“There are still places on this earth that sing of all that came and left, of all that is still here, and of all that is left to come. Places that have been touched, warmed by the presence of something. By its heat, by its breath, by the beat of its heart.”Kerri ní Dochartaigh
Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry at the very height of the Troubles. One parent was Catholic, the other Protestant. In the space of a year, Kerri’s family was forced out of two homes and, when she was eleven, a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. For families like hers, terror was in the very fabric of the city.
In Thin Places, Kerri explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal and how we are again allowing our borders to become hard and terror to creep back in. Kerri asks us to reclaim and rejoice in our landscape and to remember that the land we fight over is much more than lines on a map.
A breathtaking mix of memoir, nature writing and history: this is Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s story of a wild Ireland, an invisible border, an old conflict, and the healing power of the natural world.
This book had been appearing to me for many months. I feel like every time I entered a bookshop or flicked to social media, this book stared me in the face each time. After reading it, I see why it was calling out.
Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s experience of nature is a healing one. Nature is something that soothes her and connects her to the world. But it is also intensely spiritual. Kerri talks of her grandfather and how he was a storyteller, recounting tales of ‘thin places’ in the wilderness where the veil between the worlds is as light as gossamer. These are places where messages from other realms can come through to us, telling us that there is more than the world we currently inhabit. These ‘thin places’ deliver moments of clarity, allowing us to know ourselves deeply and feel truly at home, perhaps for the first time in our lives.
The book’s spiritual element drew me in but it was the realistic depiction of mental health that kept me there.
As someone who has also been through more than my fair share of mental health struggles (is there a universally allotted amount?), I found myself recognising the author’s descriptions of deep depression. It wasn’t a leap of recognition – my heart didn’t swell with the gladness of knowing I’m not alone – it was a dull feeling, one of the mundane. It was almost comforting in its familiarity. Similarly to the author, throughout my life, I have hopped from place to place, from job to job, in the hope that a change of scene will make me happier and magic up a new sense of belonging. I do not share the author’s specific life experience that led her to do this in her own life but I can understand the motivation of wanting to take yourself into a new setting and get lost in the deep green folds of nature in order to forget.
The book, however, is one of immense joy as well. The sound of heavy wingbeats overhead; the ever-changing colour of water; the surprise of sharing a moment with a small, delicate creature stirring in the undergrowth. Ní Dochartaigh’s perceptions and descriptions of the natural world are stunningly beautiful.
I recently went away to the North Wales peninsula, hiring a small cottage without WiFi, a half-hour drive to the nearest town. In a year where I got married, changed jobs twice, bought a new home and published a book, I was feeling burnout with a keenness that shocked me. This little cottage by the fields, cliffs and sea helped me to heal my spirit and also gave me access to some of the ‘thinnest places’ I have ever known. It felt like the perfect setting to be reading such a book, allowing myself to pull a blanket of verdant moss over my soul in order to heal.
Thin Places is a masterpiece of grief and healing. I have given this book a resounding 5/5 stars on Goodreads and would recommend it to anyone who finds that nature nourishes and heals their soul.