All posts by richard

  • An on-going prayer

    Rotating and kneeling, flow and pause, the intentions of the pilgrims immerse and emanate in this prayerful event: performing the Penitential Beds on Lough Derg.* The movements, gestures and bare feet call out in silence, a scene of activity, harmony and stillness.

    One of the aspects I find most appealing are the patterns of movements. Rotations around and within each bed continually being performed and punctuated by pauses. This beautiful, unfolding scene is an ongoing prayer. A prayer that continues every day throughout the summer.

    A certain reassurance radiates from these events, reminding me that all through the pilgrimage season (1st June-15th Aug) there are pilgrims praying on Lough Derg. Praying for personal intentions but also more universal themes of peace, well-being and hope. They are praying for me, for you, for us all. While I go about my daily life there are people praying the beds, as I eat they are fasting and every night as I go to bed, I think of those pilgrims preparing to undertake their Vigil. On a small lake island in Donegal, while we rest, they keep Vigil.


    * This short video clip of pilgrims on the beds, taken from the roof of the male dorms and enhanced through a Vimeo filter, captures some of the unique character of St Patrick’s Purgatory.

  • Lines

    Lines are traced and followed, made and extended, grooved and lived. I’m concerned with the lines of the pilgrim path. Using the ‘Pencil Sketch’ function on MS Powerpoint I altered some fieldwork photos taken while walking Tóchar Phádraig as part of different groups over the past few years as a way of exploring the role of lines. Starting with the literal lines of the images rendered as drawings, I wish to explore the others lines and meanings present.

    Robert Stoddard, in his 1987 article Pilgrimages Along Sacred Paths, explored the geography of sacred space as points, lines, or areas, with the lines category referring to the routes of travel of activities associated with religious motives. This classification draws attention to the line itself, that is the pilgrim path in this cases, as having significance, rather than being a mere route to a sacred site (spot). Elsewhere, the anthropologist Tim Ingold, in his book Lines: A Brief History, explores the potential of the line as movement, through the concept of wayfaring.  The line is a pathway, it is movement, it is the means through a person engages with the surrounding environment.

    Through a few (geo) poetic stanzas I trace some thoughts on lines in this pilgrimage. I wonder where they will lead?

    TP Lines
    A row setting out
    Near departure, pace emerging
    Movements and motions linking each person to the next
    Each person is the line
    Leading and following, a common rhythm, an alignment
    Pilgrims as line

    TP 3 Lines
    The path is active
    It has been walked and will be walked
    Stretching across the boggy terrain
    A trackway towards the Reek,
    but also approaching other places
    Lines roaming out, in and beyond

    TP 2 Lines
    Sweeping, reaching, gliding
    The path, the land, the pilgrims are spaced
    Each line mingles and flows
    The path is landscape, landscape is pilgrim, pilgrim is path
    All are lines

  • Within the Well

    St John 1

    Clam and shade on a sunny late June morning. June is the time to visit St John’s Well. Trees encase the site, as the beehive structure encases the well itself. Noises drift in from out of sight, while rays of sunlight piercing the canopy catch the broken glass spread across the ground, asserting the space’s hosting of other activities. A small flow of water gently emerges, the water which restored sight and started veneration. The edge of the well, the small rectangular entrance, is the cusp. The exact point of significance, the well water is accessed here before flowing off, the sacred diluting into the profane.

    St John Inside 1

    Within the well another realm awaits. An inner sanctum, the tabernacle within the church. Reaching down to collect, to drink or bless draws you into this sphere. The cooling ambiance of the water, the reflections onto the vaulted walls, sparkle and shade on rock, moss and mould. Inside the beehive structure is reminiscent of subterranean consistency. It is calm here, removed from that which is outside. Temperate, dusky and muted; perhaps it always is.

    The steady dripping of the water is a further layer of consistency. It captures an essence of the place. Always present, known but unobtrusive. It invites reflection and appreciation. The water – the substance of the well – emerging from the earth, gathering and flowing. It quietly splashes and echoes about, the reverberations affirming the chamber. Water sounds defining purpose and giving space.

