And having retired to bed at the end of the first day (or days) I slept deeply and peacefully, not even remembering when I awoke having gone to bed or laying my head on the pillow. It was, I suspect, a sign of just how exhausted I was.
Having breakfasted well in the hotel restaurant, we boarded our coach for a day in and around Dublin itself. Our first stop was to the Papal Cross that stands in Pheonix Park, a huge open space in Dublin that includes a zoo, the presidential residence, a column to someone called Wellington, and sporting fields galore. The Papal Cross, however, marks the spot where the then Pope, John Paul II, celebrated Mass with over a million people on 29 September 1979.
It was fortuitous, or simply the ‘luck of the Irish’, that we happened to be there on 29 September 2018.
Standing there under the Papal Cross, we pilgrims placed ourselves under the protection of the Cross as we continued our pilgrimage in the footsteps of Catherine McAuley.
Our next stop was to St Patrick’s Cathedral, the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland (the Anglican church in Ireland). The building, or at least the current building, dates back to the early 1200s, and a church on the site goes all the way back to St Patrick’s arrival in the country and his conversion of the locals. The current building is a wonderful example of the architecture of the day and provides a wonderful setting for worship down to this very day.
There are a number of images of the great and mighty, as well as memorials to various military events and units, scattered through the Cathedral, and wandering around provides the visitor with a wonderful sense of the history – both civil and ecclesiastical. It is, to my mind at least, a prayerful place, despite also being a place where tourists (such as ourselves) also visit. It would have been interesting to experience a liturgical service there – but that probably has more to do with my academic interest than anything else. A wonderful place to visit, and a wonderful place to gain a sense of the history of Christianity in Ireland.
From St Patrick’s Cathedral, we travelled through the City of Dublin towards Trinity College, a campus of the University of Dublin. It was interesting to see some of the interesting sites and buildings pointed out to us, and I made a note of a few that I would like to visit once the pilgrimage is completed and I remain here for some holidays with Mum (sorry Trish, but you could be up for some sightseeing and walking).
The purpose of our visit to Trinity College, however, was in order to view the Book of Kells and the Long Library that are there. This was, in some part, a highlight of the pilgrimage that I was particularly looking forward to – particularly the Long Library that I have seen so many photos of and been looking forward to visiting for so long. The campus of Trinity College is everything a university campus should be, a place where students and visitors wander, a place where learning happens in a space that is free from the hustle and bustle of the world just outside the boundaries.
There was, again for me, a sense that this place, a place of learning that was founded by Queen Elizabeth (the first one not the current one) that continues to value the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of pursuing knowledge. Don’t get me started on how often I feel saddened that universities in Australia (in particular) are now about training people for societal roles rather than being a place where knowledge, and the pursuit of knowledge, is the very raison d’etre for the university’s existence.
So we entered the building to view the Book of Kells, which was a powerful experience not only because of the presence of the Book itself but also because of the presence of one particular young man. He was in the care of his grandparents being obviously impacted by illness and disease that had taken a physical toll on his body and his psyche. To witness his grandfather physically carry this young man from a wheelchair in the corner over to the display case containing the Book of Kells, and to hear him exclaim that what he saw was great and how much he loved his grandmother… That room, at that moment, was one of those ‘thin places’ where this reality and that of the Divine are clearly in contact with each other. I doubt anything I have been privileged to witness in my life to this point was as poignant and as moving as witnessing that young man’s encounter with the Book of Kells.
From the Book of Kells, we moved upstairs to the Long Libary, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. To see this place where books dating back centuries are kept was again a powerful reminder to me of the true significance of a university and its purpose in the pursuit of knowledge. The cataloguing system was particularly interesting to observe because it wasn’t the Dewey system that is so prevalent in many libraries, but was a unique system that catalogues books by their location on the shelves and bays rather than by topical category. Interesting and unique, and something that I wish I was fortunate enough to have to come to terms with.
After the visit to Trinity College, the Book of Kells, and the Long Library, we were free to wander in the adjacent shopping area for a couple of hours for lunch and whatever else might take our fancy. Mum and I wandered into Grafton Street, a pedestrian mall that features shops, cafes, and buskers. The buskers were wonderful to listen to as we wandered past, but the young girl who was busking outside our lunch venue was simply jaw-droppingly powerful. This young teenager was singing a repertoire that was well and truly that of someone much older but was doing so in a manner that belayed her young years. Her voice, her style, her presentation was stunning, and before I was aware of just how young she was, I was imagining someone of more mature years. It was stunning.
After lunch – and yes, a little retail therapy – the group reboarded our coach and made our way to Dublin’s General Post Office, a location that has a particular significance in the cause of Irish independence. We visited the museum that highlights the significance of the GPO in the Easter Rising of 1916 and witnessed and heard the story of the leaders of the Rising. It was powerful and it was moving.
For me, this was something I was particularly hoping to explore during my time in Ireland but wasn’t expecting to do so prior to the holidays that came at the end of the pilgrimage. Now that I have heard these stories and visited this place that was so significant in the life of Ireland, I hope that I might be able to visit some of the other places connected with the Easter Rising of 1916 during my time in Dublin later in October.
From the GPO, we walked the short distance to St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the home of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. The building is radically different to St Patrick’s, being a much more modern construction (only dating to the early 1800s), and provided an entirely different experience. It was, again to my mind, a more prayerful place – even taking into consideration the impromptu organ recital from the retiring Cathedral organist. And there was a sense of familiarity, of being ‘at home’, in that place. It was almost as if, having walked into that building, I was once again connected with something that is timeless and not dependent on location. As a Catholic believer, walking into a Catholic church, I was once again connected with all those who have been part of the Reign of God from generation to generation. The timelessness of the Archdiocese of Dublin – which dates back to the mid-1100s – that was encapsulated in that building brought home to me just how small a part I play in something much bigger and so far beyond anything I am and do.
One of the highlights of St Mary’s was the Celtic cross that features Matthew Talbot casting off the chains of alcoholism that had bound him under the inspiration of God. Knowing the history of Talbot, and knowing his origins in Dublin, his commitment to caring for those who were similarly bound was powerful and inspiring. And the artistic representation of his struggle and graced journey portrayed in the Celtic cross found in St Mary’s made it all clear – as any good religious artwork always does.
The visit to St Mary’s marked the end of the official activities for the day, and some of the group made their way back to the hotel by coach while others opted to walk the short distance. Another fine meal in the hotel restaurant brought the day to an end, and then it was time to retire to my room and, eventually, to bed.