Top 3 Ireland Guidebooks

Don't travel to Ireland without a few good guidebooks. Leave the stacks of free brochures and pamphlets you acquired ahead of time at home.

I have over seventy books about Ireland and about twenty of those are specifically guidebooks - or guides for the traveler offering information on sites, attractions, accommodations, dining and shopping. Some have maps. Most have photos, but all guidebooks tend to become out of date as prices change and businesses come and go.

Travel guru, Rick Steves makes a good point when he says people are often reluctant to pay the typical cost for a guidebook ($20) when they can get brochures and visitor guides for free. A good guidebook pays for itself over and over by saving the traveler time and money through offering advice and tips on good deals, the best bargains and choices according to budget. (Steves' is one of - if not - THE world's top guidebook writer.)

All good guidebooks will have information about culture, language, transportation, accommodations, shopping, dining, a glossary, maps, directions, and historical facts - with price suggestions based on the traveler's budget. I read extensively in advance when planning my trips, and I include guidebooks in my research. But I take three guidebooks with me on my trips to Ireland. These three have all the qualities mentioned above for good guidebooks, but each of these has something unique that no other guidebook has.

My top three picks for Ireland guidebooks are:

NUMBER 1

Ireland (Country Guide)
by Lonely Planet

I've been a Lonely Planet guidebook fan for years. My primary reason for choosing this as my top pick in COMPREHENSIVENESS. The sites I hit in Ireland aren't always the most popular or famous, so I want a guidebook that will have more of the out-of-the-way sites included. Lonely Planet seldom fails me. This guidebook follows all 32 Counties (includes Northern Ireland), so it completely covers the Island. Additionally, nothing compares to the liberal, easy-going, entertaining style of the Lonely Planet writers. One of my favorite features of this book are the unique sidebars with interesting facts, trivia or food for thought - like "Top Five Ways to Ruin Your Day at Dusk" or "Did St. Brendan really discover America" and "Shameless Sheilas or Symbolic Shamanesses?". This guidebook is comprehensive, informative and entertaining. When I want to look something up, this is the first guidebook I reach for.

NUMBER 2

Rick Steves' Ireland 2012
Steves is the only guidebook writer that updates his books every year, so the prices and information are the most accurate that can be found. I carry this book along with me in Ireland since the history of the sites I visit is important to me, and Rick Steves (who holds a degree in European History) is a master at briefly framing a site with a historical perspective. Rick writes his guidebooks himself, rather than have a team of writers compile information, and he spent many years as a travel guide. His guidebooks give you the sense that he's is right there with you, leading the way. He'll often direct the reader step-by-step - "turn your back on St. Patrick's Cross, and walk about 100 feet slightly uphill along the gravel path beside the cathedral... you will find yourself at the entrance of ..."


NUMBER 3
The Traveller's Guide to Sacred Ireland: A Guide to the Sacred Places of Ireland, Her Legends, Folklore and People
By Cary Meehan
Sacred Ireland focuses on the hidden sites frequently missed in Ireland that are also the sites that give Ireland its mystical charism, which is the very charm that attracts the traveler. Stone circles, passage tombs, ancient carved stones, dolmens, holy wells, enchanted lakes, ancient ring forts and archaeological ruins are what this book features. Another benefit is the 18 page inclusion about the origins of the sacred landscape of Ireland. This chapter puts history and myth in perspective, and helps the traveler understand the Irish historical timeline. The author is a bit of a mystic herself, and her insights and interpretations make this guidebook a great read for anyone interested in the sacred sites or ancient history of Ireland. This book is a MUST for all those interested in Thin Places.

HONORABLE MENTION

Bord Failte Ireland Guide, 4th Edition
Put out by the Irish Tourist Board, this guide is written from the Irish perspective, welcoming the visitor to Ireland. Rather than giving specifics on prices and listings, this is an in-depth view of the sites and attractions that are constant in Ireland, complimented with endless color photographs. There's background information on Irish music, ancient Ireland, horse racing, the Irish language, Irish flora and fauna, and Irish sports. All 32 counties are included. The book is divided regionally with color coded tabs making it easy to use as a reference. It also details some of the lesser traveled areas such as Laois, Westmeath, Cavan and Moneghan. It is chocked full of photos and insider information for understanding the sites and attractions in Ireland as well as the Irish culture, lifestyle, environment, economy and heritage.

