And I Shall Have Some Peace There


The night he died, I was reciting WB Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” to him. The last words I spoke to him were, “It’s time for you to go now. Go to Innisfree and have some peace there, and wait for me.” He took one final breath and  then silently, he was gone.

Twenty-five months later, I went to Innisfree in Lough Gill, on the Rose of Innisfree. There were six adults and two young children on board, and the late afternoon sky was gray and overcast.


The captain took the boat as close as possible to Innisfree and stopped the engine. As the boat gently swayed, I read the following quote from John F. Kennedy, at the request of his oldest son.

I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all come from the sea. We are tied to the ocean, to the water. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.


I lit three small lanterns and the captain, Alan, set them onto the water for me. I poured some holy water I’d just taken from the Tobernalt Holy Well, and then, as I slowly scattered his ashes, I read this old Celtic prayer from John O’Donohue’s book Anam Cara.

I am going home with thee, to thy home, to thy home,
I am going home with thee, to thy home of winter.
I am going home with thee, to thy home, to thy home,
I am going home with thee, to thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer.
I am going home with thee, [love of my heart] to thy eternal bed, to thy perpetual sleep.

As I wept, an elderly woman, who had been standing on the stern with me, took me in her arms. Her name was Mary, and she told me she lost her husband 22 years ago and knew my pain. This benevolent stranger held me as I cried and said goodbye to my husband. There were no other words to be spoken, but I am forever grateful to Mary, who understood, and stood, with me.


He is home, and I am home, with him. May he rest in peace, at Innisfree, until we meet again.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats


Forests, Beaches, and Holy Wells Along the Wild Atlantic Way


Forest of the Cavan Burren

So many beautiful places, so little time to write about them! While in Sligo/Leitrim, I had the opportunity to tour one afternoon with Bee, who operates Irish Blessing Tours (send inquiries here) and she took me to some of her favorite thin places.

20150916-CavanBurren-2015016Our first stop was the Shannon Pot, the beginning of the River Shannon, located near the Cavan/Fermanagh border. There are several myths about how Ireland’s longest river was formed (click here for more information).  While water actually flows from a tiny river near Marble Arches Caves in County Fermanagh to the north, it collects here, at the Shannon Pot.

My favorite place Bee took me was the Cavan Burren, a UNESCO Global Geopark. The Cavan Burren is very different from the Clare Burren and its lunar landscape.

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Here the forest is thick and lush, with mossy underbrush but uneven, rocky terrain. There are large boulders left by glaciers thousands of years ago, but at some, there are what appear to be forms of rock art, usually in the form of carvings or rubbings, rather than paint.


Rock Art, Cavan Burren


Fallen Dolmen near Giant’s Leap, Cavan Burren

Cairn dolmens are present, both standing and some that have fallen. Had time allowed, I could have spent all day here in this magical place.


Cairn Dolmen, Cavan Burren


St. Patrick’s Holy Well

Bee also took me to Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, located in the town of … Holywell, just over the border in County Fermanagh. This little well is believed to provide healing for people with mental and nervous conditions, including depression. As part of making the rounds here, pilgrims remove their shoes and walk barefoot in the cold water, then over a wall, through a pasture, across the road to the ruins of a small church, and back to the icy water.

I also visited Tobernalt Well twice, only a short distance south of Sligo Town. Tobernalt is much more developed than Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, with several statues, an altar, and stations of the cross, and mass is observed annually here on Garland Sunday (the last Sunday in July). This beautiful site dates to Celtic times and is said to have been blessed by Saint Patrick himself. Check this site for more information about the well, and how it crosses both Celtic and Christian traditions. This is an active holy site and while I was there, several came and lit candles, prayed, and made their rounds. It is a beautiful place of serenity.


Tobernalt Holy Well, Sligo


The mouth of Tobernalt Well


Another day, I was in search of Fowley Falls located in Lovely Leitrim. While I didn’t locate the falls, I found myself on a very tiny lane that led up a mountain. 20150914-GlencarDay1-2015090At one point, I thought, “I know I’m not lost; I just don’t know where I am.” I could have turned around, but I’ve learned that most always the local roads in Ireland eventually lead to larger regional roads. It was midday, I had a full tank of fuel, so I just went where the roads took me. And look what I found! I later learned that I had stumbled into the Aghavoghil Natural Bog. It was glorious! I parked my car in the road and nary a soul anywhere.


On this trip, I only drove as far north as Bundoran in County Donegal, on the Wild Atlantic Way. The WAW is a relatively new (2014) tourism campaign promoting the west coast of Ireland and takes in 2500 km of scenic coastline. Bundoran is a major surfing town, and even in September, there were people in wetsuits with their boards out in the cold Atlantic water. Bundoran’s beach is spectacular and on a clear day like I had, you could see the Donegal coast in the distance.


