Friday, 27 June 2014

   Afterwards I met up with ‘Liam’, one of the organisers of a conference at Maynooth, on Pilgrimage and Tourism, in the previous summer, at which I presented a paper entitled Pilgrimage and Providence. Meeting him and his young family was a fillip, not least because it meant an opportunity to sample the buzz of Grafton Street, Dublin’s pulsating aorta which I might otherwise have missed. I then enjoyed a paid-for coffee and tasty sandwich in St Stephen’s Green, where we chatted about one or two surprise mutual acquaintances, and the time Liam’s wife had spent as a volunteer in Africa.

   On the way to retrieving my baggage from the youth hostel, a portrait pinned to a wall grabbed my attention, with its heading; 

Was he Ireland’s greatest walker? Abraham Stroker (1847-1912)

Beneath the image of a powerfully built, auburn-bearded fellow, were biographical details of an alumnus of Trinity College: 

'Was he Ireland's greatest walker?' 
“He was a sickly child, bed-ridden until the age of 8 by a mysterious condition … Walking was his way back to health and eventually his passion and his sport. 10 years after taking his first steps he was a champion marathon walker and was never defeated. It was while on one of his walks that he found Cruden Bay [check], the fishing village whose eerie atmosphere inspired him to write his great Gothic novel. He is better known as Bram Stoker and the novel was Dracula. 

   In the evening I headed south across the river Liffey, and saw more terns at the harbourside precinct where I stopped for a picnic supper. I then walked to and around Sandymount Bay before eventually finding an ideal place to spend the night, under an overhang beside an office building, which I could reasonably expect to be closed on the Sunday morning which followed.

   Setting off at about 8.30am on 26th May, at Blackrock I attended Sunday Mass for Trinity Sunday at the Church of St John the Baptist. In his efforts to cast light on the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the priest elected to cover what was, from an Irish point of view, pretty well-trodden ground, but in an amusing way, asking a group of children near the front; 

‘Who is Ireland’s patron saint?’…‘What did he carry?’… ‘Which airline has a shamrock on the tails of its planes?’[1]

That day I needed to give my cousin in Ballina, County Tipperary another bell, but the only public phone I could find, in a pub, had a coin jammed in its slot and wasn’t functioning. One of the other customers though decided spontaneously to give me 15 euros, saying I should get myself something to eat, and then disappeared before I had a chance to give her anything in return, so I hope at least my ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless you’ was adequate.

   Still needing to make a phone call however, I decided that a bus into Bray was called for, but while waiting at the bus stop I got into a conversation with some local young people, one of whom offered to let me call my cousin in Co. Tipperary on her mobile for free; we arranged to meet in Limerick on the following day. I then pulled out some stops to reach Bray where the Scot who ran a cyber café I visited was sceptical of my hopes to journey all the way to Malawi initially, but kindly let my internet session go on well after the time I’d paid for. Then I made my way to the southern edge of town and stopped for something to eat outside St Fergal’s RC Church, scouting all the while for an improvised sleeping place. Eventually I decided to bed down among the bushes in the middle of a roundabout, an idea which had one major flaw – I hadn’t seen a weather forecast. It had stayed basically dry for the whole previous week, but this was to change radically at about 3am on the next morning. My sleeping bag quickly started getting water-logged, so I upped and left, taking cover next to an out-of-town shopping centre nearby. Passing up the chance to sneak inside a garden shed that was on sale there (a good decision as it turned out, because the door didn’t close, and a security van drove past soon afterwards), the upshot was that I ponchoed up and braved the rain, walking back to a bus-stop just past the centre of town, from which I took a charabanc back to Dublin.

   Alighting near the main entrance to Trinity College, there was a welcome coffee to savour at a Grafton Street diner, where it was also heartening to read a letter in the Irish Independent (it also appeared in the Irish Times), signed by 56 Irish doctors, half of them women, staunchly opposing any change to Ireland’s humane law regarding the protection of unborn children: 

“We would like to make a clear statement to the members of the Oireachtas[2] that there is no evidence that termination is the treatment for threatened suicide in pregnancy and that if they vote for the proposed legislation, they will be voting for the legalisation of abortion in this country.

[…]We would also remind them that the World Health Organisation consistently places Ireland in the top five countries for women’s safety in pregnancy, out of 171 countries surveyed. This has been the case for the past 25 years and without abortion.

We would urge members of the Oireachtas respectfully, but robustly, to vote against the proposed legislation.” 

…an interesting salvo in Ireland’s frequently intense culture wars, between Christians and aggressive secularists. After a visit to the Catholic part of the chapel in Trinity College (it also houses Methodist and Church of Ireland/Anglican zones), then another short stint checking emails in a cyber café, I took the next available bus to Limerick, which arrived in late morning. The most convenient Mass there was to be found at a second St Saviour’s Dominican Priory, at which the Gospel reading was about the rich young man, and Our Lord’s famous words; 

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

[1] Among the best known elements of the story of St Patrick, some of which derive from his own Confession, are that he was born somewhere in Great Britain, and was captured in his youth by Irish pirates and enslaved, during which time he worked as a shepherd at Slemish, Co Antrim. After some years he escaped, but was later told in a vision to return to evangelise the country, and laboured with great success in this endeavour during the second half of the fifth century. The famous tale that he banished Ireland’s snakes may be allegorical for his having overthrown the supremacy of druidic paganism. One tradition holds that between visits to Ireland he was held for a time as a captive in Tours, France, where he was introduced to monasticism.
[2] Oireachtas Éireann is the legislature of Ireland.

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