Kealkil Stone Circle - How We Find a Thin Place Matters

Kealkil Stone Circle - County Cork - Ireland
Kealkil stone circle is in the western part of County Cork. It sits in a clearing  - a sort of plateau - over a hilly, rocky, muddy region of a farmer's field. The circle has five stones with a diameter of about eight to ten feet.  Outside the circle are two tall stones - one eight feet high and the other thirteen feet high.

References state that the tallest stone probably stood twenty feet high when the circle was first established.   (Mythic Ireland, Michael Dames)

In February of 2007 I made a solo trip to Ireland. I was exploring the southern region.  Daylight was scarce at that time of year and it rained - no poured - nearly every day. I set out to find Kealkil on my last day in West Cork, and I was pressed for time. The road to the circle was marked with a brown directional sign, but finding the actual circle took more effort than I expected. I suspect if before I set out I'd known how much muck I'd have to trudge through and brush I'd have to climb over, I probably wouldn't have bothered.

It's a good thing a didn't know.

The view was blocked by brush.  After about 20 minutes of searching, climbing and sinking up to my ankles in mud, I knew I was standing in the field where the circle was located but I couldn't see it.  I kept looking.  Finally, after crossing the field and navigating more brush and mud - I saw the tip of the tallest stone of Kealkil in the clearing. 

My first glimpse of that circle is a rare memory.  The kind that that comes when you're stunned at the site of something... like an unexpected stranger in your midst.  At first site, this circle emanates energy - sort of like a mild shock wave after an explosion.  You're immediately hit.  Boom - there it is.  Then the wave draws you in like a magnet ... pulling you closer to the circle.

The tallest standing stone was twice my height.  It was easy to see that the two outliers were in alignment with the axial stone in the circle.   Axial stones are often lower than the other stones in the circle and usually serve as a implement to bounce or bend the sunlight at a certain time of year. Many believe that people used these circles as a kind of calendar, charting the position of the sun.

The energy in the circle seemed warm and welcoming.  But when I stood behind the shorter of the two outlying stones and walked between them into the circle, it nearly took my breath away. 

Standing in the center I could take in the vast landscape views from that plateau.  The mist stuck to the mountains to the north and it was just clear enough to see Bantry Bay to the south.  In the distance a farmer was burning brush in a field and the tiny patch of orange from his fire punched through the scene of endless green and gray.  A brisk wind came out of the south and all at once I realized I was surveying all four of the classical elements - earth, wind, fire and water - at once.

How I Came to Discover Kealkil Stone Circle

Two Outliers of the Kealkil Stone Circle

Kealkil was not on my agenda of things to see on that trip.  I'd never heard of it.  There are hundreds of stone circles scattered throughout Ireland, and west Cork has a large cluster.  The day before I visited Kealkil I had driven the Ring of Beara, found and visited five stone circles, and walked nearly eight miles in order to do so. I saw Uragh Stone Circle, Shronebirran Stone Circle, Cashelkeelty (my all time favorite), Ardgroom and Kenmare Stone Circles. On earlier days on this same trip I visited Drombeg Stone Circle and the Grange Stone Circle - the largest in Ireland.

I'd concluded my visits to stone circles.

After finishing that ring of Beara, I checked into a perfect room at a bed and breakfast in Glengarriff.  The owner suggested I grab dinner at the local pub.  I did.  I sat at the bar alone and ordered a meal. This always gets people talking.

An older man pulled up a stool next to mine and started a conversation.  I told him I was researching mystical sites this region, and trying to learn about the history.  For the next hour he entertained me with stories of copper miners and mining companies who raped the landscape and exploited the workers.  He wove in characters who survived the exploitation and helped restore the Beara. He was originally from Cornwall and his family were tin miners who came to Beara to work in the copper mines.

When I told him I was writing about thin places, he said I must go visit Kealkil stone circle as it had the tallest standing stone in all of Ireland and that if I missed Kealkil, I wouldn't really have a good perspective on Ireland's stone circles.  With great enthusiasm he drew me a map of how to get there and even said he knew the farmer and was certain he'd give me access. He assured me it was close by, and not much of a detour off the road on my way to Dingle.

The next morning, pressed for time, I decided to make Kealkil my first stop.  I suspected there was some reason I met that man in the pub. 

I'll never forget him and I'll never forget Kealkil.

From my journal after visiting Kealkil ....

February 23, 2007 
Whatever brings us close to the Divine Presence is what we're going to look to ... what we search for.  And there are some occasions when we know we've found it.... when we know that something of this world has lifted us closer ...opened our eyes.. transported us into the eternal world.

In a church it may be icons, statues or the incense - certainly the music - these move and transport us into the Divine Presence, but we have to exercise our senses in order to be transported.  Sometimes this is very difficult. Sometimes concentration doesn't come easy.