Bundoran Beach, Donegal


Bundoran with the mountains of Donegal in the distance

Between Bundoran and Sligo, is Mullaghmore, another charming coastal town. After passing through the town, I stopped on a road near the cliffs, where I could see Classiebawn Castle perched high on a hill; Benbulben in the background and the Atlantic to the west. I did not realize until later that Classiebawn had been the summer home of Lord Louis Mountbatten, until his death in August 1979 when he was killed by the IRA.


Classiebawn, Mullaghmore

Enniscrone, southwest of Sligo Town, is a popular tourist destination because of its wide beach and more importantly, its famous seaweed baths. I’ve no personal recommendation, but I know where you can go if you want to try one!


Seaweed Baths at Enniscrone

I won’t soon forget the majesty of the Wild Atlantic Way. Sláinte!


The mighty Atlantic, at Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo

Musings on Yeats Country, Country Sligo


Sunset over Lough Gill

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

Northwestern Ireland is nicknamed “Yeats Country,” as many of the places here were inspiration for Irish Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats. 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth and the Sligo Tourism Board has worked diligently to make sure everyone celebrates it. Traveling the roadways, signs point to “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “Hazelwood,” “Dooney Rock,” “Slish Wood,” “Glencar Waterfall,” and to Yeats’ grave at Drumcliffe, in the shadow of Benbulben. Recently, forensic scientists revealed they aren’t sure it is Yeats’ bones that are buried in Drumcliffe (click here for a local story), but to locals it doesn’t matter whose bones are there; Drumcliffe lays claim to his grave.


Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff church
yard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“Under Ben Bulben”
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats


I sought to discover why Yeats was so inspired by this area. In my six days in Counties Sligo, Leitrim, and even tiny bits of Cavan, Fermanagh, and Donegal, I found several thin places. While Yeats didn’t use that term, I believe he knew they existed, and thin places were responsible, in part for many of his poems (his unrequited love for Maud Gonne was also a significant inspiration, but that’s another story!). Yeats loved the area so much, even though he had been born in Dublin, he requested that he be buried under the watchful eye of Benbulben, the “table” mountain that towers over the pastoral fields of Sligo.


Ben Bulben, a table mountain, from the West



Ben Bulben from the Southeast



Rosses Point

Rosses Point is slightly northwest of Sligo Town, and it, as well as the pristine Glencar Waterfall, are referenced in Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child. Glencar is 11 km northeast of Sligo Town.


Glencar Waterfall

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“The Stolen Child”
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats

20150914-GlencarDay1-2015016Glencar Waterfall cascades 50 feet (15 meters) before flowing into Glencar Lough, and as I walked these grounds, I understood why Yeats wrote of the possibility of faeries being here, whisking away young, innocent children at play in this charming, enchanted place.

Lough Gill stretches east from Sligo Town to Dromahair in Leitrim, about 8 km. This beautiful lake inspired many of Yeats’ poems, but most significant to me, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I’ll write more thoroughly about this location in the next installment, but Yeats wrote this poem in England, when he was homesick for Sligo. The Lake Isle of Innisfree is probably Yeats’ most famous poem and literally every Irish person I spoke with had memorized it as a young child. This mystical place is embedded in the Irish soul.


Lough Gill, early morning

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats


The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Yeats referenced several more County Sligo locations in his poems and the ones with which I am familiar are The Song of Wandering Aengus (click here for an amazing oral recitation of this poem by actor Michael Gambon), The Fiddler of Dooney, Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland, The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland, and The Hosting of the Sidhe. I encourage you to check out these, as well as other poems by Yeats, at this website:


Additionally, one of the special websites created for the 150th anniversary is here: and from this site, I learned that a local pub, Hargadon’s in Sligo town centre, hosts a poetry reading every day at 1:00 pm (and of course, I went one day!) for the entire year. The Yeats Memorial Building is also in Sligo.

I will end with one of my favorite WB poems. It is wistful and makes me yearn for my husband and the days we had together in Ireland. But as I traveled Yeats country, I know, deep in my soul, he was there with me.



Lough Gill


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
“When You Are Old”
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats


Waiting on Shore, Rosses Point

Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle Peninsula)


The little rock on the left that sidelined me for a while.

The little rock on the left that sidelined me for a while.

My journey was sidelined last week with a serious sprain and while nursing it, I fell behind in my postings. I’m doing better now, but still have weakness in my left ankle. Where did this accident occur? On the beautiful Dingle Peninsula, which is the topic of this post.

I arrived on the peninsula early afternoon on the same day as the Dingle Marathon and Half-Marathon. This didn’t really affect me other than Dingle town was incredibly busy for dinner that evening. That afternoon, I headed to Lough Annascaul, just a few km north of Annascaul, which is also the hometown of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean (I even had lunch at the South Pole Inn!). Driving to the lough was an experience in itself as at one point, I had to get out of the car, open a gate blocking the narrow one-lane road, drive through, and then shut the gate. Regardless, the location was astounding.


