Why Visit Thin Places? - Answers? Healing? Wisdom? Maybe.

What is the purpose of traveling to a thin place?

If thin places are those where the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thin... what, exactly is the draw?    People say after visiting - "A sense of peace washes over you" or "I feel closer to God."

Personally, I can feel close to God in church, in my home, or driving to work; and I can have a peaceful feeling wash over me when I take a walk.  So why are thin places any different that any other place where spirituality is exercised?  And what is it about these sites that draw generation of pilgrims and visitors back over and over to the same sites?

Remarkable things happen when you visit a thin place and allow your spirit to communicate.  Answers come to us, messages are relayed, strength is absorbed, healing happens.  We go to thin places for answers to prayers, for wisdom, for energy, for power to overcome or endure, to be healed.  We go there  because thin places are inherently charged with the Divine, and like a great well filled to the brim, the spiritual gifts are ready to be drawn out by the faithful.

These days, I mostly go to thin places to listen.

Caitlin Matthew in Walkers Between the Worlds (co-authored with her husband John) states that these two worlds are one reality - one existence with two sides.  We experience our physical world with our bodies and we communicate with our five senses.  But our souls communicate with the other world.  Every human being has a spiritual side.  This spirit moves and shifts in a different way.

Looking for coincidences or signs of synchronicity can be indicators of the two worlds communicating.  This happens all the time to me - and I don't always understand it.  But sometimes later - like pieces of a vast jigsaw puzzle - the coincidences and events begin to speak.  A journal is crucial for understanding what has happened, or trying to make sense of voices, the communications, the messages of the eternal world.

A few of my own experiences in thin places ....

  1. The man in the sand which I wrote about in a post last month about an experience I had in Dingle on Fermoyle Strand in the shadow of Mount Brandon.  Just after a silent (if desperate prayer), I looked across the sand and noticed an image of a man.

  2. The proposal of marriage I received at St Kieran's Cell in Clonmacnoise (skip down to the last long paragraph).  It was strange how this old man appeared, and strange how he began speaking to me right away and within minutes asked to marry him.  I wrote it down.  Only after reading my journals years later did I discover that he proposed on the same day that I met my husband - in the same place where my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.
  3. The rainbow over the lake on the Leenane Road - this happened while I was with two other people who were equally stunned.

There are so many more - the arrow on the stone at the Isle of Mull, the Mysterious Lady at Kincora, the sky opening at the Hill of Uisneach ... some day I'll write about all of these, but suffice it to say ... if you look for messages, listen for the voices, reach out for the signs - they will be there.

Many disbelievers will say it's all contrived.  No evidence will ever be enough to persuade the folks that there is another world.  But for those who are open, great spiritual growth awaits in thin places.

Consider going on our thin places tour of Ireland..  It will be a rewarding experience.

5 Must-See Thin Places in Ireland

Thin places are specific sites with a mystical quality - where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin.  Ireland is littered with these places - some are very familiar to the traveler like the Hill of Tara, Newgrange, Drombeg stone circle, Glendalough and Carrowmore.  But some are not so familiar and are a "must see" for the pilgrim traveler or those looking to connect with eternal world.

Here are 5 - not-so-well-known thin places in Ireland to include in your travel itinerary.

1. The Hill of Uisneach - County Westmeath

Believed to be at the geographic center of Ireland, the hill of Uisneach doesn't look much different from the other hills in Ireland.  One could easily miss it save for the signage that now identifies the hill and shows the traveler where to park.  From the crest of the Hill of Uisneach the views are magnificent.  Some say you can see 20 of the 32 counties on a clear day.  Ritual fires were lit on  Uisneach that could be seen from all the neighboring counties in the Irish midlands - and those fires signaled other fires to be lit in the farther reaches until ritual fires were burning all across the island from sea to sea. According to Cary Meehan, there is a well on the southern slope that is the source of twelve rivers.  All the energy lay lines of Ireland meet at Uisneach.  The hill is said to be the burial site of the goddess, Eriu from which Eire - or Ireland - draws its name.  She is buried beneath a capstone on the southwestern slope.

