My wife and I were staying with friends in Liverpool and Paul was telling us about his voluntary work as Chair of the St Bart’s & Friends Community Sponsorship Scheme, by which careful preparations are made for the welcome of a Syrian refugee family into a parish. Paul mentioned the excellent input the group had received from Sean Ryan of Caritas Salford who is the national lead for the scheme. “Sean the musician?” I asked. It was indeed the same Sean that I had been in Rome with a few weeks ago for the Caritas Leadership Week and with whom I’d enjoyed a couple of great sessions of music.
Paul went on to tell us about the time he was staying on a remote Thai island and had overheard a man with a Tyrone accent. It turned out that he was from Coalisland, like Paul, and asked if Paul was related to a Charlie Devlin. “He’s my dad”, replied Paul. I reminded Paul of the time in 1985 when he had met an even more famous son of Coalisland, Dennis Taylor. Paul spotted Dennis coming out of mass at St Marie’s Cathedral in the centre of Sheffield, where we were both students at the time and whose Crucible Theatre was, as it still is, the home of the World Snooker Championship. It was the week before the epic final in which Dennis came back from 7-0 down to defeat Steve Davis. I remember at the time Paul telling me that he went up to him and said “you’re Dennis Taylor; you’re from Coalisland” and Mr Taylor not being too impressed until Paul said that he too was a native of the town. Paul recalled then that in 2010 he was at a dinner in Manchester where Dennis Taylor was to be the guest speaker. They ended up sitting near one another and Paul introduced himself and spoke of the encounter outside the Cathedral 25 years before. Dennis was touched by that and began his speech (which was mainly about the 1985 final) by mentioning that he was happy to have just met somebody from his home town who he had also spoken to briefly just before that final.
I love these constant reminders that we are surely far more connected to one another than we could ever imagine. One of many wonderful encounters I had when walking on the Camino to Santiago in Spain was with a Spanish man called José (“call me Joe”!). He spoke very good English, albeit with a strong Spanish accent, and I was sure that I could hear a bit of Irish in there. I asked him how he had learnt English and he replied that he’d been married to an Irish woman for 40 years. “Where in Ireland is your wife from?” I asked. “The North”. “Where in the North?” “County Down”. “Where in County Down?” “Newry”. I explained that my mum was from Newry and when I bumped into José again a day or two later he told me that his wife knew my uncle Pat who had been a butcher in the town. Soon after this I got chatting to a Spanish woman to whom I managed with my limited Spanish to tell the story of José, his wife and uncle Pat and she said to me “El mundo es un pañuelo” (the world is a hankerchief). Last year I got talking to a guy called Rory at a conference and his dad was from Newry and after investigation it emerged that he too knew uncle Pat. When I reported this to mum she said “ah, sure the whole town knows Pat”!
And returning to the Caritas week in Rome where I met and made music with the aforementioned Sean Ryan: after running one day with Celia, another member of the group, I spoke about doing the London marathon in 2009 for Jesuit Missions. She told me that her brother had also run for Jesuit Missions around about that time. When I got home after the meeting and checked the names on my JM team vest it turned out that I had indeed run with Ged, the brother of Celia. I wrote her a message to let her know and she replied “what a wonderful and small world it is”.
The world is indeed a hankerchief…