The Rock of Cashel - the thinnest place in Ireland


Every time I visit Ireland - no matter where I'm scheduled to be - I visit the Rock of Cashel. For me it is the quintessential thin place, always drawing me, calling me, awakening me.

The Pre-Christian and Celtic people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England had a keen sense for thin places. The landscape in these countries is littered with man-made markings and ruins that remind the passer-by that this is holy ground. The rocks, trees and landscape seem to contain the memories of spiritual exercises here long ago and present.

Cashel is a thin place.

The very ground itself seems to call out, "Come here and be transformed." In a quiet moment, the pilgrim today can sense a connection with the souls that have marked these spots with their spirits. Cashel is a vivid reminder that we are all joined inside and outside of time.I will never forget the first time I saw the Rock of Cashel.

At 10:00 a.m. we came down the Tipperary Road into Cashel. Seeing the Rock emerge from the landscape stirred childhood memories of seeing Emerald City rise up at the end of the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. It was a moment when time stood still, burned in my memory like a trauma or birth.

That day we climbed the Rock of Cashel and wandered through the Cathedral ruins and cemetery. I knew nothing then about the history, who lived there, who ruled from there, what events took place there, but I knew it was a thin place. There was something exhilarating about Cashel, an excitement, a sense of power.



Cashel has long been linked with power. Warriors, chieftains, kings, princes, saints and bishops have all come here to mark the Rock as the seat of power, and blood has been spilled in that struggle for power. The Rock is not a peaceful place - as its legacy is riddled with memories of those who founght for power, stole power, ran to take refuge under the mantle of the powerful, and those who gloriously won the power.
The thinness is palpable. Your spirit is awake at Cashel.
I have returned to the Rock of Cashel with every visit to Ireland. I have seen the Rock lit up at night, covered in rain and mist, set against the frigid winter landscape and lingering through the long days of summer where the sun barely sets before rising again.
The Rock of Cashel, though in ruin, has a constancy; a historic brilliance that defies the modernization that grows around it with new homes, buildings and roadways. Cashel boldly claims her history, memories of kings, chieftains, warriors, bards, and holy men - thrusting them before us, urging us to enter in to her ancient legacy - and to return, and return and return.
So many people ask me, "What should I see on my visit to Ireland?"I always say, "Don't miss the Rock of Cashel." Sadly, only a few follow my advice.
What a pity.
They'll never know what I know... that Cashel will seduce you like a lover and cling to your spirit, planting some small charm that draws you back to her, creating a hunger for reunion. With each visit your are strengthened and sustained ... until the next time. Cashel is like a first love. Though time, distance and life experience may stand between you - you never forget her, and you will return to her over and over in your imagination. You are changed forever for having known her.




For the complete article on The Rock of Cashel, by Mindie Burgoyne, please visit http://writingthevision.com/rockofcashel.htm

Walking in Thin Places



What is a thin place? To discern the difference between an ordinary place and a thin place, one must use a spiritual perspective. In simple terms a ‘thin place’ is a place where the veil between this world and the Other world is thin, the Other world is more near.

This meaning assumes the perceiver senses the existence of a world beyond what we know through our five senses. Since the times of ancient civilization the fascination with the "Other world" has occupied human minds. To some it is heaven, the kingdom, paradise. To others it may be hell, an abyss, the unknown. Whatever you perceive the Other world to be, a thin place is a place where connection to that world seems effortless, and ephemeral signs of its existence are almost palpable.

Mahatma Ghandi in his Spiritual Message to the World in 1931, speaks of this.

There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.