2.  Boa Island - Caldragh Cemetery - County Fermanagh

In the scenic county known for its lakes (Fermanagh) lies an ancient cemetery on Boa Island.  The cemetery is surrounded by hazelwood trees and well preserved.  The lumpy ground covering graves dating back centuries takes the pilgrim back in time, but not so much as the two stone figures that dominate the cemetery, and seem to follow the visitor into every corner.  The large statue stands about 3 feet tall and has a face and torso carved on both sides.  Commonly referred to as the Janus figure - Janus being the "all seeing" two-faced god who saw all things from the rising to the setting of the sun - the stone figure has a mystical quality.  It watches you.  There is no point in the cemetery that one cannot look over and see the Janus figure "watching."  A smaller figure known as the Lusty Man (because it was brought from Lusty Beg) isn't quite so imposing.  A friend of mine told me that if you bring a pendulum and hold it above each of these figures, the Janus figure will cause the pendulum to rotate clockwise while the lusty man causes the pendulum to rotate counter-clockwise.  Much history here.  Read more about Caldragh Cemetery in Five Keys to Learning from Thin Places.

3.  Coole Park - Home of Lady Gregory - County Galway

Though this 1000 acres which was formerly the estate of Lady Gregory is not associated with rituals, sacred rites or holy wells; it holds a mystical quality and a sense of time standing still.  Lady Gregory was an Anglo-Irish born woman who was known for her significant contributions to the Irish Literary Revival.  Her home here at Coole Park and the grounds were a magnet for writers, and they visited her often.  It was here that William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey - and many others carved their initials on the famous "autograph tree."  The tree still stands surrounded by acres of woodland and gardens.  The traveler becomes an image in that artistic, literary landscape. It makes me wonder if the landscape itself and its mystical quality fostered the creativity that grew here - or if the creative people consecrated the land leaving an imprint behind that still affirms, fosters and draws out the artistic talent of visitors.  Don't miss the museum.  It lays a great foundation of the story behind the park.

4.  Glencolumbkille - County Donegal

Glencolumbkille is a beautiful valley consecrated by St. Columcille (Columba) himself after he drove demons from this glen into the ocean.  St. Columba (aka as Columcille) was born near this area.  He began his holy ministry in Donegal and this valley, now known as Glencolumbkille is marked by spots of devotion known as "turas" where the pilgrim pauses, reflects and prays.  For centuries, pilgrims have traveled to Glencolumbkille and through acts of devotion, prayer and fasting have continued to consecrate this already sacred land.  An old poet wrote of Glencolumbkille...

"... echoes of the centuries' feet
That moved along the penitential stones
In all thy winds are sweet.
Here came my fathers in their life's high day
In barefoot sorrow, but God knows the whole:
Not for themselves they fasted, but to lay
Up riches for my soul."

5.  The Stone Circles along the Beara Way - County Cork

The southwest of Ireland is littered with megalithic and neolithic reminders of sacred spaces.  While many visitors take in the beauty of the Ring of Kerry and visit the Dingle Peninsula, few investigate the wonder of the Beara Peninsula.  There is an ancient road - known as the Green Road or the Beara Way that follows the peninsula.  It runs over mountains, through pastures and rocky fields and along the way are several stone circles - each set in a high clearing.  My favorite of these is Cashelkeelty Stone Circle.  Also along the way is Uragh stone circle and Ardgroom circle.  The peacefulness of the setting and timelessness of each visit are things the pilgrim never forgets. Take a day and visit the stones along the Beara Way.

NOTE:  The Stone Circles of Beara are on the Thin Places Mystical Tour to Ireland scheduled for May 15 - 24, 2011.  Book your spot now.

