cover image CLIMBING BRANDON: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain

CLIMBING BRANDON: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain

Chet Raymo, . . Walker, $22 (193pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-1433-6

In The Path , Raymo told the stories of the places he passes on his daily walk from his home in North Easton, Mass., to his workplace at Stonehill College. Here the former Boston Globe science columnist treats us to a similar meditation on another locale he knows well: Mount Brandon, on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland, where Raymo spends summer vacations. Brandon offers him an opportunity to explore "the nexus of several threads in Western thought—Celtic polytheism, Christian monotheism and scientific empiricism." He structures this intellectual journey by way of landmarks along the pilgrim path that ascends the holy Irish mountain. Vividly descriptive prose conveys a strong feeling of place and mood, as Raymo contemplates local geology, natural history and the interplay of climate and topography on the one hand and ancient Irish spirituality and literature on the other. Drawing on academic scholarship, Raymo introduces readers to such ancient seasonal festivals as Lughnasa, Somain and Bealtaine; to stories from Irish myth and folklore; to fragments of ancient Irish verse; and to biographies of Saint Brendan and Saint Patrick. Musing on the relation between scientific observation and what we call superstition, Raymo hovers at the thresholds where geology meets human history and pre-Christian Ireland meets contemporary Irish Catholicism, while dwelling on the significance of a God conceived of as immanent rather than transcendent. The result is an uplifting, though for some perhaps meandering, contemplation of Irish animistic traditions and the power of landscape in the land of "saints and scholars." (May)