John O'Donohue (1956-2008) was an Irish poet and philosopher, best known for his books and recordings on Celtic spirituality. He had degrees in philosophy and English literature and was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Tubingen in 1990. He died unexpectedly at the early age of 52. We have profiled him for our Remembering Spiritual Masters Project.
This beautifully filmed one-hour documentary has been directed by Betsy Scarborough. Actor Mike Farrell, who was a friend of O'Donohue's, introduces the film; he like so many of us was enchanted, inspired, and moved by this cartographer of the soul. We are privileged to follow O'Donohue on a spiritual journey through the rugged landscape of western Ireland.
For O'Donohue, the harsh rocky landscape, the wild wind, and the pounding surf of the Atlantic on the Irish coast are essential elements of the place he calls home. He explains that for the Celtic people landscape is alive and charged with energy by the Divine Artist who created it. He imagines a lively conversation taking place between the ocean and the stones along the shorelines. He salutes the loveliness of some wild flowers set against the ancient slabs of limestone.
O'Donohue takes small groups of pilgrims on treks to Christian sites like Corcomroe Abbey and pre-Christian places such as Mamean Mountain and St. Coleman's Well. As tour guide he shares his ideas and insights about Neolithic monuments like the Pounabrone Dolmen and such rugged locations as Dun Aengus, the Burren, and Mullaghmore.
On the way, O'Donohue reminisces about his childhood and what he saw on three-mile walks to school. On a more spiritual note, he speaks ecstatically about the power of the imagination to fuel our appreciation for the natural world and the journey within. He also reflects on the challenges of being a writer.
In his overview of the Catholic faith in Ireland, he laments the tragedy of the sexual abuse scandals which have eroded the trust of believers. In a very touching scene, O'Donohue recounts that although he once was very scared of death, it does not trouble him anymore. Then, in a stunning recitation, he shares one of his blessing poems.