Moorehall in County Mayo - Ghosts of Writers

On a dreary winter day in February of 2007, my dear friend, author Michael Mullen of Castlebar took me on a day-long visit to thin places in County Mayo. We started early in the morning and ended the day at Moorehall. Pictured above, one can see the grand residence is but a shadow of its former self. The house was built by George Moore around 1795 on a hill overlooking Lough Carra. His son George II had a fondness for books and built a vast library at Moorehall that is said to have included a manuscript copy of the Annals of the Four Masters. The Moores were part of the Anglo Irish aristocracy and were later known locally as being sympathetic to the plight of the common man, and more benevolent to their Irish tenants during the Irish potato famine that others of their social stature.

George Henry (son of George II) oversaw the estate during the Great Hunger and spent much of his early life focued on horse racing.  He used the fortune he won in a particular race to provide relief to his tenant families.  Rents were commuted, and food distributed so that no family on the Moore estate was evicted, and no tenants died of hunger during the famine. George Henry entered Irish politics during his later life.  He died of a stroke at Moorehall in 1870.

George Henry's son, George IV had the heart of an artist and went off to study painting in Paris after his father's death in 1970.  He switched his focus to writing and became acquainted with many of the great European writers of the day.  My friend, Michael told me that George Henry entertained many writers at Moorehall... that Moorehall itself was a tribute to great thinking - great thinkers.

On February 1, 1923 the house was set afire by - as the Steward of Moorehall stated "an ignorant mob that don't know what they are doing."  All was lost including the grand library, including the copy of the  Annals of the Four Masters.  The mob apparently objected to the Moore family's stance on Irish liberation. Maurice Moore, brother of George IV hoped to restore the home one day, but died in 1939 before he could achieve any attempt and the estate was eventually given over to the government, who hold it today.  It is now a park with beautifully forested walking trails.

Why did Michael take me to this place 84 years after its destruction?  He explained that this was a place where beautiful thoughts led to creative concoctions in literature. Some places lend themselves to the freeing of the mind.  This is one of them. It's funny that I've known Michael for years and read many of his books, my favorites being The Hungry Land and Kelly.  Michael is known today for being a great writer of Irish children's literature and more currently books written in the Irish language.  The piece of Michael's writing that most impressed me was Croagh Patrick, a Perspective where he produced my favorite quote about thin places.

On this arid summit, where the winds blow hard, where no root takes hold, where distance seems infinite and heaven close, the spirit is tested and replenished, for the pilgrim had reached a thin place, where one steps into the highest dimension of one's existence.
But for all I knew of Michael, I really knew nothing of his past.  On our walk through the woods around Moorehall, Michael told me about his life.  All the intimate details poured forth.  What a wonderful story it was too.

I came to Moorehall with an old friend, unfamiliar with that particular landscape or the story of the family that once lived there.  While there, Michael and I became images in the same landscape occupied by the Moore family, their tenants, their friends, their visitors and the mob that destroyed the place.  The separation of time and space was minimal.

We left Moorehall, not as old friends - but as "soul friends" - Anam Caras.  Thin Places are fertile ground for moving closer to those around you.

References used for this article include the commentary of Phillip O'Reilly, a descendant of the last Steward of Moorehall. Photos by Mindie Burgoyne - Copyright 2007, All Rights Reserved. Used only with permission.

The Man in the Sand - Dingle in the Shadow of Mount Brandon

On February 20, 2007 I was traveling alone in Ireland, doing one final research trip for my book (still uncompleted) Thin Places; Celtic Doorways to the Otherworld. Most of this day was spent on St. Brendan the Navigator who was born near Dingle and is a local heroic figure.  I visited Ardfert, his first monastery, then Mount Brandon - the holy mountain named for him.

I was in a bad place personally when I wrote this travel journal entry. I'd been working on completing this book for years and I couldn't move myself forward. No amount of research could push me to completion. Every time I started, I stopped mostly from fear that I wasn't a good enough writer to complete the project.

This was also a day of miracles - or coincidences. You decide based on my travel notes below. There's something different about praying in a thin place, though. If you listen hard enough, you just might hear an answer.

Travel Journal entry - February 20, 2009 - Ireland, Co. Kerry

Mount Brandon – coming from the north road into Dingle after passing the exits for Castlegregory, I came to Fermoyle strand. Mount Brandon dominates the landscape on all the north roads.