    Within the well remains. A steady emergence: earth, water, well.

  • Three Geographies walk into a bar

    Political Geography, Geomorphology and Economic Geography walk into a bar. Each of them is boasting about how great they are and how they do more work than the others.

    Political Geography explains how it deals with upheavals, coups and oppression, all the most serious and grueling of matters. Geomorphology strenuously objects! It looks at uncomprehendingly powerful forces that shape the very surface of the earth across time, that is real hard work.  Economic Geography is having none of it. It insists that the volatility of the markets, and the chains of production and consumption are truly the most challenging things to study.

    The barkeep looks on bemusingly, when a new geography walks in. Suddenly the three geographies, each proudly boasting its merits, go very quiet and shy away to a far corner. The other geography orders a sandwich and drink, leaving soon after finishing it. The three geographies make their way back to the bar. “Hang on now,” says the barkeep, “each of you were going on about how great and tough you are, but you were all terrified of that geography! What’s up with that?” “Don’t you know?” replied Geomorphology, “That was Psychogeography!”.

  • Path Croagh Patrick

    Path: Croagh Patrick
    Flesh & surface meet
    Foot & rock slide
    Belief & tradition imprint
    A pilgrimage, for some


  • Lady’s Well, Cork: Renovations

    I had previously commented on the deteriorating state of Lady’s Well in Cork city. Thanks to works by Cork City Council* the site has been cleaned up and new structures have been put in place around the well. The necessity for grids over the well may be seen as unfortunate, but will not impinge on the well excessively as does not seem to be used for religious-spiritual reasons. These additions will ensure the preservation of the site and perhaps a revival of devotional activity in the future?

    DSC_0847 DSC_0854


    *I had raised the matter with one of my local representatives, Kiernan McCarthy (, who has done significant work in promoting Cork’s heritage.

  • Votive Offerings at St Brigid’s Well

    Whenever I’m in the Burren or the north-western part of Clare, I try to call by St Brigid’s Well near Liscannor. It is a wonderful site complete with a marvelous collection of votive offerings, for which it is known, in the grotto leading to the well.

    The vast collection of offerings which fill the grotto leading to the well.

    The vast collection of offerings which fill the grotto leading to the well.

    Votive offerings are beautiful objects each of which as an intention behind it. It has been left there for a particular reason by a person who firmly believes in the power of the place and the saint and the benefit of partaking in this custom. While some of the intentions may appear obvious, others relating to seemingly odd items are shrouded from everyone except the believer and the saint.

    The grotto spaces is crammed full of offerings, with every conceivable space being used to leave and insert items.

    The grotto spaces is crammed full of offerings, with every conceivable space being used to leave and insert items.

    Initial fascination with these objects, is replaced by curiosity, concern and speculation on their intentions. This is a rich material-based cultural practice, linked both to Catholicism and folk customs, but it is also people’s lives. Dreams, despairs, anxieties, losses and a host of deeply personal motives are materialised. Accordingly, regardless of your beliefs they and the place should be treated with respect.

    A small bible (wettened from the exposed spae above the well), with rosary beads inside, sits next to a whiskey bottle filled with some of the (presumably) well water.  The rest bwetween a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a cushion.

    A small bible (damp from the exposed space above the well), with rosary beads inside, sits next to a whiskey bottle filled with some of the (presumably) well water. The rest between a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a cushion.

    A collection of offerings hanging from the ceiling, including rosary beds, miraculous medals and a feather.

    A collection of offerings hanging from the ceiling, including rosary beds, miraculous medals and a feather.

    The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.

    The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.

  • Troll Hunter

    Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren), a Norwegian film from 2010, is a dark fantasy story which uses the ‘found footage’ style (popularised by the Blair Witch Project) to explore the world of trolls in modern Norway. It is a quirky fun film which weaves fieldwork, folklore, conspiracies and the Norwegian landscape together. The story follows three students whose research on bear poaching brings them in contact with Hans, who works for the Norwegian Government’s clandestine organisation (Troll Security Agency) that controls the troll population.

