We’ve still got the dust on our feet from our pilgrimage, and seeds in our souls that will blossom in the years to come. Here’s Jeanne’s take:
It has been a long year to get to this point about hard to believe our pilgrimage to Ireland is over. After selecting a place to research and travel to, the youth did many reports on different areas of Ireland. These were based around Saint’s Patrick, Brigid and Kevin, as well as the history of how Christianity was brought to Ireland and how Celtic Spirituality grew and flourished.
I have been on one other pilgrimage with the St Pauls Youth. That was to Italy in 2002. While that was a wonderful experience and great spiritual trip, I really think this trip was amazing in terms of the spiritual nature. The things we did and saw really solidified what we had learned. This was shown through the group during our evening meetings, which the youth led. Each evening they chose journal prompts and a check in, as well as a discussion topic based on the day’s activities. I was amazed and proud of the insight of our youth. I can easily say they have all truly learned and grown from this experience In a spiritual way, as Suzanne, Pete, and I.
It was a great pleasure to travel with the YAC group from St Paul’s this year. Many in this particular group has been together since they were babies, but they all have a real true bond no matter when they joined the group. They watch out for each other and keep each other on point. And I am especially grateful to have 9 closer friends than when I left. I look forward to keeping up with all of them as many leave the nest of home for college. As for the ones who remain at home this year, I look forward to getting together with through the next year.
Enjoy a post-trip reflection from one of our mentors on the trip!
Here’s Suzanne’s take:
My trip to Ireland with St. Paul’s youth was a true gift to my spirit. To travel with seven bright teens and to study the lives of the Saints who introduced Christianity to Ireland and preserved the Gospels thru their ancient manuscripts was amazing. Our journey was active which was perfect for our energetic group. We climbed Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain where St. Patrick fasted 40 days and 40 nights on the summit. This hike has been faithfully continued since. On the Aran Islands we cycled Inis Mor, a primitive and beautiful Island in the rough Atlantic. We experienced a Bronze Age fort and an ancient monastery walking in the shoes of the early Christians. In Kildare, home of Saint Brigit we climbed to the top of an ancient round house where the monks would take refuge when attacked. In Dublin we were introduced to the Celtic traditional games played for centuries by all Counties in Ireland. Hurling combines hockey, soccer and golf for an aggressive and active sport. Although awkward, we attempted these sports. Every evening we spent time reflecting on our day, noting thin places. These sessions were led by alternating members, creating questions to consider, discuss, journal and share. Insights were passionate bringing our community into intimacy with one another and God’s spirit. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime for me, Pete Nunnally , Jeanne LeFever and our St.Paul’s pilgrims. On a personal note, my favorite ancient city was Glendalough. This 10th century village is amazingly intact providing insight into the lives within this community. Thank you St.Paul’s Episcopal
Once more, check my FB for more pictures. Alex Hamp has some great pictures of the day on her page too.
Today was our last day in Ireland, the last day of our pilgrimage. The end of a years-long journey for our youth and adults, and the product of a last-minute change in plans that gave us an “extra” day in Ireland.
Here’s Andrew’s take on the day and the pilgrimage:
We spent our our last full day together in the notorious city of Dublin. In the morning, after leaving the beloved New Grange Lodge, we dropped off our baggage at the hotel before heading into the heart of Dublin. Our only activity set in stone was to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Reading about the back story and creation of the Book of Kells spoke to me more than the book itself; however, it did have a very spiritual essence to it. After that, we were all set free to wander around the city and do what we pleased. The guys and I got food at a restaurant called the Hairy Lemon. The name did not sound so appetizing but the food was simply amazing. The presence of Irish culture in the people around us created an atmosphere which seemed unique to the country. The city in general, however, reminded me of Paris with small vibrant restaurants and shops along cobble stone alleyways with streets full of life. [Accidentally getting separated from] Suzanne for a good 4 hours in the city gave us something to worry about , but all was well when we realized that after trying to find us for a while, she had taken a surprise Dublin guided bus tour around the city [we knew we’d meet up with her at dinner.] Going to a Gaelic Football game was my favorite part of the day as it felt so much different than American sports. The game was Dublin vs. Westmeath, and the shear amount of Dublin fans was unbelievable. The match was an amazing experience which exhibited Irish culture and pride in a unique way. Today was the perfect day to be a little more laid back as it was the last day of our trip. It was great to have freedom to walk around the city after being on a more strict itinerary for the past week. We were all on our own to experience what we wanted to. From my perspective, it brought back memories from our trip to San Francisco a couple years ago where we were set loose in the city for a day. While today was not as much of a spiritual journey for me compared to the other days, it gave me time to think and reflect on the trip that is coming to an end. Our last nightly discussion really summed up our trip. Most of us realized that we had learned more about each other during the past week of this pilgrimage than all of our years together from routinely attending youth group.
