Spiritual Culture and Beliefs in Ireland

Ireland understands the power of ideologies to divide communities due to its a troubled relationship with its nearest neighbor in the North, yet there are many areas that have added to Ireland’s cultural heritage that can be seen in literature, folklore, and the built environment. While religious belief is now in decline, most of the population identify as Christian, with the majority (84.7 percent) affiliating with Catholicism and 2.7 percent identify with the Church of Ireland. Lough Derg at Pettigo in Co Donegal has been an island retreat for pilgrims for over 1,000 years, and each year around 60,000 people ascend Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo to where St Patrick is said to have fasted for forty days and nights in 441AD.

St Patrick

Happy St Patrick's Day.Prior to the arrival of Saint Patrick to Ireland, the populace had an attachment to ancient holy sites which saw villages and services grew up around these physical structures, several of them now church-recognized shrines and holy places. Visitors today are still mesmerized by the energy at these and other sites, which may be the landscape itself, the wild open seas, the rugged hills or a moment of calm on a beach.

The church takes on pagan symbolism

Pagan symbols.An example of the Catholic Church taking on pagan symbolism is clearly shown in Saint Brigid’s Cross. Constructed from wild reeds, Saint Brigid of Kildare is supposed to have created the cross to tell the story of Christ’s crucifixion, though it is more likely to have been a representation of the sun used by Brigit, the goddess of Spring before Christianity even arrived in Ireland. The old belief that the cross would protect a house from fire is still held by many today.

Heaven and earth are only three feet apart

Drombeg stone circle.Some of Ireland’s lores and legends have become world famous. The Irish saying that Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places, that distance is even shorter.” suggests that the spirit world and the living world are almost connected. This is evidenced by the Drombeg stone circle. Newgrange, Carrowmore and Glendalough are also said to have a spiritually, mystical quality in which visitors experience a sense of the past, present, and future in one place, one of these ‘thin places.

Music and dance

Irish dancers.Music plays a great part in Irish culture, and lives music is hosted in most pubs that are sociable events lasting well into the early morning hours. Traditional Irish music accompanies jigs, reels, step dancing and ceili dances which are also a strong part of Irish culture. With Irish dancing, the dress designs are taken from the Book of Kells and the shoes that once had the wood on heels and toes to make the clicking noises are now made with fiberglass.

Whilst spiritual beliefs and culture are a part of Irish life, the impact of organized religion on the history of Ireland, right up to the current time, cannot be underestimated.

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