Dzogchen Spiritual Care Centre rises on the Beara peninsula

By Jackie Keogh, The Southern Star, Aug 31, 2007

Irish President to visit site of new spiritual care centre in Allihies

Allihies, Ireland -- UNDERSTANDING living and dying is a personal matter, but it affects us all. On Wednesday, September 12 next, President Mary McAleese will visit the site of a new Spiritual Care Centre on the Beara peninsula that is being built specifically for people with chronic, or terminal, illnesses.

The Dzogchen Beara retreat centre, on its stunning clifftop location, provides an oasis of calm and tranquility for visitors.

Anyone who would like to take this opportunity to visit the Dzogchen Beara retreat centre, hear President McAleese speak, or simply find out more about what the new care centre will have to offer, is welcome to attend – provided they are on site before 2 pm on the afternoon of Wednesday week next.

The Dzogchen Beara retreat centre is located at the end of a very long, beautiful but very narrow road, so the organisers are proposing to use a shuttle bus to ferry people from the GAA pitch at Cahermore when the car park at the centre is full.

The manager of Dzogchen Beara, Matt Padwick, expects there will be a large attendance: In addition to the numerous invitations they have sent out to people involved in palliative care and general practice, they are also sending out a flyer to people on the Beara Peninsula informing them about the president’s visit and telling them they are welcome to attend.

Sogyal Rinpoche, the spiritual director of Dzogchen Beara and the author of ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,’ will be there to welcome the president and outline the work that is being carried out at the retreat centre, as well as the plans for the new care centre.

Sogyal Rinpoche will also lead a three-day weekend retreat, starting on Friday, September 14.  Three hundred people are expected to attend the retreat, making it one of the biggest events ever held at Dzogchen Beara.

After visiting the new centre– which is designed to offer space and solace for people who are trying to find meaning in life and hope in death – the president will walk through the grounds to where a large marquee will be erected in the meditation garden, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and address the assembly.

“It will be a special day for Beara and for us,” said Matt, “because President McAleese has agreed to unveil a plaque in memory of Harriet Cornish, who founded Dzogchen Beara in 1974 with her husband Peter, but died in 1993.

“Harriet’s death was an inspiration to many of her carers and they had the idea of building a Spiritual Care Centre at Dzogchen Beara.  Now, with the centre now under construction, it seems a fitting time to honour her.”


Since 1994, Dzogchen Beara has been running a spiritual care programme in preparation for the day the care centre will be opened.  The programme includes a variety of seminars, such as contemplative care giving, that have been accredited by An Bord Altranais and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).

Matt said he hopes the care centre, which will be completed in 2008, will serve the local, national and international community because it will not only provide for people who are dying, and their families, it will also provide complementary training for health care professionals.

“It will be the first of its kind – a blueprint – for other centres around the world and will also complement the wonderful work that hospices currently offer in addressing the spiritual needs of people who are living with illness or dying.

“When we find we have a chronic illness, or we are told that we only have a few years, or even months to live, our lives can change dramatically and there is often a real need to find meaning, resolution and peace.

“If the need for connection, love, forgiveness and reconciliation are not addressed, our suffering can exacerbate the physical pain, anxiety, and other distressing symptoms of dying.

“Responding to these many sources of suffering remains an on-going professional and deeply personal challenge than can lead to exhaustion, accumulated grief and burnout.

“In order to meet the needs of the whole person,” Matt said, “it is important to understand our patients’ needs, concerns, their feelings and beliefs – not just Buddhist beliefs – and help, with wisdom and compassion, to find a more positive way to prepare for death.”

Of the §2.7 million that has been raised to date, approximately half was raised in Ireland through private sponsorship.  The remainder came from members of Rigpa, the international network of Buddhist centres founded by Sogyal Rinpoche.

Matt explained that there are 106 Rigpa centres in thirty countries around the world, including five city and five rural centres in Ireland.  He said: “Their contributions – and contributions from members of the public who feel a special connection with Dzogchen Beara – have been incredibly generous.

“The response also shows the interest and enthusiasm there is for having a care centre of this kind in the country and we were delighted that the site work could begin early this year.”


A local contractor, Connie Sullivan Plant Hire, did a great job in preparing the groundwork on the site. Situated at the highest vantage point on the land, the care centre will be cut into the hillside and offer a panoramic view of the sea.

The builders, Cahalane Bros. Ltd., from Dunmanway, moved on site in June and they have been equally professional to deal with, according to Matt, who said the building is already at roof level.

The plans for the Spiritual Care Centre are intricate, but they had an excellent design team in the award-winning firm of ‘Solearth Ecological Architects’, who were chosen for their appreciation and understanding of the importance of the project and the physical environment.

Because of the complex nature of the building and the fact that it is being built on a beautiful, but exposed, location to the highest environmental and ecological standards, Matt said there were many unique design challenges that had to be met.

A further §1.8 million will be required to complete the project by May, and project team at Dzogchen Beara plan to spend the summer of 2008 furnishing, equipping and landscaping the site before opening the centre officially in October.

As part of the landscaping project, Matt said they are planning to develop a memorial garden, which will include a bronze plaque of Harriet, created by her good friend Jenny Richardson.

The plaque, which shows Harriet looking out to sea, is very inspiring. “I’m sure a lot of people will be able to relate to the spirit of this image,” said Matt, “and we hope that the memorial garden, adjacent to the care centre, will be a place of rest and remembrance.”

The centre will have four care nursing rooms specifically for guests, three more for family, friends and guests who are not in need of physical care and a further three studio rooms for resident staff members.

A family kitchen and a circular meditation room, offering floor to ceiling views of the Atlantic Ocean, will also be included in the new Spiritual Care Centre, as well as a treatment room.

The building is designed in such a way that when you enter, you walk straight into a family kitchen and living room area, which makes it feel like a home from home. The building, said Matt, is not about Buddhism – it is beyond religion.

Medical care is not provided.  That will continue to be the remit of the palliative care unit at Bantry General Hospital, or whatever care, or specialist treatment, the guest is receiving at that time.

Dzogchen Beara is open to visitors and is located between Castletownbere and Allihies. 

Look out for the large blue sign and the new smaller sign – a red teapot – advertising the fact that they have recently-opened ‘Harriet’s Kitchen’, a delightful new tearoom serving first-rate coffee.

Matt said they opened the tearoom, because “there was a need to offer visitors to the centre refreshments and a space where they could sit and enjoy the view.”  It is open daily from 10.30 am until 4.30 pm from Easter to October.

Meanwhile, anyone who would like to join the meditation practice can attend the daily 9.45 to 10.30 am session, or the 3 to 4 pm session from Monday to Friday.

At Dzogchen Beara, there is also a hostel and holiday cottages available to anyone attending the various retreats and seminars, but the accommodation is also available to visitors who would like to stay a while in this very special place.

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