    Conceptually, it explores how folk creatures would be dealt with if they were real and in doing so builds on legend while applying modern understandings. For example, UV lights reacts with trolls’ calcium making them solid, or exploding, which provides an explanation for why trolls turn into stone in daylight. However, this process also undermines and dismisses modern knowledge by reintroducing the folkloric into the present. One way Hans checks for troll activity is to examine rocks in the landscapes, the result of trolls battling each other,  for any recent changes. This builds on tradition which explains natural features, such as stray rocks or glacial erratics, as being the work of supernatural  being (in the case of Ireland giants are responsible for random patterns of odd rocks), which counters geographic explanations of physical forces that  shape the landscape. When legend becomes real, realities and accepted understanding become fractured in different ways, but they are also brought to bear on the legendary.

    Elements of the research process are part of the story, even if told in broad strokes. Firstly, the students respond to what they find in the field, abandoning the bear poaching story to pursue the much more enticing, and (fatally) dangerous, troll scoop. While obviously being a dramatic and unrealistic change is does capture a sense of what it is to be researching and the necessity to make decisions that have consequences for your work, as a result of what you find. Secondly, there are questions of access and permissions with Hans initially refusing to talk to them and warning them off, only for him to later agree that they can film him and his work, once they agree to do what he says (including covering themselves in Troll ‘scent’); however, Han’s superior Finn Haugen is not happy with the project and tries on several occasions to have them stop. In realty this is a ethical nightmare, but it does show how greater questions concerning the importance of revealing an important story can come in conflict with practical and ethical issues.  Thirdly, they persist. Even when one of them is killed, they continue, once a new camera-person arrives that is!

    The Norwegian landscape is also a prominent aspect of the film, with shots taking in fjords, tundra and forestry, giving a sense of the Scandinavian lands. The rough and sparsely populated regions  are set up well as the potential locations for trolls.

    Whether you are curious about trolls or some of what I said resonates with you, I’d firmly recommend the film. Perhaps, it may inspire you to go on your own folkloric or Scandinavian adventure?

  • Conferencing 2014 (1): AAG and PGF Midterm

    My conference season for 2014 opened with two back-to-back conferences, which were very different in many ways.

    Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers – Tampa
    The AAG is one of the largest geography conferences, attracting geographers form all over the world. Due to the scale of the event in terms of location and sessions, I would recommend that you forge your own way through the event, making careful plans as to what you want to get out of it. The conference app did make planning much easier, allowing you to highlight sessions and plan a daily schedule. Also, if you see someone you want to talk to do so there and then, as you may very well not see them again!

    Tampa Convention Centre

    Tampa Convention Centre

    Tampa Convention Centre on the river side

    Tampa Convention Centre on the river side

    I had co-organised a session with Dr David Butler (Geography, UCC and the Irish Ancestry Research Centre, UL) entitled “Routes and Rootedness in Sacred Landscapes”. I would firmly recommend this approach if you do not come across sessions of interest to you. With the large numbers involved sessions can get lost and papers which are only tangentially related can be clustered together. Also, it is very rewarding to be involved in organising a session and shaping a forum around a topic of interest to you.

    Following our call for papers, we had sufficient interest to run two sessions which had many excellent contributions. In different ways many of these papers spoke to each other and hopefully added to ongoing discussions surrounding sacredness and space. For my part, I was very happy with my paper and its reception, with several very helpful comments and conversations following.

