Ireland Pilgrimage 2018 – The Last Day

The last day of our pilgrimage dawned overcast and raining which, in one sense, was most appropriate given that our group of pilgrims had started to disburse during the very early hours of the morning. By the time we boarded the coach that was taking us from Belfast back to Dublin, we were down to just twenty-four pilgrims.

We had a leisurely start to the day, though, not being required to be ‘on and gone’ until 11am. This late start gave those travelling on the coach the chance to (re)pack their bags for whatever was happening next, whether it be jumping aboard a flight, popping over to the other island of the British Isles, or to Europe, or … well, you get the idea.

Our coach trip, originally planned as a direct hop from Belfast to Dublin, was massaged so that it now included a visit to the town of Armagh, a town that has the privilege of being host to not one Cathedral of St Patrick, but two Cathedrals of St Patrick – one Catholic, and one Church of Ireland. Our visit, unsurprisingly, was to the Catholic version…and it was stunningly beautiful. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the cathedral – there was a wedding scheduled…on a Saturday! Who would have thought?! – but there was a still an opportunity to ramble around and take some photographs.

A number of features stick in my mind. Firstly, there was the wonderful set of stairs that make their way from the front gate, up the gentle slope of the hill on which the cathedral stands, and opens into a large forecourt outside the main doors of the building. They are clearly a later addition to the building but add significantly to the overall significance of the building. I would hazard a guess (I can’t be sure because the weather and time constraints prohibited experimentation) that they would also be a wonderful processional route that ends at the door of the cathedral.

The second feature that sticks in my mind is the ‘presbytery’ of the sanctuary area, that space where the bishop’s cathedra is located. It was remarkable because there were permanent seating surrounding the bishop’s chair, symbolic in one sense in the same way that the seating for the liturgical assembly is also permanent. In other words, regardless of whether they are occupied or not, the fullness of the Church is made manifest through the medium of seating – the bishop, surrounded by his clergy, and the people of the diocese for whom he is the shepherd are present and thus, as the liturgical documents remind us, there the Church is made manifest most perfectly. It was certainly worth a thought.

After our quick visit to the cathedral, we headed out of Armagh in the general direction of Dublin (by which I mean, we took a circuitous route), stopping for lunch in the town of Scarva before heading to the seaside town of Newcastle. Our visit to Newcastle was a drive through, largely because of the inclement weather, and we continued on our way towards the town of Newry, and then Carlingford, a small town that stands beside Carlingford Lough. In the journey between Newry and Carlingford, we crossed again from the Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, from miles to kilometres, from Pounds Sterling to Euros.

It was at Carlingford, in the small church dedicated to St Michael, that we had the opportunity to celebrate Eucharist right at ‘the end’ of our journey. With thanks to Fr Brian, the parish priest and a fine Irish gentleman, we celebrated Mass for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, praying for all of the pilgrims whether they were still with us or not, for all those who had need of our prayers, and for the future journeys on the cusp of which we all stood.

After Mass, we boarded the coach for the last time and headed towards Dublin, specifically Dublin Airport, where we disembarked and said farewell to those who would be staying in Ireland, or hopping over to the other island of the British Isles, or to Europe, or … well, you get the idea. We also said farewell to Barbara, our guide, whom we had met at that same airport only two weeks before, but whose presence, guidance, and sense of humour had contributed so much to the experience.

And so, as I said at the end of my last post, the pilgrimage had come to an end, but the journey was about to continue.