Churches and Stones

What’s on the iPod: Awake the Soul by Mumford & Sons
What I’m reading: Recipes – I’m about to spend the next week cooking

One thing that struck me throughout all parts of Ireland was the spirituality. Pagan symbolism mixing with Christian ones were abundant. It’s no surprise – there’s a soul alive beneath the peat and the heath. You can feel it, breathe it.

In my meditation practice, we believe in living a sentient life. The ways in which we live our lives, from interactions with others to what we eat, impact the mind and the body in ways many of us are not conscious of. Living in a busy suburb, for example, takes a ton of effort to find that sentient life balance. Living in the country, a different level of effort, a different approach to balancing the mind and soul.

From the time we set foot on Ireland’s soil, we both felt that the land was sentient. There was something spiritual emanating from it, and it’s reflected in how retrospection that I found so charming about the Irish people. Living in a place that marries centuries of spiritual practices breeds poeticism and feeling. We came across that in nearly every interaction.

You’d never know from what we saw and experienced that there was ever religious strife. Then again, maybe that’s why belief is so strong there – it was hard fought, lost, and won over and over. In the Republic, you can’t turn a corner without finding a Catholic church, abbey, friary, church ruins, cross, holy well, or shrine to Mary. But even more interesting is how many stone circles, standing stones, and Celtic crosses were in such close proximity to these symbols of Christianity. I wasn’t surprised, but the average Catholic might not see the obvious connection. It’s tough not feeling your own spiritual tendencies in a place that so openly displays its faith.

And it’s not a forced, church-mandated type of worship. It’s that walk in the woods that turns up a holy well in the middle of nowhere, complete with offerings left by other wanderers. It’s climbing to the middle of a mountain, surrounded by sheep, just to see the alleged well of St. Columba (or Columbkille in Gaelic). It’s the juxtaposition of a church within clear view of a pagan standing stone with intricate Celtic carving. It’s how The Book of Kells is clearly illustrated with numerous pagan symbolism as it describes the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

We saw more stone circles than I’d imagined we’d see. Forget guide books pointing you to this one or that one – just walk. At the site of St. Columba’s well, there were at least three stone circles. Not marked on any map, but clearly they weren’t just coincidental pilings that happened to be in circles. Within a short walk of our first B&B, an impressive stone circle that archaeologists had found what they believed was evidence of human sacrifice. Another stone circle sat in the middle of a cow pasture.

Then there were the churches. Ruins are left standing. Old churches are preserved where they can be. Abbeys and graveyards are revered. Ogham stones appear in graveyards and church ruins. These intrigued us. It’s an alphabet mapped out in slashes instead of letters. Think binary code with letters. If you understand old Irish Gaelic, you can translate them quite easily. One theory is that early Christians used them to write out the language that probably wasn’t easy to write out using conventional alphabets.

So many places and ways of worship, but these are two photos that attempt to capture the feel of the place. The one above is the Derreenataggart stone circle. The one below is outside of Glencolumbkille.

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  • Diane October 29, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    You should be selling this. Your words are beautiful and really bring the place to life.

  • Lori October 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    That happens when a place touches you like this. Thank you. 🙂

  • Wendy October 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Personal experiences are so much better to hear than what a guide gives you of local places to check out. I liked how you put that you should just walk and see things on your own rather than going by what a guide says. I imagine there are so many things a person would miss, because they rely on those guides too much.

    Old Irish Gaelic is really cool to see, but I'd be one that doesn't understand and wouldn't have a clue what any of it says.

    Have fun in your week of cooking. Any Irish recipes in your meal planning?

  • Paula October 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Why is it all photos of Ireland are gorgeous? No matter what time of day, or how sunny or cloudy it is, the images are so dramatic and dynamic.

    I have to settle for watching Ballykissngel…or I would if it were still on TV.

  • Devon October 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Welcome back!

    I love working with the ogham. It's a more mindful way to say what you've got to say!

  • Cathy October 29, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    I'm with Diane-beautifully written. Go market those travel magazines! 🙂

    How you doing on time zone adjustment? Have a great weekend!

  • Lori October 30, 2010 at 11:57 am

    So true, Wendy. The things we remember are those things like sheep being traded in the center of town or the hilarious look a woman made when our car mirrors just missed hitting on one small road. You can't package and resell that.

    And ironically, no Irish recipes this weekend. But I did make a terrific tea bread from a recipe found at a B&B.

    Paula, don't let that friend of yours hear that! LOL Yes, it is beautiful. There was one town that wasn't so beautiful – a bit tired and undefined – but in general it really was that nice everywhere else.

    Congratulations on your move, Devon! Hope it's all going smoothly.

    Cathy, the time zone thing hit me last night at 8 pm. Until then I was on adrenaline and caffeine. I slept until 7:30 this morning, which is much better than leaping out of bed at 5 because I think I've slept in.