The whole landscape a manuscript

We had lost the skill to read,

A part of our past disinherited;

John Montague (A Lost Tradition)



28 May 2022


Co. Offaly

Sacred Spaces

The Irish midlands, once described as “a flowering garden of monasteries”, interlaced with its great bogs, eskers, and rivers, is rich in its folklore, history, monastic artefacts, and architecture. Early monastic sites, scattered throughout this sacred landscape, became centres of contemplation, pilgrimage, and learning.

Sacred Spaces follows the Pilgrims Road (Slí Mhór) from the 6th century monastic ruins at Lemanaghan through Boher, the home of Ireland’s finest reliquary Saint Manchan Shrine, to the monastic site of Clonmacnoise along the River Shannon. The roadway has been used by pilgrims for centuries as they travelled along the Esker Riada, a continuous raised glacial ridge on the landscape formed over 12,000 years ago. The Esker Riada and the River Shannon formed a natural ‘crossroads’ in the heart of Ireland providing pilgrims easy access through the bogs and the waterways to important centres of learning and devotion.

The landscape has changed significantly since the early monks and pilgrims made their way to these sacred spaces. M an has manipulated the land through drainage, industrial harvesting of peat, road and habitat building. Despite the constant change, the rich cultural legacy left by the early settlers continues to impact the communities that surround the sacred sites.

The photo essay “Sacred Spaces” will look at the folklore, traditions, and spirituality of these significant early Christian sites and how it fits into a modern Ireland.

Votive offerings at Lemanaghan Church. Photograph by Kevin O’Dwyer