Lough Annascaul looking south


Lough Annascaul


Terrain above the Lough


Into the Valley above Lough Annascaul

Lough Annascaul lies in the valley between two mountains, Ballynasare and Dromavally, part of the Slieve Mish range. I parked beside two cars in the tiny pulloff on the side of the lough, but no one was in sight. No one. Except sheep high on the mountains above me, before me, and beside me. My plan had been to hike into the valley, beyond the lough, but this was where I had my ill-fated step off a wobbly rock and I hurt my ankle. I had managed to take some photos before my fall, and after taking a few more, hobbled back to my car and then B&B where my host took great care, giving me ice-packs and Kytta-Salbe, a German cream that worked wonders.

I’m afraid the ankle slowed me down quite a bit. The following day I did the Slea Head drive, stopping first at one of my favorite spots in all the world, the cemetery at Ventry, overlooking the beach. It was simply a gorgeous day, and rather than walk, I sat in the sun on the rocks for over an hour. Also, I’m including what I think is one of the most beautiful epitaphs I’ve ever read. I just nodded my head in agreement.




Mid-day Beach at Ventry


The Great Blasket Island

I continued on to Dún Chaoin or in the English, Dunquin. Much of the Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltacht region, where Irish is the predominant language still spoken by residents. Dún Chaoin and Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter) are two of these Gaeltacht villages. I stopped in at the Blasket Centre, an OPW site (click here for more information). The Blasket Centre documents what life was like on the Blasket Islands off the western coast of Dún Chaoin, especially on the Great Blasket Island (An Blascaod Mór), which was inhabited until the last of the islanders were evacuated in 1953. An interesting thing I learned was in the early to mid 1900s, Great Blasket Island became a haven for writers in the Irish language, and several notable authors had their works published. Check this link for information about many of these writers. I had so wanted to take the ferry to the Great Blasket, but knew I couldn’t traverse the rocky hills. Perhaps next time.

Dingle is home to many megalithic and monastic sites. Located a short distance from Ballyferriter still on the Slea Head drive, I stopped at a beautiful standing stone located a short distance from the road. It was at the base of a mountain and overlooks the Atlantic, with the Three Sisters Hills near Smerwick in the distance. Again, what a special place to raise an ancient standing stone and circle. I don’t know the name of this majestic place, but its location is superb.


The Three Sisters



Standing stone at Riasc

Riasc also in this area, located outside Ballyferriter, is an amazing thin place. I learned of, and was driven to, Riasc, by new friends Martin and Mary. Riasc, or Reask, in English, is the site of a small monastic site dating to the 6th or 7th century and was only excavated in the 1970s. The ruins consist of a small oratory (church), burial grounds, several clocháns or small huts, and decorated stone slabs. What is most notable about this site is the large standing stone that has both Celtic and Christian engravings. The stone is over 5 feet tall and is in remarkable condition. My friend pointed out to me the engraving DNE, which in Latin stands for Domine, or “O Lord.” I could have spent hours here, but other places beckoned.


The ruins at Riasc




Gallarus Oratory

Of course, one of the most iconic sites near here is the Gallarus Oratory, built probably between the 7th and 8th centuries. The Gallarus is notable because it is constructed of perfectly dry fitted stones, meaning without mortar, and it still stands today.


Brandon Creek


Where Brandon Creek meets the Atlantic Ocean

I find myself consistently being drawn to water, which is not unusual when you’re on a peninsula. I visited five other “water” sites on the Dingle Peninsula, besides Lough Annascaul and Ventry Beach. Listed below are photos of these places, but the only one I wish to highlight is Brandon Creek, the location from which St. Brendan the Navigator (Patron Saint of Sailors) is reported to have set sail in 535 AD. Many believe St. Brendan eventually landed in Newfoundland in North America before returning to Ireland.


The Three Sisters from Béal Bán

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From Brandon Point, looking southeast

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Alone at the top of the world at Brandon Point


Smerwick Harbor with another view of those sisters

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Inch Beach Sunset

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Walking Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Corca Dhuibhne, Dingle Peninsula, you always touch my soul. This trip, you also touched my ankle, but that will heal. The visions and memories (don’t you believe they are intertwined?), however, will last forever.


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Conor Pass, looking north towards Brandon


Lady’s Island, Dingle Peninsula



Discovering Cork’s T(h)in Places


Photo credit: Jamie Williamson

Counties Cork and Kerry in the southwest have protected many of their heritage sites and it is relatively easy to simply stumble upon a ring fort or stone circle. Sometimes, it is easier to unexpectedly find a megalithic site than it is to go looking for one! In this entry, I present some of the sites I found, several while my friends Jamie and Larry were traveling with me.

