|Ireland June 2009 (2nd account)
September 10th, 2009
Mom keeps on reminding me to blog about our month in Ireland while the trip is vivid in my memory. So, at last, here it is.
There were really two primary reasons why we chose to spend a month in Ireland. First, we were inspired to return to Ireland after attending the Irish cruise in the Caribbean. We fell in love with Irish set dancing, ( group social dancing) which was done every evening on the cruise. I think the cruise also reminded us in general what a kinship we feel for the Irish: Ireland is the foundation of the music we play, the dance we do, ... in fact, it is the place where our relatives came from. Anyhow, the cruise reminded of us Ireland. Soon after we attended the cruise and I had started scheming how to spend time there, our friend emailed me, asking if we’d ever be able to play music with him at a conference out side of Dublin! He was virtually positive that it would be impossble for us to come. I got totally psyched and told him my scheme to travel to Ireland. So these two factors led us to be sitting, 2 months later, on a plane headed to Dublin.
Our first destination was two days in Ireland’s capital, Dublin. We’d spent a bit of time in Dublin when we were there 5 years ago. I remembered busking on the pedestrian Grafton St, then getting tea and counting our loot in the renowned Bewley’s Tea shop. It was great this trip to get much more familiar with Dublin and many other parts of Ireland. Since we had organized the trip ouselves and had to navigate around the country, it was inevidable that we’d get to know this land better. We were greeted at the Dublin airport by Br Columba, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal (my heroes!) . We met Br Columba in NY city (when we were performing for an event that the friars organized), then we ‘d seen him again in Sydney Australia when we performed at World Youth Day., and in LA . He had invited us to stay with him and his parents in their home in Dublin. Br Columba and his mom showed us around the centre of Dublin... Grafton St, the art museum, Stephens Green ( a lovely park),... That evening, their family served us a trad Irish supper, Fish and Chips, (the Irish literally eat potatoes EVERY meal!) After supper, we all gathered in the living room , drinking tea, playing trad music, and listening to stories of their family. Throughout the evening, neighbors dropped in and were invited in for tea. That evening was the first of many evenings sitting down, chatting, and drinking tea! The tradition of taking time in the day to sit down and make a cup of tea and chat with whomever is around is so lovely. I am honestly resolved to make that a tradition at home.
The 2nd day of our trip, we headed on to Atlhlone, Co Westmeath. We were dropped off at Busarus, Dublin’s main bus station. By the end of our trip, we were very aquainted with this bus system, Bus Eireann. (Im still finding the bus ticket stubs in my pockets and bags!) We had met a box player and set dancer, Brendan Doyle, on the cruise. He’d invited us to stay with him if we were ever in Ireland. I bet little did he know that we would take up his offer so soon. =) Brendan lived in Athlone, hence the bus ride to Athlone. Brendan’s ceili band was playing for two ceilis the next two evenings. So we tagged along with him. The first evening, we drove with Brendan to a ceili in Co Clare. The second day we drove with Brendan and his girlfriend to a ceili in Co Galway. I was continually surprised how close together places are in Ireland, (especially when we were in a car rather than in a bus)! I guess it shouldnt be a surprise since Ireland is not much bigger than the state of Indiana, (my dad always likes to say that , since Indiana is his birth place). It was so exciting to be set dancing again, especially to be dancing in the “real place”. Set dancing is one of my absolute favorite things to do ever... it is such a joyful experience! It was especially fantastic to dance to Brendan’s band, the Lough Ree Ceili band. They had great tunes, random pauses, unexpected tempo changes,... They were our favorite ceili band, (maybe it has to do with the fact that they were also young and cute. Our second favorite band was also comprised of young cute guys!) There were always tea breaks during the ceilis! After the dances, everyone would come outside sweaty and hot and be greeted by cold wind and rain! Aside from attending the ceilis with Brendan, we jammed a bit with him and spent time at his family’s farm in a small town about 30 minutes outside Athlone. He and his family were beef farmers. We got to watch Brendan and his father and other family members bale hay. I will admit that it was kind of humbling to know so little about farming! We all claim to want to farm when we “grow up” but then we looked a bit like two California city girls, asking what all the machinery was for and getting excited about going on the tractor for the first time. =)
