On a recent holiday in Northern Ireland I came across the story of St Bronagh – a little known Irish saint, who lived some time in the 6th Century AD. Even after trawling the internet, I can only find a few brief details. Her name means, “sorrow” and she became the leader of a monastic settlement that devoted its life to prayer. Several times a day the bell would ring out over the valley to summon the faithful to their devotions. This particular bell was not housed in a tower, but hung in the branches of a tree. It is said, that, in time, the tree’s branches grew around the bell and hid it completely from sight. Later on its very existence was forgotten and, on occasion passers by would be surprised when the blowing of the wind would animate the bell and its ring, would once more be heard across the valley.
The bell reappeared when a great storm blew down the tree, and eventually, after many more adventures it ended up encased and on show in the church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, where it remains today. But Bronagh’s legacy is not limited to one ancient artefact. The valley she sanctified with her prayers has now become home to the Benedictine Monks of Holy Cross Monastery. They too, dedicate their lives to prayer and serving God, and in the few short years they have been in residence they have made a tremendous difference to life in Bronagh’s Valley. Their mission is one of reconciliation in a land where the sectarian divide still causes so much pain and distress.
The story of how the monks came to be where they are is a long and inspiring story that began in 1982, and many, many people have been instrumental in helping the community find its place in the world. But, perhaps, the story began even longer ago than that, when Bronagh’s prayers caused the valley to become, what the Ancient Celts called, “A thin place.” That is, a place where heaven can be glimpsed on earth. That’s certainly my experience of this beautiful place and I am already looking forward to my next visit.
In the meantime, here are some more photos of my trip:
A pilgrimage trail at the bottom of the garden…
A very moody sky over Slane.
A Waterfall at the monastery.
A spooky tree in the cemetery at Monasterboice where the crows added a spookier and very noisy soundtrack.
and finally,, no trip to the Holy sites would be complete without a pic of St. Patrick..