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The first circle we finally located was just over the Kerry border from Cork on the northwestern Beara Peninsula. The Uragh Stone and circle is located in an off-road field between the towns of Lauragh and Kenmare. We followed the signs, and for the first time, there was a little collection box for us to make a contribution of 2 Euro each to cross onto the property, which I thought a little strange. We contributed anyway, went around the little gate, and walked up a hill to the site. The Uragh stone is 10 feet high, the circle is 8 feet in diameter, and overlooks Lough Inchiquin. In the distance, we could see a waterfall. We made our offerings of flowers and a piece of wood and then took in the experience. I felt at peace, at home, sitting on a rock up above the stone circle. I don’t understand the significance of these sites to the ancestors, but I honor them. And I appreciate that the Irish people treasure and respect these sites as well, even if some do charge an “entrance fee” to a national treasure.

20150901-Mizen-2015031On our way to Mizen Head, we passed a brown sign for An Altóir (Altar) just past Toormore. Stopping, we found one of the most unexpected treasures of the trip: a very well-maintained altar tomb on the eastern shore of Toormore Bay. I’m including some pictures here, but I want to also share what was written on the OPW (Office of Public Works) sign at the site:


Toorman Altar Stone

“Built from local slabs, this wedge shaped tomb is one of a dozen in the Mizen peninsula. It was first erected at the end of the Stone Age, around 3,000 to 2,000 BC, with its entrance deliberately lined up with the distant Mizen Peak. Archaeologists recently uncovered some burnt human bone which they radiocarbon dated to about 2,000 BC and believe that the tomb continued to be used as a sacred site in the centuries that followed. Shallow pits, probably with food offerings, were dug into the chamber floor in the later Bronze Age – between 1,250 and 550 BC – and Celtic Iron Age people filled a pit with sea shells and fish bones sometime between 124 and 224 AD. Whale bones were also found from this period. The ritual use of this site ended with the arrival of Christianity, but it was briefly resume during the 18th century when the tomb was used as an altar by priests who were forbidden by law to say mass in a church.”


Mizen Peak in the distance, in alignment with the Altar at Toormore.


Toormore Altar, built 2,000-3,000 BC

I visited two other stone circles, both in Cork. The Drombeg Stone Circle is outside of Glandore, between Skibbereen and Roscarberry. Drombeg, sometimes referred to as the Druid’s Altar, is comprised of a large stone circle with 17 standing stones and a recumbent or altar stone at the southwest.


Drombeg Stone Circle, near Glandore



Well, with water heating pit in foreground, Drombeg

The site also has remains of two round huts and an ancient “kitchen” that has a flagged trough running from it. Archaeologists believe the users could create boiling water by heating stones until they were red hot and then dropping them into the trough.

Kealkill Stone Circle

Kealkill Stone Circle


Spectacles, lower right


Kealkill Circle

The other stone circle we found was in a cow pasture on the side of a mountain, located near the village of Kealkill. The site was truly off the beaten path, but we finally found it, and carefully navigated the boggy, muddy pasture. What a beautiful place it was though!


Kealkill, with 16 ft and 8 ft standing stones

There was a small circle, comprised of five stones and a central pit where people had left offerings, including a pair of spectacles, and a larger cairn with 18 radially set stones. Lying slightly outside the larger circle were two tall stones, one 8 feet and the other nearly 16 feet tall. These ancient monuments were positioned with Bantry Bay to the southeast and the Maughanaclea Hills to the northwest. For a more thorough description of this site, click here for Mindy Burgoyne’s comments about finding this thin place.

The final three sites I’m including here are Christian sites, the first two associated with St. Finbarr and St. Gobnait, and the last, the Abbeystrewry Cemetery, located outside Skibbereen. While not a mystical site, this cemetery was a thin place for me, as it is the final resting place of over 9,000 victims who died between 1845-1850 during An Gorta Mór, or the Great Hunger.


Abbeystrewery Cemetery, Mass Grave for Victims of the Great Hunger


These poor souls were buried in mass pits, covered in limestone, and placed one atop another, without name or marker. The bumpy field under which they lie is about the only green in the entire cemetery. The remaining graves are covered by brownish grass and weeds. As I walked around this massive space, my heart ached for not only those who starved to death or died of disease, but for those who survived and had to bury their loved ones and friends. This place, this entire country, retains the painful scars of those days of unnecessary hunger. It is woven into their psyche and part of their collective identity. This area is heartbreaking. 20150902-SkibDrombeg-2015033The most remarkable quote I read while I walked that sacred place was, “Here in humiliation and sorrow, not unmixed with indignation, one is driven to exclaim, O God! That bread should be so dear and human flesh so cheap.”


St. Gobnait, Patroness of bees and beekeeping. Note the hive and bees on her shrine.

