John O`Donohue Connemara

John O’Donohue’s Cottage in Connemara

 

Friday morning, 4 September 2020, shortly after 9 am.  Somewhere between the lakes and the mountains in a lonely part of Connemara. The school bus stops on time at the main road. The only schoolchild gets on. I make my way to the village where John O’Donohue lived. Where there has been no school for a long time. Where Gaelic is still spoken today. I would soon meet Sean, who tells me that the village once had its own school, attended by 29 children in the old days. 27 of those 29 pupils later emigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, over the Atlantic ocean, in search of work. Even today, some in the village remain loyal to the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.

 


Part 5 of the Ireland News series on John O’Donohue


 

John O'Donohue

The cottage as seen from the road. View through the field gate to the annex.

 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the village consisted of 18 houses. There are hardly any more now. The village also no longer has a shop, a church, a post office or a pub. At the fork in the road I decide to turn right and a little later I am standing at the old cottage where John O’Donohue lived for about a decade and a half. This was the place where he withdrew to think, to go into silence, to write and to pray.

He later protected this refuge, and did not reveal its location. Out of respect, I will protect the place, also for the sake of the villagers and John’s family. I will not mention its name or describe directions to get there. I ask all readers once again to respect this and not to go looking for it. The old retreat isn’t a museum at all.

 

John O'Donohue

The Cottage in 1997: John O’Donohue opened his door to Hessischer Rundfunk*. On the left, the back of the house, still without back kitchen extension (© Hessischer Rundfunk – www.hr.de)

 

The two-storey house from the 19th century now sits at the end of a road that merges into a country lane. Many decades ago this was a through road and home to the Tooles’ village shop. The house is unoccupied and looks as if it is from another era. Behind the house, sheep meadows that merge into the rising mountains. In front of the house sheep meadows, then the lake, and another lake.

Three of the neighbour’s horses graze around the house. When you arrive, the house is on the right side of the road. A small annex, the typical Irish porch shelters the entrance from the rain. I recognise the door, this is where photographer Colm Hogan took the well-known and widely circulated photo showing John in the doorway smirking with a meaningful look. In front of the door, the weeds are thriving. The house walls unpainted, grey, black-grey.

 


 

John O’Donohue in 1999. Photo: dtv

On John O’Donohue, writer, poet, priest

John O’Donohue (1956 – 2008), grew up on a farm in a limestone valley in the Burren, County Clare. The eldest of four siblings, he became a priest, later a writer, philosopher and poet, environmental activist, life teacher, speaker, mystic and humanist. With Anam Cara, The Four Elements (published and available in German by dtv), Eternal Echoes and Divine Beauty he wrote international bestsellers. He loved human existence in all its facets. His great theme was to live life to the fullest without fear. He considered unlived life to be the maximum transgression of being human. In books and lectures, John encouraged people to courageously live the life they wanted and would love. It was important, not only to dream one’s dreams but also to realise them and thus find one’s destiny – free from fear and from the heart.

O’Donohue was a free spirit who thought Celtic as well as Christian spirituality, the mysticism of Eckhart and the philosophy of Hegel. He saw us, the living, walking on the shore of the great sea of the invisible, the imagination creating the bridges