Mount Brandon is the second tallest mountain in Ireland and at its base, St. Brendan the Navigator is said to have launched his fleet of curraghs to set sail for the Promised Land as revealed to him in a vision. Prior to the voyage, he spent time on this holy mountain-top in reflection and prayer similar to St. Patrick’s retreat on Croagh Patrick.

To say the scenery here is breathtaking would understate. It's magical. The dismal sky and drizzle offered a blue-gray backdrop, but allowed just enough sunlight to illuminate the vivid green fields dotted by sheep at the base of the mountain. Down on the strand the wet sand at the shore is firm - almost like slate. The waves rush in and then Atlantic sucks the surf back out almost a half a mile - leaving various shapes in the flat sand. I was the only one on the strand. The only human image in that landscape.

As I walked the strand, I was thinking about what I had just read while sitting in the car waiting for the rain to subside. It was an article about thin places written by a well known, best-selling author. Though I loved this author's works of short fiction, I was disappointed in how sappy and trite this piece was. The writer didn't respect the reader's intelligence or sensitivity about mystery, and overtold the meaning. The work left me feeling the writer was trying more to project a sense of spiritual superiority than unfold the mystery of a thin place. Knowing that this writer's talent and capability was well respected in literary worlds, I allowed my lack of confidence to swell ... and my hope for finishing Thin Places to shrink.

So I continued my self-piteous walk on the strand in the shadow of Mount Brandon. I turned and noticed a pale light hanging over the reek. It was most likely cloud matter, but the reluctant sun reflected what little rays it could push through the clouds onto this whiteness, and the impression was amazing.  I was moved to pray.

With a great sense of inadequacy I turned to God, there on the strand, beneath the lighted Mount Brandon and said aloud, "If that successful writer can publish schlock like that, surely I can write Thin Places. God grant me the gift of being able to write well enough to move people and courage enough to finish this book."

Just as the words escaped my mouth I looked down at the sand. There was an image  created by the receding waves. It seemed to have a head, body, legs, and its right hand was extended with what looked like a flower or a box or something. It looked like a faceless man in a cloak. The figure startled me. I snapped photo after photo, wondering how much of this was real and how much was my imagination. What did that mean?

If the angelic cloud illuminating Mount Brandon followed by the man in sand wasn’t enough, I turned to find coming out of the northern sky over the Atlantic, a rainbow descending from the clouds into the sea. Rainbows are so ephemeral ... here one minute then gone the next. This rainbow didn’t fade. I went back to car and began to make the fifteen minute drive up to Brandon Point. The rainbow remained. At every turn, at every bend, the rainbow was there. It was even there when I made the wrong turn and went to Brandon Pier instead of Brandon Point. When I finally got to the Point it was more vivid then before had finally stretched across the entire sky framing The mountain and the point. Once I climbed the first station of the mountain, it faded away.

Caitlin and John Matthews remind us that we communicate with our five senses in the physical world, but we communicate with our spirit in the spirit - or eternal world. They also give us insight on how to perceive coincidences or that phenomenon Carl Jung called synchronicity - the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Here's a quote referencing this from their book, Walkers Between the Worlds.

"... synchronicity... is actually an instance of an exact match between the fabric of our world and that of the Otherworld. While we normally dismiss such an occurrence as coincidental, in looking more deeply we can see the exact correspondences between one world and the other."

The eternal world or spirit world or Otherworld is one side of reality while our physical world is the other. But together they show us one world, one reality. A thin place brings us face to face with these two sides of one reality, and our prayers - our conversations with the Creator are whole and enjoy a sense of completeness.

Fermoyle Strand and Mount Brandon are thin places. At the time I was experiencing the above mentioned synchronicity in Dingle I didn't understand what any of it meant. Thus the importance of journaling and taking photo images. As we grow in spirit, so does our understanding.

All Saints Day - My Top Ten Friends in Heaven

You can't have too many friends. Earthy friends provide companionship, a listening ear, advocacy, advice and support. Heavenly friends can do the same - and today - All Saints Day - is the day we remember everyone in the Communion of Saints, or those who live in the Divine Presence of God.

