My husband and I were married on September 18th in 1999. Shortly after our wedding, we took a three week trip touring Scotland, Wales, and England with the final 10 days in Ireland. For our ten year anniversary we decided to take a short trip to the country we love so much - Ireland - and to find the perfect place, the perfect thin place, to renew our vows.
Ireland holds a specific charm for us, but we seldom find ourselves where most of the tourists go. Many visitors enthusiastically pace themselves for visits to pubs, breweries, the Waterford factory, the occasional museum, a furious jaunt around the Ring of Kerry, kissing the Blarney Stone, and endless shopping. But we prefer the thin places, those places where the eternal world and the present world seem to mix, often hidden behind the tourists' landscape. Usually marked by some kind of stone or ruin, thin places have been thin forever, and for centuries have drawn the human spirit to rest in their benediction and unfold in their comfortable, nonjudgmental presence.
Of the sites we chose to visit this trip ... some were old familiar friends like the Burren, and others were new to us, with enchanting surprises, always welcoming. But the visit isn't the draw for us. While the sites are interesting and in many cases relaxing due to the unparalleled beauty of the Irish landscape, it's how we are changed by the visit that continues to draw us. Thin places do that. They facilitate a change within, sometimes subtle, sometimes not.
It is the travel and the visit to the thin place that evokes the change, especially when one travels as a pilgrim, that is - travels within the context of a story. A pilgrim learns the story of the destination and also carries his or her own story. The pilgrim travels humbly with full consciousness of personal vulnerabilities, whatever weighs heavy on the heart. For in thin places, one gains comfort, and sometimes answers. Creativity flows, friendships deepen, faith is strengthened. Thin places are the perfect garden where the gifts of the spirit thrive and are cultivated.
Dingle, Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Clonfert, Castleruddery Stone Circle, Luggala, Thoor Ballylee, Coole Park and Kildare were all stops on this trip, as were visits with new friends and remembrances of old friends. On day five we experienced the warm welcome of Maya Hanley, someone I'd met via Twitter and Facebook. Prior to meeting her I felt I had known her for years from her social media entries... a great writer, Maya. She introduced us to Guinness heir, Garech Browne and Chieftain's musician, Paddy Moloney. On day two we spent the day in literary thin places. Day four was to be a non-thin place day. Dan had never seen Dublin City with Trinity College and the National Museum. But when it came to carving out the time for it he said, "Let's just do what we always do." And we did. We went instead to Glendalough, the ancient monastic city. And each day thereafter we were led to and discovered new places - new thin places. We became images in the most sacred landscape, and found each other again and again.
When we left for Ireland, I had no official plans for our renewal of vows. I figured it would all work itself out ... and it did - perfectly, on day three. To prepare I printed out three copies of our 1999 wedding service, packed a bag with some clothes, maps and several guide books and headed off to Philadelphia Airport for a 9:30pm flight across the Atlantic. We arrived at Shannon Airport early Wednesday morning... and began day one of our six perfect days in Ireland.