A Thin Place
I’ve always had a sort-of connection to Iona, from before I was born - apparently my parents almost named me Iona, but it was my older sister who convinced them to add that ‘F’ on the front of it. Still, it’s more than a coincidence the isle’s called Iona Eilean and I’m called Fiona Eileen. A few years before he passed away, my dad was spending his summers out there, working in the abbey, and after he died I made it a point to go visit the little Scottish island myself back in 2013.
It was something of a pilgrimage for me really, to get myself out there (via a train, a bus, and two ferries), to hike its rocky hills and craggy black coastline alone. It’s been six years since then though, and a lot changes between nineteen and twenty-five. I wanted to go again, to see it as a fully-fledged adult this time. But time moves slower out there at the edge of the world, I think - from the minute I stepped off the ferry I knew Iona was just as I’d remembered.
It’s hard to describe exactly what it’s like out in Iona, staring into the ocean from a tiny bench on a tiny beach, on a tiny island nestled in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Mainly because I think the feeling is different for every person. The landscape out there’s not particularly majestic, or urban, or even unique - rocky coastline against blue seas, bucolic pastures speckled with daisies, a small pier with scattered fishing traps. And at only one mile wide and four miles long, there’s really not a whole lot to do - a couple of restaurants, a handful of hotels, and you can walk through the abbey in half a day.
But the Celts have a phrase for Iona, and places like it - “thin places” - places where the veil between heaven and earth is as thin as tissue paper, where you can walk between two spheres fused together as one, until you can no longer discern between this world and the next. Places where everything is illuminated with an undefinable power, that pervades all and transcends the senses.
Whether you agree with the Celts or not, for whichever gods and spirits you may or may not believe in, you will know something special when you go to Iona. It’s one of those things - one of those thin places - that has just got to be felt.