Serenity on the Irish Coast: Dzogchen Beara

Last updated December 12, 2023

According to the ancient art of geomancy, the land at the jagged edge where Europe meets the Atlantic Ocean on which Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Meditation Centre is built is a “power place”—-an area of renewal and healing. 

Much like the “thin places” of Celtic mythology, these are rare locales where the veil between this world and the otherworld is porous, where there is a mystery in the landscape and where the distance between heaven and earth collapses.

As Kerri ni Dochartaigh writes in her book Thin Places: “They are the places that make us feel something larger than ourselves.”

And this Dzogchen Beara does. 

Dzogchen Beara History Abounds

To better understand the origins of this calm captivating settlement of simple white buildings perched on the edge of a clifftop in Ireland’s southern Beara peninsula, you have to go back to the early 1970s. 

It was then that Peter Cornish, a young, eccentric half-blind Englishman and his girlfriend, Harriet, drove their battered Renault 4 on to the Swansea-Cork ferry on their quest to fulfil his childhood dream of creating a spiritual home for people of all religions and others of none. 

After viewing a 150-acre run-down farm in Garranes, with no water or electricity and accessible only by horse and cart, Cornish knew this was the place of those dreams. 

With fervent confidence and a single-minded vision he set about transforming the wind-blasted cluster of ruins into what today is a renowned Buddhist retreat. 

“It was the realization of a dream of childhood and a doorway to the path that leads beyond wanting,” Cornish writes in his mesmerizing biography Dazzled by Daylight

Since Dzogchen Beara opened, many Tibetan masters, and almost everyone who visits, comment on the extraordinary qualities of Dzogchen Beara—its beautifully simple natural environment and atmosphere of profound peace which comes from deep spiritual practice. And the people. 

“There is something about the people here who are committed to working with their minds,” says Malcolm MacClancy, who lived here for some months in the late 1990s and is now a director.  

“I had read many books about spirituality, but what I discovered here was a place to experience this and make it personally meaningful. A place where I could make friends with my mind,” says MacClancy. “This is what meditation means to me and this is what lies at the heart of Dzogchen Beara.” 

Here, compassion comes center stage as every practice begins with a wish to benefit others. “In essence, it’s mindfulness and awareness with a compassionate motivation,” MacClancy qualifies.

Dzogchen Beara is a place where I could make friends with my mind.

Malcolm MacClancy, director of Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Meditation Centre

In 1992, Cornish made a gift of the land and buildings to a charitable trust under the spiritual guidance of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and founder of Rigpa—a network of centers dedicated to making the Buddhist teachings of compassion, meditation and wisdom available to the modern world.

As with business the world over, many of Dzogchen’s offerings are now online with daily meditations and longer courses on mindfulness, compassion and much more. 

The menu of on-site retreats is growing as more people are seeking guidance in life and looking for time out to recalibrate, with spiritual inquirers and students of Buddhism travelling from various corners of the world to spend time and study here. 

Passion & Purpose

Many guests stay in the hostel alongside the visiting students, while others prefer one of the three fully-equipped cottages overlooking the wild Atlantic, where they attend twice daily drop-in guided meditations in the Shrine Room (the epicenter of Dzogchen) and hike, bike or just curl up on a couch by a wood-burning stove, watching the ever-changing light on the waves far below, 

If people come and it helps them find more peace or meaning, then Dzogchen has served its purpose.

Malcolm MacClancy, director of Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Meditation Centre

The on-site Spiritual Care Centre offers supported stays for people from all walks of life who are navigating challenging times. There are seven en-suite rooms and experienced care staff on hand offering personal support to those facing long-term or life-limiting illness or those suffering from grief, stress or burnout. 

Dzogchen is an open place, with a café serving some of the best coffee, homemade cakes and sandwiches in Ireland, served with the warmest smiles and again, those views. 

”If people come and it helps them find more peace or meaning, then Dzogchen has served its purpose,” adds MacClancy.

Dzogchen Beara is easily found for those who seek it out, but it makes every effort not to be a blot on the landscape. 

Nor will Ireland’s first Tibetan Buddhist temple, set in a secluded corner of the site and designed by architect Giles Oliver, in the style of a traditional Tibetan monastery, when it opens its doors in 2023.

Dazzled by Daylight describes the magical spaces that exist all around and within us and it is only when we take the time to retreat from the world and to be still that this magic starts to unfold. 

And while many of those who travel up the long narrow, windy entrance, flanked by delicate silk prayer flags decorated with Tibetan blessings, aren’t that interested in Buddhism, they arrive here for a reason (often unbeknownst to themselves at the time). 

“And that was the point of my bamboo retreat. It taught me that this precious life is a necklace of events, strung on a thread made of breathing. And its fragility is constantly increased by the way that we take it for granted,” says Cornish. 

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