Why Pray to the saints? The Church never meant for Christians to pray to the saints to use heavenly or godly powers to grant wishes. Prayer to the saints was meant to call on an advocate, gain spiritual support and provide spiritual companionship. The saints are sensitive advocates who pray with us making our prayers stronger.

Here are a few of my favorites:
  1. Mary Mother of Jesus - Our Lady of Knock appeared to a group in the town of Knock in 1879 and remained there silently for hours. Message? Listen with your heart.
  2. St. Anne - Jesus' grandma. Grandma is one of my favorite roles.& My grandma's name was Anne and so is mine.
  3. St. Anthony of Padua- never fails me.  My dearest buddy in heaven.  Anthony was such a great orator and preacher that they say the fish in the sea used to come to the surface to listen.  My favorite quote by Anthony, "Be like the sun.  Shed light and warmth."
  4. St. Therese of the Little Flower - another dear friend who was a reluctant writer.  She was ordered to write her memoir and she did so with great angst because she loathed the process of writing.  Her writing was published in book form after her death.  The Story of Soul has sold millions and changed many a life.
  5. St. Brigid of Ireland - One of the few women in the church to be ordained a bishop.  Brigid is also the patron of hospitality and an open home.
  6. St. Brendan on Clonfert - the Navigator, patron of travel, tourists and tour guides... please, I need him so badly. :)
  7. St. Columba of Iona - love Columba because he was rich, used his power, was humiliated and then in disgrace, went into exile where he changed the world in his humble efforts.
  8.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta - my favorite quote by her ... and I heard this myself when I saw her at St. Bernard's Church in Riverdale - "I see more smiling faces in the poor streets of Calcutta than I do in America.  Americans are rich in sorrow and despair."
  9. St. Francis of Assisi - known to most for loving animals, known to many as seeing the great flaws in the church and rebuilding it through service and humility.  Perhaps the greatest teacher since Jesus.
  10. St. Aidan of Lindisfarne- the patron saint of communications - known for his humility. When a brother returned to Iona after narrowly escaping death when trying to convert the heathens of Northumberland to Christianity Aiden commented, "You offered them meat when they were only ready for milk."  Then Aiden traveled the same path and built up the serving community at Lindisfarne.
Who are your favorite saints?

The image above is St. Anne, mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus - painted by Quentin Massys c. 1507.  The original art is now in Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

St. Ciaran's Clonmacnoise - Crosses, Tombs and Ruins on the Shannon

I've been to Clonmacnoise three times. The visits spanned nineteen years, and were each marked by a milestone in my journey through thin places - where the eternal and physical worlds mingle.  I received a marriage proposal at Temple Ciaran, and years later celebrated a wedding anniversary in the same place, though not with the man who offered the proposal.  Clonmacnoise was my first thin place experience.  I was brought there by an old mystic whom I'd known since childhood. Today, even with some age on him, this old bard named Howell McConnell still gives me insight into the places where the veil between this world and the next is thin.  Howell set the stage for my first otherworldy experience before we ever got to the site, by telling me the stories of St. Ciaran, St. Finian, St. Enda, and St. Kevin.

Located between Meath and Connaught, Clonmacnoise (name means "meadow of the sons of Nos") is city of ancient monastic ruins resting on the banks of the River Shannon. The monastery was founded by St. Ciaran somewhere between 543 and 548.  Ciaran is recognized as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland - 12 men (including St. Columba and St. Brendan) who studied under St. Finian of Clonard.  The last High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor is buried in the cathedral at Clonmacnoise (now ruins).  The cathedral, built by one of the kings of Tara is known for its carving of Sts.Dominic, Patrick, and Francis of Assisi above one of the arched doorways.

