I spent two weeks in Belfast and Dublin in April 2023 wandering the Emerald Isle. I ventured out into the countryside and roamed the streets of Dublin and Belfast and there were many awe-inspiring moments. I’m never sure where I will stumble onto awe but when I do, I’m so glad I ventured there. I never know when wandering will pay off but when it does, the experience touches my soul and fills me up.
5 places to find awe in Ireland:
Giant’s Causeway. This is on the very northern end of Ireland. I took a bus tour here and the three coves that make up this other worldly place are magnificent. Here along the cold Inner Seas of Scotland are countless hexagonal basalt columns created from 60 million years of volcanic rock. Traversing the hexagon stones with the many tourists was a game of hop scotch meets chess, strategically selecting the next stone to avoid running into someone else, not slipping on the rock and somehow getting to your intended location. The myth is that Fionn (the Giant) tore up pieces from the Antrim coast and built a land bridge to Scotland to face the dreaded Benandonner. When Fionn realized how big Benandonner was, he returned to Ireland and placed himself in a cradle. When Benandonner saw how big the “baby” was, he decided that Fionn must be huge and retreated across the sea and tore down the bridge in his wake. Hence, “The Giant’s Causeway.” It’s awesome to see these enormous hexagonal columns and wonder at the power, time and nature.
The Dominican Black Abbey. The abbey is in Kilkenny and was established in 1225 and is still in operation today. It has survived the Black Death in 1349, Protestant King James I confiscating the property in 1603 and Oliver Cromwell in 1650. We arrived on Easter Sunday so I have to say, this made the experience quite spiritual. As I entered the abbey, there were several parishioners and a priest reciting Hail Marys as I walked through the abbey. The floor to ceiling stained glass at the back of the abbey is simply breathtaking. I found awe in the stillness, beauty and chant of the prayers.
Cushendun Caves. These caves are located along the County Antrim coast. There is a free trail from the small coast side town of Cushendun. The caves are 50 yards high in some places and there were several to explore. These were formed by 400 million years of natural erosion and I was lucky to arrive there at low tide so that I could walk between some of the formations. These caves have become famous due to some scenes shot here for Game of Thrones. I found it awesome due to the reddish hue of the rocks, the size of the caves and the sea coast in constant churn.
Glendalough Monastic Ruins. This is the early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. There were 7 churches and an entire community built around the site even though English forces destroyed it in 1398. The Glendalough Round Tower stands 30 meters high and was built in the 11th century. St. Kevin’s Church was built in the 12th century and still has its original stone roof and is one of two fully intact mediaeval churches in Ireland. Kevin’s’ cross is a plain cross that was carved out of a single granite stone in the 8th century. This place is steeped in history and pilgrims still journey here. There is something awe inspiring about touching stones that were form over a thousand years ago and walking below a sacred stone arch.
The Book of Kells and The Long Room (the old library). At Trinity College in Dublin, there is a treasure which is the Book of Kells and the Long Room. The Book of Kells in Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript. It is written in Latin and contains four gospels of the New Testament and was drafted by Celtic monks in Iona (Scotland) in the 800’s. I found it interesting that if they made an error in the book, they drew little pictures to cover the mistake. The book itself is in a case. Beyond that is the Long Room which is the most beautiful library I have ever seen and the smell of 200,0000 Trinity College’s oldest books is intoxicating. I really loved the busts at the end of each aisle of famous writers from throughout the world including Plato and Socrates. The old timber ceiling stands some three stories high. It’s awesome to me from the depth of history and countless hours of human thought and toil it represents.
There’s one last item that I found memorable as well, and that was the spot (next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral), where St. Patrick baptized many of the local inhabitants in the 5th century. There was a small rock marking the place where Christianity was brought to Ireland in an understated way. Awe can be found in nature or in buildings or in the countless tiny lambs hopping across the countryside. I found the experience enriching, awe inspiring and I’ll not soon forget it.