All posts tagged Place

  • Places, without people

    This photo was taken while all of the pilgrims were attending evening mass on Lough Derg. At this time, the Penitential Beds are devoid of people (except in this case myself). I began thinking about the nature of place without people. The Beds are usually a hive of activity, with people walking around, kneeling and praying; but, here they are still, quiet, deserted. This place now feels completely different, like walking city streets early in the morning or being in an empty sports stadium. While the structures and constructed elements remain, the character that living, moving humans give a place is absent. This changes the place, not necessarily making it less or more, just different.

    The Beds, Lough Derg

  • The Lough, Frozen

    The Lough

    The Lough (pronounced lock) is one of Cork city’s most well known features. It is a freshwater lake, with a selection of birds and fish, that serves as a centre of recreation. December 2010, when the photo was taken, was first time I’d ever seen it frozen, with the abnormally cold temperatures that winter causing many freak events. Until then, I never thought, I would actually see the Lough like this. The place has been forever changed, maybe enriched, after this, I am always aware of the potential changes that exist within the waters.

    Reflecting from a much wilder winter, I am struck at how relatively minor temperature fluctuations have significant impacts on our understandings and experiences of place. Although my preference for human geography has involved me moving away from climatology and meteorology, it is still important to acknowledge the power of physical forces in defining and shaping our worlds.

  • The Geographers

    They move freely among you; but, there is no cause for alarm. They are, generally, a pleasant, inquisitive and benign bunch. Despite your conceptions, almost prejudices, they are not what you think. Lima, Ulan Bator and Ottawa are not a chief concern of theirs (well not for the reasons you think), neither necessarily are interlocking spurs and V-shaped valleys (although, they may be for a few). They will, however,  refer to place in reverential terms. It is invoked and received with much agreement in their gathers. But, they also have a vast array of other particular words in their lexicon: esker, talus, flâneur, hetertopia, hydrofracturing, and cultural landscape, to name but a few.

    They are a curious and diverse collective. Some look up at the skies, others wander the coastal zones, many cluster in cities, while more talk to farmers, or parents, or, even, the homeless. They measure and observe. They wear body warmers and hard hats. They carry notebooks. Notebooks filled with insights, sketches, diagrams and scribbles.

    They care; about the planet, about people, about life, about the future. Read this carefully, for you may be able to identify one – a colleague, a friend, a loved one, a stranger on the street – and read even more carefully, and you might discover you are one.



  • The Sounds of St Gobnait’s Well

    As part of UCC’s Doctoral Showcase – an annual event which encourages research students to develop innovative ways to communicate their research to non-specialists – I developed a short video which intends to convey a sense of place through the use of sound and images. I used a collection of audio recordings and photos from St Gobnait’s in Ballyvourney to make the video.

    The showcase presentation also involved members of the audience engaging with the place tactily as well, through the distribution of rosary beads, stones form the site and water from the well; although this isn’t possible here, I feel the video still goes a long way to giving a solid glimpse at St Gobnait’s. The sounds in particular – feet crunching gravel, stone scrapping against stone, water dripping – evoke the place and what it is to be there.


    P.S. I’ve previously blogged on Podcasts & Place and many thanks to my cousin Eilín for narrating the video.

  • Making Places Holy

    What makes a place holy? What are the features, criteria or origins surrounding a space that we use to decided on its sacredness? How does the origins of a place relate to its contemporary form? These are some of the questions that define the explorations of holy places.

    The first point to consider is that the idea of a sacred place is based on the concept that the holy or spiritual can become emplaced or embodied in a particular location. The spiritual, ethereal or otherworldly spheres are manifest or at least more easily accessed in these spaces, which therefore mark them out from the rest of the world. Although, I’ve previously written on the idea that this demarcation of sacred and secular spaces is not as strict as previously thought, there are still numerous locations across the world that are considered different and special.

    In many cases, the origin of a holy place lies in some event or intervation. A significant episode in the history of a religion occurred there (Jerusalem in the Abrahamic religions), a divine figure was known to have been there, a saintly individual lived there or an apparition or miracle happened there. Through such elements a place is given its sacred credentials.

    St Patrick's Bed, Croagh Patrick, July 2012: Although the origin of Croagh Patrick as a holy mountain is because of the stories that St Patrick spent Lent on the Reek, its contemporary role lies in the continuation of worship and practices over the centuries.

    St Patrick’s Bed, Croagh Patrick, July 2012: Although the origin of Croagh Patrick as a holy mountain is because of the stories that St Patrick spent Lent on the Reek, its contemporary role lies in the continuation of worship and practices over the centuries.

    However, it is the practices at these sites and the venerations there that sustain these locations as holy places. While the genesis of such sites may be attributed to the divine or sacred realm it is human activities that ensure their continuation. In visiting holy places, in treating them as a distinct special spaces and by engaging in specific rituals at these sites, people are making and re-making these places as scared spaces. Individuals, communities and religious organisations, therefore, have a central role in the creation and maintenance of holy spaces.

    This interpretation centres on a core idea of human geography, that people and places define each other. While there maybe be some otherwordly origins to these sites, it is the actions, ideas and believes of humans, sometimes over many centuries, that ensure the continued presence of these spaces in the landscape.

