brighid’s) Well, as well as the abbeys, monasteries, and portal/passage tombs “speak” witness to powerful belief systems, places that continue to resonate within the heart of those who seek thin places.


Brigid’s Cross, Inside the Holy Well at Liscannor

Rock and Water


I have delayed writing this entry. I’ve experienced so much here in West Clare, it is difficult to describe this place that captured my heart. There’s simply too much to absorb, so in this entry, I am only going to write about the land and seascape. My next entry will consider some of the sacred places I visited in Kilfenora, Liscannor, Bell Harbor, and Kilmacduagh. I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to convey how much this place has meant to me.


North rim, Cliffs of Moher

County Clare, along the western edge of Ireland, is notably famous for the Cliffs of Moher, the sea cliffs between the small towns of Doolin and Liscannor. But Clare is also home to the Burren, a Unesco and European Union-protected geopark site of 250 square km of karst limestone over 350 million years old.



It’s hard to find words to describe the raw beauty of the Burren. It is, as one of the websites below describes, a living landscape.


In most farming communities, livestock is moved to lower elevation in the colder months. In the Burren, however, cattle are relocated from the pastures UP to the limestone fields in a centuries-old tradition known as “Winterage.” From October to December, farmers move their cattle to the upper fields, where the limestone is warmer than the lower ground, water is available, and the cows’ winter grazing helps maintain the flora, especially the hazel. Winterage also allows the lower pastures to rest and replenish over the winter. This practice, passed down from generation to generation, is one of incredible ecological sustainability.20151022-BurrenKilfenora-2015012


In addition to the flat limestone beds, the Burren has glacial erratics, or large boulders left behind when the glaciers retreated. For an excellent article on the geology of the Burren, please click here. You’ll learn more about grikes and clints, karsts, and turloughs. The Burren is not a “bunch of rocks.”



Additionally, I learned that due to the combination of a temperate climate, the geological features of the land, and the way the light is reflected off the limestone, over 600 different species of plants grow in the Burren, including 75% of Ireland’s native plants which includes Mediterranean, alpine, and arctic plants. Click here for more information.



This is a landscape of survival – a landscape of growth and renewal and life, despite the presence of harsh, challenging rock. For more information about the fascinating Burren, check out these amazing websites:





Overlooking Lahinch, County Clare

The rolling pastures in Clare belie the majestic cliffs and surging Atlantic to the west. Ambling cows graze lazily on the lush grass, only looking up if you stop and approach the fence line. This is a peaceful place, white and yellow houses clustered on little ridges of land, the ocean somewhere beyond. I think nearly all of County Clare is a thin place. I feel a connection with this land, different from other parts of Ireland.

From Loop Head in South Clare to Fanore and Black Head in the North, the Wild Atlantic Way weaves in and among small villages and towns. I’ve made multiple trips up and down the coastline and each place reveals itself to me as my thin place. I’ve come to realize that, for me, those places where the sun and sky meet the land and sea are my thin places. And the western coast in Clare is full of these.


Loop Head, Southern County Clare


Diamond Head, Kilkee, County Clare


Spanish Point, County Clare


Spanish Point with a storm brewing


Fanore Beach, County Clare


Fanore Beach, County Clare


Sunset, Fanore Beach

Repeatedly, I am drawn to the shore. The continual ebb and flow of the tides has existed as long as life itself: steady, relentless, ever-changing. Powerful waves steadily erode the land, carving cliffs and ledges into the rock. Yet there is also slow change. Seaweed is washed ashore one day; the next, swept back to sea. Crabs and other critters scurry across the sand, struggling to gain a hold as the sand shifts beneath them.



So too, have I sought a place of safety, a place to feel secure while the tempest swirls and the tide rushes towards me. At times, I have been swept off my feet and struggled to find a way to stand and even breathe. But at this time, right now, right here, I am safe and at peace, beside the shore, in County Clare.


Sunset, Fanore Beach, where the water meets the land

County Mayo Revisited


Lough Nafooey from Finny, County Mayo


Doolough Pass, County Mayo

I returned to County Mayo and arrived in the coastal community of Westport during the Westport Arts Festival. Once again, I was treated to music, dance, exhibitions, artist talks, and film.


