Ireland Pilgrimage 2018 – The Eleventh Day

What happened to the tenth day I hear you ask?

The answer is, I’m afraid, that I was out for the count. I woke up in the morning feeling so dizzy I could neither sit nor stand. Thankfully it was a day when I was able to stay in the hotel room, to lay down and recover. Which I did by the end of the day, thankfully.

Our day was an early start, leaving Tralee before the sun was really up and shining (not too hard at this time of year this far north mind, especially given that daylight saving is still running in Ireland). Today we were heading to Galway, via Limerick and the Cliffs of Moher. There was a lot of ground to cover today, along with a few things that had to be seen.

We arrived in Limerick on time for our tour of the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, the Church of Ireland (i.e. Anglican) Cathedral for United Dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe. It was founded in 1168, which means that when we walked into this building it had been a place of worship for 850 years. The building was interesting, not only architecturally, but also because it has, as our guide intimated, trying to fill two functions in order to be maintained as a place of worship.

The congregation is small, and the burden of ensuring the upkeep and maintenance of the building falls on them. Because they wish to maintain the Cathedral as a place of worship – instead of handing it over the State to be preserved as a public building of national significance – the congregation regularly allows their place of worship to be used for other purposes, such as musical recitals. It is, unfortunately, what needs to be done in order for them to maintain ownership and control.

As a result, the building ‘suffers’. There are compromises necessary in such fields as the ability to keep liturgical furniture in place, as it needs to be moved when the building is used for purposes other than divine worship. Necessary perhaps, but still unfortunate.

The present shape of the Cathedral has undergone many changes over the centuries, and our guide was happy to share the history of the building which, not surprisingly, is also caught up in the history of the City of Limerick and the surrounding area. Of particular interest to me was the ‘high altar’, which was discovered in the churchyard in the 1960s, having been removed by the troops of Oliver Cromwell when they occupied both the city and the cathedral.

The altar is made from one single piece of limestone, is over four metres long, and ways in excess of 3 tons. It was, to say the least, spectacular. It was further adorned – as if it needed it – with a frontal that has been hand embroidered in the kind of Celtic knotwork one would see in the Book of Kells, and in the most striking of colours. When combined, it becomes a wonderful focus for the whole building in its primary role as a place of worship. There will be some photos coming showing the embroidery on the altar frontal – but you’ll have to wait.

After the chance to grab a coffee and stretch our legs, we were back on the coach heading to the Cliffs of Moher, a must-see for any pilgrim (or tourist). There will be photos coming of this too, but it is a place of natural beauty that must be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. Despite the heavy winds and the overcast conditions, walking up to view the grandeur of the Cliffs of Moher is enough to bring one’s attention firmly to the existence of the Divine.

Yes, I know it is the combination of water and wind over centuries and millennia that bring about the physical beauty of the Cliffs. I know that rationally. But if one is attuned to the Transcendent even a little bit, it is possible – all but impossible! – to recognise the hand of the Creator in the formation of what one takes in with one’s eyes. Despite the crowds (there were plenty) and the weather (which wasn’t the best) my visit to the Cliffs of Moher was a spiritual experience for me, reminding me of the grandeur of a universe that for me, as a believer, has its origins with God.

After lunching at the Cliffs, we continued on with our journey towards Galway, experiencing the uniqueness that is the Burren, that particular geological and floral feature that must be traversed in order to arrive in Galway. Arriving in Galway right on ‘peak hour’, we nevertheless successfully navigated the coach to the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed Into Heaven and St Nicholas.

And this brief experience was mind-blowing. The Cathedral is simply stunning. And the atmosphere that awaits the person who walks through the door is warm and inviting, and exudes a feeling of peace and serenity. The main cathedral space, the various chapels, even the Stations of the Cross, all contribute to a sense of the transcendent, but for me, the most significant feature that does this is the central dome. Rising above the elevated sanctuary space (elevated so that worshippers in all form arms of the cruciform shape can see) the dome is covered with mosaics and bathed in a soft blue light. It is hard to avoid having one’s eyes drawn heavenward. It is breathtaking.

Our short visit to the Cathedral marked the end of our days activities. We adjourned to our hotel, to dinner, and to bed. Because tomorrow we push onto the Shrine of Our Lady at Knock.