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Ireland is a country rooted in faith. Our Christian heritage can be traced far back into our history, and it has made us who we are. Much of our character has been formed and shaped by this intangible spirit that has enlivened us for fifteen hundred years. Our ancestors lived and practised their faith in ways that were special to them, and there are many echoes of these practices in the traditions that still live on today in many places. More tangible reminders remain as well. Remnants of ancient churches and old graveyards are scattered throughout our land. Magnificent crosses are found side by side with holy wells and pilgrim paths. They tell us who we are and where we have come from. They may also be pointers to a new way of living our faith in a changing world.
Ireland has changed dramatically in recent decades, and the Church has found itself in an unsettling time of transition. Sunday Mass and sacramental life continue as before, of course, but in reality most parishes are struggling in one way or another. We have an ageing clergy and a largely disaffected youth. Many people have simply ‘tuned out’ the religious wavelength, and get on with the daily chores as best they can. Pockets of strong faith remain, but the task of handing on that faith to a new generation is proving more and more difficult in the absence of supportive structures and cultural underpinning. It is no longer obvious how to bring God’s Word alive in our communities or how to make the life, death and resurrection of Jesus tangible among us. God and the Good News of Jesus Christ have been largely hidden away, reduced to private concerns and personal preferences.
Indeed, Ireland has been so busy becoming a secular country that we have forgotten the sacredness that permeates our island. There is beauty and mystery within its very landscape, which the early monks celebrated so marvellously in their poetry. Indeed, the wonder of our landscape can hardly escape the notice of anyone who takes the time to look, and it is my hope that the photographs in this book will inspire readers to look for themselves at our beautiful land. The recent rediscovery of pilgrim paths across Kerry, Waterford, Wicklow, Cork, Tipperary, Offaly, Mayo, Clare and Donegal has brought with it a reawakening of our Christian heritage in all its richness. In retracing the steps of those who walked before us we may, perhaps, find that the ancient pathways of our forebears can be our pathways as well. Maybe we will find that the way forward into the new Ireland is best found by remaining true to our deepest roots.
We are caught between two worlds. My hope is that the photographs in this book can be a bridge between these two worlds.
This book is dedicated to the memory of
Fr Frank Browne SJ (1880-1960).
These photographs are a continuation of his life’s mission, perhaps what he might have photographed if he were still alive today. Fr Browne’s bringing together of faith and photography
is what inspired me to write this book.