In the village of Baile Bhuirne or Ballyvourney, I found the place of St. Gobnait, an Irish female saint. She lived in the 6th century and was once a follower of St. Finbarr (discussed below). Gobnait, according to legend, was looking to establish a church and was visited by an angel who told her to locate her church where she found nine white stags, and the ruins of this church are still located in Ballyvourney.


The grave of St Gobnait, Ballyvourney


St. Gobnait’s Church


The well of St. Gobnait

Also here is a large shrine to St. Gobnait, her grave, and a holy well. St. Gobnait is associated with healing and fertility, and is the patroness of bees and I heard one story that Gobnait used honey in healing. Interestingly, bees and a beehive are carved in her statue. At the far end of the cemetery, was a stile crossing the wall that led to a beautiful forest trail. I spent 90 minutes at this peaceful place and encountered five other pilgrims, one of whom was fervently praying the Rounds. I dipped a cup in the holy well, took some water, and bid farewell to Gobnait.



Finally, Gougane Barra, north of Ballylickey, is a truly sacred place and I think one of my favorites so far. Founded by St. Finbarr in the 6th century, Gougane Barra was built on an island that has since been made easily accessible to pilgrims. Behind the iconic oratory or chapel, is a large area with the Stations of the Cross carved in stone and stone cells where the monks prayed. Remains of a small building where nuns lived are also located behind the oratory, and face a beautiful lake. A holy well lies immediately inside the gates. Throughout the site, multiple crosses have been etched in stones by visitors, something I’ve observed at other sites. Walking through the grounds, entering the chapel, visiting the cells and stopping at the Stations of the Cross, I felt a peace that some say “passes understanding.” This was a holy place; a sacred place; a thin place.

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For me, thin places are not limited to the mystical, Druid, or Celtic traditions. Thin places are also spiritual places. These thin places touch my soul and remind me I am not isolated nor insignificant, but connected with others, always, present and absent.


Stones etched with crosses, at Gougane Barra above, and St. Gobnait’s below


Glengarriff, Garden of Ireland


Walled garden at Garinish Island, Glengarriff

Glengarriff in County Cork is known as the Garden of Ireland, and staying in this beautiful village at the southeastern entry to the Beara Peninsula was wonderful. While the village is small, it is a gateway to a variety of places. Here I focus on areas of natural beauty, but not necessarily mystical thin places. Still, some of these locations spoke to my soul, which is why I have chosen to include them here. I’ve had the pleasure this week of traveling with my two dear friends, Jamie and Larry Williamson, from the States.


Healy Pass on the Kerry side


Healy Pass on the Cork side

From Glengarriff heading west back down the Beara Peninsula, I headed north from Adrigole along the R574 road that crosses the Healy Pass, located on the border between Counties Cork and Kerry.

The Healy Pass is one of the north-south routes across the peninsula and crosses the Caha Mountains. Built in 1847, during the famine times, to prevent starvation, it was named after Tim Healy, the first Governor General of Ireland. According to a sign posted at the top of Healy Pass, “where Cork meets Kerry, funeral processions stopped and at this point, pushed the corpse in the coffin over the border. The awaiting people then took the coffin from the opposite county.


Flat Rock at the top of Healy Pass

This is now called the famous Flat Rock.” The views are simply breathtaking, whether passing coffins or not.

After lunching in Kenmare, our drive back to Glengarriff took us along the N71 through the Caha Pass. The scenery and views were again spectacular, and looking south, I could see Bantry Bay in the distance. The rugged rocks of the mountains dominate the lush sheep-dotted green. This is Ireland.


Caha Pass, Bantry Bay in the distance


Caha Pass


Caha Pass

Our second day of driving took us to the Mizen Head Peninsula, the most eastern of the three Cork peninsulas. Winding our way down through narrow, curving roads, we kept gasping at the amazing scenery.


Mizen Head Signal Station, top right


Mizen Bridge


Gap between the island and mainland at Mizen Head

At the very end is the Mizen Head signal station, a place where Guglielmo Marconi established one of his transatlantic telegraph stations (another is at Malin Head in County Donegal, the northern most point in Ireland). To reach the Signal Station, we trekked down a rather steep paved path at a 20 degree angle, and then crossed a bridge that leads to the little rock island. This is the most southwesterly point in Ireland.


Fastnet Rock in the distance, the ‘Teardrop of Ireland’

Nine miles to the southeast of Mizen Head, lies the lighthouse at Fastnet Rock. Known as the ‘Teardrop of Ireland,’ Fastnet Rock is the most southern point in Ireland and was the last light Irish emigrants saw on their journey from Cobh to North America.

Just a few kilometers north of Mizen Head is the little harbor village of Crookhaven where ships would pick up provisions for their transatlantic journey. The harbor has several pubs and restaurants and I had a wonderful seafood chowder outside of O’Sullivan’s Pub, described as home of the ‘most southern PINT in Ireland.’




