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Friday, 27 June 2014


   My cousin ‘Hamish’ who, if I’d ever in fact met him before, it couldn’t have been since about 1982, came to pick me up from the centre of Limerick, and we drove, via a couple of schools from which his son and daughter needed to be collected, to Ballina (‘Ba-li-nah’), in delightful countryside on the Tipperary side of the river Shannon. After a generous forty winks, catching up with the curtailed sleep of the night before, and a wash, coming downstairs I met ‘Joanna’, his wife, and gave them a nicely packaged box of dates and almonds (‘Produce of Saudi Arabia’), as well as the St Brigid’s Cross I’d bought in Dublin. Supper was a delicious Spaghetti Bolognese, after which I was taken to the pub and treated to a superb pint, which became three, including one in Ballina’s sister settlement on the County Clare side of the river, Killaloe, reached via a splendid 13-arched bridge. Our conversation took in politics, the health of Christianity in Ireland, his generally high opinion of the English (though he is very much a Scot), and also Prague, which he visited while inter-railing in 1990; the same city was also on our itinerary when a friend and I made a similar grand tour a few years later.

   On the morning of Tuesday 28th May I was able to use Hamish’s family computer to look at ferry tickets from Ireland to France, and discovered that availability was very limited, chiefly because a goodly number of Irish schoolchildren would be breaking up (amazingly early!) for their summer holidays that weekend. So although it ruled out much of the walking I’d had in mind to do, I booked a crossing from Rosslare to Cherbourg for the coming Thursday evening at 9.30pm. I would then have tried to get away from Ballina, but there was rain, and I’d left my baseball cap in Hamish’s car that he was out and about in; I needed it for use in conjunction with my poncho. So besides making phone contact with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Limerick, who kindly agreed that I could spend the night with them, I completed another blog post, ‘Why Oliver Cromwell’s Beatification Process was Mothballed’.

   In late afternoon then, having said my farewells and promised to write to Hamish and family, I set off along the road to Limerick, and covered a few miles amid intermittent showers, but then realised I’d need to hitch, and it would be better to do this sooner rather than leaving it too late. The gent who picked me up took me an ideal sort of distance, to within a couple of miles of my destination, with about 90 minutes before the arrival time I’d given the friars. That gave me a chance to visit a nice pub called the Tall Race, where a bottle of fizzy orange and a packet of crisps were on the house. After an interesting discussion about St Patrick’s evangelisation methods (alluding to unsettling allegations that he was not above the use of bribery!), I was able to leave the barman with prayer cards of two favourite saints he’d mentioned, St Francis and St Jude, and gave a card of St Rita of Cascia to another fellow at the bar.

    Moyross is a housing estate of some notoriety in Ireland, which is why the Franciscans of the Renewal[1] opened a branch there. I was welcomed by a young American friar of Czech descent, who had been left to hold the fort with just one other member of the community, a priest of about my age from France. I gave them a cake, and then there was Compline in the chapel, at which we sang ‘Abide with Me’ in the company of a large and beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In conversation there, one of the things that came up was Pope Francis’s motto,

“miserando atque eligendo,” (“by having mercy, by choosing him”)

...taken from a homily of St Bede the Venerable on the call of St. Matthew, and I took pains to explain why I believe there was a discrepancy in regard to public demonstrations against homosexual marriage in France, where hundreds of thousands turned out, and the UK, where there was nothing. It came down to church politics. Since in theory, British Catholics and Protestants were singing from the same hymn sheet for once, the former were content to allow the latter, as it were, to draw up the order of service. Protestants however were not keen on the idea of large-scale demonstrations, because these might have afforded Catholics a particular prominence that they rarely enjoy except when Popes come to visit.

[1] Established in the United States in 1987, the CFR friars are a mendicant congregation, following the Capuchin Franciscan tradition.

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