Saturday, 28 June 2014

   After quite a good sleep, on St Brendan’s Day[1] (Thursday 16th May) in Lurgan I found a nice place for a coffee, behind a butcher’s shop. Audible on BBC Radio Ulster was a rather stony-faced phone-in discussion about the so-called ‘peace walls’ dividing communities in the province, though brows were less furrowed soon after, when the subject turned to John Terry’s penchant for cropping up in his Chelsea strip after major finals that he didn’t play in. On the way out of Lurgan was a hostelry whose brazen trumpeting of its sectarian leanings was more than a little off-putting; but a nearby shop called The John Paul II Divine Mercy Centre was crying out for a visit. Almost as soon as I entered I was given a £5 donation to Mary’s Meals and offered tea with a biscuit. There was a notable portrait of Gandhi on the wall, with a saying of his, 

‘‘An eye for an eye’ will make the whole world blind’ 

I had a very nice chat with the staff there, who gave me a St Christopher lapel badge, a quire of leaflets including several about Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a brand new unopened packet of biscuits – I gave them a Mary’s Meals flyer, some prayer cards and a tin of soup that was rather heavy to carry. I then went over the road and spent an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel they’d told me about, very beautiful inside, reminding me of the chapel at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, near Dublin. Much of the way from Lurgan was taken up with an onerous stretch of dual carriageway, so I was glad to able to sit down for a while in a café in Portadown City, in whose locale I was surprised by the ethnic diversity of people, including numerous SE Asians. Towards evening the weather picked up noticeably, and arriving ca.8pm I had the privilege of seeing Armagh at something like its picture-postcard best. After making a mental note of the location of the youth hostel on a publicly displayed map, I made my way to St Patrick’s nobly appointed RC Cathedral, atop its own little hill, in the hope of finding out Mass times. A security guard there not only went to the trouble of phoning someone to find out for me, but also suggested I get into his car with my stuff, to be taken to the youth hostel.

   As we drove, one of the things he impressed on me was that things really are better now than they ever were during the Troubles. Eventually finding the hostel however, it was closed; he then took me to a housing association place, but there was no room in that inn either. So we came back to a house near the cathedral, run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa Sisters) from India, in their unmistakable blue and white saris, who kindly took me in after a few formalities – and told me plainly that I wouldn’t be allowed to pay anything. They ran a refuge for men recovering from alcoholism and other addictions, who were themselves just as generous in their welcome; one of the most senior of them set about frying up some burgers that I’d brought with me, for my tea. There was also a younger fellow, ‘Roger’, who told me of his wish to attend an anti-abortion vigil outside one of the clinics that were just then beginning to infest Northern Ireland, because he was someone who had been adopted; it doesn’t take a genius to see that his birth mother might well have simply decided to abort him, if this had been an easy option. He also gave me a little Rosary booklet and some shower gel, which I used in the morning after a particularly sound sleep. On top of all this, these two guys clubbed together to donate £5 to Mary’s Meals; in return, they got little ‘I Am with You’ booklets, and I gave the sisters a Child 31 DVD, sincerely hoping they would have had a chance to watch it, especially because it was partly filmed in Uttar Pradesh in India.  

   On Friday 17th May I needed to catch the first early morning bus from Armagh to Belfast, in order to keep my appointment at the Dunluce health centre to discuss vaccinations. Once back in the big city with a bit of time on my hands, I called into a newly opened Chinese restaurant called Café de Ming, where the proprietor spontaneously gave me £20 for Mary’s Meals, and a customer who overheard our conversation gave me a further tenner(!) – they each got Child 31 DVDs. At the surgery, the young physician was curious as to what I was doing in Belfast, so I explained, after which he wrote down the vaccinations he thought I would need, with notes about their availability. Not all were covered by the NHS, but for instance Diptheria/Tetanus/Polio was, so two appointments to get these, with Typhoid, were made for the following week. My thinking was that I could hope to get additional vaccinations on the continent, which probably wouldn’t be much if any more expensive than they would be in the UK.

[1] An Abbot of the 6th century, contemporary and friend of St Columba, St Brendan is best known for a fantastical sea voyage (‘The Voyage of St Brendan’) which he undertook with a few companions in a leather-bound boat, to a place called ‘St Brendan’s Isle’, speculated by some to have been North America.

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