Perhaps Clonmacnoise is most famous for the three high crosses.  Known as the Cross of the Scriptures, the North Cross and the South Cross, these carved masterpieces, which date back to the 9th and 10th centuries, are safely secured away from the elements in the Clonmacnoise museum.  Life-size replicas are strategically placed on the monastery grounds giving the visitor and pilgrim a  feel for how the crosses may have appeared ten centuries ago. The high crosses are a common focal point in photographs taken by visiting tourists and pilgrims.

Castle ruins haunt the western landscape of Clonmacnoise, and just past the castle, down the road a bit is St. Ciaran's Holy Well, now renovated with a sturdy banister and stairway.  Clooties have been left near the well and are tied to a nearby bush... signs of pilgrims who came to well to be filled, healed, renewed.

The tales of Clonmacnoise set the imagination in motion...Tales like St. Ciaran's vision of a large tree sprouting by a river in the center of Ireland, then growing so large that it shaded the entire country and offered abundant fruit, some of which was carried away by birds to foreign lands.  I love the story of St. Ciaran crossing the River Shannon and claiming the Clonmacnoise grounds as a place of resurrections, where many souls will depart for heaven.  Sadly, St. Ciaran himself left the world shortly after claiming the ground.  At the age of 33, he died probably from the plague which was ravaging Ireland about that time and had already claimed the body of his mentor Finian of Clonard.  Though Ciaran got the monastery started, he didn't live to see it in all of its glory as one of the largest monastic cities in Ireland - probably second only to Armagh, which was the original seat of the church - where St. Patrick himself sat as bishop. 

There's a small church ruin near the cathedral with walls that lean inward and a very shallow curved doorway.  This building is known as Temple Ciaran and is believed to be where the saint was buried.  There's a tale that tells of Ciaran, knowing he was about to die, begged for his brothers to fetch his beloved friend Kevin from Glendalough (known now as St. Kevin).  Kevin arrived three days after Ciaran had died.  The brothers had locked Ciaran's dead body in the church.  When Kevin entered Ciaran lifeless body revived itself long enough to have a visit with his soul friend. St. Kevin performed the burial ceremony, then left to return to the monastic community that he had founded in Wicklow - Glendalough. Ciaran went to heaven. 

Clonmacnoise is a magical place. I came there the first time with a sense of wonder, hearing the stories of Ciaran and wondering why the place felt so magical.  I was a young mother, successful in my career and looking at new ventures - and was strangely drawn to Ireland.  Clonmacnoise was my doorway, my entry into mystical Ireland.

When I returned seven years later I was a widow.  My husband died a little over a year after that first visit to Ireland.  I was in a bad place emotionally raising three teenagers by myself.  As I stood near Temple Ciaran, a man probably in his eighties approached me and began to talk.  He said he was a farmer and lived nearby.  He had never married and had a lot of land but no children to leave it to.  I told him I had three children and had lost my husband five years earlier.  The old man asked me to marry him. To him marriage seemed to be a beneficial arrangement.  He'd get a wife, I'd get to live in Ireland, and my children would inherit his lands. Though I'd been single for more than five years and was struggling to raise three teenagers alone, I politely passed on the offer.  The man, who told me his name was Patrick asked if I would take his picture.  I did and I still have it in an album somewhere.  He's leaning against the slanted walls of Temple Ciaran. I recall after he left looking out across the River Shannon feeling like God was having a little chuckle at my expense.  I had been praying for the right man to come along... it was the prayer of my heart at that time. "Is that all you have to offer?" I said.  In checking my journal notes, that day in Clonmacnoise was April 18, 1998.

On April 18, 1999 I met Dan Burgoyne.  We were married exactly five months later.

My third trip to Clonmacnoise was September 18, 2010. I was with my husband on a trip to Ireland celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary.  I stood with Dan in the same spot I had stood with Patrick eleven years earlier.  This time my prayer was a little different, though the sense of the Divine Presence was just as strong.

Thin places are like that.  The God you seek seems so much closer.  Answers to prayers seem a little clearer, and conversations with the Divine, though the language may not be words, is ever richer.

Flickr photo stream of Clonmacnoise photos

Excellent Article Ciaran's Clonmacnoise - by Edward Sellner

What are thin places?