Sean Nós Dancing during the Westport Arts Festival


The film, Draíocht Mhaigh Eo (The Magic of Mayo) is a compilation of archival film footage from the Irish Film Institute about County Mayo from the last hundred years, with music composed specifically for the film that was performed live. Click here for more information about this wonderful film. You may also view a rather graphic clip from the film called “Whaling Afloat and Ashore” that was filmed in 1908 that is available on youtube. As the gentleman beside me in the film screening whispered, “at least it’s not in color.”

20151008-Westport-2015053Near Newport on the road to Achill Island, lie two historical sites dating from the 16th century. The first, Burrishoole Abbey, was built by monks and overlooks a tidal estuary. The abbey and graveyard are easily accessible and this beautiful, quiet location lets one wander and be lost in thought. One poignant gravestone touched my heart, that of a woman whose husband had preceded her in death by 41 years. How lonely she must have been until she died in 1965. 20151008-Westport-2015065

Just a few miles from here is Rockfleet Castle, also known as Carrickahowley Castle, a tower castle of the O’Malley clan and believed to be where Granuaile, or Grace O’Malley, died.


Rockfleet or Carrickahowley Castle, Co Mayo


Granuaile, Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen

Granuaile, the Pirate Queen, was an impressive, powerful woman who has been erased from much of written Irish history, but who is infamous in County Mayo. Legend purports that Westport House, located in the town of the same name, was constructed on top of Granuaile’s former castle dungeons and her family’s descendants still own the house. For more information about Ireland’s Pirate Queen, read this fascinating account by author Anne Chambers. Granuaile is very much a presence throughout the west of Ireland.

County Mayo has many thin places (see also Wild, Wild Erris). Croagh Patrick is located in Murrisk, five miles from Westport. While not the highest peak in Ireland at 2500 feet, it is considered to be Ireland’s most holy mountain, for it was here that St. Patrick is said to have climbed and fasted forty days. Click here for more information: http://www.croagh-patrick.com/visitorcentre/holy-mountain


Croagh Patrick from the shores of Clew Bay

An estimated one million people per year come to climb the mountain. I did not. Devout pilgrims begin their journey near the town of Ballintubber and walk the Pilgrim’s Way, or Tóchar Phádrai. The last Sunday in July, known as Reek Sunday, is the official day of pilgrimage, though many make the 3 ½ hour trip throughout the year. In the film mentioned above, penitents from the 1950s were shown making their way up the rocky slope on their knees.

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At the foot of Croagh Patrick is the National Famine Memorial, a coffin ship, honoring the 1.5 million who left their homeland during the famine times. This sculpture by John Behan was dedicated by Irish President Mary Robinson in 1997, and stands between the holy mountain and Clew Bay.


Irish National Famine Memorial, Murrisk, Co Mayo


One of my favorite drives in Ireland is the road between Louisburg and Leenaun, the Doolough Pass. Curving between the Sheffry Hills and the Mweelrea Mountains, this is the site of the Doolough Tragedy. On March 30, 1849 during one of the darkest years of An Gorta Mór, hundreds of starving people were required to report to Delphi Lodge, 12 miles from Louisburg, in order to continue receiving food assistance. They were sent away without food or provision, and the weather became bitterly cold with sleet and snow. Many died on the return walk to Louisburg, with some of the bodies pushed into the lough since they could not be buried. Click here to read a summary of the Doolough Tragedy written by historian J. Michael Finn.


The Doolough Pass

Two memorials are on this beautiful, desolate road, with the more formal one bearing this quote from Mahatma Ghandi: “How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?”


The other memorial, shown below, has had more stones since the last time I visited. Passersby add their own rocks to the cairn, as a means of remembrance. The tragedy that happened in this place lingers. It is part of the land, of this place. If it is possible for a place to have a consciousness, an identity, it does here at Doolough, for it seems the light, the mountains, the lough – all are suffused with a deep-felt grief. I have been here three times, and my heart always aches. This is a sad, thin place.


