To Be a Pilgrim in Ireland
By The Rev. Kim Hardy | Priest-in-Partnership, St. James Church, Essex Junction
This fall I was blessed with a two-month study leave, my purpose being to experience a deeper sense of Ireland and its people than possible in previous visits, particularly in light of deep interests in Celtic Spirituality, Irish music, and Pilgrimage as a metaphor for life. The early part of my journey spanned much of the whole western coast of Ireland. With help from a friend and guide, I began with quiet time on the remote southern tip of Sheep’s Head Peninsula, proceeding northward with hiking on the Dingle Peninsula, spending a few days exploring island community on Clare Island in the mid-west, and then, as one embraced by stunning cliff and beach landscapes of northern coastal Donegal. In Donegal, by the working of the Holy Spirit, I met several clergy of the Church of Ireland at a welcoming service (what we used to call an installation service), opening up new collegial friendships and opportunities.
In September, my husband and I would return to Derry and Donegal, bringing 20 people on pilgrimage.
In September, my husband, the Rev. Dr. Fred Moser, Rector of Trinity Church, Shelburne, joined me and we would return to Derry and Donegal, bringing twenty people on pilgrimage. The pilgrims came from various states and one from England; 13 of us from Vermont, representing Trinity, Shelburne, St. James, Essex Junction, Holy Trinity, Swanton, and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Christ Church Presbyterian, and Church at the Well, all three in Burlington.
Our purpose: To experience Ireland, garner a sense of how landscapes and histories inform and shape the people, and how reconciliation is an intrinsic part of the Christian calling.
Led by our guides, we began in Dublin with a grounding in Irish history, a viewing of the famous Book of Kells, a tour of Glasnevan Cemetery and Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We traveled north to Belfast visiting historic religious sites including monastic ruins at Monasterboice and Nendrum. We visited the traditional burial place of St. Patrick at Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, and hiked above the dramatic Giant’s Causeway. Along the way we visited and learned about Saint Brigid’s Shrine and Well in Faughart through the eyes of Delores Whelan, a Celtic Spiritual Teacher. The overarching purpose was to experience the people and landscapes of Northern Ireland and the northwest Republic of Ireland, to garner a sense of how landscapes and histories inform and shape this people, and how reconciliation in fractured communities and societies is an intrinsic part of the Christian calling. In this regard, time in Londonderry (or Derry depending on political persuasion) was most deeply profound. A local guide told, in broad strokes, the moving story of “The Troubles.” Street murals brought us to tears, particularly, “The Death of Innocence” depicting slain 14-year old Annette McGavigan, one of many who lost their lives during this tumultuous time. Our meeting and conversations with clergy colleagues I had previously met, as well as lay people deeply committed to the continuing movement for reconciliation, were transformational not only in regard to the topic of healing, but in our experience of the deep hospitality and kindness shown us.
Continuing to rural Glencolmcille (the Glen of Columcille, which is Irish for Columba whose name means “dove of the church”), we explored the meaning of St. Columba’s life in Donegal landscapes. We remember how Columcille himself was embroiled in a bitter battle in his homeland, after which he exiled himself to Iona and became, in a true sense, resurrected in zeal as a man of peace, and from then on sought to spread the reconciling Gospel of Jesus Christ above all else.
On our return to Dublin, we paused briefly at W. B. Yeats’ grave in Drumcliff and visited the ancient sites of the Hill of Tara and Dowth, a megalithic passage tomb, which were interpreted to us by a well-known Irish archaeologist.
We return to the US with renewed or new understandings of what the Celtic tradition contributes to the history of western Christianity and our faith in the 21st century.
Though the pace of the journey was rapid, we return to the United States with renewed or new understandings of what the Celtic tradition contributed (and continues to offer) to the history of western Christianity and our faith in the 21st century. We also return to our own land, fractured as it is by political disagreement, to ponder what we might do to bring reconciliation and healing in our own place and time.
Be a bright flame before me, O God
a guiding star above me.
Be a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me
today, tonight, and forever.
–Prayer of St. Columba
In the featured photo: Overlooking the ocean in Northern Ireland near the Giant’s Causeway. (From the Diocese in this picture are Buff Edgerton, Sally Martel, Wally Good, Natalie Good, Fred Moser, Kim Hardy taking the picture.)