Visiting John O’Donohue’s Grave

On one visit to Ireland, I was staying in Doolin, County Clare when I had the inspiration to catch a ride up to Fanore a village in the extraordinary limestone region known as the Burren where Irish poet, philosopher, former priest had been born and raised. John did much to awaken an modern interest in Celtic Spirituality and I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with him on the Celtic Imagination many years before.

I had seen on the website devoted to his work that John was buried in Creggagh graveyard, about two miles south of the village along the coast road, just beyond O’Donohue’s pub. I got out in front of the pub and walked down the road warmed by the rare February sunshine. Stepping into the graveyard I scanned the headstones and caught sight of a handmade wooden slab at the head of what looked like a small garden. It was the only site like that in the cemetery and sensed it must be John’s.

On the front of the wooden headstone was a small handmade stone cross and a picture frame with a photo of John and an inscription that read John O’Donohue 1954 to 2008. . .and beyond. I burst out laughing because it so much caught the spirit of John and my sense that his big presence lives on still in his work and in the heart of all those who he touched. Next to his photo was a poem titled Beannacht (or Blessing) that John had written for his mother. (I’ve included it below.)

Others had obviously visited the grave leaving letters in plastic bags, rosaries and flowers that had been placed amid the bed of living plants including primroses and a small shrub of camillia I left my gratitude for all the ways John has influenced my life. Then walked back to village where I was staying, traveling across the rugged gray limestone of the Burren that John loved so much and worked so hard to preserve.

I later met someone who had attended his funeral who said, “it was as if one of the Kings of Ireland was being laid to rest. There was a very long procession of people who walked from the church to the graveyard. This image mirrors the great Blessing that John and his work has been for so many.


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.

– John O’Donohue

Here is updated information on John’s grave stone as of May 2017 that differ from the details I give below. The original wooden grave marker has been replaced by a large stone slab as seen in this photo. When I was there in May it had not yet been inscribed.

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7 Responses »

  1. What a powerful presence and influence. What a sweetheart.

  2. i wish i met this man what a wonderful inspiration to mankind so talented and thought provoking i hope to visit his his final resting place this year.

  3. Came across this when trying to discover a grave photo. I discovered John’s books last year, though I knew his poem above because a friend sent it to me after my daughter died. He is the nearest thing to a patron saint that an Anglican protestant like me admits to! I love his books and can’t describe how much they have taught me about faith and creativity. I hope the influence of his life and work continues to grow.

    suzanne Reply:

    Thank you for your beautiful message. I actually had the privilege of meeting John O’Donohue many years ago before I had read his books. He struck me as such a brilliant light that I feel does indeed continue to touch us through his writings. I love that that you consider him your patron saint. I hold him in similar regards. And yes I hope his work continues to echo out to the world.

  4. Thank you for sharing this wonderful Blessing from John O’Donahue. My husband, the love of my life, died suddenly on September 1, 2014, and every morning of his life he read spiritual material. He shared his readings with me and we discussed them in the two years after I retired. He (and I) were reading Anam Cara just prior to his death and I have continued to read the book as I try to find peace while wrestling with the overwhelming grief caused by his death. This very Blessing is one that my husband and I read and discussed shortly before his death. My husband was a psychotherapist, a gifted artist (landscape/nature photographer), poet and a philosopher and it comforts me to think that he and John O’Donohue are together in the spirit world.

    suzanne Reply:

    Thank you for your beautiful comment. I am so sorry for your loss. I’m sure your husband and John are indeed enjoying each other’s company. One of the things I like about John’s work and the Celtic Imagination as well as spending time in Ireland is the awareness that the invisible realms are closer than we think. There’s an Irish proverb that points to this, “help is closer than the door”. I have a sense that our loved ones are still right there for us, we only need to call on them and feel their loving presence. This has brought me great comfort in making peace with my own losses. John wrote the poem Beannacht/Blessing for his mother. I now wonder if it wasn’t meant to comfort her after the loss of her husband. I hope you continue to find peace in John’s work. Blessings to you.

  5. To elaine,
    I too discovered John O Donhoue and I can’t tell you how… hmm. I am living my forth year with stage four cancer and how foturnate I am to be able to share Anam Cara with my husband… I pray you continue to have ODonohue as your spiritual connection … in October my husband and I will pilgrim to Ireland and top priorty is visiting O Donohue’s grave site… I will rmember you. Margaret