Doolough Memorial, 2008


Doolough Memorial, 2015

Ballintubber Abbey is located in eastern Mayo, east of Lough Mask and the towns of Tourmakeady and Finny. On my last blog, I mistakenly wrote that Ballintubber Abbey was in County Galway and I apologize for unintentionally locating this beautiful abbey in the neighboring county. If you wish to read about Ballintubber Abbey, return here.


From the Lough Mask Drive near Tourmakeady


Tourmakeady Church of Ireland


Thomas Plunkett’s, Bishop of Tuam, Grave

Most of the monastic and religious sites I’ve visited in Ireland are Roman Catholic, but at Tourmakeady, along the Lough Mask Drive, I found the beautiful ruins of a gothic Church of Ireland. While the grounds are lovely, including a large Celtic cross that marks the grave of Thomas Plunkett, Bishop of Tuam, the history of this area and Plunkett’s tenure here is odious. Click here for more information: http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/tourmakeady/tourmakeady-history.html, but to briefly summarize, 104 families were evicted from the area because they refused to send their children to Protestant schools in the 1860s.


Lough Nafooey, near Finny, on a misty morning


On my last day in County Mayo, I made my final visit to the area near Finny, stopping at Lough Nafooey. Here, with my dearest friend, Kerry, I scattered the last of Jerry’s ashes. After singing The Parting Glass, I gently let him go, back to the place from whence his ancestors came, many years ago. As we left this place, this resting place, this thin place, I whispered to him a final Slán Abhaile.


Photo Credit: Kerry Pannell

Click here to hear a beautiful version of this haunting song by Kate Purcell, with lyrics by Dermot Henry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfQLDZneFXQ

Slán Abhaile

The sun is down, the moon is blue
I think they know that I’m missing you
But time will heal this heartfelt pain
As soon as I see you again.          

            (Curfá)                                                            (Chorus)

Slán abhaile, slán go foil                               Safe home, good luck
Beidh mo chroi seo briste gan thú a stór     This heart of mine will be broken without                                                                                                you, my love
Nó go gcasfad arís orainn                              Until we meet again
Éist is bí ag smaoineamh                               Listen and be thinking
Ar an gceol ‘tá ag teacht                                On the music that is coming
Ó mo chroi seo amach                                   From the depths of my heart

I see an island, you’re on the pier
I see you crying in the misty air
You look so lonely, and there’s no one near
Wish I could hold you, wish you were here.


Look out your window when you’re feeling blue
You’ll see a bluebird looking in at you
Lay down your head, let yourself be free
Take in your deepest breath and sing with me.


Ó mo chroi seo amach

Lyrics from: http://www.celticlyricscorner.net/ryan/slan.htm


Jerry Finney May 23, 1947-August 14, 2013

Galway’s Splendor


Mountains of Connemara from Lough Corrib

County Galway, south of Mayo, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean, eastward to the Midlands, and has the greatest number of Gaeltacht areas, or Irish-speaking areas in the country. This is the home of Connemara, made famous by films such as the classic, “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and “The Field,” starring Richard Harris and John Hurt.


Aasleagh Falls, actually in Co Mayo, but on the border with Co Galway. A famous scene from “The Field” with Richard Harris was filmed here.


Upper Sky Road, outside Clifden

I arrived in Clifden, on the coast, during the annual Arts Festival and the town was bustling with activity: concerts, readings, art walks. It was lively, and a little hard to find some thin places here, so I headed for the coast. The Sky Road is a fantastic, albeit narrow, little drive. There are actually two roads – the Upper and Lower Sky Roads, and this visit, I drove the Upper one and was fortunate to have sunny, clear skies.

From the Sky Road, I went north to Omey Island, a tidal island that is crossable at low tide from Claddaghduff Quay. As luck would have it, I arrived at low tide, but didn’t think it a good idea to drive my rental car across the sand, so I walked.

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Interestingly, there are signposts marking the way, just in case there was any question of where to cross. The island’s school closed in 1973, and no one is left now. It is yet one more place here in Ireland where time has stood still.


Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park

The main entrance to the Connemara National Park is in Letterfrack, just a few kilometers northeast of Cleggan and Omey Island. Trees here are just beginning their autumnal transition, and the weather, while a little damp, was still mild enough for a nice walk up Diamond Hill. There are three loops of varying distance, and I wisely chose the shortest route since rain moved in just as I was coming back down the trail to the car park. Had the weather been better, I would have hiked higher up the mountain.

On my way back to Clifden, I saw a roadside holy shrine. Located near the Letterfrack Pier, the grotto is actively in use, as people were present when I first passed by, despite there not being parking available. This site is less accessible than most I’ve visited, and the precarious path to the top was steep and uneven.

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Rosaries, statues, flowers, and other offerings were left at both the main shrine and the statue of Saint Patrick. I continue to marvel at the faith of people who come to these out-of-the-way places and I admire their devotion. A little bench under the trees provides a quiet place of refuge, despite the close proximity to the highway.

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Someone had recommended the small village of Cashel, in Connemara, to me. I drove south from Clifden on the R351 until I came to a local road that went due east. The R351 makes a loop from Clifden, down to Roundstone, and then back up again to Cashel, but the local road goes straight across a bog. Several loughs are here, with names like Lough Fada, Beaghcauneen, Cloonagat, and Conga, but there isn’t a way to access them because of the bogs. In the 30 minutes while on the local road, I only met two cars. There are no houses, no trees, and even the sheep are sparse here. This is a lonely place.


Connemara Bogs above, and the Twelve Bens below


The Twelve Bens (sometimes called the Twelve Pins), are the mountain peaks of Connemara. Ben is one of the Irish words for mountain; sliabh is another. Connemara is both mountainous and boggy, on the sea and on lakes. I think the light in Connemara is different from light anywhere else in Ireland, perhaps in part because of the presence of the Twelve Bens.

On the far eastern side of Connemara lie the towns of Cong and Clonbur. Cong, made famous by the John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara movie, The Quiet Man, is a little touristy but still has a nostalgic charm about it. Ashford Castle, originally built in 1228 and now a five-star hotel, is also here and some scenes from The Quiet Man were filmed on the Castle’s property. Cong is nestled here, where the River Cong flows into Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland.


Cong Abbey



Ashford Castle

Between the town and Ashford Castle, is Cong Abbey, and beyond it, Cong Woods. The forest’s deep mossy green is lush and thick, and the quiet is just as intense. I walk the path and nothing stirs. I see no animals, hear no birds. I am alone, surrounded by denseness: of woods, of air, of my thoughts. This is a place where one goes to walk and think.


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20150929-Clonbur-2015375From Cong, I went by boat to Inchagoill, or Inis an Ghaill Crabhthigh: the Island of the devout foreigner, one of the 365 islands in Lough Corrib. Inhabited until 1946, Inchagoill is another place where time has seemingly stopped. Click here, for more information about Inchagoill.

Despite being among a large herd of tourists (which reminds me why I prefer to travel alone or in small groups), I wandered off to be alone among the ruins of two churches, one the Church of St. Patrick, c. 6th century,


Saint Patrick’s Temple

the other, the Temple of the Saints, c. 8th century. The forestry service has begun clearing some of the trails on the island, and while more convenient to traverse, I wonder how it will change the environment if more people visit this special place.


Temple of the Saints


East Galway is home to several monastic sites, and in addition to Cong Abbey, I visited the Ross Errilly Friary, near the town of Headford. Built in 1351, it is reputed to be the best preserved medieval site of its kind in Ireland and has National Monument status. I’ve visited many monastic sites but other than the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, this friary seems the most massive with intact cloisters, and numerous rooms, many covered with grave slabs.


Ross Errilly Friary


I think my favorite monastic site to date is Ballintubber Abbey seven miles south of Castlebar. The graveyard at Ballintubber marks the beginning of the Tóchar Phádrai, the ancient pilgrim pathway to Croagh Patrick. Built 800 years ago, the abbey itself is still in use today. I arrived just as a wedding ended. The abbey survived Cromwell’s attacks in 1653 and served Celebratory Mass for 785 continuous years. History just oozes out of this place!

