August 27, 2013

Irish Faith and Iconic Irish Beauty

"That's right, there's free beer in Irish paradise.  Everyone's jealous."   Kevin Hearne, Hammered

Carol writes:  Once I had obtained the medications I needed to get me headed on the road to recovery, we felt confident enough to venture on with our travels into the Republic of Ireland.  I must confess that it was somewhat by accident that we ended up making our first stop for the night in County Mayo in the small town of Knock, which we had only recently learned was the home of Ireland’s major Catholic pilgrimage site.  Since much of Irish history is intricately interwoven with its strongly predominant Catholic faith, we could think of no better introduction to Ireland than a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. 

On a rainy evening in August 1879, fifteen witnesses claim to have had an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, along with the figure of a lamb on an altar in front of a large cross (symbolic of the Lamb of God).  According to the story, the witnesses watched the vision for 2 hours in the pouring rain while they recited the Rosary.  This apparition was beautifully represented by a simple but elegant statuary display in the Visitation Chapel.

I was somewhat perplexed as to why I had never heard of this event and why it had never been mentioned at any point throughout my Catholic grade school education, even though the Marian vision at Knock has been recognized and sanctioned as trustworthy by the Catholic Church on two separate occasions.  In fact, in 1979 during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Knock for the shrine’s centennial celebration, the Pope called his visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock the goal of his journey to Ireland.  A large papal pilgrimage cross commemorates this visit.

As we walked around the pilgrimage site, we witnessed the daily afternoon ‘rosary procession’ as it snaked its way from the modern-day basilica to the Apparition Chapel.  Dozens of clergy and thousands of pilgrims took part in reciting the rosary as they marched in procession.  I found it interesting that the last decade of the rosary was recited in Gaelic.

So, it was immediately made apparent to us that Ireland’s Catholic faith is still very much a part of the daily life of its people.

From a more secular point of view, Ireland is also noted for its iconic scenery, and we got a good introduction to the so-called “40 shades of green” seen in the Irish countryside of Connemara and County Mayo, along with the “50 shades of gray” (couldn’t resist…) seen in its ubiquitous stone fences and very old buildings of stone.

Ireland is a very large island sticking way out into the Atlantic Ocean, literally the most western point on the European continent.  Such a location almost guarantees rain showers or mists of some degree on most days.  Our challenge was to try and pick the ‘most favorable’ days for our grand scenic drives.  We thought we had the weather forecast all figured out and had carefully selected the day to drive along ‘The Burren,’ a unique geologic formation of windblown limestone wasteland in County Clare,

and then on down to see the dramatic seaside ‘Cliffs of Moher’ soaring  650 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.  In the past 5 months the weather hasn’t aced us out from doing anything we have wanted to do, but as soon as we arrived at the parking lot of the Cliffs of Moher it was obvious our Irish luck had run out.  Within minutes, all we could see was a fog bank at cliff’s edge, leaving us only to imagine what the famous Cliffs of Moher really looked like.

We have a saying in Colorado that if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.  The same sort of principle also seems to operate in Ireland…on some days.  During the half hour or so that we were inside the Visitor’s Center looking at some of the displays, the cloud bank moved inland and we had a miraculous break in visibility.  We headed back out to the cliffs and discovered our luck had taken an Irish turn…

Irish people seem to take the weather as it comes and accept that they will experience lots of rain in their life.  However, the typical tourist eagerly looks forward to any day that is predicted to have very low chances of showers, and we were no exception.  The next day the weather in Killarney was predicted to be mostly sunny, just the opportunity we had been waiting for to do some serious housecleaning and RV sanitizing, along with a sizable load of laundry.  We lucked out…

While we were in Killarney, we took the opportunity to visit Killarney National Park, Ireland’s first national park.  We took a tour of a stately Victorian mansion named Muckross House, the park’s chief tourist attraction,

and afterwards had a very nice stroll in the gardens along trails through groves of magnificent gigantic and exotic trees.

Our first week in Ireland proved to us what any tourist knows:  the weather can greatly add to or detract from any outdoor experience.  Our enjoyment of the next two destinations in our travels would be very weather dependent.  We have planned to do a day’s drive each along two rings of very scenic roads on two prominent peninsulas projecting out into the infamous Atlantic Ocean in westernmost lovely County Kerry—the so-called ‘Ring of Kerry’ drive on the Iveragh Peninsula, and the shorter ring drive at the tip of the smaller Dingle Peninsula.  Would the weather play a factor during either ring drive? 

"There are only two kinds of people in the world, The Irish and those who wish they were."  Anonymous


1 comment:

  1. The crystal is beautiful! That crystal vase was almost as tall as you Carol. How often does that factory give tours? The machinery was very interesting, I have never seen something with so many diamond cutters on it at one time. It looks like a very memorable time.

    I also thought that the celtic crosses at the graveyard were very beautiful in their own way. Now don't break anything!