By Lindsey Huddle & Wally Good
Our pilgrimage, led by Kim Hardy, Fred Moser, and local Irish guides was a deep dive into Celtic Christian and pre-Christian history, landscapes of Connemara and the Burren, and modern Irish culture. We were a true pilgrim band on the move: Vermonters, along with 11 others from Georgia, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, and we became a community of friends.
Our introduction to Connemara was from a comfortable and welcoming lodge, nestled in a valley, surrounded by low mountains, facing Lough Inagh (lake), with more mountains behind. In the summer, the sun sets at around 10:30 and was a stunning sight each evening. From there, we explored Connemara, beginning with a walk on a beach, and then on hills above. The beaches were stunning, with white sand and clear, blue water. The hills provided great views with cows grazing around them. Our first day, we took a boat to Saint MacDara’s Island. It is said that MacDara founded a monastery there in the 6th century. It is now uninhabited, except for a few sheep. An early church remains, along with remnants of small houses and graves. One remaining grave had fascinating markings. The island is small, and surrounded by the sea. I was struck by the determination of the monks to build in such a challenging environment. We celebrated the Eucharist here, looking at the sea with the hills and rocks of the island behind us.
On our second evening, Alf Monaghan gave an illustrated talk entitled, “Monastic Ireland – a Gift from the Nile.” This provided a basis for much of what we saw in Connemara. I was struck by the determined work of the early monastic Christians, and learning that they may have been Coptic monks from Egypt. It was exciting for me to learn that monks came to Ireland to practice their faith and explore their knowledge and love of God in communities with others who shared that passion.
The unexpected joy for me was to explore these wild places where early Christian pilgrims grew and shared their faith, and where they shared community with the Druids in some areas. With each day, I felt the power and faith of these Celtic Christians almost coming up from the landscape. I felt my own spirit strengthened by monks and farmers, alike. Our guide showed us how Irish farmers brought seaweed up from the coast to develop soil for their farms. Strong spirits, strong hearts, and strong wills.
Beyond this, I was really moved by the music of Niamh Varian-Barry and Peter Staunton, musicians who came to play for us from Dingle, a hub for traditional music. Playing her CD at home brought tears to my eyes. It was such a joy to share in the arts of music, poetry, and dance, as well as learn about theologian and writer John O’Donohue and mystic Christian writer John Moriarty. It lifted me to see how the Irish cherish and lift up their artists, musicians and writers.
Lastly, I come back to the community of the pilgrims. There was such encouragement and shared willingness to experience this Celtic pilgrimage together. We prayed together, we each quietly searched the meaning of the experience for ourselves with the support of the group, and I was especially touched by those who assisted me in the tougher terrain, so that I could be a part of the hikes in that glorious landscape.
St. James Church, Essex Junction
Galway Bay in Ireland is flanked by the Connemara Peninsula to the north, the Burren to the south, and the Aran Islands to the west, and dotted with multiple islets throughout. Lindsey Huddle, Natalie Good and I joined our spiritual guides Kim Hardy and Fred Moser with eleven pilgrims from other places and native Irish guides from County Kerry. After landing at Shannon Airport and meeting others in Galway, we spent five days nestled in Lough Inagh Lodge, then three days abiding in Hazelwood Lodge. Our daily rhythm included a Celtic morning prayer time, hearty breakfasts, explorations of the deeply culturally layered land-lake-beach-sea-island-lightscapes, luncheons, afternoon walks followed by reflections, spectacular Irish dinner fare, and evening cultural presentations of music, dance, theater, Coptic-Celtic history, and an Irish philosopher’s biography. We celebrated Celtic Eucharists in a 5th century church at Inchagoill Island in Lough Corrib (Ireland’s largest lake) , beside St MacDara’s island hermitage and 12th century Corcomroe Abbey (site of John O’Donohue’s Easter-Dawn Mass). Each day provided opportunities for pilgrims of all physical abilities, the most challenging being a climb to the top of Croagh Patrick (Ireland’s Holy Mountain) on a breezy, misty, partly-sunny day. All a refreshing Celtic vision of God’s reign with us!
Holy Trinity Church, Swanton
& Rock Point Wisdom School Associate
About Anam Cara Sojourners
Anam Cara Sojourners is an emerging collaboration between members of St. James Episcopal Church, Essex Junction; Trinity Episcopal Church, Shelburne; and Christ Church Presbyterian, Burlington. We offer worship events, Holy Hikes, and other learning events drawing on the deep riches of Celtic spirituality as a resource for our time. We are beginning to incorporate our Irish pilgrimages under this umbrella as well. Founded by the Rev. Kim Hardy, the group’s name means simply “soul-friend sojourners.” For more information, contact Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.