Leaving Crookhaven we spied the amazing blue flag beaches at Barleycove with its very sandy shore. Mizen Head was a treasure, and the quiet, majestic beauty inspired us to reflect on the challenges and joys of journeying to new places.

Barleycove Beach

Barleycove Beach

Thursday led us to Gougane Barra, which I will highlight in the next entry, but on the way, we stopped at Cariganass Castle, whose name means Rock of the Waterfall, outside the village of Kealkill. The castle, built around 1540, was the ancestral home of the O’Sullivan Beare clan, and its remains overlook Ouvane River. For some interesting information about the Castle, click here.


Cariganass Castle, Kealkill

The last place near Glengarriff we visited was Ilnacullin or Garinish Island, accessible by two ferry companies in Glengarriff. This site, maintained by the Ireland OPW (Office of Public Works) is a 37- acre botanical paradise created in 1910 by Annan Bryce, then owner of the island and Harold Peto, architect and garden designer. In 1953, Bryce gave the island to the people of Ireland.

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Martello Tower on Garinish Island

In addition to the lovely landscaped gardens and buildings, Garinish also has a Martello tower, one of many built during the early 19th century by the British to defend against Napoleon.

The gardens are absolutely lovely and include many trees and plants native to Australia, New Zealand, and even Mongolia. The temperate climate along the south coast of Ireland supports incredible biodiversity and as such, this place is treasured by botanists the world over. As an aside, we also passed the former home of Irish film star, Maureen O’Hara who lived in the Glen for many years, as well as Seal Island.


Home of screen star Maureen O’Hara, overlooking Garinish Island


Seal Island

A visit to Garinish Island on a warm September day was a wonderful way to end our week in Glengarriff.

Sacred Sites on the Beara Peninsula

I spent several days wandering the narrow lanes of the Beara in search of ancient sacred places. While I had an idea of some places I wanted to visit, I also discovered some unexpected treasures in my meanderings. The Irish people have done an excellent job of preserving many of their historical treasures, and periodically, you’ll come across a brown street sign identifying some of these places that aren’t even on regular maps.


Just a few km northwest of Castletownbere is a beautiful standing stone circle at Derreentaggart West. It is in the middle of an accessible field, and the day I visited, the area around the circle had been recently mowed and was quite mucky. The stones here are large and while some have fallen, the circle is generally intact. 20150825-StoneCircle-201501620150825-StoneCircle-2015019

From this location, you could see the lighthouse on Bere Island to the south, and the Miskish Mountains to the east.

Driving from Castletownbere, as I approached the colorful village of Allihies, I saw another brown sign, this one for “Children of Lir Grave.” Knowing the myth, I drove a short distance up the road to the site. 20150826-RingofBeara-2015042The legend about the Children of Lir is that after their mother died, the children’s father, Lir, married his wife’s sister. She became extremely jealous of Lir’s devotion to his children so she turned them into swans, for nine centuries. After 900 years passed, the swans flew to Allihies, where they were returned to their human form, but they were quite old and died almost immediately. The legend is that they are buried here, under large white rocks. All that remains is a single rock, and on it, offerings were left to the children.


I stopped at a little café and museum in Allihies, the Copper Café, and discovered it also housed a lovely little art gallery. While not an antiquity, I had to show what a beautiful exhibition space it is (for my photographer friends)! AllihiesGallery

On the road from Allihies to Eyeries, I unexpectedly came upon a mass rock. During the Penal Times in the early 18th century, religious persecution of Catholics was rampant, and assembling and practicing one’s faith was dangerous. (For a quick summary, click here to read more about the Penal Laws.)


Beginning of the path to the distant Mass Rock.

As a result, parishioners would assemble in obscure locations to observe mass, where large flat rocks served as altars, sometimes marked by a simple cross. Driving through the mountains, I came upon a roadside marker for Carraig an Aifrinn or Mass Rock. It was a little bit of a hike up the mountain on a rock and mud path, and as I walked I thought of the people who had traversed this same path over 200 years ago, simply to practice their religion.

20150826-RingofBeara-2015080I climbed the hill and sent some sheep scampering upward. The site was lovely, overlooking the ocean, with the rocky mount behind. Someone had erected a large cross at the site, which would not have been there during the time the mass rock was in use. I reflected on how fortunate I am to freely practice any religion or have any kind of personal beliefs, without fear. I said a prayer for all those, both then and now in the world, who do not have such freedom.