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After the wedding party departed, I meandered through the graveyard, ruins of the original abbey, and entered the church. The outdoor Stations of the Cross, however, were the most interesting aspect of Ballintubber, as the images of the Way of the Cross are constructed from native materials. I’m only including a few photographs of the images here, but I thought this an ingenious use of local stone and wood in this special holy place.

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To close on a personal note, I spent a week outside of Clonbur at this adorable little cottage, complete with half door, stone walls and floors, and thatched roof.

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It was an absolutely perfect place, in part, because it was just up the road from the village of Finny, which is actually in County Mayo, but that we believed was the area from where Jerry’s ancestors came. Daily, I went to a little spot near the cottage where two parts of Lough Mask joined on the Galway side. This was, in a non-mystical way, a thin place, for it called me to come every day to see the water, the sky, the mountains. With one exception, this spot was always deserted when I visited. This was my place, my personal thin place, in County Galway.

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I’ll miss you, Gaillimh, but I’ll be back one day.

Feeling my Fear on Achill Island


I have fallen in love with Achill Island, Ireland’s largest island (of an island?), but connected by a bridge at Achill Sound. Achill is a popular summer resort area, but it was quiet in September. I checked into the Bervie Guesthouse and I only mention it specifically by name because it was just listed as “Hideaway of the Year” in the Irish Georgina Campbell Awards.

20150922-AchillIsland-2015036It is located directly on Keel Beach, and the third-generation owners, Liz and John Barrett, are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

My first day, I arrived on a blustery, gray day and after a quick soup and brown bread at the Beehive, decided to go to Keem Beach, located on the western side of Achill.


However, as I drove the narrow mountain road, with the ocean directly on my left (and no barrier on the side!), and both the sea and cumulus clouds threatening me, I chickened out. I pulled into a little place on the right side of the road and cautiously turned around and headed back down to the safety of my B&B. Why do I tell you this? Because the next day, my perspective about fear was forever changed.


The storm had passed and the morning sky was sunny and clear. After breakfast, I talked with Liz and John and asked directions to Keem Beach, and wondered if there was another way to get there. They told me I had been on the correct road, and no, there was no other route. I explained I had become unexpectedly anxious the day before and turned around before I reached the summit. Liz then said the most profound thing to me.

Feel your fear, then go on through it, and do what you need to do.

As I drove, I let that sink in. Feel your fear. Acknowledge it. Don’t act like it doesn’t exist, but then, GO ON THROUGH IT. Don’t let it hold you back from doing what you need or want to do. I remembered the last three years and realized that is what I had been doing. When we received the diagnosis, and then through treatments and later hospice, and then after my husband died, that’s what I did. I was afraid during all of those times, and I completely felt that fear. But I didn’t stop. I kept on going through the fear, despite the fear.


I drove up the mountain and saw the spot where I’d turned back, but this time, I kept going. As I came over the crest of the mountain, there below me, was Keem Beach, in all of her magnificent beauty. I found a place to stop on the side of the mountain, hopped out of the car, and just soaked in the view.

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I went down closer to the shore and basked in the sunshine for over an hour, frequently gazing up the mountain at the road I had just traveled and feeling both proud of myself, and grateful for Liz’s kind wisdom.

From Keem, I drove back to the center of the island and visited the Deserted Village at Slievemore. Years ago, Jerry and I had tried to visit the Village, but it was pouring rain and the road was washed out. We had to turn around on the narrow little road, with me out of the car in the rain, giving directions. It was not the best of times. However, on this day, the sun was shining, and as I pulled into the car park, I saw the sign that somehow, we had missed the last time: No Through Road.


I walked the ruins of many of these 80-100 stone buildings that stretch for approximately a mile. It is believed that some of the buildings were used even into the early 20th century as “booleys,” or temporary housing during the summer when people would bring their cattle to graze these pastures. As I walked this generally sheltered, but rough terrain, I contemplated the people who had lived and worked here. Rugged land requires rugged people, and those who settled here must have been incredibly strong of body, mind, and spirit. Why did they choose this location to settle, and when and why did they leave?