    Session Abstract: This session aims to engage with sacred landscapes as fractured spaces, being located at the confluence of the past and present, the physical and spiritual, the practiced and believed. As Dewsbury and Cloke (2009, p. 698) have recently outlined, there is a ‘tension between what is solid, present, corporeal and material and that which inheres in the material as something mysterious, elusive, and ethereal’. In building on research over the past decade, which has explored ‘how place is sacralized’ and de-sacralization (Kong 2001, p.213), we are eager to examine sacred landscapes, both theoretically and empirically, as arenas of tension which are continually unfolding, most obviously between the sacred and the profane, but also between new movements and established faiths, development and preservation, presences and absences, materiality and immateriality, stability and change. Papers are invited which address sacred landscapes as spaces that are rooted – historically, geographically, ethnically – and routed – performed, practiced, evolving. In doing so, it is intended to consider how these spaces are affected by socio-cultural, economic and political changes that create clashes and apprehensions through multiple discourses and actions from established religions, alternative faiths, emergent denominations, Secularism, civil authorities, indigenous peoples, commercial developers, tourist industries and security services.

    The session papers:

    • Alyson Greiner (Oklahoma State University): Sacred Space and Globalization: Constructing an Intellectual History
    • Ruben Camilo Lois-González and Xose Santos (USC): New and old pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago
    • Richard Scriven (University College Cork): The Emergence of Liminality: Pilgrims, place and practices at Lough Derg, Ireland
    • Edward H Davis (Emory & Henry College): The spirit made flesh: Jazz performance and sacred space
    • Anton Gosar (University of Primorska): Western Society’s Heritage In Focus By Asian Visitors
    • Lance F Howard (Clemson University): A Labyrinth for Clemson? A project-based inquiry into place apprehension.
    • David J Butler (University College Cork): An unlikely harbinger of pre-/early Christian ritual: The Church of Ireland and its churchyards
    AAG Session: Routes & Rootedness in Sacred Landscapes

    AAG Session: Routes & Rootedness in Sacred Landscapes

    As part of the conference, I attended the meetings of several of the specialty groups. Myself and seven others joined the board of the welcoming Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Group (GORABS). I’m looking forward to working with them over the next year on matters related to the religious/spiritual and the spatial.

    Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Specality Group Meeting

    Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Specality Group Meeting

    RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum (PGF) Mid-Term Conference
    The annual midterm is a wonderful conference run by postgrads for postgrads. The midterm two years ago in the University of Nottingham was the first academic conference I spoke at and it was a excellent supportive and stimulating environment. This year was no different with the more relaxed and egalitarian atmosphere helping participants present their work and share experiences. In particular, discussions around methodologies, ethics and the practicalities of research tend to arise, which especially useful as these areas tend to be overlooking in academia, or at least sidelined. I would highly recommend the conference to any geography postgrads.

    My paper on the role of audio in my research and as a geographic methodological tool was very well received. It seemed to prompt numerous discussions and comment throughout the conference, which was reinforced by a workshop I ran with Emma Spence (PhD Candidate, Cardiff University) and Dr Robin Smith (School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University) on Innovative Methodologies. I discussed the role of audio and other more-than visual methods in which the use, potential and challenges of these approaches were trashed out.

    Midterm Opening exercise

    Midterm Opening exercise

    Midterm Conference Dinner

    Midterm Conference Dinner

    Abstract for my presentation:
    Journeys through/with/of sound: using audio in explorations of the embodied, experiential and immediate aspects of pilgrimage
    This paper presents an audio engagement with the embodied practices of pilgrimage as a means of exploring and speculating on the corporeal, experiential and momentary aspects of these spiritual performances. Over the past 20 years, the role of sound, audio and the sonic has been increasingly appreciated as being central to spatial experience and the creation of place. While human geography tends to remain ontologically and methodologically orientated towards the visual-textual, numerous geographers have argued for and demonstrated the opportunities offered by engagements with the aural sphere. My research applies developments within the mobilities field and nonrepresentational approaches to the study of pilgrimage practices in contemporary Ireland. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork, I present a collage of audio recordings to access the interactions, entanglements and tensions between self and setting in the performance of pilgrimage. I consider how the sounds, which reverberate with meaning, provide a means of linking the present and absent, the embodied and immaterial, the earthly and spiritual. In concluding, I speculate on the conceptual and practical approaches to and challenges for the use of the audio in research, writing and disseminating.