75 / Cosán na Naomh

Two weekends ago I walked four miles of the Cosán na Naomh.  This is an ancient pilgrim path from Ventry strand to the foot of Mount Brandon.  The weather was fine and dry but the ground was wet and often muddy underfoot from earlier rain. I was as pleased with myself as if I’d walked the full eleven miles from the shore to the foot of the sacred mountain.

The little band of pilgrims with whom we’d set out was nowhere in sight by the time I was ready to call a halt.  No problem. I had walked the full length three years previously and climbed past the fourteen stations of the cross to reach the summit, the second highest in Ireland. A bit beyond my capability at present.  However, by next year, maybe by early summer, I hope to be able to walk some of the Camino de Santiago on the way to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Physical fitness and available funds permitting.

The Camino has multiple starting points across Europe, including this one in Ventry in Kerry on the Dingle peninsula.  For hundreds of years pilgrims would arrive by boat to begin their penitential walk.  We had set off after a blessing in Irish from a local priest.  Accompanying the walkers was a knowledgeable local historian.  No doubt she would have told them about Gallarus Oratory among the several historical sites to be admired en route.

Gallarus Oratory is a remarkable structure in the shape of an upturned boar.  The sandstone blocks from which it is built have each been so cunningly cut and positioned in a corbel pattern that wet weather does not penetrate despite the lack of mortar.  The oratory would have provided a welcome shelter for pilgrims from early Christian times onwards,

Three years ago, before dawn, I joined a silent group of worshippers standing in front of Gallarus Oratory for a mass.  Candles in glass jars were distributed and these were the sole source of light in the dark before sunrise.  Mine was soon extinguished along with most of the others by the chill breeze that gusted round the oratory walls.  The mass continued in Irish while the sun appeared from behind the hills and climbed steadily into the cloudy sky.  The whole experience was magical in a theatrical sense and emotionally moving.  With daylight with ever greater clarity it became possible to distinguish faces as well as features of the landscape around us. 

It was a powerfully spiritual experience.

© Máille Brady Bates: Snow on Mt Brandon


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