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Off to Ireland for more Thin Places

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Janus Figure - Caldragh Cemetery - County Fermanah, Northern Ireland

I leave on Valentines for ten days in Ireland to do complete research for a book.

The book, entitled  Thin Places - a Pilgrimage through Celtic Holy Ground has been in the works for more than seven years now. Originally it was to be a compilation of writings from authors all over the world - covering Celtic holy sites in Ireland and Britain.  Though we had authors with unparalleled knowledge and talent, we ran into difficulties with publishing. 

I've made the decision to finish the book this year myself with a slightly different slant one being that it will only cover sites in Ireland. 

One of the sites I'll be visiting is Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island in County Fermanagh (Northern Ireland). It is there that the two-faced Janus figure has been watching the rising and setting of the sun for more than 2000 years.

My personal journey with this Janus figure is complex. I once told an Irish priest that he was two-faced. I think he was amused by my insult because he gave me a miniature version of the Janus figure that he'd purchased in Ireland shortly after I made the comment. It had two fronts - that is each side of the figure had a face, shoulders and arms.

I was intrigued by the figure and did a little research on it. This actual Janus figure is between 2000 and 3000 years old and stands about 4 feet high in Caldragh Cemetery, an ancient burial ground on Boa Island in Northern Ireland. The figure stands so that one side faces East and the other West. Some say the figure represents an all seeing - all knowing God that sees everything from the rising to the setting of the sun.

Caldragh Cemetery - Boa Island, County FermanaghThe first time I went to Caldragh Cemetery I arrived alone at approximately 6:30 am hoping to photograph the figure during sunrise. This was more than ten years ago, when the cemetery was not well marked and one had to climb a fence and walk across private property to find the entrance. I was a little uneasy about trespassing, but found the path and continued towards the cemetery. I heard this odd sound - like a thumping - something beating. Just before the gate to the cemetery is a massive thorn tree which spills over the path, threatening the visitor who doesn't enter carefully.

Coming into the cemetery at dawn was was surreal. The mist was rising off the lumpy, ancient, unmarked graves. Old stones that appeared to have once been grave markers were scattered across the yard. In the center of the cemetery, the Janus figure dominated. In front of the figure was a woman, seated, thumping an Irish bohdran (drum). I felt I was intruding on her spiritual exercise. After awhile I simply walked into the cemetery and proceeded to shoot some photos during her ritual, hoping not to distract her too much. She eventually stopped and we talked for awhile. She was from France but lived in Chicago. Through her thick accent she told me that a friend of hers had given her a necklace (which she displayed from around her neck). It was silver with a small charm which was the Janus figure. She said after receiving the necklace, she became more curious about the Janus figure, found out where the actual figure was located and traveled here from Chicago for a real life encounter.

Hmmm... similar reason to why I was there.

Years later I returned to Caldragh with my husband. By then the cemetery was clearly marked with a public road and pathway making it easier for visitor access. Next week I'll be going for a third time... a third encounter with the Janus figure.


I'll also be visiting Cashel, Achill Island, Knock, Mount Brandon, Dingle, Clonfert, West Cork, Wexford, Tara and more.  Stay tuned.

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