It’s not really fair to call this post “Week Three” since we are actually well into week four and anticipating leaving Ireland in a couple of days. This, second portion of our time here, has been much different than the first, but, in many ways essential to the full understanding of many of the things we saw, and experienced, in the initial stages of our journey.
We moved from our bicycle to a bus, from relative solitude to a group dynamic, from an organic interactive experience to one somewhat more removed with a running commentary provided by on board guides and our driver. These commentaries, though, were invaluable in the way they filled in the blanks from the first part of our trip. Many things which we had seen, speculated on, were brought into clearer focus through their words, their stories, and their experiences. Due to an injury sustained by the individual who was to be our guide for the whole trip, we were served by a number of replacements who did an amazing job, each bringing a new perspective, new history, and new understanding. The accident was to our benefit in the end.
In an earlier post, I marvelled at the history evident everywhere. The ruins are everywhere, providing a historical background to life. Some of these ruins date to well before the birth of Christ, left as they are through custom and superstition, but providing the depth of time to this place. This second part of the trip has taken us even further back in time. Yesterday we visited a passage tomb, built before the pyramids. We were able to go inside the big mound and actually see the engineering. We are left wondering how these people managed to move huge stones many kilometres before the invention of the wheel. Their awareness of the travel of the sun was amazing as well.
This part of the trip was focused on high crosses. These crosses are scattered around the country, and along with the ruins of the abbeys, churches, and cathedrals, tell the story of the strength of Christianity on this island well before its emergence in the rest of Europe. The Irish were instrumental in bringing the gospel to the continent and trace their roots to monastic groups from Egypt. The churches and monasteries were the powerhouses, the centres of wealth and knowledge for centuries,their power finally broken by King Henry VIII who imposed the Anglican Church and made Catholicism illegal. Today 90% of Irish citizen identify as Catholic, with church parking lots full to overflowing on Sunday mornings while the Church of Ireland turns its buildings into museums and concert halls.
Seeing these ancient signs of faith brings the idea of “faith of our fathers” into sharp focus. These communities, over 1500 years ago were reciting the same psalms we hold dear today. The words of the Apostles Creed were their words. The God they worshipped, with greater devotion than we could ever imagine, is the same God we praise, the same Christ, the same death and resurrection.
It leaves one feeling small.