The most commonly asked question by visitors to my Thin Places blog or my Who Cares What I Think blog is "what are thin places?" or "how do you identify a thin place?" Thin Places are places where the eternal world and our physical world meet and mingle.

I didn't coin the term, and it is widely used by mystics and those who write about Celtic Spirituality. The term thin place comes from the pre-Christian culture in western Europe - particularly Ireland - and refers to a place where the veil between this world the "other world" or the "eternal world" is thin. Old tales tell of people and beings of the other world being able to pass back and forth between worlds in thin places.

Every person will identify a thin place differently. I can only share my own way. A thin place is sensed differently that our present world - you cannot see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, or taste it. Our sense of a thin place transcends the physical limitations of our five senses.

I sense a thin place in two ways.
  1. I feel a strong sense of the past still present in the place.
  2. I can hear God more clearly than in any other place - the sense of Divine Presence is very strong to me.
To me thinness has degrees - yes, some places are thinner than others.
Among the thinnest I've experienced
  1. Rock of Cashel - Ireland
  2. Glastonbury - England
  3. Knock - County Mayo Ireland
  4. Cashelkilty Stone Circle - Ireland
  5. Kilshannig - Ireland
  6. Isle of Mull - Scotland
Why would anyone want to visit a thin place?  Because it exercises your spirit, makes you more in tune with your own spirituality.  Prayer seems more powerful.  Answers come more readily.  The sense of peace is overwhelming.  

My article Walking through Thin Places goes into greater depth on spotting and sensing thin places.
Are there thin places in America? Sure, but I find them here and there scattered over large land masses. In Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, the very ground cries out with them at every turn - every town.

St. Gobnait and a Place of Resurrection

In the early 6th century when Gobnait fled her home in County Clare, she went to Inis Oírr. We don’t know why she fled, only that she believed she would find refuge in the Aran Islands. Legend states that an angel appeared to her there and told her that her place was not on Inis Oírr, and instructed Gobnait to go on a journey – to seek her true place of resurrection. “Go until you find nine white deer grazing” the angel told her. “It is there that you will find your place of resurrection.” So Gobnait wandered about the southern coastal counties of Ireland – Waterford, Cork and Kerry – searching.

She saw three white deer in Clondrohid and followed them to Ballymakeera where she saw six more. But it wasn’t until she came to Ballyvourney to a small rise overlooking the River Sullane that she saw the nine white deer all together - grazing … just as the angel from Inis Oírr had prophesied. She crossed the river and settled there. She founded a religious community for women, performed memorable – some say miraculous works, and it was there she died and was buried.

February 11th is St. Gobnait’s feast day -the day her memorable life is celebrated. She is one of the few Irish saints that is not only remembered in her native region, but has been proclaimed by the Irish bishops to be a national saint. There are shrines and places of devotion to St. Gobnait in all the places she is believed to have stopped on her journey - including Inis Oírr. But Ballyvourney, where she carried out most of her ministry, is the place that draws the greatest number of pilgrims devoted to this saint.

Today there is an active church on the former monastic site. St. Gobnait’s grave and marked spots around the churchyard are places where pilgrims pause for devotion and reflection. It is here that they can do the “rounds” or turas, always moving in a clockwise direction – a tradition that has pagan roots. One of the strongest mystical draws on this site is St. Gobnait’s Holy Well, with its arched entryway that takes the pilgrim into a deeply shaded path. Just next to the well is a sturdy tree, and hanging from it are hundreds of tokens or clooties that have been placed there by pilgrims hoping to leave behind a part of themselves or loved on in need of healing. There are taps and cups available for drinking from the well or for pouring into personal vessels to take holy well water home.

St. Gobnait was best known for her care of the sick. There is a legend that tells of her staving off the plague from Ballyvourney by drawing a line in sand with a stick and declaring the village “consecrated ground.” Inside the church today, there is a medieval (possibly 13th century) figure of St. Gobnait which is kept in a drawer. Every year on her feast day, the parish priest brings out the figure to celebrate a devotional tradition. He holds up the ancient figure and the faithful each step forward with a piece of ribbon. They hold the ribbon up and measure it against the length and around the circumference of the figure, then take it home as a blessed relic used for healing or further devotion.

