Winter winds hold back spring. While venturing out for some evidence of early spring colours, it was evident that the weather forecast was accurate, the "milder" Arctic temperatures on the back of persistent easterly winds have kept spring under wraps for now.
For a photographer out and about in early morning light, the back of the hand and the tips of my fingers quickly tell me the biting winds work quick.
Clonmore sits in the north east of County Carlow a few kilometres from Hacketstown. The remains of its ecclesiastical site contains some clear markers from its ancient period around the 5th century. The village now would betray an earlier time of great activity in work, learning, and travel to and from this place.
The road south of the village has this site either side, where its ancient granite cross stands, ‘topless’ as a silent sentinel. A little further along from the cross we find a well marking what was an ancient place of connection, and the expectation of healing or recovery. Across the road there are a community of unmarked graves neatly place in rows, archaic and more recent. A few metres down from here sits an ancient Bullan Stone by the roadside, since well before Patrick.
Some historic annals consider at least some of these graves to be the final resting place of a few 6th century monks or abbots: a few of which are named as St Meadoc, St Finan the Leper, St Stephen, St Terno, St Lassa, St Dinertach, St Cumin, St Onchuo and St Brogan Cloen (who it's said wrote a poetic record of the life and miracles of St Brigid, here at Clonmore).
Clonmore Ancient and Church site. Well and Reflection spaces at Clonmore.
In spite of the realities of life, its struggles, uncertainty and often real risks, perhaps some of these Clonmore monks recognised themselves as ‘ikons' in the world where the divine inhabited them and they in turn forged connection with each other, in community and on pilgrim journey. These early Celtic Christian journeys, offer us a beautiful picture of tender, persistent, human connection as well as a profound reminder of the divine, present and powerful in all of us, even today.
‘Anamcara’ means the soul-friend; where an intimacy exists that loves the other as well as deeply respecting their wisdom. An honest, yet affirming space, this sense of anamcara helps each make peace with themselves, with others, with creation, and indeed with the passage from this life. Over time, these special soul ties of mentoring and strengthening contributed to the 'becoming' of each person, undergirded and nurtured by the energy of God's presence.
Ed Sellner in his book, 'Spiritual Mentoring', says that the Christian Celts found in their anamcara, a friendship that often brought profound change, be they male, female or even angelic. In this relationship was the compassionate ear, the challenging word. They were aware that God is close to those that speak as friends do, heart to heart.
Maybe the gathering together of these people, these friends, at places like Clonmore, sharing work, worship, wisdom and the life of a pilgrim, resourced them to also share anamcara. Maybe for us, it is something lost, yet to be found?
You can never love another person unless you are equally involved in the beautiful, but difficult spiritual work of learning to love yourself.
"Who we are, coming into the world (the who and the gift and beauty that we bring), sometimes needs another pair of hands to hold a mirror before us to see with ‘fresh eyes’ how God already sees us." John o Donohue, Anamcara
Dereen river near Hacketstown a few mile form ClonmoreSunrise in Winter near Clonmore
Director David Lean chose this picturesque location for his 1970 film, 'Ryan's Daughter' starring Sarah Miles in the title role and Robert Mitchum as the school teacher who becomes her husband. The movie is set in a remote Irish village in the highly politically charged period of 1916. Sarah Miles was nominated for an Oscar for her role. In his role of the village idiot, John Mills attracted no shortage of criticism, but ultimately won him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.
The film was not without its production problems, both natural and human! The rugged Irish weather proved a challenge and some of the beach scenes were shot in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as Inch Beach in Kerry. However, when Lean wanted a dramatic Atlantic storm suitable for the script, he had to wait for a year. When the storm finally appeared, actor Leo McKern was injured (lost his glass eye!) and claimed he would never act in film again! In actual fact, he was true to his word for a few years and steered clear of film work, but made the most of his TV career, eventually starring in Rumpole of the Bailey.
Among the cast, there were also some stormy times. In the script, Sarah Miles' character Rosy has an affair with a British major visiting the village, played by Christopher Jones. These two cast members famously did not work well together, despite having to share multiple love scenes. According to film folk lore, Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles conspired to drug Christopher Jones in preparation for the pivotal love scene in the forest. They accidentally overdid it, so Jones was almost unconscious during filming!
The location itself serves as an evocative backdrop to the turbulent times, both political and personal. Cinematographer Freddie Young won an Oscar for his skilled filming of what was already a dramatic site. The movie was filmed in and around Slea Head and Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula in the county of Kerry on the west coast of Ireland. A small village was established for the shooting of the film which was demolished afterwards, however the school house, central to the story, remains.