Our next destination was a few days in Co Mayo to visit relatives. Yet we heard that the Tulla Ceili band, probably the most renowned ceili band, was playing in the city of Galway, so we decided to head there first. We got back onto Bus Eirean and headed to the lovely city of Galway. We’d been to Galway every time we’d been in Ireland. It is right on the water and his great for walking and busking. =) We were dropped off at the main station. We lugged our duffels, fiddles, and backpack off the bus, and tried to get our bearings. I had a tourist book on Ireland, which had good maps and recommendations for accommodations, (which I always tried to hide so that we did not look too much like stupid tourists). There were a few hostels that were mentioned in the book. We followed a map to the first hostel. Unfortunately and surprisingly it was all filled. We learned that there was a huge festival going on in celebration of an international rigatta that had stopped in Galway. That explained the throngs of people in the city. Luckily the 2nd hostel we tried was available. I was a bit weirded at first when I learned that the rooms were guys and girls, but it was totally fine. =) After dropping off our duffels and deciding that it would be safer to keep our fiddles and passports and other valuables with us, we followed the crowds toward the water front, where the festival was being held and where the Tulla was supposedly playing. We actually did not know where at the festival the band was supposed to play, but at last we found the main stage and learned that this was the stage where Tulla would be. We were famished at this point, so went off to find some healthy enough dinner fare. (We were on the budget guide to eating and travel, which was actually quite fun. We were able to spend about 8 euro each per day on food.) We found some fish and bread, then sat down to watch Tulla. The festival was totally packed and gigantic. It reminded us of World Youth Day. Tulla was great! It was really sweet that the ordinary city festival crowd enjoyed this trad band! The greatest aspect was that a bunch of people got up and started set dancing!! That would never happen back home! We stayed at the festival until it ended. The act after the Tulla band was a Riverdance type show: trad fiddlers, singers, pipers, world champion dancers,.... It was a beautiful evening all together at the festival. The next day, we decided to busk a bit before heading to Mayo. The city was still crowded and we did very well!
From Galway, we got on Bus Eirean and headed north to Co Mayo. We were excited to see Kiltimagh, the town where my mom’s grandmother came from. We still had relatives living in Kiltimagh, and we had visited them 5 years ago. It was exciting to be going to a place from which we had come... not that we ever lived here, but one of our great grandparents had. We would never have existed if our great grandmother had not existed or if she had not chosen the life that she did. Kiltimagh is a village with one main road, with one church, shops, etc. There are a few residential roads surrounding the main road. We were picked up by the husband of our 3rd cousin, Mairead. Mairead and her husband and three children (around the same ages as us) lived right next door to Mairead’s sister, Frances and their aunt, 90 year old Vera. We were staying with Frances and Mairead. When we arrived at Frances’ house, we were offered salad and tea, and we sat down and chatted for a long time with our cousins. They all wanted to know how everyone was doing back in America. Vera told us about her life growing up in a one room stone cottage on a farm. She said that they barely had enough to eat, yet they still really knew how to celebrate life. She said that there were dances at the cross roads of the roads of the town. They were so hospitable! We ‘d only met them once before but we felt totally at home! Two of Mairead’s children were home for the summer. We had some lovely chats with 24 year old Aine and 20 yr old Brendan. We told our relatives that we had recently fallen in love with set dancing. We had learned that there was a ceili every Monday night in Swinford, a town near to Kiltimagh. Brendan offered to drive us to the ceili. The ceili was great as usual. The crowd was virtually all older people. We were by far the youngest. =)
The next day, we hiked Croagh Patrick with Brendan. This mountain was supposedly where St Patrick spent 40 days in praying and fasting. We had hiked it twice before. The first time we hiked it, I was 11 years old. It had not been a difficult hike. Yet the 2nd time, I was 17. That time, the hike had seemed very tiring. (I think part of it might have been because we were praying a rosary on the way up which made us even more out of breath.) Anyhow, we were interested to see how we found the hike this time. The hike was quite a different experience this time because it was a sunny day and was probably 85 degrees! There were many other hikers on the path. The hike was not too hard, although we did stop a few times for water and to look at the beautiful views of Clew