• Going on Pilgrimage – Book of Lismore

    Going on pilgrimage without a change of heart brings little reward from God. For it is by practising virtue and not by mere motion of the feet that we are brought to heaven. – Book of Lismore

    This quote has been placed at the beginning of Tóchar Phádraig at Ballintubber Abbey establishing a meaning of pilgrimage which draws on the early Irish Church. I have referenced this quote in numerous public presentations and it is a sort of definition of pilgrimage that really resonates with people. It nicely combines the idea of pilgrimage as a physical journey and a spiritual/emotional (or meta-physical) journey.  As I have previously discussed, pilgrimage involves a number of characteristics that distinguish it from other types of travel and this quote captures that idea well. Pilgrimage is a type of meaningful movement, a journey or undertaking of significance, one that takes shape in doing, feeling and believing.

  • Prayers, Waves, Reverberations: An audio engagement with phenomenal pilgrimage

    My second paper at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2014 is part of the ‘Postgraduate Snapshots: Engagements in Social and Cultural Geography‘ session, which explores the different ways in which postgraduates are (co) producing social and cultural geographies through their research, collaborations, methods and encounters. Each participant presents a ‘snapshot’ (an image, object, media clip etc) of their research in a creative and interactive way.

    Prayers, Waves, Reverberations: An audio engagement with phenomenal pilgrimage
    Using an audio clip of pilgrims praying in St Patrick’s Basilica on Lough Derg in northwest Ireland, I consider how the aural and acoustic induces, enhances and disorientates the phenomenal and spiritual experience of being a pilgrim. My research, informed by the mobilities field and nonrepresentational approaches, explores pilgrimage practices in contemporary Ireland. An audio recording taken during the Night Vigil on Lough Derg, where pilgrims stay awake for 24hrs fasting and praying barefoot on a lake island, captures a portion of the atmospheric and sensuous as they unfold. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork, I present the sounds and audio waves, which reverberate with meaning and experience, as being simultaneously created and received, embodied and asomatous, ethereal and material. Speculation on conceptual and practical approaches to and challenges for the use of audio are also offered.

    My presentation centres on a continual playing of the audio clip, to generate suitable atmospherics, as I verbally offer context, comment and speculation. In foreground the use of audio, I shall build on the increasing role for audio, sound and the sonic in social and cultural geography.

  • Ireland’s Holy Mountain: symbiosis, co-existence and tensions on Croagh Patrick

    My first paper at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2014 is within the session Sacred Space, Pilgrimage, and Tourism which looks at sacred space through the areas of the sacred, such as pilgrimage/theology/spirituality/belief systems, and the more secular, incuding tourism/leisure/promotion/visitor behaviour. My contribution is on Croagh Patrick.

    ‘Ireland’s Holy Mountain’: symbiosis, co-existence and tensions on Croagh Patrick
    In this paper, I examine Croagh Patrick, Ireland as a space that is simultaneously sacred and secular, political and recreational and of the past and present. This mountain in County Mayo, which has been the location of religious-spiritual activity for millennia, serves as one of the most prominent pilgrimages in Ireland, as well as being a venue for hill-walkers and tourists. Recent engagements with sacred spaces, being influenced by phenomenological and non-representational approaches, have conceived of them as being performed or in continual a state of becoming. Using my fieldwork experiences on Croagh Patrick, I explore how the different practices on the mountain create it as a space of devotion, leisure, protest and charity in ways which can be complementary, synchronous and frictional. By focusing on the embodied spatial practices, consideration is given to how these interactions form and forge meanings, places and participants.
    Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday

    Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday

  • Spiritual Directions

    Brass Compasses, Iran, 1800-75. V&A Museum No: 574-1878; 762-1998; 307-1887

    Brass Compasses, Iran, 1800-75. V&A Museum No: 574-1878; 762-1998; 307-1887

    These beautiful brass compasses on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum reminded me of the importance of direction within Islamic Prayer. These compasses would have been used to establish the direction of the Ka’bah in Mecca, or the Qiblah. The cases contain engravings of the coordinates for Mecca from different cities in the Islamic world.

    This feature of Islamic prayer is a very clear example of a spiritual or religious geography. In this case, there is a very literal connection between location and faith. These compasses hint at the efforts that individual Muslims most undertake to perform their faith. The requirement of regular prayer necessitates that each person must have an awareness of directions in their daily lives. As a geographer, this rich connection between belief and location is fascinating.

  • Máméan Pilgrimage

    Máméan is a mountain pass pilgrimage located in Galway between Connemara and Joyce Country. The traditional pilgrimage is practiced on the first Sunday in August, linking back to the Celtic harvest feast of Lughnasa. Pilgrims walked, sometimes barefoot, from either side of the Maum Turk Mountains to the site. St Patrick’s Bed, two holy wells and a number of leachtana are the focus of older customs, while more recently a revival of the pilgrimage has involved the performance of the Stations of the Cross and the saying of mass.

    The more recent additions of the small chapel and the statue of St Patrick stand next to the grotto containing St Patrick's Bed.

    The more recent additions of the small chapel and the statue of St Patrick stand next to the grotto containing St Patrick’s Bed.

    Pilgrims circling on of the leacht at the site. They throw a stone into the centre after completing their rotations.

    Pilgrims circling on of the leacht at the site. They throw a stone into the centre after completing their rotations.

    Tobar Phadraig or St Patrick's Well, one of two wells on the site. It is rounded as part of the pattern.

    Tobar Phadraig or St Patrick’s Well, one of two wells on the site. It is rounded as part of the pattern.

    The cross leads the pilgrims around the site, with prayers, reading and singing at each station.

    The cross leads the pilgrims around the site, with prayers, reading and singing at each station.

    The group following the cross in completing the Stations of the Cross

    The group following the cross in completing the Stations of the Cross

    These photos were taken during the 2012 pilgrimage.

  • 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!”.