North of another colorful village, Eyeries on the northern coast of the Beara Peninsula, is an area with three interesting megalithic sites. I am grateful to the woman at the Eyeries Post Office for telling me how to find these locations on the way to Kilcatherine Point. The first of these is a large Ogham Stone located near Faunkill and the Woods, believed to be the tallest ogham-inscribed stone in Ireland. Ogham is an ancient writing system, sometimes known as the Celtic Tree Alphabet. Click here for more information. This ogham stone is on private property and I could not get close to see it, but even from the harbor at Coulaugh Bay, it was impressive. 20150826-RingofBeara-2015099

Driving along the narrow road to Kilcatherine, I found An Cailleach Bhéara, the Hag of Beara. 20150826-RingofBeara-2015124 20150826-RingofBeara-2015116 20150826-RingofBeara-201511220150826-RingofBeara-2015108

There are many legends about the Hag, including that she was Mother Earth and Protector of the Land. Most of the legends indicate that she was a powerful woman who chose to turn herself into the rock so there would always be a hag to keep watch. I made my way down to the overlook and there she was, facing the sea. Now I don’t recognize her shape as a hag, but who am I to argue? Again, people had left offerings here for An Cailleach: coins, notes, seashells, fishhooks, earrings, scarves, even a screw. I had brought nothing, but I searched and found an interesting rock, and with my best intentions, I left it for her.

From here, it was just a short distance to the old graveyard and stone church at Kilcatherine. This was a hauntingly beautiful location and I spent quite a bit of time walking among the graves and stones. There are some recent memorials, but many of the graves are marked by simple rocks, now covered over with grass. I generally find graveyards to be serene and peaceful. Here, as at all of the sites I’ve mentioned in this posting, I was alone, in complete solitude. There are many places where one can be still on the Beara Peninsula.

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Finally, I am including photos of a beautiful, though not ancient, place called the Dzogchen Beara Meditation Retreat Center, located high on a hill overlooking the ocean towards the Sheep Head Peninsula. I had originally learned of this place when my husband was ill. They offer different retreats, both for people dealing with terminal illness and for those who are bereaved, and also have a hostel, café, and other facilities open to the public. The scenery is amazing, and the meditation room has an unobstructed view of the ocean.  20150825-BuddhistCenter-2015033

While I had never participated in a group meditation before, I attended and found it a peaceful, meaningful experience. The 45 minute guided meditation is offered daily, year round, and consists of 5-10 minutes of resting and settling one’s mind, followed by a 25-30 minute practice of Loving Kindness. The meditation is simply quiet, focused prayer, for oneself and for others, sending love and healing to the world.  MeditationRoom

Before I left Dzogchen Beara, I lit candles, for my late husband and loved ones. This practice of remembering, embracing, and celebrating their lives, in this special place of quiet and calm, will always be in my heart. Thank you, Beara Peninsula, for your quiet, thin places.


Crow Head on the Beara Peninsula

IMG_2122The Beara Peninsula, in the far southwestern corner of Ireland is AMAZING! The landscape is absolutely spectacular and because the roads are incredibly narrow, there are no tour buses and very few campers, or caravans, as they are called here. The Beara is only 30 miles (48 km) long, but driving the Ring of Beara from Glengarriff in Cork to Kenmare in Kerry, is roughly 98 km. There are two mountain ranges, Slieve Miskish and the Caha Mountains. Castletownbere is the largest white fishing port in Ireland. Click here for a map of the area and the Ring of Beara driving route.


Crow Head looking south from Dursey Sound


Ireland’s only cable car, view from the mainland to Dursey Island.

I met a new friend, Sabine, from Germany at my B&B, and we hiked an area known as Crow Head, located at the very western tip, across from Dursey Island and its famous cable car (which I did not ride!). The Crow Head walk was about 3 miles from where I parked my car to the end and we passed both open meadows and sea cliffs, and a few sheep. We were the only people the entire time we were there, and I’ve never experienced such quiet. The only sound was the wind whipping through the grass and flowers, save a few gulls, and one lone crow who flew overhead on our way back. This little peninsula is known to be a good spot to see dolphins and whales, but the water was too choppy and we didn’t see any.


The gorse was thick carpet underfoot, almost spongy, and the trail, little more than a sheep path, was sometimes difficult to walk. There wasn’t a single tree here; no shelter or shade. Near the middle of the small peninsula, on the northern side, I found two small cairns, conical piles of rock. I sat near one for quite a while, wondering who had built them and when. There are no loose boulders visible, as there often are in other parts of the Beara Peninsula, so it is a mystery as to how these came to be.


At the end of Crow Head, cliffs drop dramatically to the wild Atlantic, and directly across is another small island of black rock, topped with grass. It had been a difficult walk for a non-hiker and I was physically exhausted and looked for a place to rest. I finally found a small sheltered area, a cranny in the rock, overlooking the island. I withdrew in the stillness of this space as I rested and marveled at the raw power surrounding me: in the hard, jagged rock, the crashing waves, the gusty relentless wind – and realized I had found one of my thin places. A place I never would have come with my husband. A place I would not have known existed save for my host at the B&B. But I found it. I found peace and strength and courage here, at Crow Head, at the end of the wild Beara Peninsula.