Whenever I visit, it is clear to me why Lean chose the Dingle Peninsula for the film. It's natural sense of drama and classic example of wild Irish landscape made it a character all of its own.
Just four kilometres north west from Carlow's town centre on the way to Knockbeg we find Sleaty. Standing in a small field near the edge of the river Barrow stands the remains of a 12th-century monastic site. Amongst the ruin here are two artifacts that most likely are the remnants of the early christian site from around the 5th century. One of which is an unmistakable long plain granite stone cross that stands head and shoulders above the gravestones and markers from much later times. The other artifact stands near an entrance to the main structure, a rough granite font weather-worn over many centuries, again it may had pride of place in the earlier 5th century site. The early Celtic Christian site stood mostly as a wooden structure with mortar and clay and some stone in its make up, hence no longer remains.
The 5th century landscape here as in so much of what was Ireland then was heavily forested native woodland, providing lots of raw material for much of the building needs. Within this landscape, there were no real roadways, just pathways and track, and the rivers made the essential 'main highways' to move people and goods. This part of South Leinster was then known as Hy- Kinnselach along the river's edge.
Places like Sleaty emerged out of the woodlands as a place of rest, safety for the traveller and pilgrim. These early monasteries served as focal points not just for religious observance, they formed living communities of work, learning, writing, music, and often formed part of the path to far off destinations. Moving through such landscape over whatever distance the journey, especially for the early Celtic christians, was also a journey of heart and mind. Themselves, the landscape and all its seasons and songs along with ease for a divine presence both transcendent and immanent was essential to any journey.
Patrick and Fiacc and names associated with this little site at Sleaty. It was to become the Seat of the Bishop of Leinster in the late 5th century. However these two names while on their own pilgrimage's found themselves at Easter time, or there abouts on the hill at Slane with charge of the Pascal fire. The fires at Slane competed with the ancient druidic fires of spring equinox on the hill of Tara and its seat of the High Kings of Ireland. That competition ended peacefully with Patricks ability to entreat the Celtic hearts and minds to adopt the new faith into their already deep spiritual lives.
Fiacc remained an important figure and presence in the Landscape, Lives, and faith community in South Leinster. Based at Sleaty his reputation was one of wisdom, humility, learning and work. His name is retained as a strong identity with the local parishes at Graiguecullen and Killeshin, where the early less organised Celtic Church has strong meaning.
Reflection: "Though the human being is born complete in a moment, the human heart is never..." Anam Cara. john O Donohue
Killeshin, Glean Uiseann - of Ossain, Uissin - the Bard - son of Fin Mac Cumhail.
When we pause and Reflect in Places like these, we may discover new thresholds for our own life's journey.
Thresholds can offer powerful symbolic knowledge helping us to encounter the beauty and voice of ourselves in fresh living ways. Often opening new possibilities, new beginnings, new beginnings.
Killeshin's ancient site finds its setting in the lovely Killeshin hill about four miles west of Carlow town. Existing as a place of community, learning, and presence since around the early 6th century. However, with its presence, the existing stream and rath nearby was also a partner in all that was sacred and special in this place even earlier in our local ancient culture. Small granite stonework elements remain of the 6th-century place amongst this late 11th-century monastic site. However, it retains a very beautiful example of Irish Romanesque architecture and artwork from around 1041. It remains a powerful symbol still of thresholds even amongst ancient ruins.
Diarmaid was the first abbot here followed by Comgan who is said to have been son of the sister of St Columba, no less. Near his passing, it is said he asked for the female Abbott St Ita to come to Killeshin pray with his and close his eyes on his death bed. It is recorded that Mugen an abbot here in the late 6th century was an instructor to Laserian of Leighlin in Sacred writings scripts and in the travels to open new places of learning eventually off this island.
Localities such as these give a sense of an ancient world, and of the organic Celtic heart and minds of our ancient race. A spiritual life was not a structure of building, beliefs, creed, tradition, and place. The Spiritual life resided inside humanity and its journey in the here and now, often gaining access to the invisible through what was visible.
This Ancient world had at its heart the Celtic sense of Belonging, and connection. The Tribe, its community and families and the life to be lived, including all of the realities of both life and death, formed part of belonging. However, the search for connection with the Natural, created world around gave recognition to another sense of belonging. It was one of a larger world, where life flowed from its visible sense to its invisible and back again. Over time such observations placed humanity as a key player, yet not at the centre of all things. There was a much bigger story unfolding in us and all around us. The Divine was present, Transcendent, and Immanent. We ourselves were more than our tactile sense, we in ancient woods, streams, and hallowed places were on our own journey through this life. We had a measure of ourselves beyond circumstance, appearance, or position. We bore sacred life within. It was a thread woven in us and through us. We too were transcendent beings, journeying.
