Winter trip to Buddhist retreat in West Cork was the perfect tonic

Olive Ryan recalls a visit to Dzogchen Beara Retreat Centre, in her weekly gardening column
Winter trip to Buddhist retreat in West Cork was the perfect tonic

Spectacular views out to sea from the Dzogchen Retreat Centre hostel garden in West Cork.

DURING the month of January, us gardeners are recharging our batteries, making plans for the year ahead, and venturing out into the garden when the weather allows.

It can be a challenging month after all of the festivities enjoyed in the run up to the year’s end.

A trip to west Cork to visit the Dzogchen Beara Retreat Centre was both calming and inspiring and just what I needed in the middle of January.

It is located on the edge of the Beara Peninsula in the most dramatic and beautiful of locations, especially in the middle of winter.

This Retreat Centre offers opportunities to learn about how the wisdom and compassion teachings of Buddhism can bring ease and understanding into our hectic modern lives.

Dzogchen Retreat Centre on the edge of the Beara Peninsula.
Dzogchen Retreat Centre on the edge of the Beara Peninsula.

On just arriving at the location and taking in the views, peace immediately has an effect. It is home to an impressive traditional Tibetan-style monastery (inset below), currently under construction on site. The temple is adorned with a copper roof, with floor to ceiling windows making the most of the sea views.

It is hoped that it will open in 2023, offering a range of public retreats and seminars, and it will be the first Tibetan Buddhist temple to open in Ireland.

Right below this temple is a stupa, which translates as ‘heap’, and it can relate to a burial mound or a shrine containing relics of great Buddhist masters. Pilgrims walk clockwise around the stupa and this is said to purify negative karma and can help a person realise the path to enlightenment.

There is also a very simply designed meditation garden overlooking the sea, which lets the surroundings speak for themselves.

The retreat centre also provides different accommodations, rental cottages, budget hostel and care centre. In addition, a cafe and shop on site is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

The centre was the brainchild of Peter and Harriet Cornish, who purchased 150 acres of rugged clifftop farmland 50 years ago, in 1973, with the aim of creating a place that would offer a spiritual home to people of all traditions.

In 1992, they gifted the land and buildings to a charitable trust under the spiritual guidance of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the acclaimed The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying and founder of Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist Centres and groups.

Pines have been used to create some sheltered pockets throughout the site
Pines have been used to create some sheltered pockets throughout the site

Harriet died aged 44 of cancer in 1993 and her peaceful death and the care she received inspired the building of the Spiritual Care Centre, which opened in 2007 and offers retreat for those suffering illness or disability, for professional carers or home carers looking after family, and those experiencing grief or burn-out.

During their time developing the centre, Peter and Harriet planted 10,000 trees on the site. 

The site is a testament to some extremely resilient plants as conditions for growth are challenging to say the least!

The whole site is very wild in nature, with some of the more recent planting intervention providing a degree of shelter.

The site is spectacular, with views out to sea looking over at Sheeps and Mizen Head peninsulas. There is lots of fuchsia and montbretia, which is very typical of West Cork, as well as heather, gorse, whitethorn and stone pines throughout the south-east facing site.

Plenty of rock outcrops indicate the thin layer of soil available for plants to establish, making it a very challenging environment, along with the salt- laden south-westerly winds coming in off the Atlantic. It is nothing short of a miracle that anything gets going!

Various pathways wind down the mountainside with groves of pines providing some shelter, where views can be taken in and reflections made along this exposed coastline.

There is a beauty in the ruggedness of the landscape here. Two polytunnels and some raised beds are located adjacent to the hostel and this sheltered spot produces fruit and vegetables all year. There is a plentiful supply of seaweed nearby which is put to good use, enhancing the soil for food production.

Overall, the approach to gardening at this windswept location is very naturalised, with lots of native plants providing ground and shrub cover and pockets of shelter dotted along this spectacular coastal location provided by very hardy pine trees.

Nature is doing the talking here.

For more information about the centre, check out

 Beschorneria yuccoides - Plant of the Week,
Beschorneria yuccoides - Plant of the Week,

Plant of the Week

A striking plant was growing well at Dzogchen, forming a generous clump near the Care Centre. It had lush, tropical-looking strappy leaves, very like yucca, but without the rigid leaves and the sharp point at the tip.

It was Beschorneria yuccoides also known as Mexican Lily, a really eye-catching architectural plant for the garden, which is native to South Africa and tolerant of drought and high temperatures.

It is essential that it is grown in a free draining soil and will do best in full sun and a sheltered location. It is growing well at this location in West Cork where it was sheltered from the wind.

It would be relatively frost-free being so near the sea so would not require fleecing in wintertime.

In addition to its exotic strappy leaves, it has a dramatic arching raceme flower tinged pink/red with outer bracts, appearing in early summer which gets up to 1.5 metres in height arising from this clump forming perennial.

This plant would make a great addition to the garden if you’re trying to achieve a textured jungle effect.

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