Bay. It felt like a great accomplishment when at last we reached the top of the mountain. The last 20 minutes are the most difficult: the mountain becomes very steep and is all rocky. There is a little chapel dedicated to St Patrick at the top. It had always been locked the other times we’d hiked the mountain, but it happened to be open when we were there because it was being cleaned. That was a nice surprise! The views were spectacular from the top, especially because it was such a clear day! That evening, we chatted more with Aine. The next day, we headed for Ennis. But before that, we first walked around Kiltimagh and then visited the Marian shrine, Knock Shrine. Vera and her brother, Tom, had owned a pub on the main road. The pub had closed a few years ago, when Tom passed away, but we still wanted to see it. We also visited the church. Knock Shrine was a 10 minute drive from Kiltimagh. Mary and St John the Evangelist and a Lamb had appeared there in the 1800s. It was now a big pilgrimage site. We had been to Knock the first time we were in Ireland. This time, we attended mass in the apparition chapel then went to adoration for a bit and prayed the Stations of the Cross. (Vera had asked us to pray the stations for her!)
From Mayo, we got back on to Bus Eirean and headed for Ennis, Co Clare. We had stayed in Ennis when we were doing our photo shoot three years ago, so we were quite aquainted with the town. We had an american friend, Adam, from a fiddle camp who was now living in Ennis. I had emailed him, asking if we could stay with him. Adam lived within walking distance from Ennis’ bus station, so we got directions from him and walked toward his apartment. We met Adam half way and he showed us to his apartment. We chatted with Adam and he recommended the good sessions in Ennis, as well a great little produce shop which had cheap produce. Elizabeth and I then headed into the town, because there was supposedly a set dance class that evening at a pub. We passed the large church whose large steeple towers over the main street. We walked pass the ruins of a Francsican church. We walked near the river which flows picturesquely through the town. The pub that had set dancing was probably a 15 minute walk from Adam’s apartment. We ate some soup and scones at the pub, then headed upstairs for the dance class. The class was enjoyable, although not as enjoyable as the real ceilis because the music was recorded and the class was small. It was good though to continue to be more acquainted with the dances.
The next day was my birthday! That was my second birthday that I celebrated in Europe. (My 17th birthday was in Assisi, Italy!) Elizabeth purchased a pastry for me and decorated it with fruit! Adam and Elizabeth offered to take me out for an Irish breakfast. We had a great breakfast with toast, eggs, tea, baked beans, tomatoes, and mushrooms! It was quite a luxury in comparison to our other breakfasts on the trip: yogurt and bananas. We spent the rest of the day chatting with Adam. He was a great person, and we had a lot in common, so we ended up chatting straight from about noon to 3 in the morning!! It was fantastic!
The next day, Friday, we left Ennis. I had found a very helpful set dancing website which gave all the ceilis in Ireland. There was a set dance weekend in Cashel, Co Tipperary, for the next three days. So we decided to head to Cashel. The ride was very long and we had to transfer buses a few times. The bus switched in Limerick, so we got off there and walked around for a bit. There was another bus switch in a town called Cahir. Near the bus stop was a ruined castle, so we took a look at the castle while waiting for the next bus. That day was the longest and most complicated of our bus rides. We were not sure if the buses would go all the way to Cashel. Luckily it all worked in the end. We used our very helpful guide book and found a hostel right off the main road of Cashel. That day was the first really rainy day of our trip. In fact, the whole week before it had been clear and in the 80s! We left our belongings at the hostel and went out to try to find the exact location of the set dances, (we only knew that the weekend was in the town of Cashel). Luckily Cashel was not a big town, so we eventually found someone at a hotel who knew where the dance was held. The weekend dances were held at a hall a few blocks from the hostel on the main road. We still had a few hours before the Friday night dance began, so we got some soup at pub, and then sought out the nearest church. The whole weekend was fantastic! The dances had more people each ceili, (there was one ceili on friday, one on saturday, and two on sunday). Aside from the ceilis, there were workshops on saturday and sunday, before the ceilis. Chris, a woman who had been on the cruise was at the weekend! She was so surprised to see us! Chris told the persons in charge of the ceilis that Elizabeth and I were dancers, so we were invited to demonstrate some dancing during the breaks at the ceilis! That was enjoyable!