But you barely have to try in a thin place like Kealkil.  The presence reaches up and grabs you. It pushes you in - through the portal. 
Maybe the stones here were once used like icons, to help with that transportation.  Maybe the people who put them here went places we haven’t discovered yet – or have only imagined.

Meet the Doolough Spirit in Connemara

Doolough - County Mayo - Thin Places Tour 2012

Connemara has the most amazing light. This region follows the Atlantic coast between Galway and Mayo in the West of Ireland, and is often damp and cloudy. I have never driven through Connemara when it hasn't rained at least once. But the rain, and the dampness it brings, makes for the lush green countryside with its stunning and subtle shades.  The rain brings the rainbows and powerful moments when moving clouds open and let the sun pour through. The shadows shift, sometimes fly across the sides of the mountains and the valleys. The colors in the Connemara landscape seems to be in perpetual motion. Nothing stays the same.

I took the image above with my cell phone camera. The man, dwarfed in the landscape, was one of our guests on the Thin Places tour of 2012. Our bus stopped at the scenic northern side of Doolough pass, and the guests got out to explore and snap pictures. This guest was exploring the hills along the roadside when the sun broke through a previously dismal sky and he turned to face it. It was the perfect moment in a perfect setting, and one of the best moments I've captured with a camera.  The views from where this man is standing are some of the best in Ireland, and some of the most photographed.

Doolough pass - from the Louisburgh - Delphi Road

The Doolough Tragedy - 1849

This area is sadly remembered for those poor, exhausted, starving people who walked this road on a journey from Louisburgh to Delphi lodge in March of 1849 in desperate hope of finding hunger relief.

The actual number of people who made this walk is undetermined, but it is estimated to have been  between 400 and 600. They were the recipients of "outdoor relief," a program that distributed food to people who did not work in the workhouses and owned less than a quarter acre of land. In order to receive the relief, they had to show up for inspections where they would receive food and sometimes clothing or money. At the inspection in Louisburgh, the hungry poor were told they had to report to Delphi Lodge if they wanted to continue to receive their benefits. In harsh weather with little to protect them from the elements, hundreds of weak and hungry families trekked a rocky and soggy 12 mile goat path through the mountain passes, crossing the Glankeen River at flood stage. Many died from exhaustion along the way.

Those who made it to Delphi waited hours outside the gates of Delphi lodge while the Board of Guardians ate an afternoon meal. Then the hungry poor were turned away and told to return to Louisburgh. They were given no explanation, no food or promise of assistance, and no direction on how to get the sustenance they craved. On the return trip the exhausted travelers were caught in a hailstorm that produced so much wind in the mountain pass, that many were blown off cliffs or  drowned while crossing the Glankeen River. More collapsed on the roadsides - including women and children.  They were left along the route like breadcrumbs marking the trail.

The Irish authorities buried hundreds of bodies where they fell  - with no coffins, markers or ceremony.
Famine Memorial Cross at Doolough.  Pilgrims have piled stones at the base.

A Celtic cross was erected to honor the memory of those lives lost and all of the world's hungry.  There is an annual Famine Walk that draws people from many nations who march against hunger and famine.  It traces the same path of those who made this fateful journey in 1849. An inscription on the base of the cross reads:
 How can men feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow human beings.  ~Mahatma Ghandi

My First Visit to Doolough - 1998

Sitting in the backseat of my friends' rental car, I watched the rain falling against the mountains as we drove into a valley on the road from Louisburgh heading toward Delphi.  The mist from the clouds and rain reminded me of thin places.  The mist looked just like a transparent veil  - just like a veil that might separate the present world from the eternal.

We came over a hill ... and there it was - the Doolough pass with the lake at its base.  I didn't know it then, but this is one of the most photographed spots in Ireland.  It was a pity that our view was dominated by the grays and blacks of a rainy day.  There wasn't much color, but the scene was remarkable in its monochrome state.  We saw the famine cross on the roadside and pulled over to take in the views.  The rain had slowed to a drizzle, so I got out and walked down the hill to see what this Celtic cross was marking and take a few pictures.

I was trudging around in a boggy muck when the rain started to get heavier. Wanting to protect my camera I started back up the hill to the car.  When I was about halfway up, I heard shouting.  I could see my friends at the car.  They had gotten out and were waving and yelling at me.  I could also see cars parked behind them.  Everyone was getting out.  I finally made out what my friend was shouting .... "Turn around!"

Lake at Doolough during a respite in the storm

The image above is what I saw.  Two distinct rainbows above the lake.  These weren't like normal rainbows.  They were pulsing, beating .... moving toward me and than back again.  It was raining and dark where I was standing, while a surreal light wove in and out of the mist above the lake.  The light was so strange.  The rainbow faded and then it came back again.  Everyone was out of their cars watching.  I often wonder about all those tourists on the road that day - and my friends ... if they remember Doolough the way I do.

