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.


  1. great description of that which transcends us between the physical and spiritual world..thanks for sharing. Nice piece

  2. Anonymous5:55 PM

    Confirmation for me :)