Aside from the ceilis, we had a chance during saturday afternoon to visit Cashel’s main tourist attraction, the Rock of Cashel. The Rock is a stone fortress. We did not actually go into the fortress because it was closed when we went to see it, but we got a good view from the outside. More impressive, though, was the ruins of a church that we could see off in the distance in the middle of a green field! It looked so beautiful, that we decided that we must go take a look at it, although it was pouring rain! We trudged down a muddy lane then crossed a road, climbed over an old stone wall then cut across a field of cows. The ruined church was in the middle of this field. It was so beautiful and very conducive to silence and reflection. We tiptoed slowly around the ruins, looking at the beautiful ornately carved archways and windows. These ruins ended up being one of the most beautiful places we visited. The way back to the town from the ruins was a bit more complicated! We had to avoid a herd of cows who owned the field. We ended up making almost a complete circle to avoid them! =) I will admit that I was rather afraid of those large beasts. On sunday, we attended a mass at one of the churches in Cashel. The churches in Ireland are all so beautiful! We were hoping to visit our relatives on my great grandfather’s side, the McAuleys, sometime during our weekend in Tipperary. They live in the town of Callen in Kilkenny, which, on the map, was not very far from Cashel. The bus system, though, did not have a direct enough route to the town, so we did not get to visit them.
We did not have any concrete plans for where we were going to stay on sunday night. We were hoping to stay with someone so that we did not have to pay for another night at the hostel. Celia, a lady whom we had met on the cruise, had invited us to stay with her in Dungarven, Co Waterford. Unfortunately, Celia was out of town that weekend, but she kindly arranged for us to stay with a couple who was at the set dance weekend. They also lived in Co Waterford. So after the ceili on sunday, we drove back with Pat and Mary to Co Waterford. They had a small bungalow in the middle of the country side. That evening, we went with them to a pub in the city of Waterford. The pub was painted cheerily in bright red and dark green, and there was a maritime feel. There was a session that evening in the pub. That was actually the first session that we attended. We were a little shy to just join in the session, but the musicians were very welcoming. In fact, they asked us to play and dance for them. The greatest aspect of the session was the integration of song, tunes, and dance: people jumped up for a few sets, persons were invited to sing. It was wonderful to see the music and dance in its most natural authentic state!
