We are Pilgrims on this journey to Ireland. On Pilgrimage, we touch the holy of the past to allow the light of faith to enter and enliven our present. In the light of the events and people of our past, we can gain new insight into our present-day lives in our world. The rich heritage of this ancient land, where people have appropriated Christian faith in a unique culture, and steadfastly struggled and suffered to maintain that faith, is spread before us in these holy sites that we visit.
The highlight of our first day is the Abbey of Clonmacnoise, which was founded in 544 by St. Ciarán (Kieran), and by the ninth century became one of the most famous centers of religion, learning, craftsmanship, and trade, visited by scholars from all over Europe. Clonmacnoise is from the Irish Cluain Mhic Nóis, “Meadow of the Sons of Nós”.
This 5-minute video has some lovely views of the present-day monastic site and the river Shannon from the air. They will help to get familiar with the place before visiting it.
The following two videos on Clonmacnoise are excerpts from an Irish Radio-TV (RTE) documentary, “The Secret of the Stones.” (I wish I could find the whole thing online. Fascinating.)
Our second day begins with a visit to Knock, where we will celebrate Mass in honor of Our Lady. The name comes from the Irish, Cnoc Mhuire, “Mary’s Hill.” This brief 18-minute documentary gives you what you need to understand the significance of this holy site.
After Knock, we visit Ballintubber Abbey, which celebrated its 800th-anniversary last year. (Irish: Baile an Tobair, “settlement of the well”) It is said to be the only church in Ireland founded by an Irish king that is still in regular use. The abbey has several modern outdoor attractions, including a very modern abstract Way of the Cross, an underground permanent Crib, and a Rosary Way. There is a small museum.
This 2-minute video has some nice aerial views to orient you to the site, while the next one is a very informative 10-minute on its history.
Book of Kells
It is believed that the Book of Kells may have been either started in Iona and finished in Kells or written entirely in Kells by successive generation of monks.
The Vikings continually raided the abbey during the 10th century and it was repeatedly sacked and pillaged. Despite the constant raids, the monks managed to keep the Book of Kells intact until 1006 when it was stolen from the shrine, but returned soon after without its cover. The force of the removal of the cover probably explains the missing illustrations at the beginning and end of the book.
The book was stored in the abbey for the remainder of the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, details of land charters for the abbey were copied onto blank pages of the Book of Kells as was common practice for the period. This is the earliest confirmed reference to its presence at the abbey. Later in the same century, the monastery was dissolved with the abbey becoming a parish church and the Book of Kells continued to be kept there. Catholic landowners acquired the land.
The Book of Kells remained at Kells until the 1650s when Cromwell’s troops were stationed in the town. At that point, it was sent to Dublin for safekeeping. In 1661, the Book of Kells ended up in Trinity College, Dublin where it has stayed ever since.
These videos are a good introduction, but I suggest reading as much as you can about it. Wikipedia is a good place to start, and it has links to other sources.
A brief introduction:
An hour-long documentary in seven parts:
Kildare (Irish: Cill Dara, “church of the oak”) is Brigid’s town. Rich in heritage and history, it dates from the 5th Century, when it was the site of the original ‘Church of the Oak’ and monastery founded by Saint Brigid. This became one of the three most important Christian foundations in Celtic Ireland.
It was said that Brigid’s mother was a Christian and that Brigid was reared in her father’s family, that is with the children of his lawful wife. From her mother, Brigid learned dairying and the care of the cattle, and these were her occupations after she made a vow to live a life of holy chastity. Both Saint Mel of Ardagh and Bishop Mac Caille have been credited with the consecration of Brigid and some companions, after which the woman established a community beneath an oak tree, on a hill on the edge of the Curragh. Hence the name Cill Dara, the church of the oak.
Not too far away, on Dún Ailinne, lived the King of Leinster who had donated the site to the holy woman. A story told was that the King had offered Brigid as much land as her cloak would cover. When she spread her garment it miraculously stretched out to embrace the entire Curragh. True to his promise, the King gave her the fertile plain, and there the new community grazed their sheep and cows.
Glendalough (Irish: Gleann Dá Loch, “Valley of two lakes”) is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland, renowned for an Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, who was reputed to have lived 120 years.