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.