On monday, we headed back to Dublin. The conference which we were going to attend commenced on that following thursday, outside Dublin. Our friend, Max, had flown into Dublin on the past friday and we wanted to spend a few days with him before the conference. So we said goodbye to our kind hosts and to the southerly part of Ireland, and took a long bus ride up to Dublin. The bus ride seemed especially long since we were excited to see Max; we had not seen him in half a year or so, and he was a close friend of ours. Max met us at Busarus. He was staying with acquaintances a little north of downtown. He offered for us to leave our bags at the house where he was staying. So we followed him on foot to the house and meanwhile caught up on all the latest news from both sides of our worlds, (Max was from our town in Cal but was studying in Austria for a few years). The next few days which we spent in Dublin are a bit of a blur for me! We stayed at a cousin’s apartment on the south side of Dublin in the town of Blackrock. This was a more wealthy part of Dublin. Our cousin, Aiden, was very hospitable. He picked us up from the subway station every evening. Then served the three of us a lovely supper all three evenings. Aiden showed us around Blackrock and its surrounding communities. One evening, we took a stroll along a lovely pier. Dusk was so beautiful.... everything was pink and blue! There was a man playing banjo at the end of the pier. We sat near the water and listened to the water lapping along the rocks, the strum of the banjo, and the watched the dark fall. Aiden told us that the pier had been the leaving place of the boats emigrating from Ireland to America! I tried to imagine what it would of been like to be leaving from that place and to not know if you’d ever return! Another evening, Aiden took us to a park which had a panoramic view of Dublin and the coast and the hills outside Dublin. This park was overlooking the most expensive houses in Dublin! Aiden would point out houses and tell us what celebrity lived there! The views were spectacular. This evening was again very pink and blue! The lights in the houses below twinkled adding a lovely affect to the pink and blue sky and blue water. During the day, we would go into the city. We usually took the bus into the city and then met Max at a planned land mark. We usually met at the spire on O Connell St. We had a few adventures meeting each other! Here is one incident... On thursday, I took the bus into the city before Elizabeth and planned to meet Max at a different location, at the house Max was staying. Unfortunately, when I was dropped off at the bus stop that was closest to the house, I did not recognize my surroundings at all! I was on the correct road, but I did not know if I should head right or left. I tried both ways for a long time, but still did not recognize where I was. I remembered that there was a prom shop near the house, so I asked a few passerby if they knew where a prom shop was. No one was able to assist me! I walked back and forth a few times trying to catch my bearings. After about 45 minutes of no luck, I remembered that I had the house number on our cell phone. Max had texted us the address. Luckily, the cell phone happened to be with me rather than at Aiden’s apartment with Elizabeth. So I located the text message, (after some tries since I had given the cell phone duty to Elizabeth and did not know how to work the cell phone). That made all the difference. I was shocked to find that the house number was close to where I happened to be standing! In fact, I had passed the house a few times! The reason that I had not recognized it, though, was because I had come from the opposite side than all the other times I d gone to the house. So I tentatively approached the house and rang the door bell. I was a bit embarrassed to ring because I had only been to the house once and I did not know the owners other than meeting them in passing once. Luckily a young man answered the door. I told him that I was a friend of Max, who was staying at the house. He let me leave my bags at the house, then I headed toward the prom shop (which was on the opposite side of the house than I had been dropped off). Luckily, as I headed toward the shop, I saw Max heading toward the house. I was so relieved to see him! I felt bad... he had gone all the way to the spire on O Connell St, thinking that we must have miscommunicated the meeting place! The next bad thing about the morning was that Elizabeth was intending to meet Max and I about 1 and 1/2 hours later at the same meeting place. I knew that she would be as lost as I had been, so we decided to meet her at the bus stop before she could go the wrong way. So we hurried to the bus stop and I waited next to the stop while Max watched up and down the street in case she’d already arrived. Luckily, she did get off eventually and we joined her before she could get lost! =) Aside from the few confused meeting places, we usually walked around Grafton St, attended mass at the Carmelite church on a street perpendicular to Grafton St, bought yoghurt, bread, bananas, trail mix at Tesco, and then ate lunch Stephens Green, busked on Grafton St, and spent hours in tea shops chatting and drinking tea. We had tons of fun busking and did quite well! It was nice to have a bag of coins that we had earned. We were able to use this money for food, tea, and bus tickets. One of the days, we met another busker on Grafton St, Dahy. Dahy played trad flute. Max was especially excited because he played flute as well. We ended up joining Dahy and busking as a little band of two fiddles and two flutes. While we were all busking together, a group of guys with cameras taped and interviewed us for a website on Dublin buskers, (or something like that). That was fun! One funny incident while we were busking was that a woman came up to us and said that she’d seen us perform at a festival back home in Cal! Small world, eh?!!! While we were in Dublin, we met friends and acquaintances of Max who were organizing the conference that we were going to play for. They were lovely persons from all over Europe.. Czech Republic, Romania, Ireland, Italy,... We got to know these persons much better over the next week or so that we spent with them! Our time in the city of Dublin was altogether lovely! We all agreed that Dublin was a great city!
