These islands have always had a spiritual association for people who lived in ireland . We know that because even 5000 years ago they were putting dalmonds on the islands. These are places where they bury their people in a sacred ritual. Also the ring forts which are all over the three islands are evidence that these people regard the islands as having some type of spiritual energy to them.The location of the forts , particularly Dun Aonghasa and the black fort are just an amazing energywise.
Sacred Places over the Centuries and their changing purpose –
Today, pre Christian sacred places on the islands are often what you see , pre christian sacred sites. But other pre christian sacred sites have morphed into christian sites, Celtic christian, and in some cases moved on to be roman christian. So you get the sort of continuity in the time-line from 500 years ago through to the present day with the site continuing to be used .
Teample Ciaron and its amazing timeline
An example of this would be Teample Chiaron in Mainisitr which is about a mile outside of Kilronan. Today you see a ruin of a church . If you look around carefully you see a standing stone at one end of the church on the outside. On the other end, going to the field next door on the west side, you see a holy well. If you go on the east side onto the fields you see more standing stones. This whole area is a sacred location and the fact that there is a well and an ancient standing stone suggests it was a sacred location even before Christianity.
The holy wells were initially regarded as an entrance into the whomb of the goddess of the earth and she was land on which you walked. So you are walking on her body and when you came across a well you were coming across an entrance into her womb. Thus it was a very sacred place and one which symbolized fertility. That is where the rounds of a well as a tradition began because people started doing the rounds of these sacred places in imitation of the sun going around the earth. There is a whole mythology behind these holy wells. This is where the history of the sacred site of Teamplall Ciaron would have begun.
Furthermore, prior to Christianity, the Celtic Monks arrived and decided to build monastery Ciaron. This Monastery was built in the 6th century and was to be a Celtic Monastery. So this was very Irish in its expression of Christianity. This remained a Celtic monastery until the Norman Invasion of the 12th century so that is 600 years. Then was switched over, whilst continuing to be a monastery but now following more European Roman Catholic rules of Christianity. And it continued then on to the Chinese reformation in about the 16th century. It then went on to ruin and everything closed down. Even today people still go and visit it, prey at it, go to the holy wells. So there is a continuity to it the whole time that it started 5000 years ago and continues to this day.
A unique concentration of Sacred Places
The Aran Islands doesn’t just have one place like teampall ciaron to visit which has this amazing timeline, but you have over 50 of these places. You will never get to see them all because some of them are difficult to find but there are quite a number which are clearly visible on the landscape such as teampla ciaron. These include the 7 churches which are monastic sites, the remains of the monastery of St Enda itself, the Monastery of Kilmurvey , St Colmans church.
All the way across Inis Mor Island, about every 200 metres you will find the remains of some monastic presence, either a hermit cell, a beehive hut, a stone cross carved on it, a burial place, a holy well , or a church . It is a wonderful place to visit if you are interested in sacred sites, pilgrimage and everything along with it. It is the right place to come learn about celtic spirituality especially if you have a guide with you who can bring you to these locations and talk about the spirituality that was lived in those places.