    Suggested Readings: 

    Belhassen, Y., Caton, K. and Stewart, W.P. 2008. The Search for Authenticity in the Pilgrim Experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 35 (3), pp. 668–689.

    Hughes, J. D. and Swan, J. 1986. How Much of the Earth Is Sacred Space? Environmental Review: ER, 10 (4), pp. 247-259.

    Kong, L., 2001, ‘Mapping ‘new’ geographies of religion: politics and poetics in modernity’, Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 211–233.

    Sacred Destinations

  • Holy Places: Islands?

    Where are holy places? And conversely are not holy places? Can there be such a thing as an anti-holy place (as opposed to an unholy place)? While these may seem like questions with obvious answers, they actually touch on larger ideas that are worth exploring a little.

    In general, the Western conception of holy places, following Judea-Christian and Greco-Roman thought, is that holy places are distinct special spaces. That is, holy places are like islands of sacredness in the surrounding secular world. They are marked out from the rest of the world and are treat differently. This strict demarkation is found in ancient Greece shrines to the gods or in the traditions concerning the Hebrew Temple. Although, Christianity was initially opposed to the concept of holy places – as it was a universal faith not to be restricted by either location or ethnicity – it gradually took on these ideas, for example the ideas of monasteries as being separate from the rest of the world.

    This schema is still a well-established contemporary concept. Equally, it can be present in descriptions of natural or new age sites of spirituality whereby certain locations are deemed to have a special character, that they are in some way closer to another plain or sphere of an other, the spiritual or the divine.

    Stalls selling holy items in Knock a Marion apparition pilgrimage in the West of Ireland. It shows an intermixing of the sacred and the profane.

    Stalls selling holy items in Knock a Marion apparition pilgrimage in the West of Ireland. It shows an intermixing of the sacred and the profane.

    However, some academic discussions of holy places are proposing that we should not treat the profane and the holy as being disconnected. On greater consideration, it can be seen that there is a blurring and entwining of the two spheres.  No space can be entirely one or the other. Sacred spaces frequently contain commercial areas, with the larger religious sites having vast industries centred on them; for example, the stalls found lining the streets of pilgrimage sites or souvenir shops in famous Cathedrals. Conversely, profane spaces have numerous religious and spiritual elements: streetscapes are filled with religious iconography or names and airports and hospitals contain prayer rooms and chapels. Moreover, perspectives which see nature and the natural world as inherently sacred disrupted simple dichotomies.

    Word Cloud generated at

    A way of viewing the intermixing of the sacred and the profane in the world. Word cloud generated at

    Like, many aspects of contemporary thinking, a scale or a spectrum might be a more suitable way of conceiving of the sacred and profane, or, at the very least, a venn-diagram. Models based on clear categories are being increasingly challenged, not necessarily because the modern world is any porous or mobile than before, but because we are increasingly recognising that it was always so, in some ways anyway.

    Possible Readings:

    Gesler, W.M. 1996. Lourdes: healing in a place of pilgrimage. Health and Place, 2 (2), pp. 95-105.

    Hughes, J. D. and Swan, J. 1986. How Much of the Earth Is Sacred Space? Environmental Review: ER, 10 (4), pp. 247-259.

    Kong, L., 2001, ‘Mapping ‘new’ geographies of religion: politics and poetics in modernity’, Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 211–233.

    Yorgason, E. and della Dora, V. 2009. Editorial: Geography, religion, and emerging paradigms: problematizing the dialogue. Social & Cultural Geography, 10 (6), 629-637.

    Also, Sacred spaces in Profane Buildings seems like an interesting project.

  • Railings at St Olan’s

    The photo is focused on one of the railings by St Olan’s Well, Aghbullogue, Cork. The well is located next to a bend on the road, on the outside, where a railing, made up of a number of metal posts and two chains running parallel, separates the well-space from the road. The railings, which are each topped by a cross, and the chains are painted black, and the crosses white – which creates a nice feature. Although, the wearing of the chains as left many of the links with rusty patches. Blurred in the backround is the well’s beehive-structure and the Whitethorn tree that is growing out of it, and, to the right, a statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart.

    The railings and similar features may not initially seem to be that significant; however, these components all contribute to the place and its character. Places can be considered to be assemblages of different elements, including natural features, representations, practices and objects. In this context, the St Olan’s well-space is the combined result of the well, the structure, the location, the performances of devotions, the railings and much more. As well as being an aesthetically pleasant focus, this photo literally foregrounds the role of elements such as the railings, which may otherwise be considered incidental.

  • Exploring Place

    One of the elements of geography that I really like is its implicit focus on exploration. It is based on a fundamental desire to understand the world around us, how it functions and how we interact with it. While in academic terms, this process can be most professional and complex, the core ideas are accessible to all. Particularly, in the ways we can all explore places.

    All places, even everyday normal places, are filled with interesting elements, awaiting discovery. It is relatively easy for anyone to start thinking ‘geographically’ and begin exploring places.