On thursday, we headed to Maynooth, the location of the conference. Maynooth was an hour or so train ride from Dublin. Maynooth used to be Ireland’s biggest seminary and is now a college. It is located in County Kildare, just west of Dublin. The campus was fantastic. It was a huge grey stone complex. Buildings surrounded a large grassy square. The school reminded me of an English boarding school, (a bit Harry Potter-ish). It was a 10 minute walk from the train station to the campus. We passed through the small town of Maynooth then headed into the campus. The conference was the 2nd symposium on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. The first conference had been held in Austria two years before. Our family has all studied the Theology of the Body a bit, so we were very excited to be able to attend the conference free of charge and to be able to share our music at the conference. Pope John Paul’s teaching is an anthropology: it explains who man is. Very basically, it says that man is meant to be a gift to everyone else, and is called to live in loving communion with other persons. This anthropology really speaks to me as true. Yes, life is all about love!!!!! Anyhow, that is the most vague and cursory explanation. You will have to look into it yourself. Sorry! Back to the conference, my parents actually were flying to Ireland as well to attend the conference and then to go on a backpacking trip, in celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary! Mom and Dad supposedly had flown into Dublin that afternoon and would be at Maynooth sometime that same day. So Elizabeth, Max and I registered with the conference and dropped our luggage off at our rooms. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the lovely campus and meeting other attendees of the conference. A number of students and faculty from the school where Max attended were also attending the conference, so Max introduced us to his school mates. It was great to meet persons from all over the world who were also interested in understanding Pope John Paul’s theology! Later that afternoon, my parents arrived. I recognized my mom’s voice from a different room. =) So we greeted them and told them a bit about our last few weeks in Ireland.
The conference opened that evening with a mass in Maynooth’s chapel. The chapel was adjacent to the main building, at the end of a long corridor that surrounded one of the garden courtyards. It was a beautiful gothic structure. There were no pews in the church. Instead there were big chairs that lined the walls and faced each other rather than facing the altar. This arrangement reminded me that the college had been a seminary and that these chairs would have been where the religious sat during their many prayer services. Luckily, the chapel had scenes of the stations of the cross along the walls, so I was always reminded of God whether or not I could see the altar. =) During the mas,there was a feeling of excitement and community as we all commenced on the one goal to understand and live the Theology of the Body! I was excited to see that a majority of the conference attendees were young people. Yes, John Paul was right to have so much hope in the youth!
After the opening mass, everyone gathered in the massive dining hall for the reception. Elizabeth, Max and I played for about an hour. It felt a bit funny to be americans playing Irish music in Ireland! Everyone really appreciated the music, though! While we were playing, some of the people got up and started doing ceili dancing! I was so surprised and excited to see that one of the dancers was Br Columba, the CFR who we had stayed with first on the trip!! We later learned that he was attending the conference because we had told him about him! Amazing how God works!
The next three days of the conference were absolutely fantastic! We would have about six lectures each day, with tea breaks and meal breaks in between. Each lecture was fantastic! I kept changing my mind about which was my favorite! The lectures worked mostly consecutively from the beginning to the end of the Theology of the Body. The first talk was by Dr William Newton, an English professor who taught at the International Theological Institute (the school in Austria). His talk was very clear and ordered. He explained the what and why of the Theology of the Body. Other talks were given by Sister Timothy Proakes, (an American sister), an American laywoman, a young Dominican priest, an Irish fertility doctor, an Irish painter and sculpter,... On one of the afternoons, there was an hour of worship and prayer in the chapel. The prayer time was led by some young people who were part of a youth group called “Pure in Heart”. Br Columba also led some of it! The CFRs have a way of leading meditation that is so conducive to real talking with God! So I was so happy! It was really good to be able to bring the information that we’d been learning to God and to have Him change us so that we could truly live what we had been learning! (Without this transfer from head to heart, the conference would be futile.) On one of the evenings, there was a play of Pope John Paul’s The Jeweller’s Shop. The work is one of my favorite works I’ve ever read, so it was wonderful to be able to see the play acted out! Another evening there was a birthday celebration for Rob, one of the organizers of the conference. A bunch of young people gathered in a large room near the chapel and ate snacks, cake, chatted and sang and played music! Max and I ended up staying up until about 2 am playing tunes with a few Irish musicians!
