Ireland Pilgrimage 2018 – The First Day

Or should that be the first days?

International travel can play such havoc with one’s conception of time, not to mention one’s body clock.

Having boarded our Dubai-bound aircraft in Sydney on the evening of Thursday 27 September, we eventually reached Dublin, having transited through Dubai, about midday on Friday 28 September. Which seems not unreasonable…until you remember that our total flight time had been in the vicinity of twenty-three hours. I love the way that works.

Arriving in Dublin, we were met by our guide and joined by those members of the travelling group who had left before us and had already spent some holiday time in various other parts of the British Isles. Exhausted though we were – understandably given the travel time – we made our first stop connected with the life of Catherine McAuley in whose footsteps we are making a pilgrimage.

The first stop was to Coolock House, the now convent that was home to Catherine when she lived with the Callaghan family. I was intrigued to learn there of the way in which being the household manager to the Callaghans and their large household and estate was in some sense a wonderful preparation for the great work to which Catherine would be called. The administrative and managerial skills that Catherine learned there – and clearly learned well – were to be of great assistance in the eventual establishment of the House of Mercy and the Sisters of Mercy.

Of particular interest to me in Coolock House – and largely because of my liturgical pursuits – was the way in which the present occupants of Coolock House have turned an ordinary room into a beautiful and prayerful chapel. The altar, ambo, tabernacles, paschal candle stand, and other features have been beautifully crafted from timber. When placed in an otherwise undecorated room, the space becomes a place where God is encountered.

Our second and last stop was to the former chapel of the Presentation Sisters, the chapel in which Catherine and her two companions professed their religious vows as Sisters of Mercy at the completion of their novitiate. This place, now used as a conference room, still has some of what would have been its former glory, but the true significance for those following in the footsteps of Catherine McAuley was the occasion of the religious profession – an event marked by a plaque on the wall installed by builders who had been working on the building. I hasten to add there were no plaques that acknowledge the space’s former existence as a chapel for the Presentation Sisters, but there you go.

After leaving the chapel, we made our way via coach to the Ashling Hotel which will be our home for four nights. It is an elegant and comfortable hotel which provided a wonderful opportunity for a shower (much needed!) and enjoyable food which I didn’t enjoy as much as I could have given the impact of travel catching up with me.

An ‘early’ night laying horizontal was beckoning, and the bed was very enticing. And so I retired to bed…the first day (or days) of the pilgrimage complete.