You will have to read these posts backwards! Or just read each site according to which pictures you like :-) I have posted out of order, but you don't really need to read anything in order... Anyway:
Reask Monastic Land
After the westernmost point of Europe, we went to the Reask monastic ground, which was home to the oldest parish of Ireland. It was originally a Druid ground, as you might think with all of the stone formation, but when the Christians came, they rearranged the stones and added some crosses, as well. The Irish name for this site is “Lathair Mhainistreach an Riaisc” (aka a mouthful)!
Gallarus Oratory is a cool place to go for two reasons: the first is that it was built 1,200 years ago and has never broken down or needed repair since, and the second reason is that Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about it. Heaney is a Nobel Literature winner, and teaches literature at Harvard right now. He is very famous and very, very important in the contemporary poetry world. Some people know him better for translating Beowulf (successfully). Anyway, the oratory, like the castle, was used both as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago and as a place to house monks. It fits approximately twelve (monks). While we were all standing inside of the oratory, Michael read “Gallarus Oratory” by Seamus Heaney, and it was definitely a magical moment. As with other places I have described, there is not simply a feeling of beauty that surrounds these monuments— there is a spiritual transcendence of both ordinary religion and the everyday movements of everyday people. Also, Gallarus, like many others, was a Druid holy site before it was a Catholic one.
Graveyard with Mary
After the monastic site we stopped at a graveyard called Kilmalkedar (Cill Maolceadair in Irish). At first, this graveyard looked like an old place where people were once buried a long, long time ago. First of all, in Ireland, this is just not true. If you have lived in a parish and have gone to church there, you are actually allowed to be buried at the parish, no matter how famous the graveyard may be. In this case, the graveyard was very famous and houses many important so-and-sos from long ago. However, the youngest grave was from two months ago and had not even been covered by stones (as the other ones were) yet. The most notable thing about it was the church that was inside because it still houses the “alphabet stone.” this is the original stone that monks used to use to teach young pagan Irish people the Latin alphabet on. Altough very hard to read, we could still read a few Latin letters of the alphabet which were on it. Apparently, the monks would go up and down the stone, pointing to the different letters until the kids understood what they were talking about.
Another notable part of the church was the “marriage needle.” The hole in the back of the church (in picture behind us) represents the needle that it takes to get into Heaven. However, allegedly if you actually go through the hole (and you are a single, unmarried woman), you will be able to marry the love of your life in twelve months. I personally did not go through the needle (although it was tempting to have that type of security)!
One of the tombstones on the cemetery have what some people believe is a sundial on the back of it. However, as there is no sun Ireland, this is just not true. Michael says that the dial could represent a period of time or a way of counting the days until the Judgment Day.
There are two significant holes at the cemetery. The first is in the above tombstone, and the second is in a straight pillar that looks like it could have been found in the Reask monastic site because it is straight up and down. The hole in this pillar apparently means that if two different people stick their fingers through it, it constitutes a deal that will stand up in Irish court. Bizarre.
One last thing. This cemetery also had one of the very first Christian crosses (pictured). It is a very simple, rudimentary cross, but considered one of the very first of its kind. Wow.