[I’m spending way too much time picking out the perfect blog title/U2 reference. But they all do have relevance to each particular day, especially this one, since we spent the day I n Dublin]
[Again internet is awful, check my FB and no I don’t know why I can upload there but not on WordPress]
[Did anyone see the Celtic Footstep Tours of Ireland FB page? We’re on it!!]
Today we visited St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, then learned to play Gaelic games unique to Ireland. And we had fish and chips in a beautiful park.
Each evening we have worship, led by youth, which consists of 10 minutes of journaling (whoever is leading that day picks a journaling prompt), sharing what came up in journaling, a check-in, and a discussion question, which may or may not relate to what we did that day. One of our best discussion questions was “who or what is God to you,” for example. Tonight we had a great discussion led by Stephen and Andrew about the relationship between war and religion
Stephen’s take on the day:
Today was interesting because we got a hands on experience by playing some of Ireland’s most famous games! We started our day at St. Patricks Cathedral in Dublin where we participated in communion, and a small blessing. We went through the City of Dublin where we watched for pick pocketers and kept our belongings close by. We then went to Experience Gaelic Games where we participated in the famous games called Gaelic Football and Hurling. My favorite was the hurling which included a stick/club made of ash and helmets. Interesting fact: the professionals in these sports (hurling and football) play without pay which showed us how important these sports mean to Ireland. This was a very high contact sport which made it even more fun! We got the best fish and chips in Ireland according to our guide Owen, and enjoyed it in the sunny park next to a cathedral which attracted the locals. What struck me the most was the sports because I love athletics and sports!
[the internet isn’t really working so I will upload pictures tomorrow]
Today we got to sleep in a little bit, and enjoyed a great continental breakfast of toast, pancakes, yogurt, granola, cereal, pastries, and coffee/tea. We then visited Bru na Boinne, and the Neolithic passage graves at Knowth. These graves were built originally in 3000-2000 BCE, with unique markings in stone that indicate a religious tradition and perhaps even altered states of consciousness. These round earthen mounds were used by the early Christians, as well as the Normans in the 10th-12th centuries. We then went to the Hill of Slane, where Christianity was proclaimed by the lighting of an Easter fire by St Patrick in the 5th century. In the 16th century a monastery and college were built on the site (pictures below). Finally we went to Causey Farm and learned about the agricultural traditions of Ireland, and we learned a traditional dance too!
We learned about the Hill of Slane a couple years ago in history class so it was cool to see it in person. We also learned about Neolithic and Paleolithic era so seeing that today was really cool too. lt’s interesting to learn about the older Christian traditions because I was born with people telling me about the Christian faith and I am still a strong believer in it even though I’m not really sure who or what God is to me right now.
When we were at the Hill of Slane-I felt like I was part of history; seeing a lot of the sites today I felt like I was part of what I had learned about, a part of me became a part of that–I felt connected to the Christian faith and history, and that brought me closer to everything.
When we were at the farm, I came closer to God by touching his creation [animals].
Seeing the baby lamb made me think about when Jesus was born-it put a picture in my head. A daydream–I made a movie in my head: Jesus was crying and the baby lamb was there, coming into the manger.
I didn’t expect to enjoy the rainy days in Ireland as much as I have–part of it is that I have enjoyed being away from home and being on my own.