However here we are at this little place on the Killeshin hills. As you stand looking at the remains, stonework and indeed the detail of the Romanesque architecture Nearby within 100 metres is a rath and stream that have been present long before even the faint remains of the 6th-century life here. Maybe here too the local Bard, the local chief, and the prophetic Druid marked this space as sacred, and significant to the life of the locals. Incidentally, the stream has a holy well, but I forget the name associated.
The Important Romanesque doorway which in the early morning or lit by a westerly sun presents a beautiful threshold. The arch and its artwork can serve as a place to stand. Standing to notice the warmth of sunlight, how the stonework is revealed, in shapes and textures, the geometry, feel, the light and shade. Notice too how it feels to stand in a doorway, a threshold, in an in-between space.
John O Donoghue in his wonderful book Anam Cara on the Celtic heart and soul comments for us, 'Our senses are thresholds for the soul' (p84)
and he also reflects that; 'The Celtic world is full of immediacy and belonging' (p14)
If you're still standing here's a little reflection. : As you stand in a threshold (seen or unseen) ponder the mystery of yourself. Reflect not so much on, Who am I ? but on WHO I AM. Namely the uniqueness of your own person. Do you have faith in yourself, in your greatness?
More soon K
Killeshin Romanesque Doorway.Ancient Spaces in Carlow.
Early morning looking east from Killeshin looking toward the Black stairs. Irelands Ancient East in Carlow.
Romanesque Doorway Killeshin Co LaoisPictorial/Local interest/Editorial/Landscape
Killeshin Church and Romanesque Doorway. as rain showers clear.Ancient Spaces in Carlow.
Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces.
For its size Carlow and its hinterland has one of the largest numbers of ancient and sacred places, anywhere in Ireland. It is said that a significant number of saints, scholars, pilgrims travelled to, from and within this county, not only major monastic and learning centres within Ireland such as Armagh, Clonmacnoise, Ferns, Clonard, but onward to Scotland, England, Belgium, France and beyond.
Here in the landscape of these ancient ruins we find the echoes of an era when the Celtic heart and mind recognised 'Spirituality' as something that was at the heart of humanity. This is very different to later times where we sought spiritual experience in the external form of traditional religion, that would later become strongly institutionalised and eventually leaving humanity outside the gate.
In his book, Celtic Christianity Timothy Joyce comments that Celtic spirituality was about sensing the passionate presence of God in all the ordinary events of life: love, eating, working, playing. In uncovering some of the life journeys of the ancient ordinary men and women, we now call saints , their prayer lives,and also the medieval poets, they ask us to notice that everything we experience is grace and blessing.
Joyce suggests, Part of the aim of Celtic Spirituality was to bring to consciousness the holiness of every moment.
These ancient places are now simply ruins, for the most part in farmland, left behind, decayed. They represent a bit of history, a bit of archeology, a bit of religious life; some are still associated with the 'Saints' through feast days, prayers, relics, stained glass imagery, traditions and folklore. But in this day and age, maybe they have simply become irrelevant.
However it looks like our Celtic ancestors knew a lot more about living from the heart, and yet being strongly grounded in the real world. They managed to live with a deep awareness of themselves, their environment, their story and spiritual presence.
The Ancient Spaces Project is hosted by Teach Bhride at Tullow. This project will not only explore the who and the what of the ancient sites in this locality, but also the ability of our ancient forerunners, to live in vibrant awareness of life’s journey. Vibrant, because in the midst of the very ordinary struggles of life - meaning, significance, and belonging nourished life’s journey ; no matter the weather.
The project will develop opportunities to explore these ideas with presentations, site visits and more.
“The Celtic world is full of immediacy and belonging.” John O’Donaghue, Anam Cara
More soon Keith Dowling
Romanesque Doorway on Ancient site at Killeshin, near CarlowRain showers clear at Killeshin ancient site. St Moling Monastic Site at St Mullins, Co Carlow.St Mullins and St Moling Ancient sites at St Mullins Co Carlow. Part of Irelnds Ancient East 2018. Killoughterane Church Fenagh Co Carlow.Ancient Monastic site near Black Stairs Mountains, part of Irelands ancient east in Carlow. Standing Stones at Crosslow Tullow Co CarlowNeolithic sites in County Carlow. Part of Irelands Ancient East. Standing Stone near Ardristan, Tullow Co Carlow.Neolithic sites in County Carlow. Part of Irelands Ancient East in Carlow. Sleaty Ancient site on the Barrow near Graiguecullen.St Fiacc and St Patrick associated with Sleaty in its Early Celtic period.