Opening 2019: Ireland’s first Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Co Cork
Buddhist population in Ireland has grown to 10,000 people
Successfully navigate your way through Castletownbere heading west for Allihies along the R572 and eventually on an incline you’ll see the huge colourful flags fluttering on your left.
Continue on down the narrow boreen until you eventually come to a gathering of small buildings and the Dzogchen Beara Meditation Retreat Centre.
It’s a road I’ve travelled before but never on such a mystical day.
The fog is low on Bantry Bay. You can hear the sea but you can’t see it.
Rising through that fog though I can just about identify a grey structure, unusual in shape, incongruous somewhat to its more rugged surroundings yet not so aesthetically out of place.
This structure is Ireland’s first Tibetan Buddhist Temple. At a total cost of about €3.5 million the Temple Project, in such a rural location, is unique in its ambition.
“Before a project of this scale and challenge would probably have buckled me but now I take it in my stride and I can visualise the finished structure,” explains the Temple project manager Leon Rossiter from Dundalk who discovered Buddhism in the early noughties.
As well as the construction of the temple, which will measure 14½ metres from top to toe when completed, the need to get the religious trappings just right is paramount. Such a task involves endless hours of research, contemplation and discussion.
But it’s a challenge those at Dzogchen Beara have embraced since the idea was first mooted back in 2008.
Already €1.8 million has been fundraised and the building is sealed and ready for phase two of its development which will include the installation of internal services, and decoration. The money raised so far has come from Irish donations and from Buddhists overseas.
It’s hoped the shrine room on the ground floor will easily cater for 300 visitors at a time, for prayer, retreats, meditation or perhaps appropriate conferences. It’ll be open to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike and Rossiter explains why such a spectacular temple is so important.
“The teachings need a place where people can come to hear them. This will be a living lineage in that what’s learned here can be passed on. A temple needs to be celestial or palatial, it needs to produce that wow reaction for those who see it first.
“That’s not just to do with aesthetics but its part of Buddhist tradition. We want this bright and colourful building to be around for hundreds of years so we’re building it with mass concrete walls, ring beams that hug the whole building and galvanised steel from the foundation to the very top of the building.
“And when putting in the foundations we dug down four metres and built it back up with boulders. The engineers said you could build a skyscraper there. We believe if we put in the money now we won’t have to invest more into the future.”
There is an element of ‘if we build it they will come’ to the ambitions at Dzogchen Beara but with the Buddhist population in Ireland increasing by 11 per cent in just six years (to 9,358) according to the 2016 census its clear there’s a greater yearning for its teachings on meditation, harmony and reflection. And there’s a growing mainstream wave and interest in areas such as meditation and mindfulness – many practices which have their roots in Buddhism.
Colin Hamilton from Midleton is clerk of works on the project. A builder and block-laying mason by profession, he knows every inch of the temple and believes when finished it will be a jaw-dropping sight.
“This location has the perfect geomancy for a Tibetan style temple,” he tells me.
Hamilton became interested in Buddhism in 1998 after reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1992.
“I was searching for something, but I wasn’t sure what it was. And then this book made sense to me, it had down in print all that I felt but couldn’t articulate. When I came to the end of the book I discovered there was this centre in West Cork, sure I couldn’t believe my luck and I’ve been coming here ever since. Initially I kept it secret from my family and friends but now they’re intrigued and want to know more.”
The two men show me the spectacular decorations required to complete the temple. The gold-plated head of Makaras, mythical dragon-like creatures which bring harmony to the location, will be placed around the temple. There will also be features containing sacred mantras installed by Lamas, as well as blessed substances and relics of different masters.
Many of these are currently being handmade in the Buddhist communities of Northern India. A large Buddhist statue will also be transported from France for the main shrine.
The Copper roofing will, hopefully, be sourced in Ireland with the design team eager to use as many local businesses as possible. A company called Beara Building Services based in nearby Eyeries has been working on the project since day one and even accompanied some of the team to see the spectacular Lera Ling Tibetan Temple north of Montpellier so they could witness for themselves what a completed temple actually looked like.
The temple will have underfloor heating, timber floors, the best in acoustics, carefully placed lighting, windows which allow every vantage point out to sea and comfortable cushioned areas making it an ideal retreat base. From beyond the shoreline, fishermen will be able to identify it from miles away – especially when visiting teachers are there and the exterior of the building is illuminated after darkness.
All going well the temple will open during the summer of 2019 but much will depend on funding. Senior Buddhist cleric, Holiness Sakya Trizin, has agreed to officially consecrate the temple.
“If we have to push it out to 2020 we will,” says Rossiter. “The most important thing now is that we get everything right.”
And as we stand on the first-floor balcony looking out over a sea which is now much more visible than hours earlier, Kathryn O’Flaherty, hospitality director at the centre, is calmly certain the remaining funding will arrive.
“Some days the donations are small but still they come. We know this stunning temple will be built and as a community we’re just so excited by what it will offer to people – many of whom are searching for meaning in a world which can, at times, be so loud and overwhelming.”