Wild Atlantic Way Pilgrimage

Date: 27 Jun 2016

Venue: Wild Atlantic Way

Br Aidan McHugh reflects on the pilgrimage:

"Following the pilgrimage which he led last year with our novices, Br Martin extended the invitation this year to professed brothers. Seven accepted the invitation, and on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 7th, all eight met up at the ruins of the Franciscan Abbey in Timoleague. In the shadow of its storied walls Martin reminded us of the aim of the pilgrimage: to commune with God in nature, and to celebrate life and brotherhood together. It was also hoped that we might gain some new insights along the way. To that end he asked us to leave our problems and worries behind us, in so far as that was possible, in order to live in the present moment.

Martin had a handout for everyone outlining the rich history of the abbey stretching from its foundation c1300 to its destruction by Cromwellian soldiers in 1642. We then ambled through the ruins, each with his own thoughts. There was much to ponder. For three and a half centuries this had been a hive of activity; for the past three and a half centuries it has lain in ruin. What about our own lives and our congregation three and a half centuries from now? He also gave us the text of 'Machnamh an Duine Dhoiliosaigh (Caoineadh ar Mhainistir Thigh Molaige) by Seán Ó Coileáin. This was recited and teased out . It would be echoed  two days later when we listened to Grey's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard in the ruins of the church in Rathbarry.

Having explored the ruins of the abbey we set off on foot for the parish church. On the way we stopped  at the Centenary Garden with its spiral of plaques embedded in the ground commemorating all the significant people and events associated with that part of the country. Then it was on to the parish church with its magnificent stained glass windows and replica of the Timoleague chalice. At both the garden and the church ample time was given for reflection and prayer; we weren't, after all, your typical tourists.

Now that the tone had been set for our few days together we headed for Rosscarbery where Martin had four cottages booked. Martin and John Hunt shared number 7 and that served as our community house where we ate and gathered at night to relax and share something from our experiences during the day. On that first evening we were treated to a fine buffet of brown bread, cold meats, cheese, tomatoes etc.. It was simple but most enjoyable.

After the meal we drove to Warren beach, a drive of approximately one mile. Martin grounded us again and distributed a page of quotations that we might find useful during our pilgrimage. I quote one of them which I believe underpinned our few days together:

Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it; read it. God, who you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink; instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? 

--Augustine, The City of God                         

We spent forty five minutes in that area admiring the beautiful  'book' that God had spread before us. When we returned to our base we relaxed together, ending with some formal sharing around a lighted candle in an otherwise dark room. It was the end of the first day and we found it very good.

At eight o' clock the next morning we went back to Warren beach where John led us in a session of tai chi.  This was followed by approx 30 minutes of private reflection. Then it was back to base for breakfast.  At 10.30 we left for Baltimore where we had another wonderful day communing with God in nature on both land and sea. One could not but praise and thank God for such stunning scenery. The day ended back at the cottages where once again we relaxed, this time even managing a bit of a singsong before finishing with our sharing around the lighted candle.

Day three began like the previous one with tai chi on Warren beach.  After breakfast we headed for the Heritage Centre in Skibbereen which contains one of the most detailed depictions in the whole country of the suffering caused by the Great Famine. The area endured more than most places. As well as pondering the ravages of the famine, we thought about the many people suffering famine today as a result of drought or conflicts. We called to the marine nature reserve in Lough Hyne and visited a Holy Well, Tobar na Suile, nearby. A few miles outside Rosscarbery we stopped at a Mass Rock, Carraigin na Droma, and reminded ourselves to what lengths people were prepared to go in order to celebrate Eucharist.

After a hearty lunch back at base we drove to Long Strand near Owenahincha.  The cars were parked and we headed off on a 7km walk through the countryside and woods. We passed close to Castlefreake Castle and stopped at the ruins of a church in Rathbarry. It was here that Bede used his phone to allow us to listen to Grey's elegy loud and clear. We followed a path through a wood, enjoying the rich tapestry of wild flowers and the singing of the birds as we went. Eventually we reached Long Strand and had approx a kilometre to walk along the beach to reach the car park. It was a most enjoyable evening.

The fresh air and walking left us with good appetites, so after getting cleaned up we enjoyed the bar menu at the Celtic Ross Hotel. Fish and chips never tasted so good before.

We finished up back at the cottage in the same way as we had the previous two evenings. There was much to talk about and lots of inspiration for prayer.

The place was a hive of activity the next morning as we had to be out by 9.30. To borrow a line from a well known song, 'I was sad to leave it all behind me.'  But just like the apostles after the Transfiguration, we too had to return to our homes. We did so with wonderful memories and heartfelt gratitude.

I conclude this brief account of our pilgrimage with the first few lines of a prayer that Martin distributed on the first day to be used on reaching home after a journey:

Lord, we are home again,

               and we lift up our hearts in a song of gratitude

               for the blessings of our journey.

Holy Guide of Pilgrims and Travellers,

                You have been our personal escort upon this journey.

We are grateful for all we have seen and experienced, for the

beauty we have met, for the new places we have visited.

For pictures from the pilgrimage, click here.