Travel in Thin Places

Kilshannig – The North Side of Dingle Littered with Bones

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Jun 15, 2010

Kilshannig church ruin - Dingle

Church Ruin sitting on Brandon Bay in Kilshannig

One of the few places in Ireland I can photographically remember is Kilshannig, a small dilapidated village on the Dingle peninsula at its northernmost point.  Most visitors that spend a day or less in Dingle seldom visit the northern route which has spectacular sea views, beautiful sandy beaches and commanding perspectives of Mount Brandon.

Just past Castlegregory is the turn-off to go out toward Rough Point.  Kilshannig is a hilly village with a few small houses and narrow roads.  We found cows wandering freely on the roadside and most of the buildings looked vacant.  St. Senan or Seanaigh built a monastery in the Magharee Islands just off the coast of this village in the 7th century that was accessed by sea.  A 15th century (some say earlier) church ruin now occupies the site at the edge of village overlooking Brandon Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This little church was the mainland church for the monastery on the island.

7th Century Cross Slab – Kilshannig

Inside the church walls is cross-pillar slab from the 7th century. It has a Greek style cross carved on it and has been white washed. There are similar carvings on pillar slabs in Glencolmkille in County Donegal.  It’s believed that the slabs were part of a pagan ritual before the area was Christianized. This may have served as a wayside marker.  No one really knows for sure what these standing stones represented.

Cross pillar slab at the church ruin in Kilshannig

What a remarkable experience to add one’s own hands to the collection of thousands that have traced the engraved path of the cross on that ancient stone.

Cary Meehan, author of A Traveller’s Guide to Sacred Ireland writes:

“In the graveyard is a cross pillar with a fine incised cross with expanded terminals and a double spiral at its base, similar to those at Kilfountain, Kilmalkedar, and Reask.”

Graveyard is Being Reclaimed by the Sea – Bones Everywhere

bones from washed out graves near church ruin in Kilshannig

The ruined church was converted to a cemetery as were most of the church ruins in Ireland.  And though the church was built on high ground above the sea, Brandon Bay has occasionally eclipsed the banks and invaded some of the old graves.  Bones have washed out of the graves and litter the area in and around the church.  While it was a somewhat macabre site for us, it was also a reminder that our remains join all the elements of nature eventually.  We all return to dust.

bones from washed out graves near church ruin in Kilshannig

We found some interesting green chards scattered in one place.  They had no sharp edges, either glass shards worn down by the sea or some type of stone.

bones from washed out graves near church ruin in Kilshannig

The views from Kilshannig are spectacular.  Mount Brandon dominates the western view with Brandon Bay lapping up on a shoreline that extends nearly a half mile out to sea.  In the distance, the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean can be seen and heard.  The silence of the village – save for the wind and sea – is almost eerie.  This is a holy place.

Views from near Kilshannig

View of Mount Brandon from  church ruin in Kilshannig

 

Ardmore in County Waterford – the Oldest Christian Settlement in Ireland

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Jun 5, 2010

Ardmore in County Waterford

Ardmore is a fishing village in County Waterford – just over the border from County Cork. It is the legendary home of St. Declan who is said to have settled there somewhere between 350 and 420 AD, bringing Christianity to the island even before St. Patrick.  If this is true, it makes Ardmore the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland.

Ardmore from the Irish “Aird Mhor” means great height. The ruins of a 13 century church, an 8th century oratory and a well preserved 12th century round tower dominate a hillside overlooking Ardmore Bay, a fitting spot for Ireland’s first monastic community.

Driving up the hillside one sees the 90 foot round tower rear up from the landscape like some old relic.  That’s when the “thinness” of the place starts to sink in. Come closer and the ruins of St. Declan’s Church with its carved religious scenes –  Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Judgment of Solomon, the Visit of the Magi – emerge from the ancient landscape.  The scenes were used to help teach the local community about the Christian faith.  This carved church wall is three hundred years older than the church itself, dating the carvings to the 9th century.  The wall was actually brought to the site from another ruined religious site that had fallen into decay, so this spot on the hill at Ardmore is its second home.

Almost unnoticeable is the small 8th century oratory built over the spot where St. Declan is believed to be buried. It lies just below the ruined church – hemmed in by graves, both old and recent.  Headstones and grave markers occupy nearly every bit of available ground space around the ruins. Some new shiny granite, some old limestone with faded inscriptions, and some merely jagged stones set atop a lump.

The wild beauty of the landscape around the monastic site is mirrored on the nearby cliffs where a pilgrim’s walkway has been carved out.  The path leads to the village and St. Declan’s holy well.

Remnants of by-gone spiritual hunger and discovery still cling to the old ruins at Ardmore.  The stones hold the memories  of faith, of sorrow, of devastation, of joy, of celebration.  It is the presence of those memories stored in the ruins that dissolves the veil separating the past, present and eternal worlds. All are knitted together and the elements – the sky, the wind, the sea, the stones – seem brighter, and somehow more vivid.

Ardmore is a thin place, and is on our Thin Places Mystical Tour of Ireland this September.  Come join us.

Beara – Cashelkeelty Stone Circle

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May 31, 2010

Cashelkeelty Stone Circle - Beara Peninsula - IrelandNine hundred years before Christ was born, people of south western Ireland erected a group of alignment stones in a rocky outcropping on what is now known as the Beara Peninsula. The location was set along an ancient track, known as the Green Road, that spanned a good part of the peninsula, connecting communities. Only three stones remain today from the alignment group. Remnants of a smaller stone circle nearby mind pilgrims as they step into that thin place. The panoramic views near the alignment stones are vast, and one can see the sea in the distance.

Cashelkeelty Stone Circle is like no other I’ve visited. Though guide and reference books give it no significant rank over other circles, it has an existing spiritual presence that surpasses the others – at least for me. One can feel the history ascending the final hill along the Green Road. The first glimpse of the circle at the crest of the hill marks the point when time begins to stand still for the pilgrim… when that traveler coming to this place in the context of an ancient story steps into a higher level of her own existence.  I was overcome by emotion when I moved close to the tallest stone.  At eight feet high, this stone hovers over the others looking like a bard recounting a meaningful story.   I don’t know how long I was there.  But the pictures I shot show I was there through a bit of a weather change – darkness, sunlight, fog, mist, rainbows, all shifting in and out of time.

It is impossible to take a bad photograph here.

I ascended the Green Road alone when I visited the circle. I was traveling by myself that rainy February afternoon. I studied the stones, standing in front of them – looking, staring. It’s remarkable what you can see when you stop to notice details. I noticed scores of coins that had been tucked into the stone crevices – coins from many countries. I looked further and noticed cairns that had been erected by pilgrims near the stones, clooties left behind, tokens under stones – confirmation that I wasn’t alone, at least not alone in knowing that this place was special.

Cashelkeelty Stone Circle is one of the sites on the itinerary of the Thin Places Mystical Tour this September. Come join us.

Flickr slide show of Cashelkeelty Stone Circle

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