A tall statue of St. Gobnait that was erected in the 1950s stands near the monastic site. She appears with a nun’s habit standing on a bee hive surrounded by bees. Gobnait is the patron saint of bee keepers, and there are several legends recalling Gobnait forcing invaders out of Ballyvourney by setting swarms of bees upon them. It’s probable that Gobnait had a close relationship with bees and used honey in healing efforts.


Dan and I visited St. Gobnait’s monastic site many years ago. It is indeed, a thin place. The stories of St. Gobnait specifically mention a “place of resurrection.” I heard Dara Molloy use this phrase when referring to his home on Inis Mór and have seen a few authors reference the phrase. But regarding thin places … a place of resurrection is the pinnacle – that place where one’s spirit is totally whole, at home, with no longing or yearning to be anywhere else. A place of resurrection is not only the place where one’s spirit will resurrect from its lifeless body upon death, but also the place where that spirit is most alive inside the living body. And I believe that a place of resurrection is the spiritual home where one is most completely alive and able to create, to discern, to prophesy … to be wise.

The connection between the eternal world and the physical is nearly unidentifiable in a place of resurrection – as they are knitted together in an inextricable pattern where neither can be separated from the other. The place of resurrection then is unto itself the combination of both worlds particularly suited to that specific spirit. … and Ballyvourney was St. Gobnait’s place.

What is yours?

Image of St. Gobnait courtesy of Patricia Banker; Copyright by Patricia Banker, All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

Thin Places Mystical Tour of Ireland

I'm planning a 9 day trip to Thin Places in the South of Ireland this May. It will be an intimate group of 20 people. All accommodations will be arranged, and we will travel to over 20 sites on a small tour bus. There tentative itinerary is below.

Stops will center around places associated with Celtic spirituality and mysticism, but will include other activities and time on your own for exploring the towns.

Sites include Newgrange and Knowth, Dublin sites, Kildare, the Rock of Cashel Ardmore, Cork sites, Drombeg Stone Circle, Gouganne Barre, Kenmare, Beara Peninsula and Dingle. 

TOUR DATES - MAY 16 - 24, 2010 - 8 Nights

If you have an interest in attending or want more information please visit the Thin Places Tour webpage and view the itinerary.  Land package is $1920 per person (based on double occupancy).

Your Trip Includes- thin places tour
  • 8 nights in premiere town-center hotell
    • Double, Triple & Single Occupancy available
  • All hotel taxes/fees
  • Airport Transfers to/from city centers while in Ireland
  • Transportation via luxury coach between towns & for daily touring
  • Traditional full Irish breakfast every morning
  • 5 Dinners (4 Dinners d’hote, 1 Dinner Show- Irish House Party)
  • Full time host & guide – Mindie Burgoyne & Private Driver
  • Emergency Tenon Tours Contact available 24/7
  • Complete offering of optional tours for purchase in Dublin
  • Welcome party in Dublin & Farewell evening in Ennis
  • Daily Private Tours of Thin Places to include sights such as:
    • Newgrange
    • Knowth
    • Kildare Cathedral
    • St. Brigid’s Holy Well
    • Holy Cross Abbey
    • Hore Abbey
    • Rock of Cashel
    • Ardmore
    • St. Declan’s Cathedral & Holy Well
    • Skibbereen
    • Drombeg Stone Circle
    • Kinsale
    • Beara Peninsula
    • Dingle Peninsula
    • Gouganne Bara
    • Gap of Dunloe

Land Price = $1,920 per person*, double occupancy – Save $50 if you deposit by February 12th!

$50 Group Discount once group reaches 14 travelers

Tour Limited to 20 spots.  Enrollment deadline is March 15th

Payment Terms = $250 deposit** required per person to lock in current rate, balance/full payment due 60 days prior to departure.

For full itinerary and booking instructions visit the Thin Places Mystical Tour Website.