GO IRELAND: Fancy a spiritual adventure? Well if you're looking to get to the heart of things, then Ireland is a pretty good place to start, writes SANDRA O'CONNELL
The hilly lakelands of northwest Cavan is the scenic setting of Jampa Ling, a Buddhist retreat set up more than two decades ago in a large Victorian house on 13 peaceful acres.
Jampa Ling means “place of infinite loving kindness” and that alone would make anyone feeling a little low want to visit, while the centre’s aim is to preserve Tibetan Buddhist traditions and culture through teaching meditation and Dharma practice.
Open to people of all religions, and none, so popular is it that the small community that runs it recently completed the conversion of an old stone barn and coach-house on the property to provide accommodation for groups of up to 20 people.
For anyone looking for a little more head space than that, there is a mobile home in the garden which is used for personal retreats. Guests are free to join in with morning and evening meditations, browse from its library or just take time out to relax.
Cost:from €36pps for a double room, or €45 for single occupancy, including (vegetarian) meals. Or you can opt for the mobile home, which has its own kitchen, for €100 a week.
For 1,500 years pilgrims have been coming to Station Island on Lough Derg, Co Donegal – a place where, legend has it, St Patrick was told the entrance to purgatory exists.
Run today by the Catholic Church, pilgrims of all religions are welcome to follow age old proceedings which include fasting, walking barefoot and praying for three days.
The prayers recited are all included in a booklet participants receive on arrival and are carried out at various points on the island, such as the remains of ancient monastic beehive huts.
A certain degree of hardiness is required for this one as the entire first night on the island is spent in prayer – no sleep – and you survive the three days on black coffee and dry toast.
The pilgrimage season runs from June 1st to August 15th, 2011.
Cost:€55pp, including boat fare and dormitory accommodation (for night's two and three). There's a one-day "Lough Derg-light" option, too, which costs €30.
For a much gentler option, Ard Nahoo in Leitrim offers a two-day personal retreat focusing on the restorative benefits of nature.
Guests here stay in private eco-cabins surrounded by the peace and quiet of the gentle Leitrim countryside. Spend your days out walking before returning to enjoy everything from an outdoor sauna and hot tub to yoga classes and massage treatments. No shortage of food here and it’s all organic.
Cost:the two-day retreat, including organic welcome pack with breakfast foods and one dinner, is available throughout the year and costs €260pp midweek rising to €360 at weekends. A three-day mind and body detox including yoga classes, water treatments, vegan meals and lots of walking, is €420pp based on two sharing.
The therapeutic value of spending time in the great outdoors can’t be overstated and is the basis of the wilderness therapy and survival skills course organised by Lough Allen Adventure Centre, also in Leitrim.
As centre manager Kevin Currid puts it, getting in touch with how your ancestors lived “makes you feel more alive than you have done in ages. It’s all about experiencing the sheer joy that comes of immersing yourself in the beauty of nature and participants come away treasuring what is a very positive and energising experience”.
Participants learn how to build shelters in the wild, how to light fires without a Firelog and how to forage and make such delicacies as nettle soup and dandelion root tea.
There are fishing workshops and nature walks and, all in all, you’ll return to your suburban homestead a changed person.
Cost:the two-day wilderness therapy course costs €110.
You have to love the Gyreum, just because it’s so odd. As its owner, Colum Stapleton, describes, it’s a lot like the place the Telly Tubbies used to emerge from and it’s just not what you’d expect in rural Sligo.
From here, however, he operates one of the best known pilgrim tours in the country, the Gyrovagus, taking in a wonderfully eclectic mix of religions along the way.
The nine-day pedestrian jaunt takes you through six counties and all kinds of terrain. Being Ireland, you can expect all kinds of weather too, typically all within the same hour.
A 250km marathon, bring stout boots and an open mind and you’ll learn far more than just the history and belief systems of the various religious communities you meet along the way.
Picnics and food stops are organised for you, including visits to everything from the Buddhists of Cavan to the Scottish Church in Enniskillen and the Poor Clares of Drumshanbo. And, like pilgrims in days of yore, you won’t find their hospitality lacking.
Cost: the trip takes place once a month and costs €790.
Anyone looking for a spiritual alternative to the daily grind should check out the programme at the Chrysalis centre in Donard, west Wicklow.
It has all sorts of wellness programmes throughout the year, including, next month, an eight-day Hoffman Process workshop which aims to resolve issues around self esteem and relationships.
Hot on its heels is a weekend’s “Dancing the rainbow”, a workshop involving dance, movement, voice work, creative writing, colour and light therapy.
But first up comes a weekend of Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese practice which offers not just a handy martial art when you need one, but health benefits too, including physical and mental flexibility and grace.
It’s also a great stress reliever.
Cost:the Tai Chi Chuan weekend, from March 4th to 6th, is led by world Tai Chi Chuan champion Imelda Maguire. It costs €295, including time in nature and both indoor and outdoor classes. And if all you need is a little time out, book the hermitage in its restful Zen garden, perfect for reflection, meditation or simply rest. Self-catering and cosy, it costs €60pp per day, with a two-day minimum.
For a total change of pace you’d be hard pressed to beat the spiritual retreats on offer on Inis Rath Island in Fermanagh, home of bhakti yoga in Ireland.
The island has been home to a Krishna temple since 1986, as well as to various troupes of peacock, heron, swan and deer. The bucolic surrounds provide a perfect backdrop for a range of spiritual retreats, ranging from workshops in meditation and yoga to courses on eastern philosophy.
And, while your mind and spirit are so occupied, your body can lap up the full body aromatherapy massages you can book while there.
Cost:its Candle-light Kirtan, a weekend of calming mantra music and sacred chants open to all from March 25th to 27th, costs €175.
West Cork’s a tonic in itself but anyone feeling in need of a more intensive spiritual intervention should check out Passaddhi, a residential centre which specialises in “mindfulness”.
The main meditation practised here is vipassana, as taught by Buddha more than 2,500 years ago and still taught widely in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka.
The other form of meditation taught here is metta or loving-kindness meditation, designed to help you rediscover the “joyful, radiant place in ourselves that is our true being”.
Well, it would be a shame to lose it.
Retreats are residential in shared accommodation with home grown organic vegetarian meals.
Cost:true to the spirit of the enterprise there is no charge for the courses other than a €100 registration charge for weekend events and €200 fee for week long events. After that, participants are simply asked to make a donation.
* The discoverireland.ie website is also a good source of information for spiritual breaks in Ireland.