Friday, 27 June 2014

View across the Shannon to the castle, Limerick.
   On the morning of Wednesday 29th May I attended Mass in the friars’ John Paul II centre, and left them with a coat I no longer needed, a copy of St John Paul’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), and an image of Our Lady of Walsingham, asking that they might please remember to pray for England occasionally. Then I walked in beautiful sunshine towards Limerick’s city centre, and came to a monument commemorating the Siege of 1690 (after the Battle of the Boyne), from which a terrific view across the Shannon to King John’s famous castle needed snapping. Not standing on ceremony though, since my ferry was on the next day I took the first available bus to Waterford, where I spent some time in a café and later a pub, catching up with postcards. In the latter, after explaining about my pilgrimage to a few of the locals, there was a lady who said she’d once interviewed a man who walked from the southernmost to the northernmost extremities of Ireland, without once passing a pub; I had to concede that my ambition to walk to Malawi paled in comparison. Having identified an acceptable sleeping place, behind bushes at the foot of a section of Waterford’s 15th century wall, and directly underneath a billboard advertising the previously mentioned well-known Irish stout, my next task was to find a pub where I could watch that evening’s international friendly between England and the Republic of Ireland, at Wembley. This was the first time the two teams had met since crowd trouble caused the game to be abandoned in Dublin in 1995. ‘You’ll never beat the Irish’ sang out the ROI fans, quite correctly as it turned out. In what I thought was an entertaining game, Ireland scored first through Shane Long’s header, but Frank Lampard equalised soon afterwards, and the game stayed at 1:1 till the end.

   At 8am on Thursday 30th May, dedicated to St Joan of Arc, I attended Mass at Waterford’s Dominican Priory, also named St Saviour’s – the third such House of God, in the hands of the same order and with exactly the same dedication, that I’d visited in Eire. I then wrote a few more postcards; found the lyrics to the Beatles’ Let it Be in a cyber café, in order to send them to Abraham in Belfast, and paid visits to a Franciscan church and the cathedral. Before taking a bus to Wexford (which is some way short of Rosslare, but it meant a saving of 8 euros, and I assumed it would be possible to hitch the difference), I chatted briefly about Africa to a Sudanese gentleman as I bought some date-filled biscuits from his shop, and took the opportunity to practise my Russian with a Russian-Latvian running the news kiosk at the station. He stated his view that the Cold War had never in fact gone away; it certainly seemed to be in full swing at that time, with each side backing its proxies in Syria. In return for the free cup of coffee he gave me, I gave him a small laminated Greek Orthodox icon of the Crucifixion. Pitching up in Wexford, in yet more delightful sunshine I made my way to the town’s southern outskirts. When I started hitching, just as the lack of people stopping to pick me up began to get worrying, a lorry pulled over whose Irish driver took me to a major roundabout. Very soon after being dropped there I was picked up by Laszlo, another lorry driver, a Hungarian who had lived in Ireland for 8 years, though his English was still quite faltering. We discussed Mongolia, the land from which the Magyars are thought to have originated, St Stephen of Hungary and his daughter St Margaret of Scotland, the Hungarian stations of the cross in Fatima, Portugal, and last but not least the captain of the Magical Magyar football team of the 1950s, Ferenc Puskás, who inspired Hungary to their famous 6:3 and 7:1 wins over England at Wembley and Budapest in 1953 and 1954 respectively. Laszlo turned out with millions of his compatriots to mark the occasion of the great striker’s state funeral in 2006; he is buried underneath the dome of St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest. I had but one solitary word of Hungarian that I could use as Laszlo and I parted company; kursunum – ‘thank you’.

   Dropped at the ferry terminal with over an hour to spare, I wrote another couple of postcards, updated my diary, and then boarded a vessel which would shortly set sail for Normandy.

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