Celts to the Creche: John O’Donohue of Ireland

John O'Donohue

John O’Donohue

Celts to the Crèche: Day 16

November 30

John O’Donohue of Ireland

January 1, 1956-January 4, 2008

On this 16th day of journeying with the Celts to the Crèche, we join up with a modern day  Celt, John O’Donohue of Ireland. John was a renowned former priest, poet, philosopher, mystic, author, scholar, and a lover of his home territory of the Burren on the western coast of Ireland.

John  had a beautiful, Celtic wild soul with a mesmerizing Irish lilt to his voice.  He was known for being a gregarious, fun-loving companion, with an earthy sense of humor and joie de vivre, and was a mesmerising storyteller who also loved solitude. John, who was known to enjoy a good single malt or Jameson whiskey was able  to connect the worldly with the sacred — and see it all as holy.

You may desire to continue reading more about John O’Donohue or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

Discovering this Celtic Author: In the Fall of 2008, I was on a retreat at the incredibly beautiful St. John’s Abbey Guesthouse in Collegeville, Minnesota. Squeezed into a tight little corner of my mini carry-on suitcase was a new black and gold paperback  by an author I had never heard of, to read in the solitude of my peaceful, zen-like room overlooking the serene view of swaying trees and glassy pond. As I had recently discovered Celtic Christian spirituality, the title had intrigued me, so  Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue was my companion on this retreat. This book spoke to my soul profoundly.

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue

Anam Cara by John O’Donohue

To hear the news that John O’Donohue had just passed away within the year was very sad. Since that retreat, I have re-read Anam Cara numerous times and have devoured all his other books, listened to podcasts, and watched youtube videos of this most unusual Celt who now resides on the other side of the veil. To read his books or to hear his engaging voice intonate one of his poems is to savor the gift of blessing that transforms into a deep knowing that the Presence of God is with us, within us, and surrounding our very being. His friends speak of his amazing huge deep joyous laugh and the twinkle in his eyes.

Information about John’s life can be found at www. johnodonohue.com: 


Grave of John O'Donohue, Creggagh Cemetery

Grave of John O’Donohue, Creggagh Cemetery

Following is a poem that John wrote that was published in his book To Bless the Space Within (Benedictus in Europe and UK) two months after he died.

‘May there be some beautiful surprise
Waiting for you inside death
Something you never knew or felt,
Which with one simple touch
Absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
As you quicken within the embrace
For which your soul was eternally made.

‘May your heart be speechless
At the sight of the truth
Of all your belief had hoped,
Your heart breathless
In the light and lightness
Where each and every thing
Is at last its true self
Within that serene belonging
That dwells beside us
On the other side
Of what we see.’


As a pastor, I have  read John O’ Donohue’s poignant poem, Beannacht (Blessing) at numerous graveside services. He wrote this blessing for his mother Josie years before either of them passed away:

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


Some Resources:

John O’Donohue website. Information about John, a listing of all his books, videos, recordings, memorial, etc. Excellent website about John.

The Independent. John Skinner’s thoughts on John O’Donohue.

The Irish Times. Poet and Author John O’Donohue Laid to Rest. January 14, 2008.

The Irish Times. President at Funeral of Poet’s Mother. January 4, 2012.

McColman, Carl. Remembering John O’Donohue. January 2008.

On Being. An oral interview with John O’Donohue.Tippett, Krista. Beauty is an Edge of Becoming. 

______. An oral interview with John O’Donohue. Tippett, Krista. The Inner Landscape of Beauty. 

Sawyers, June Skinner. “John O’Donohue” in Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.


About Rev. Brenda Griffin Warren

I am an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) recently retired pastor. I am married with two grown sons, a daughter-in-love, two Maine Coon cats, and spend a lot of my life at the beach shell-shopping. My interests include illuminated manuscripts, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints, pilgrimage, Celtic spirituality, Shakers, Anglo-Saxon and Merovingian abbesses and their double monasteries, Native American spirituality, and genealogy. Let us pilgrimage together with the Celtic/Anglo-Saxon saints in my 40 Day Celtic Advent Devotional entitled, "Celts to the Creche" at www.saintsbridge.org.
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