Travel in Thin Places

Corcomroe Abbey – Monastic Ruins in The Burren

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Apr 18, 2012

County Clare is one the most visited areas on tours of Ireland, and the Burren is a worthy destination for any traveler to the West. The Poulnabrone Dolmen, ring forts and the moonscape look of the Burren are what most people see in photos and guidebooks on Ireland.  But the mystical ruins of Corcomroe Abbey are an equally important Burren landmark.  This sacred ground compels the visitor to be quiet, devoted, contemplative … almost as is if the long-gone inhabitants were still there.

Corcomroe Abbey - The Burren

Originally, Corcomroe was a Cistercian abbey, set in the valley surrounded by the Burren’s barren hills that look as if all the grass and vegetation were scraped off with jagged glass.  The abbey was built sometime in the late twelfth century.  Access to the valley was through a pass in the mountains known as the “monks pass, ” and it was part of a fortified  region guarded by a castle (now long gone).

Tomb and Effigy of Irish Chieftain - Corcomroe Abbey - the Burren


The fishbone pattern on the ribs that support the vaulted roof over the sanctuary, the effigy of a Chieftain king, the smiling bishop carved into a crumbling wall, carved faces and flowers resembling bluebells atop the large columns are all part of what makes Corcomroe amazing.

Corcomroe is a place to walk through slowly… to stop and notice the details.


Architechtural Details - Corcomroe Abbey - the Burren


The Abbey sits just off one of the main roads that wind through the Burren.  It’s easy to explore and has a strong sense of solitude. The backdrop of the mountains and small green fields still enclosed by abbey stone walls add to the solitude of Corcomroe.  It has a haunted presence.

Corcomroe projects its memories into the landscape and onto the pilgrim.


The approach to Corcomroe Abbey - The Burren - Ireland

The setting is a perfect mingling of this world and the eternal world – the past and the present.  Looking at the old ruins immediately draws the visitor into a rich past, but the new roof protecting a portion of the abbey is a contribution of today’s faithful – people who want to protect it and preserve it. …a community that values and cherishes it.


Personal Shrine on Walls of Corcomroe

Corcomroe shrine secured on the outside wall.


What’s left of Corcomroe is a historical spiritual remnant kept company by the local village’s faithful departed.  Graves are everywhere.  But so are little hints and reminders of today’s faithful who come to pray, reflect and tend to the memories.  Their presence is seen in the repaired grave slab, a makeshift cross, a new flower bed or a small shrine like the one pictured above.  This plastic virgin Mary is secured into a concrete base.  She was placed on the outer wall with three lavender silk roses and a glass jar.  Coins left by devotees are both in the jar and at her feet.   I took this photo in September of 2009.  I returned to Corcomroe in May of 2011.  The shrine was gone.

Corcomroe is a thin place.  It’s a lonely place.

The Hill of Uisneach – Geographic Center of Ireland

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Apr 18, 2012

The Hill of Uisneach is located in the center of Ireland. Many believe the catstone atop the 600 foot hill mark the spot where Ireland’s five provinces – Ulster, Leinster, Connaught, Muenster and Meath – all come together.  It is an ancient meeting place, and a place of high earth energy.

Lake at the top of the Hill of Uisnech

Lake at the top of the Hill of Uisnech

Most who drive down Route 390 going southwest of Mullingar in County West Meath wouldn’t realize they were passing such thin place.  I know, because I passed it many times – and I was looking for it. But I found Uisneach.  I climbed the hill.  I was changed for having gone there.

When Traveling to a Thin Place – Listen for Signs from the Otherwold

Call it prayer, call it sensing … most of us know how to communicate spiritually.  The present world reacts to the eternal world in a thin place.  If we listen and look carefully, we can see the signs.

Many times I’ve been out looking for a particular place and find obstacle after obstacle thrown in my way… I get lost, there’s an unfriendly landowner, the weather becomes harsh ….almost sending me a message to suspend my search and retreat.

But I never do.  Those signs only encourage me – let me know that the experience will be worth the obstacles – and my visit to Uisneach proved me right.  There were many obstacles, but the Hill of Uisneach was the single most powerful place I’ve ever visited.

Uisneach – My Heaven and My Hell

The hill looks like many Irish hills from the road, but as the climber ascends to the crest the magic reveals itself.  There are ring forts all over, and small lakes, wildlife, and if your senses are keen – many signs from the eternal world.

I was traveling alone when I visited the Hill of Uisneach.  It was a damp day and the ground was soft.  I had to stop in Ballymore and ask for directions. Once I found it and began climbing, I kept looking for the catstone, said to be on the top.  The stone is said to mark the geographic center of Ireland and the grave of the goddess Ériu, for whom Ireland (Eire) takes its name.  I never found the catstone… but my experience was rich.

Hill of Uisnech


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