Today, we set out from our hotel in Tralee towards the Dingle peninsula.
Our first stop was to the village of Dingle itself, where we not only had the opportunity to explore the township for a couple of hours (including lunch) but also got to experience the local food festival which was in full swing on the day we visited. The town was pumping with visitors and locals all wanting to experience something of the culinary delights of the town.
I took the opportunity to visit the local church – it’s kind of what I do – and discovered a gloriously constructed local building. It was different to what one might expect in an Australian town of similar size, yet for some reason, it was perfectly suited for a local village in an Irish town. It was beautiful in its simplicity and yet simple in its beauty.
After our visit to Dingle town, we ventured forth via coach to take in the Slea Head Drive around the Dingle peninsula, and this for me was the absolute highlight of the day and the place where once again I encountered the spiritual history of the island of Ireland.
As we drove around the peninsula, all the time admiring the physical beauty of the landscape, our first stop was to the site of a monastic settlement based on beehive huts, conical huts built entirely of stone from the local environs grouped together and once occupied by a community of ‘monks’ who wished to walk away from the world and devote themselves to prayer and communing with God. It would have been a tough existence, not for the fainthearted. The settlement was basic, with nothing that would resemble even the basics of human comfort.
I doubt, strongly, that I could have survived such an experience, and yet there is something appealing about the concept of devoting oneself completely and entirely to God, relying utterly on God’s providence, and by moving away to a place where humanity is remote, and where the habitat is such that one is confronted by God’s presence in the rough, barren yet beautiful environment that surrounds the preferred place of locating the settlement.
Moving on from the beehive huts, we continued our journey around the Slea Head Drive, navigating the narrow roads and occasionally requiring traffic coming in the other direction to either pull over or reverse in order to do so. It was amusing in one sense. We stopped from time to time to take in the scenery, which from my perspective was simply stunning (watch this space for photos once I get home!).
The other stop that I found particularly moving was our short visit to Séipéilin Gallaruis (the ‘Gallarus Oratory’), a small stone building about 1300 years old, that was built by early Christians on the peninsula as a place of prayer. It was moving beyond words to enter into that place through the low narrow door, a place where prayer had seeped into the very walls of the séipéilin, in a way that, for me at least, was palpable and alive. Standing in that place I could feel the prayers that had been offered there, the worship that had been directed towards God there, and the petitions raised on high within those walls. I was moved, almost, to tears, aware of the history of faith that that simple example of dry rubble masonry represented.
I wanted to pray. I wanted to breathe in the prayers that were already there. I wanted to stay.
After being forced to leave that place – if only because the coach was leaving and it was a long walk back to Tralee – we made our way back to Tralee in time for dinner. And the opportunity to retire to bed in preparation for tomorrow’s adventures.