Truth abides in thin places; naked, raw, hard to face truth. Yet the comfort, safety and strength to face that truth also abides there. Thin places captivate our imagination, yet diminish our existence. We become very small, yet we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.


The human spirit is awakened and will grow if the body and mind allow it. Simply put, a thin place is a place where one feels that indefinable mysterious power Ghandi refers to. Ghandi believed (and stated later in the same speech), that the mysterious power was God.

Thin places should not be confused with thin moments, those being times when that mysterious power is felt during a particular experience or synchronistic course of events such as the birth of a child, the return of a loved one, reconciliation with an enemy or spiritual awakening. A thin place is simply that – a PLACE where the veil is thin. The place itself calls you, draws you into itself, transports you into the presence of the world beyond this world. The thinness of place moves you into the presence of the mysterious power. There, all things you perceive through your senses are charged, electrified, illuminated with the presence of that power.

Describing the meaning of thin place is like describing love, fear, the feeling of holding your newborn child, the existence of God. All attempts are feeble and all talk is cheap. Understanding marries experience and full understanding is almost never achieved.

In truth, however, once you’ve been in a thin place and allowed your spirit to absorb that which transcends the senses, all need for definition ceases. Our spirits learn differently than our minds. All through our lives we walk through these places. Some people notice the thinness. Some do not. Yet the idea of "thin places" is not new. Memorials - made by humans - have been marking thin places for thousands of years. Ancient people, especially in Ireland and Britain were forever marking spaces as sacred and worth remembering, as if to say, "something special happened here."

You can look for thin places, but frequently they will find you. Most of the sites on this web site, though they are only a handful of the thin places I have visited and photographed, were recommended to me by others in casual conversation or a short note in a letter. Once you set your spirit on finding them - they will actually find you. There is an intrinsic, mystical spirit woven into the fabric of nature, landscape and sky that calls out to every human heart - if only the heart is willing to listen.

Thin Places are ports in the storm of life, where the pilgrims can move closer to the God they seek, where one leaves that which is familiar and journeys into the Divine Presence. They are stopping places where men and women are given pause to wonder about what lies beyond the mundane rituals, the grief, trials and boredom of our day-to-day life. They probe to the core of the human heart and open the pathway that leads to satisfying the familiar hungers and yearnings common to all people on earth, the hunger to be connected, to be a part of something greater, to be loved, to find peace.

May your spirit soar as you begin your journey into Thin Places.

St. Davids - a Thin Place in Wales


In the southeastern part of Wales lies the St. David's peninsula, and on it the town of St. David's, known to be one of the holiest places in in Wales. Named for St. David (FEAST DAY MARCH 1st) who was born around 520 and founded a dozen or so monasteries, this town of pilgrimage has been the destination of people searching for spiritual renewal since before the middle ages.


It is believed that St. David was born to his mother, St. Non not far from the town of St. Davids. Legend states that St. Non used supported herself on a nearby stone during the birthing of her son David. Afterwards, imprints of her fingers remained on the stone. Additionally, a well sprang forth from the spot where David was born, and runs still today possessing healing, sanctifying powers according to centuries of pilgrim testimony.


Today, the holy well can be visited and the birthing stone can be viewed. One can even place his or her fingers into the ancient imprints of St. Non.

In the town of St. David's, a Norman cathedral sits on the site, that David's original monastic settlement occupied. The cathedral houses the relics of St. David and many other artifacts of Christianity and local history. Edmund Tudor, grandfather of Henry VIII is buried in this twelfth century cathedral.

St. David's was the largest and most important diocese in medieval Wales. An episcopal residence was built near the cathedral and eventually expanding by Bishop Henry Gower in the early 14th century. This became known as The Bishop's Palace. It was an imposing structure, suitable for receiving high-ranking guests and dignitaries.


After Gower's death, the palace began to fall into disrepair. Eventually, the palace became obsolete, with the chief episcopal residence moving to Carmarthan, and it fell into ruin.

The ruins of Bishop's Palace quietly haunt the grounds near the cathedral.