Land’s end, at the tip of Crow Head

The Lough Derg Way

Lough Derg in the Shannon River Valley is the third-largest freshwater lake in Ireland and in addition to hosting water sports such as boating and fishing, is surrounded by many holy sites. It spans three counties, Galway, Clare, and Tipperary. Over the last few days, while staying near Mountshannon, I’ve visited several sites.


Portumna Laundry House

While not necessarily considered a thin place, I visited the Portumna Workhouse Centre in County Galway, and it is a deeply sorrowful place. One of 163 workhouses built in Ireland to deal with the “poverty problem,” Portumna’s Workhouse opened in 1852, after the worse years of the Great Famine. What was most disturbing to me was that entire families had to enter the workhouse together, in an attempt to clear the land of tenants, but once admitted, the families were segregated, with separate buildings for men, women, girls, and boys. Only children under the age of 2 were permitted to remain with their mothers, until they were also removed. Click here for more information about the Portumna Workhouse.


Women’s Building, Portumna Workhouse


An offering of oats and milk

Near the town of Tuamgraney in County Clare, I was taken to an ancient oak tree known as the Brian Boru Tree. Brian Boru, the first High King of Ireland, died in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf, but he was from the town of Killaloe, about 20 km south of Tuamgraney. The ancient tree is not easily accessible, but it was worth the fence climb and hike through gorse and nettles. My host explained that when visiting the land of the ancestors, it is appropriate to make an offering to the land, usually of oats and milk. We made our offering and then simply spent time in this quiet place.


Brian Boru Tree

A strong northwesterly wind whipped the grasses in the adjoining field, but as I stood under the ancient oak, I knew that it would not be threatened. It had withstood the tribulations of a millennium, and it would continue to stand now. Despite winds, rains, storms, heat, and drought, the tree remained. And I realized that I too am resilient; despite the challenges and struggles, I, too, am grounded. I took strength from knowing the strength of this ancient tree. My roots indeed go deep.


I wanted to visit Holy Island, about a mile from Mountshannon, but the weather did not cooperate. Perhaps on a future visit, I’ll be able to see the round tower and the monastic ruins, but for now, I could only view it from the harbor. Holy Island’s mysteries will remain unknown.


Holy Island, from Mountshannon Harbor


Killaloe, County Clare, from Ballina

Near the southern end of Lough Derg are the twin towns of Killaloe in County Clare, and across the Shannon River, Ballina in County Tipperary. These lovely little towns are quintessential Ireland, complete with incredibly narrow roads and colorful buildings. I drove north from Ballina on the R494, up the mountain towards the town of Portroe.


Lough Derg from North Tipp

There were mesmerizing views of Lough Derg and the stillness was nearly deafening in its own way. Continuing on the Lough Derg Way, I found the Graves of the Leinstermen, a group killed by Brian Boru’s Munstermen in 999 . The looped trail takes 3-4 hours, and there is a convenient pull off near the trailhead.


Rain over Lough Derg, view from North Tipp

The Lough Derg area is steeped in history and has many more thin places, waiting to be discovered, whether by guide (thank you, Rob!) or by oneself. The clearest message I took away from this area was to not be afraid and to trust that what I seek, I will find.


Graves of the Leinstermen, Tountinna, Co Tipp


Wildflowers at the Graves of the Leinstermen

On the Road


Lough Gur Heritage Center

After a good night’s sleep, I picked up my car in Limerick and hit the road. My first destination, Lough Gur, was about 20 km south. Lough Gur is a megalithic site dating to 4,000 BC. Ancient dwellings, both round and rectangular, have been uncovered, and the Heritage Center is designed after these dwellings. The area was buzzing with activity as schoolchildren are still on holiday here, but I was the only one at the dwelling site.


Just 5 km away, is the Grange Stone Circle, the largest standing stone circle in Ireland, comprised of 113 stones and over 150 feet in diameter. Located right off the highway, the stone circle sits in a farmer’s field. As I walked up the embankment to the circle, a herd of perhaps 15 cattle came running, literally running, up to the fence. I don’t know if they were coming to greet me or warn me away. I began walking counter-clockwise around the perimeter and came upon four cows lying at the edge of embankment, on the opposite side of the fence. I didn’t question them, nor they me, and we managed just fine.


Grange Stone Circle

The Grange Stone Circle is an amazing site, and I could feel an energy as I passed among the stones, into the center. I can’t describe the feeling, nor explain what I felt, but it was a magical place. While I was there, a man came into the circle and after taking some pictures, he produced a large drum, possible a bodhran, and walked the stone circle, drumming. I was honored to have been present, in this place of our ancestors… and cows.