Sunday was the last day of the conference. By that time, it felt like we’d been all together at Maynooth for a long time! We had spent most time with Br Columba, John OBrien, (an American who had attended Franciscan University), Jana (a young Czech woman who had recently graduated from the ITI), Monica (a young Romanian who had also graduated from ITI), Toma (a young Lithuanian from ITI also), Madeleine (a lovely girl from England), and the Newtons (the family of Dr Newton who taught at ITI). The conference ended with a mass and Eucharistic procession around the campus. It was a sunny day outside... ideal for the procession. The procession was joined by the town’s parish. There were a bunch of young children wearing white who had received their first holy communion that day. There was also a brass band playing for the procession. After the mass, there was brunch in the dining room. We got our instruments out and started a little jam with other musicians. We ended up playing for a long time and people danced! It is was so much fun!! No one wanted to stop!
After the conference, we had a little more than a week left in Ireland. We spent this last week with a wonderful group of persons from the conference: John O Brien, Max, Toma, Monica, Jana, Rob, and Clare and William Newton and their 5 children. Rob, who was from Ireland, had arranged for all of us to travel around Ireland for a week on a little pilgrimage. We visited the pilgrimage sites of Glenalough, Clanmacnoise, and Knock. On monday, we all squeezed into two vehicles with all our stuff and drove from Dublin down south a bit to Glenalough. On the way, we visited the burial site of the kings of Tara. Glendalough was the monastery started by St Kevin. Glendalough now consists of a ruined church, and other buildings surrounded by a grave yard. This site is in a beautiful valley. Rob had arranged for us to stay in a cabin within walking distance from the site. The cabin was perfect for our group and ended up being my absolute favorite place we stayed. The cabin was in the middle of a valley along a river. There were no other dwellings or roads close by. We spent the whole time either hiking, cooking, eating, drinking tea, chatting around the fire, or playing music. We stayed there monday, tuesday, wednesday, and left thursday morning. One crazy incident that happened there was that we met my parents! After the conference, Mom and Dad had walked on foot from Dublin to Glenalough, (they were backpacking). They had jokingly said that they would see us in Glenalough, but no one really thought it would actually happen that we would run into them. Anyhow, as Mom and Dad hiked in to Glendalough, they saw the Newtons in the little village near the ruined monastery! The Newtons told Mom and Dad where we were all staying. Meanwhile, back at the cabin, we had all been joking about how we were going to run into Mom and Dad. We were so surprised when Jana exclaimed: “There are your parents!” We all rushed outside and then quickly made them a meal and a cup of tea, (in true Irish hospitality =) ). It felt a bit funny invited my parents in to our “house”; that is not what I usually do since we have the same home as Mom and Dad! Mom and Dad ended up staying for the rest of the day and spent the night at the cabin, before continuing on their trek on foot.st
Clonmacnoise was our next pilgrimage site. It was another old monastery and had been settled by St Brendan in the 500s. There had been supposedly 3000 or so monks there at one time! Now there are just a ruined church, an old tower, a few other ruined buildings, and a few magnificently carved high crosses! Clonmacnoise was right on the Shannon River, in Co Offaly. It was actually not too far from Athlone, just south a bit. We all stayed in a guest house for pilgrims who were visiting the shrine. It was a tiny house, especially compared to our large cabin in Glendalough. All the 7 Newtons were in one bedroom, the 3 guys were in another, and us 5 girls were in the other bedroom! It was very conducive to community though, which is really important! The terrain in this area was very different from the high hills and valleys of Glendalough: it was flat and marshy. We stayed in Clonmacnoise thursday evening to saturday morning. Usually persons who visit the site have to come in the main tourist gate and pay. We were very lucky and somehow managed to be allowed to slip into the site from a back gate at any time! We all independently spent a lot of time there. I primarily went there after the site was closed to the public. It was a great place to meditate on life and death and faith! I did go to the site once though during public hours and I joined a tour. It was good to hear the history of this place.