    For example, urban areas have architectural features, especially above street level, which we rarely see, or how many streets do we walk down without knowing there names, or what/who is that monument dedicated to?; while rural areas have a multitude of rich hidden aspects, including rarely travelled roads, wildlife and rare flora, and antiquities.

    I would encourage everyone to engage with their local places and landscapes, to seek out the multitude of features, to appreciate their worth and to tell others. This exploration can be a purposeful encounter, or it can be something you incorporate into your routine. The important thing is that we carefully consider the world around us, in all its richness.

    Simple Explorations:

    • Observing an urban space: Find a spot you can comfortably sit or stand and observe for about 15 mins. Remain relatively stationary and look at everything that is around you (the physical and human-made landscape) and all that is happening around you (activity, weather, movement). After a few minutes, you will notice things you’ve never seen before; they’ve always been there, you just didn’t notice.
    • Re-routing: Try and take a different route than you normally would for a journey. We all get so used to travelling certain ways and can forget about streets and passages which may be different or even slightly longer, but may be more pleasant or may even prove to be more efficient at some times!
    • Who’s about (and who’s not): When you’re moving around – out shopping, at work, in school, socialising – look at who is around you? Is it all people your age? People from the same area as you? People who look, move and act like you? Are there more or different people? If not, why not?
    • Visit your place: Be a tourist for a day. So many of us have never been to the main tourist attractions in our own cities! Take an afternoon to visit that place, check it out.

    Suggested readings:

    Place Hacking 

    Placehaking or Urban exploration is a research type, a hobby and an interesting feature of contemporary urban living. It involves ‘recreationally trespassing’ into derelict sites, or, as they can be called, T.O.A.D.S.: temporary, obsolete, abandoned or derelict spaces.

    Bradley Garrett, who completed his PhD thesis on urban exploration in the Department of Geography, at Royal Holloway, University of London, is among the foremost proponents of Plachacking. His excellent blog Placehacking illustrates the richness and insight which this activity offers. Furthermore, the blog shows how the integration of different media can offer a fuller experience of place on line.

    Check out highlights from the blog:

    London Underground 

    Places & Spaces

    Adventurers’ Club 

    Other articles on Placehacking from

    The Guardian, the Shortcuts Blog from The Guardian and GeoDirections Blog:

    For more or similar, see:

    Promise of Place: A document that offers tips and techniques for exploring place, from Promise of Place, a place-based education organisation.

    Mental Mapping 

    National Geographic’s Guide to Mental Mapping: How to use mental maps to organise information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context.

  • Radio, Podcasts and Place

    I listen to radio frequently, with one always on at home and when I drive. I also listen to many podcasts, mainly as I walk. I subscribe to different shows, some of which are radio station content that is recorded and made available for download and others which are exclusively produced as podcasts.

    Form a geographic perspective, I am struck at how radio shows and podcasts can convey a very rich sense of place. I feel that podcasts/radio are powerful and under-appreciated tools for describing the world. The limitations of the medium require presenters, reporters and producers to compensate by combining thick description with high-quality sound recordings. Podcasts, and audio more generally, can play a significant role in exploring, understanding and presenting places. I’ve chosen three examples to illustrate this point.

    The first, is an episode of the NPR programme Hearing Voices, which is a weekly show that presents a series of segments, mostly collected from radio broadcasts, documentaries, podcasts and found-sound, relating to a single theme. The episode, Sacred Places (HV079), presents a selection of short pieces that really capture the essence of the places, and the people and practices involved. You can experience the Hindu holy city, Vrindavan through ‘talking notes’ and a the background track of the ambient sound, and get a sense of a Lutheran Church in Montana through an interview intermixed with sounds from services at the Church. It is a really fascinating episode, which I find myself returning to time and time again.

    The Royal Canal is a beautiful piece that uses the qualites of good radio/podcasting to portray a journey down a waterway. It is an episode of the Curious Ear, a short radio documentary series that is produced by RTÉ Radio 1, the Irish national public broadcaster. It features “Six miles of canal; six miles of stories”, as it follows the presenter/producer Ronan Kelly as he canoes along the Royal Canal in Dublin city. The use of recordings of the water and paddling is particularly evocative.

    This final example is more meta, in that it is a podcast that is about making or understanding/analysing radio and podcasts. How Sound is a very interesting short show, from PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, that explores the world of audio and radio/podcast making. The episode, Show, Don’t Tell, looks at how sound and recordings can be effectively used to demonstrate a topic to listeners, such as recordings of the presenter walking waste deep into ocean water and the difficulties of a man in a wheelchair trying to exit his car in an unsuitable disabled parking space.

    Radio, podcasts and the use of audio more generally raises questions about how researchers present their work, especially geographers. Ultimately, most academic work is conveyed in text, which is supported, sometimes, by illustrations, diagrams and maps.  However, audio is rarely used. The potential that it offers is considerable, especially in examinations of place. In my research, I frequently make audio recordings, even if it is just of the ambient sound. The use of such recordings are an important component of my methodology, which tries to gain a deep appreciation of the places being studied. I would encourage other researchers to consider the role that audio can play in their research.

    Audio version of this blogpost