Sights worth seeing

Sights worth seeing
Prayerful Ireland

by Helena Connolly (Messenger Publications, €19.95)

This richly illustrated book (mentioned briefly at Christmas time) is worth a longer notice, for as the summer days draw out (hopefully) the places she mentions may well be worth a visit.

Her approach is suggested by the cover itself which shows an unusual view of Lough Derg, looking out over the saints beds across the grey water to the bleak mountains: it epitomises so much of the long and complicated history of the shrine.

Throughout the book she manages to see things, shrines, scenes, sites, holy wells and little churches, all with a fresh eye. The mood is one of seeking a spiritual resonance, rather than mere tourism; not that Lough Derg is a place for mere tourists.

This book is not so much about seeing, as seeing sights, in the very largest sense. Her text is in three parts, dealing with the roots of faith, treasures of light, traditions of prayer, and lastly, but very much not least, praying today. She covers a wide range of places from recently created medication centres back through the centuries to Mass rocks, holy wells, ancient monasteries, and Patrician sites.

The photographs, which evoke the quietness of these places, are beautifully composed and created by the author herself. (The book is dedicated to that master of photography Fr Frank Brown SJ.)

The key to much of what is shown and what is reflected upon is summed by an extract from a 9th Century poem: Ba sí in chrích fom – themadar eter lissu lánn locán álain eladglan, os mé m’óener ann.

This was translated by the scholar Gerard Murphy as: “Let the place which shelters me amid monastic enclosures be a delightful hermit’s plot hallowed by religious stones, with me alone therein.”

Alone except, of course, as the monk would have thought, for the presence of God and his saints.