The Burren as Magnet

 This post by Katharine Lochnan is the third of three essays on the role of deserts; presenting options to nurture  silence  

As local tribes were converted, churches were built. It seems likely that the three small stone churches collectively known as the Oughtmama churches which are found at the base of Turlough Hill in Úi Lochlainn territory, were built between the 8th and the 10th centuries to replace 6th or 7th century churches, built in wood. They were the centre of a monastic community which is said to have been founded by three Colmans, one of whom may have been the saint.

Ireland Aug. 16 2007 136

Corcomroe Abbey. Image K Lochnan

After the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, continental religious orders founded houses in Ireland. Chief among these were the Cistercians who built Corcomroe Abbey, near Oughtmama under the patronage of the O’Brien clan. Construction on the monastic church of Sancta Maria de Petra Fertilis (“St. Mary of the Fertile Rock”), the centre-piece of the new abbey, began in the 12th century. It is thought that while it was under construction, the brothers may have lived at Oughtmama.

The community, which undoubtedly included many clan members, farmed the fields around the abbey from the thirteenth century to the 1600’s. The monastery, which flourished until the Reformation, is closely linked to our history, and the church contains some of the oldest marked graves of the Úi Lochlainn.

“OLoughlin King of Burren Family Tomb” within Corcomroe Abbey. Image: B O’Loghlin

Colman placed the Burren under the “law of quality” which states that, for the believer, the more energy one draws from a sacred place or relic, the more it becomes capable of bestowing. On a beautiful evening in August, 2009, I set out on a walk from Corcomroe to Oughtmama, but was unable to reach the churches before the sun began to set.

I will never forget the view of Turlogh Hill across the green fields: as the sun went down the ragged cliff face, inscribed with ancient stone walls, turned pink, and the crescent moon and evening star began to shine brightly in the blue sky. In that landscape, which bears the marks of our clan and has witnessed its history since the dawn of time, I felt a strong sense of divine immanence.

That evening not only changed my life, it has inspired my course ever since. To me, the Burren remains the most fertile place on earth. Perhaps it is the journey rather than the destination that is most important. I nonetheless dream of returning, one day, to that place where we all have our deepest roots, and completing my pilgrimage.


– Katharine Lochnan, Adjunct Professor, Regis College, University of Toronto.

Acknowledgement: 
I would like to thank Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham, for reviewing my text and for his suggestions. Tom gave the keynote address at the Muintir Uí Lochlainn reunion in Ballyvaughan during September 2010.  I would also like to thank Edward O Loghlen for his inspiration over many years, his invitation to write this article and for his thoughtful and careful editing.

Anchorites – Christian monks (who lived in the desert?)
Bullaun – a stone with a bowl shaped depression used to catch water
Eremitic – hermetic existence
Essenes – an ascetic Jewish sect which turned its back on temple worship and formed a community at Qumran in the Judean desert.

See previous posts by Professor Lochnan here:

From Petra to Petra Fertilis. 4 March 2019

Colman of Kilmacduagh – Eastern Burren. 24 Jan 2020

About ccperb

My ancestor, Simon Loughnane, emigrated from the vicinity of Clonmel in S. Tipperary, to Upper Canada in 1834 where he settled in March (now part of Ottawa). With the help of Edward O Loghlen, Bruce Elliott (Carleton University, Ottawa, and my cousins, I was able to piece together the family story. Edward edited and published it in a pamphlet entitled "Stitches in Time: The Lochnan Family of the Ottawa Valley." (Galway City, 2010). This journey of discovery not only enabled me to establish my identity, it changed my life.
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