On friday night, there was a time of adoration and praise in a retreat house recently built right by the monastery. This time is specifically set aside to pray for the faith in Ireland. It was odd to think that Clonmacnoise used to be a center of faith... imagine 3000 monks living right there! Now there is no center of faith there in the least! It was a peaceful and beautiful time in prayer. Toma led praise on her guitar and we also prayed the rosary.
On friday, Elizabeth and I were originally planning to leave the pilgrimage group and to take a bus to Kilfenora, Co Clare, to attend a set dancing weekend. We wanted to end with some more set dancing. Yet, as each day went by with these lovely people, we began to change our minds. In fact, by friday, we were positive that we would stay with this group until the end of the pilgrimage. It was such a fantastic group of people! We did not tell the rest of the group, though, that we intended to stay. We tricked them and said that we would be leaving soon. It was very funny to tease, although I think we annoyed Max. Anyhow, we eventually told them that we would not be leaving. So on saturday, we headed with the rest of the group toward Knock shrine, Co Mayo. We all stopped for the afternoon in the city of Galway. Rob is from Galway, so he showed us around the lovely city. We first spent an hour or so at the beach. We then walked into downtown. We visited a carmelite convent there and danced for the nuns while we were there! We then attended mass at a big more recently built church. We ended with a fantastic meal of FishNChips downtown. The funny thing about the FishnChips shop is that our family had eaten there when we were there about 7 years ago, I think!
We arrived in Knock around dusk that saturday evening. The Newtons and all the girls stayed at a retreat house run by three religious brothers. The guys stayed at a quirky hostel on the other side of the shrine. My most strong memory of our stay at Knock shrine was of a small chapel right adjacent to the kitchen at the retreat house in which we were staying. The chapel was very simple and small, yet it was so peaceful and the presence of Jesus was really strong and personal there. So that was the essence of our stay in Knock for me. Aside from spending time at the chapel, we all spent time actually at the shrine. We attended mass in the apparition chapel, prayed in the adoration chapel, went to confession in their reconciliation center, ... We all gathered at the retreat house for dinner both saturday and sunday. On sunday, a priest came for dinner. We all started singing Irish songs and we played music. It was quite enjoyable! It was so great to meet other people who knew the same trad Irish songs!
On monday, we all departed ways with our newly made international friends. Rob, Monica, and Jana were staying another day or two in Knock. The Newtons were traveling around Ireland more. Toma, Max, Elizabeth, and I got on Bus Eirean, and headed back to Dublin. Toma had a flight that afternoon, Max had a flight that evening, and Elizabeth and I flew home the next day. We said goodbye to Toma at Busarus, then headed into the city for a hour or two with Max before he headed to the airport. The rest of the day ended up being totally wacky! We said goodbye to Max, then did some errands in Dublin, then walked out of a store an hour or so later and saw Max standing there listening to some buskers on Grafton St. We were shocked to see him! Max was supposedly at the airport! He told us that he had misread his flight information and had missed his flight! Poor Max! He had rebooked another flight, but the next flight did not leave until wednesday. So we spent the rest of the day with Max downtown. It was so much fun! We went out to eat in celebration of our wonderful trip, then went out for tea and dessert at Bewley’s. Eventually, we texted our cousin, Aiden, and headed on the train to his apartment. Aiden hospitably put the three of us up that night.
The rest of the trip was very uneventful. We took a cab to the airport, said goodbye to Max, flew across the ocean, visited New York city on our layover, and flew across the country, meanwhile thinking over our lovely month in Ireland!