Author, Brendan O'Malley writes, "To enter the land of David is to enter in the 'David Stream', that process of consciousness, which connects with the presence of otherness."

St. David's with its majestic Norman cathedral, its ruined Bishop's Palace, and its nearby holy wells, standing stones and high crosses is a testimony to continuing presence of the Divine - spanning the ages - always constant. This site, which predates all the other great monastic sites in Britain including Iona, Lindisfarne and Canterbury, has drawn holy men and women to it - and sanctified them connecting them to that which is on the other side - in the eternal world.


St. David died on March 1st around 589 - relatively old for his day.

The site where he built his largest monastery, in the town of St. David's and the surrounding Pembroke country-side dotted with holy wells and chapels are a remarkable cluster of thin places.

St. Declan's Ardmore - Ireland's First Christian Community

Ardmore is a fishing village in the Southeast of Ireland in just over the border from County Cork in County Waterford. It is the legendary home of St. Declan who is said to have come to Ardmore, bringing Christianity before St. Patrick somewhere between 350 and 420 AD.

St. Declan built a monastery in a high place overlooking Ardmore Bay. Ardmore from the Irish Aird Mhor means Great Height. The ruins of a 13 century church and 8th century oratory as well as a well preserved round tower dominate the hillside where St. Declan first settled and built his monastery.

As you drive up the hillside, the round tower - which stands over 90 feet high - roars up from the landscape. It's quite overwhelming at first. Just near the tower are the ruins of St. Declan's Church (12th century), and below that is the 9th century oratory where St. Declan is believed to be buried. These three architectural relics rise out of a sea of graves, occupying nearly every available ground space. Some markers are new, shiny granite, some old limestone with faded inscription, and some merely a jagged stone set atop a lump.

Faith - centuries old perhaps - pervades the space around St. Declans Church and oratory. Religious scenes carved in stone during the 9th century were preserved and moved to this church when it was built in the 12th century. The scenes - Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Judgment of Solomon, the Visit of the Magi, and more - were used to help teach the local community about the Christian faith. The oratory, still standing after 1200 years has been a place of private prayer and reflection. One needs only to be still in this religious compound and look out over the land and sea to sense the faith of men and women that has been nurtured and grown here.

The remnants of by-gone faith and human spirituality are not only in these buildings. There are unseen remnants - felt only in prayer here. All the elements here - the sky, the wind, the sea - seem brighter, somehow more vivid.

Ardmore is a thin place.

Adare - Ancient City in Limerick

Adare is a perfect "first town" to visit when arriving in Ireland not only because of its proximity not only to Shannon Airport, but to many sites of interest in Muenster and Leinster.

Adare is an estate village developed by the Earl of Dunraven in the mid-19th century. Its anchor was Adare Manor (home of the earl) which still stands - now a luxury hotel surrounded by a golf course with miles of walking trails. The town is well known for its thatched-roofed cottages, upscale dining and public park.

I went to mass at Holy Trinity Abbey, a former Trinitarian monastery (the only Trinitarian monastery in Ireland). The Trinitarians served here in the early 13th century. Their mission was to raise money for ransoms to free hostages captured by the Moors during the Crusades. The Abbey has a stain glass window depicting a monk with a purse, trading the purse for the chains of a prisoner.

On the grounds of Adare Manor - in the middle of the golf course are the ruins of a Franciscan Friary, founded for the Franciscans in 1464 by the Thomas, the Earl of Kildare. This magnificent ruin still has the remains of a cloister walk which traces a path around a giant yew tree.

I ate an exquisite meal at The Blue Door Restaurant on the Main Street, housed in one of the thatched cottages. I stayed two nights just outside of town at Elm House, a Bed and Breakfast run by Mrs Pauline Heddeman.

Thin Place?
Adare is a homey place - a hospitable place. The ruins of the Franciscan Friary I found to be thin. Tracing the steps of medieval friars around the cloister walk and up the stone spiral stairway was moving. There is a dry holy water font, relatively unchanged over the past five hundred years.

The Friary is is thin place.