Climb Every Mountain

“It’s true; Irish people are everywhere!” So said to me Quitterie, a Frenchwoman (with an Irish mother), as we made our way out of mass at La Grande Chartreuse in the South East of France. I had just explained to Quitterie (who is named after a popular saint in the South West of France where she grew up, and who has a brother called Patrick!) that the Carthusian monk of 30 years who had said the mass in that incredible monastery nestling in the Alps had been born in Dublin.

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Eat a lot of rice please!

I was told many times at the beginning of meals in Korea “eat a lot of rice please”, (i.e. please eat a lot). I’ve just returned from two weeks in the country with my wife (who is Korean), and I think that my stomach is still recovering from the wealth of interesting and spicy food that was given to me, not to mention a variety of alcoholic beverages that it would have been impolite to refuse!

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Sowing the Seeds..

Some people think I’m crazy when I tell them but I love cycling in London. I ride from home each morning down to Canterbury West station on my fold-up bike, and when I get out at St Pancras International I cycle up through the wonderful new, water feature-filled, Granary Square development, then along the canal which takes me out close to the Irish Centre in Camden where we have our offices. Continue Reading

Letting go…moving on

I am sitting in my old bedroom in my childhood home for the very last time and feeling a queer mix of emotions. The room is almost bare, following the big clear out of yesterday. I’ve had my early morning walk, along roads in Coventry that are filled with fifty years’ worth of memories, and I shed a few tears as I realized it was the last time I’d be making such a walk.

We moved here when I was three and it was my mum’s home until earlier this year. She spent the last twenty years on her own in the house following the death of my dad. She’s in a care home now and seems to have accepted that it’s the best place to be at this time. The house now needs to be rented out (to make the care home fees go a little further!), so my wife and I were helping my sister and her husband with the fifty years’ worth of accumulated ‘stuff’. Mum kept a lot of things so there was a lot to sort through. Old school reports emerged in between thirty year old insurance documents. There was a copy of an Irish census record from 1911 with details of some of the Newry McStays (mum’s family). And an absolute gem turned up in one envelope containing copies of birth certificates and the like. It was a letter from the British Railway Board dated September 1957 offering mum a job in the Coventry railway station café and free rail passage from Belfast. This was especially poignant for me because it was in about September 1957 that the founding members of the Irish Chaplaincy were starting to reach out to the newly-arrived Irish in Britain. It was because of people like my mum, and my dad, coming to start a new life in a foreign land, that the Irish Chaplaincy began.

I give thanks now, for my mum and dad, for all of my family and ancestors, and for the life that has been lived in this house over these fifty years. And I take heart in a comment made to me some years ago by Therese Vanier, sister of Jean, the founder of L’Arche, when I was explaining to her the need to close Little Ewell, the big old house near Canterbury where L’Arche was begun in the UK (by Therese and others) in 1974. “It will be sad”, she said, “but that’s alright: sadness is part of life”.

Acknowledging sadness and loss; giving thanks; letting go…and moving on: it is indeed all part of the rich tapestry of our life.

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The Beast from the East

The so-called ‘Beast from the East’ brought to the UK and Ireland sub-zero temperatures, travel chaos and…the wonderful gift of snow. When I looked out of my bedroom window one morning it was to behold a world transformed. Everything looked different. There is a purity, a beauty, and something truly magical about snow. There is a different sound as well: a sort of reverential hush. A snowfall also forces us to slow down (or to stop altogether), which may be no bad thing in a world where we seem to be in such a hurry such a lot of the time. Continue Reading

St Brigid

I attended two quite different events on February 1st to celebrate the feast day of St Brigid who as well as being (with Patrick and Columba) one of the three patron saints of Ireland is the patron saint of the Irish Chaplaincy.

The first event was a mass at Sacred Heart Church in Kilburn celebrated by our own Fr. Gerry McFlynn. Gerry spoke in his sermon about some of the core themes in Brigid’s life and work: care for the earth, peace and justice issues, gender equality, and being close to the poor. And he told of how in the 5th Century, Brigid founded in Kildare a double monastery, one for women the other for men, over which she ruled as abbess. Brigid was a strong but gentle woman, a good leader, and a wise spiritual guide; and she seems to have encapsulated in herself the qualities of the active and the contemplative. She spent long periods in silent contemplation from which she drew her confidence and courage; and she took her share in the manual work of the monastery: milking the cows, shepherding the sheep and brewing the ale. She practised hospitality (which for me will always be at the very heart of Irish culture), and had a special concern for the poor and marginalized. And she was attentive to the cycles of nature, with a reverence and respect for the wonder of creation.

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