Blakely’s thoughts on our day:
When people think of Ireland they think of clover, rain, and beer. All of these are key elements including celebrating St. Patrick. Today we explored and walked in the footsteps of St. Patrick. The group visited four cathedrals; St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Roman Catholic Cathedral, Downpatrick Cathedral, and Saul’s Church. Out of all of the churches we visited, the church in Saul was everyone’s favorite. The space was simple yet caused awe among us all. The church was the site of where St. Patrick died on March 17th. Downpatrick Cathedral included the grave of St. Patrick which has large stone placed on top to deter people from carrying parts of the grave away. In the tomb St. Brigid and St. Columba were buried with him. All the churches we visited were breath taking and would be considered thin places. We also learned different things about Ireland. For instance, the national color is blue and the Vikings ruined everything. Also cows look cute when sleeping and the sheep rule the streets. It was an eventful day and lovely night with Malcolm and Andrew leading tonight’s discussion after a delicious dinner of Indian food. That’s all for now folks!
Will’s thoughts on today:
Today we explored the monastic city of Saint Kevin at Glendalough. The monastic city is very old, (I’m not great with dates but y’all should definitely Google that! [Pete’s note: it was started in the 6th century and held prominence as a village until the 12th century]) where it was once a holy place for many of the Christian faith to live and worship in fellowship. The” city” was, at the time of occupation, very isolated, and started only with Saint Kevin himself, living in complete isolation. In learning about the monastic city, the strength of these early Christians’ faith was clear. They dedicated their lives to living in relative isolation to build a stronger connection with God. This struck me as something powerful: simply witnessing the great intensity of others’ faith made me think more deeply about the truth in mine. We also went on a spiritual walk around the lake near Glendalough and over a “mountain.” This mountain was actually more of a small hill, but we let Stephen call it that. This walk was a chance to relax and listen to the nature around us. In our discussions after, most of us agreed that the sounds of the river we passed and the sheer beauty of the lake and surrounding woodlands were very moving. Across the lake we could see St. Kevin’s bed, a tiny cave where Kevin would go to meditate and completely isolated himself from everything. After leaving Glendalough, we traveled to New Grange to the next hostel, and Blakely and Maddie led us in a nice discussion. Today was very relaxed and gave plenty of opportunities for us to reflect on ourselves and the nature around us. The only sad thing today was saying goodbye to our lovely tour guide, Jonathan, who we’ve all grown fond of 😓.
Today we visited Solas Bhride (Bride of Light), a center of peace and justice dedicated to the life and work of St Brigid, then St Brigid’s Cathedral, and then Glendalough, where we had dinner and settled in for the evening.
Here’s Maddie’s take on the day:
I really liked the culture and the inside of St Brigid’s Cathedral. It was different–I liked that we took a moment to reflect and take it all in.
Labyrinth. It really got me and it made me let go of some things I’d been holding onto that I needed to cleanse within me. It was surprising–I didn’t know it would affect me that much. I felt like I was strong enough to experience my emotions in a group setting–I’m just glad I’m here. It is really eye-opening.
The round tower at St Brigid’s was tall and narrow-it took some time to get up there but once you got to the top it felt like you were on top of the world–it was beautiful. Knowing the tower was over 1000 years old made me feel very young. When we went to St Brigid’s well that was cool, but the younger kids there were distracting–it was hard to have a connection with the place when they were splashing around but it was still beautiful.
Sleeping is still an adjustment–us ladies were up until 2:30 last night talking about our lives–Jeanne and Suzanne were there for me.
Last night we had a really great conversation about our understanding of God–we all feel something different, but we’re similar in that we’re not sure we believe in the God we were given as kids. Sometimes people say God’s guiding us, or protecting us, but then it feels like God’s not there sometimes, so I don’t know if I believe that.