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20150923-AchillIsland-2015208Sean Relig Chill Damhnait, or the old graveyard at Kildavnit lies on a peninsula south of Achill Sound. Walking among the gravestones and burial plots, some dedicated to victims of An Gorta Mor or victims of a fire or shipwreck, the realm of the spirit world is palpable. A mountain stands in the background, as the graveyard gently slopes down to the water. Across the road, a newer cemetery is built, but this place, this ground, is home to generations of ancestors. This was a thin place.


The stone plaque on the remains of the old church explains that Damhnait or Davnet, was a seventh century Irish saint who probably built a church here, after she fled pursuers. Later, according to tradition, Grainuile (Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen) built a church here in the 16th century to “facilitate worshippers from her nearby castle.” Read here for more about Grainuile and her castle at Kildavnit: http://www.achilltourism.com/granuaile.html



Achill Island, you touched me in a special way at this time in my life. As the setting sun painted the land and sky in the same colors as your heather, fuschia and Monbretia, I breathed in the words, “I have arrived. I am home.” I am here, at this moment, and I am at peace.



Wild, Wild Erris


Of the four regions of Ireland, Connaught is probably the most rugged. Stretching along the west of Ireland, the landscape of Counties Mayo and Galway, alternately mountainous and boggy, is frequently shrouded in a deep mist which the sun does not easily pierce. But when it does, the sky is a brilliant blue and the land has a golden hue.


The bogs stretch for miles and little of substance grows here. With increasing pressure from the EU, turf or peat harvesting is in substantial decline, and the bogs are continuing their centuries-old cycle of growth and decay, growth and decay. Sheep graze on the mountains and hills, but there are few cattle. Fishing the Atlantic waters continues and is a dangerous occupation. The week I was here, searches were ongoing for a local man who was missing at sea. As one man in a pub told me, “the sea is a harsh mistress.”


Some describe the area of Erris and the Belmullet Peninsula in northern Mayo as the “last frontier,” and it appears to be so. While Donegal to the north is also rugged with mountains, this area is different. The wind blows constantly across the treeless bogs and rocky outcroppings. Even in September, the gales from the Atlantic are relentless. It takes strong people, familiar with the land and sea, to live here. This is an area of the Gaeltacht, where all of the road signage is in Irish and outsiders are noticed. It is a place where the intensity of nature has taken its toll on the land and its inhabitants. It is Mayo.

20150919-Belmullet-2015002West of Belmullet, on a coastal road, is Dun na mBo, Fort of the Cow. This iron and stone structure stands silent watch over the ocean below, and entering between the slanted columns and protected by a strong gate, I see the maelstrom. Dun na mBo jarringly reminds you that you are a guest of nature here. You learn to respect and fear the sea or she will consume you.


20150920-Belmullet-2015069Blacksod and her stalwart lighthouse are at the end of the Belmullet Peninsula. On the day I drove to her, fog and rain surrounded Blacksod, and I didn’t venture far from my car. I wished the weather had been more accommodating, as I wanted more suitable photos of the sculpture in the shape of a boat near the pier. Each pillar symbolizes a different ship that emigrants boarded leaving from Blacksod, and on each stone is a plaque bearing the known names of those who departed. The website, http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/ explains the memorial:

“A memorial garden has been created in Blacksod by Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile Eachléim in 2013 marking the 130th anniversary of the first sailing. The orientation of the boat is due west indicating the direction of the emigrants’ journey across the Atlantic. The side of the boat is divided into fifteen sections, each representing a ship that left Blacksod Bay. The width of each section relates to the number of passengers who left on each ship and their names are displayed. The sections are separated by spaces of varying sizes representing a timeline of their departures.”


Blacksod is a place of emigration. It is a place of memory.

As I left Erris, I drove along Broadhaven Bay before heading south for towns with names like Ballycroy and Mallaranny. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

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