On St. Patrick’s Day: An Irish Trip Remembered

The River Liffey at sunset

I am told I come from Irish and Welsh ancestry. These ancestors likely fled to America to escape famine and poverty. Thus, with the last name of Williams, I have no reason to doubt the claim. I do recall two very ancient great aunts who were from Ireland visiting my father’s and uncles when I was a small child. They spoke an unintelligible form of English, and they scared me quite a bit. Yet, I never thought that much of my Irish/Welsh heritage until much later in life — not until my theological conversion from evangelicalism to all things catholic, and then becoming an Orthodox Christian and priest — was any importance realized. This posting is not much more than a sharing of my photos, experiences, and thoughts of too short a time in that lovely country.

During late August, 2017, my wife (Janice), my cousin (Charlie), his wife (Renee), and their daughter (Charlene), and I were in our final days of a wonderful vacation to England, Wales, and Ireland. Our first experience of Ireland was in the wonderful city of Dublin. I was coming down with a head cold whose grip began to be felt while flying from Glasgow to Dublin — some of my energies were spent concocting the perfect “cocktail” of prednisone, decongestants, and antihistamines (no worries…I am also a pharmacist!). However, the remaining energies were devoted to our Irish experience.

The Long Room, Trinity College

On Saturday, August 26, 2017 was a tour of Trinity College’s exhibition of the Book of Kells, and parts of the College itself. It was an alumni weekend, and present Trinity students were decked out in their undergrad academic robes. We didn’t have proper name tags on lanyards, and I was outright ignored by the students when I once asked for directions (or was it my strange accent?).  After the Book of Kells, we moved to The Long Room (a historic library) which is filled with aged manuscripts filling its shelves.  All are well guarded by its staff:  the plainly illiterate, such as I, are not worthy to come near.  Yet, all staff were very friendly.

Guinness “art history”

By bus we then were taken elsewhere where we toured the Guinness factory, with its promised reception of a properly poured pint of choice upon its conclusion. The Guinness tour could have lasted hours, but we had limitations. Here, you encounter the history of the Guinness family as well as the beers. The brewing process is explained in detail — even with microscopes to view the yeast, if so inclined. The Guinness factory is also part art museum, and of course the famous Guinness ad history is proudly displayed. At the top of the factory — where you receive your long awaited pint — you have a 360 degree view of Dublin.  Even in late August all was green!

Cathedral exterior

Capstone

From the Guinness factory we hoofed it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We were all very surprised (dismayed) that the cathedral was not Roman Catholic, but Church of Ireland (i.e., Church of England historically forced upon the Irish!). A modest fee was paid, and we entered the vestibule and then the nave. The cathedral is used today for Anglican worship.  I was told Evensong would not be happening that night, if I recall. Throughout, a history of the cathedral was encountered, a Protestant history primarily, but St. Patrick’s presence could not be thwarted. Of primary interest to me were three ancient stones. Most importantly among these three, is the well capstone which dates back to the day of St. Patrick, and it is understood that this is where many baptisms occurred as Ireland became Christian.

Our next destination was Cobh, famous was the starting point of Titanic’s doomed voyage. We shunned the Titanic stuff, and well medicated, I, and we, took to exploring as much of this beautiful town as possible. It lies a few miles east of Cork along the southern Atlantic. From our B&B / hotel we saw cruise ships and large commercial vessels use its deep harbor — even dolphins enjoyed its waters.

Interior of St. Colman’s Cathedral

Cobh’s waterfront held a number of family-friendly pubs all with musicians throughout a given day (consult the postings outside each establishment). St. Colman’s Cathedral towers as a beacon of faith to the city. St. Colman founded the diocese in 560. The present cathedral of gothic style was constructed beginning in 1868, and took nearly 50 years to complete. It is a living community of faith today as shepherded, chiefly, by Bp. William Crean.

Janice, me, and Blarney Manor House

The females of the travel group loved to see ruined castles in England, Wales, and now Ireland (I don’t know…you’ve seen one ruined castle, you’ve seen them all…And, by the way, spare yourself the insult of touring Warwick Castle in England!) Hence, our obligatory trip to Blarney Castle and its legendary Stone was made. The castle is settled in an estate which still serves as its family’s residence (during summer months the estate’s house can be toured while the family lives in a house located on the estate, but not seen by the eyes of the unwashed masses). The extensive grounds are masterfully landscaped and maintained. And of course there is the gift shop or two to take your money!

Tower of Blarney Castle

But in Blarney, it’s all about the castle. While touring the castle, a significant portion of a wall was being renovated to keep the castle intact — the sum of Euros must be staggering for its upkeep. When it came time to enter the castle to kiss the stone, we dutifully “queued up” (this is taken quite seriously over there). However, I decided not to kiss the Stone — I already have enough blarney in me, and decided to be merciful to mankind and not add any more to “top me off.”

Our time of three weeks in England, Wales, and Ireland was fantastic, and my wife, Janice, and I hope to return to see much more of these beautiful countries very soon. And as they say in Ireland, “Slainte”! (Good health! in Gaelic).

Irish blessings to you from an American priest!
Fr. Irenaeus

 



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