The Spirit of Doolough

Every time I'm in Mayo or Galway, I try to get out to Connemara and drive this pass.  I don't really know why.  Maybe I'm just trying to re-live the 1998 rainbow moment, but this area has a significant draw - a magnetic pull. 

There's a sense about the region especially in this particular spot near the cross.  When the Westport newspaper reported on the famine tragedy here, the article stated that many of the travelers stopped here to rest. Some lay down and fell asleep... and died.  The bodies of men, women and children were found still in sleeping positions and were buried on site.  Later the cross was erected here.

There's a feeling about this part of the trail.  Every time I come through this pass I stop here, by the cross and get out and take in the views. And I'm always filled with an almost palpable sense of place…. as if the earth, sky, hills, stone, and water are all part of one body that is its own separate entity, charged with all energies of the area coming together as one being.

I love that spirit of Doolough. 

Doolough Cross  - 1998

There are Many Thin Places in Dingle

Of all the places in Ireland, the Dingle peninsula is the most mystical to me.  One could spend a month on Dingle and not see a tenth of the thin places.  I suspect the grounds everywhere are littered with nodes where earth energy seeps through.  Every sunrise, every sunset, every rainstorm, the light, the hills, the stones, the Atlantic, the views ... all are charged with a sort of divine presence.

Photo by Patty Green McArdle - Dingle Harbor

The photo above shows boats tied up at the Dingle Harbor. The photo placed 4th in popular vote in the Ireland Photos by You! contest.  59 photographs were entered and over 300 people voted by LIKING their favorite photos on Thin Places Mystical Tour of Ireland Facebook page.

Patty McArdle (the photographer) is a nurse who lives in Frederick, Maryland.  She had this commentary to offer with her photo submission:

The picture was taken at Dingle Harbor on the Dingle Peninsula. While most thin places seem to be on land (or, at least, that is what I've always thought) this place seemed to call to me. Notice that these boats are not pleasure boats, but rather working boats. I felt not only the beauty of the boats but felt the presence of those hard-working Irishmen, past and present, who spent their lives on the water providing for their families and community. I believe that those who lived off of that water who have gone before us remain close in that harbor.

My husband and I were on 2 week adventure in Ireland, taking in the sights all up and down the west coast and more. This was a trip that we had planned for months and months and enjoyed every second of it! We can't wait to go back!

 The Dingle Peninsula is in the southwest of Ireland and far removed from large centers of population.  Dingle town is toward the western end on the south side of the peninsula .  A snug harbor here entering from Dingle Bay is where many of the fishing and tour boats come it.  This was also where pilgrims left in Medieval times to travel to Santiago de Compostela - the pilgrim trail of St. James in Spain.

Dingle has always been a holy place.

Photos of Dingle from the Travel Hag Flickr Site

The North Side of Dingle

On the north side of the peninsula are villages around Tralee Bay and Brandon Bay, and of course Mount Brandon - the holy mountain where St. Brendan is said to have had his vision which inspired him to set out with a fleet of curragh's to find the "promised land."  In the end, Brendan came home to Ireland and founded several monastic communities.  Mount Brandon is the second highest peak in Ireland and dominates the northern landscape which is dappled with villages, monastic ruins and megalithic monuments.... and some of the most beautiful strands (beaches) in all of Ireland.

I had a one of my most remarkable thin place experiences there in the shadow of Mount Brandon

The West and Southern Shore of Dingle

On the west end and the southern shore, the Dingle peninsula has tremendously scenic drives such as the Slea Head loop and Connor Pass (which connects the north and south shores).  Bee hive huts, monastic settlement ruins, oratories, forts, cross slabs, standing stones, ogham stones and famine cottages can all be seen and visited along these roads.

The streets of Dingle town are friendly and chocked full of shops, pubs, galleries and lodging houses.  The convent beside St. Mary's Catholic Church on Green Street has one of the most remarkable collections of Harry Clark stained glass windows in the world.

Art Thrives in Dingle

Art simply thrives in Dingle.  Artists, crafters and galleries are prolific.  Dingle is also one of the most vibrant centers for traditional Irish music.  I interviewed painter, Carol Cronin in her gallery on Green Street and asked her if thin places mattered to artists.  A video of the Carol Cronin interview is on the Travel Hag YouTube channel.  In about 5 minutes, Carol explains how living on the Great Blasket Island transformed her as an artist.

Other posts on Dingle
The Man in the Sand - Dingle in the Shadow of Mount Brandon
Carol Cronin - Dingle Artist on Thin Places Impacting Creativity
Harry Clarke's Stained Glass in Dingle