Yesterday we woke and took a bus out to the ferry where we rode out to Inis Mor, which means Big Island. Inis Mor is the largest of the Aran Islands, which are know for their history dating back to before the Bronze Age, and for their connection to paegan and early Christian history. We biked around the island and eschewed the tourist-heavy Dun Aengus (a fort with big cliffs) for Black Fort, a lesser-known Bronze Age fort with similar cliffs, which we had all to ourselves. Inis More was also home to as many as 14 monasteries, and was a place of pilgrimage for Christian monks who would come and spend time in the monasteries training, fasting, and praying. They came, as we do, to escape distraction and to begin to know themselves; to trim life down to the bare essentials and commune with God in a beautiful natural setting. The very first Christians in Ireland (even before St Patrick) were Coptic Christians, who focused not on original sin like the Catholic tradition, but on integration with our natural world. Our guide, Cyril, who was born and raised on Inis Mor, explained: “imagine taking a square foot of land here in front of us. When we take time to examine it, so much life exists within that one patch of earth!” We greatly enjoyed our time on the island with Cyril, who is also a farmer, painter, and BnB owner–he told us that life on Inis Mor is precarious; there are only 900 people on the island and one has to be creative and leverage all their resources to make a living there. “Unfortunately we are educating our children so well that they want to leave the island, and so we have fewer and fewer people here.”
Looking over cliffs at Black Fort
Cliffs at Black Fort
Ocean and cliffs at Black Fort
Lunch at Black Fort
Group on the cliff
Walking through Roman window at Saint Cairn
Saint Cairyn minastary
Getting started at the base of Croagh Patrick
We finally arrived in Ireland this morning at 6:30 a.m. (Ireland time)! We didn’t waste much time–met Jonathan, our guide, who is the son of Owen, the guide we have had for our previous pilgrimages to Ireland. After stopping for breakfast, Jonathan drove us to Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days in 441 A.D. This mountain has been a pilgrimage site for thousands of years, first for paegans, and now for Christians. Mike, our guide for our hike, was wonderful, and says he hikes Croagh Patrick twice a week with different groups. This became more impressive the further we hiked. It is a heck of a hike–the grade was alright for a while, but became very steep and rocky at the last ascent, called “the cone.” It rained off and on for most of the hike, but as we passed through two mountains about halfway up, the wind and rain picked up, and we were at once soaked with sweat and freezing cold–we had hiked up into the middle of a rain cloud. Having already spent most of our energy, here came the hardest part: a rock scramble and extremely steep incline, with wind blowing everywhere and the “ping, ping” of sleet hitting our rain gear as we slipped and stepped up and over wet rocks, pushing further into the cloud. People on their way down said, “you’re almost there,” but we couldn’t see the top, so it felt like we’d never make it. But we finally did–most of us. A few gave it their best but had to turn back. The little church built on top of Croagh Patrick in 1910 provided shelter, and we stood inside, taking shelter from the wind and cold, then ate our lunches and headed back down. We met the rest of the crew in a little coffee shop, said goodbye to Mike, and then Jonathan drove us through the Irish countryside on our way to Spiddel, which is where we’re staying tonight. We had an absolutely luxurious meal of chicken, vegetables, and a field’s worth of potatoes at Park Lodge Hostel, and settled in for the evening. Tomorrow we bike around the largest Aran Island and see the ancient sites there!
For me, the most challenging part of the hike was never knowing how far we were from the top because a thick layer of fog covered the entire upper half of the mountain. It becomes much harder to push yourself forward and give it your all when there is literally no end in sight. As someone who can’t start a chapter of a book without checking the amount of pages first, this unknown end proved to be the most difficult aspect of the journey. For the entire beginning of the hike, the point which I assumed to be the summit of the mountain turned out to only be the halfway point. This realization struck me like a slap across the face. Despite not knowing what lay ahead of me, I was determined to reach the summit of Croagh Patrick because I didn’t come all the way to Ireland to make it 4/5 of the way there and give up. Besides, they don’t make a tee-shirt that says “I almost climbed Croagh Patrick.” Also, seeing little five year old girls scaling down the rocky mountainside fueled my determination to make it. If they could do it, so could I. When it was all said and done, I was glad that I pushed myself to make it to the top. Although the cold, rain, and wind made it a pretty miserable trip, the feeling of accomplishment that I felt on the summit made it all worth it.