As an Englishman I’ve always had something of an ambivalent relationship with Ireland. On the one hand, I grew up in London in the 1970s when the IRA was planting bombs in pubs and at busy railway stations, killing and maiming many innocent victims in a cynical wave of terror; on the other hand, I’ve always been aware of my own Irish roots and have remained fascinated and charmed by the romantic mystique of Irish history and culture.
My maternal grandmother was a Kavanagh from County Galway. I know little about her except that she moved to England as a young girl in the early years of the last century, marrying a Welshman who fought in World War One, with whom she had nine children and of whom my mother was the second youngest. She died when I was only eight years old but I have vivid memories of her enduring rustic ways, in spite of the fact that she had lived for half a century on the edge of London. She kept geese in her backyard, which we children teased until they chased us, and one of the highlights of our visits to granny was having boiled goose eggs for breakfast.
I’ve visited Ireland many times, from Derry and Belfast in the north to Kerry and Cork in the south, but the corner of Ireland that is closest to my heart is my grandmother’s own country. For me, there’s nothing quite like Galway Bay and the beauty that surrounds it. From Connemara on its northern shore, to the wilderness of the Burren and the breathtaking grandeur of the Cliffs of Moher, there’s nothing quite like this particular part of Ireland to awaken the sense of wonder. It is, therefore, with a great sense of excited expectation that I am leading a pilgrimage to Ireland this coming June.
We will begin in Dublin, visiting Trinity College where will see the Book of Kells, one of the most beautiful of all mediaeval illuminated manuscripts, made by the monks of Iona, and will proceed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest church on the Emerald Isle, with connections to the life of the great St. Patrick himself. Closer to our own times, there will be an opportunity to visit the home of Oscar Wilde, and, on one of the bus journeys across the country, I will give a talk on this most enigmatic of all Irish writers, based on the research that I did for my book, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde.
From Dublin we will proceed to Glendalough, the lake on which the monastery established by St. Kevin in the sixth century is to be found, and then on to Kilkenny to enjoy its castle, cathedral and pubs. On the following day we will visit the Rock of Cashel, another site associated with the great St. Patrick, and thence to Blarney Castle where those so inclined can kiss the Blarney Stone to attain the magical “gift of the gab.” As we continue our travels, this time to Killarney, I will put my own “gift of the gab” or gift of the Blarney to the test, giving a talk on Irish history, Irish saints, or perhaps on Irish writers, such as C.S. Lewis, James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, or, more controversially, on my own first-hand experience of terrorism and sectarianism in the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the seventies and eighties.
After our visit to Killarney and the majesty of the countryside and the lakes surrounding it, we will begin to head “home,” as far as I’m concerned, towards my ancestral roots in Galway. En route, we will stop at Bunratty Castle before sojourning for a while at the Cliffs of Moher, looking out across Galway Bay to the magic and mystique of the Aran Islands, which time has forgotten, where the natives still speak the old tongue, and where cars have never been driven.
Having spent a night in Galway City, we’ll visit the nearby Kylemore Abbey, where Benedictine nuns work and pray in the shadow of brooding mountains, and then move on to Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, on which St. Patrick fasted and prayed for Ireland and her people. This day of spiritual blessings will culminate with a visit to the Marian shrine at Knock, a place associated with many modern miracles of grace. Our final stop, on our return to Dublin, will be at Clonmacnoise, a mediaeval monastery associated with yet another Irish saint, St. Ciaran.
Those wishing to join me on this jewel of a journey to the Emerald Isle should contact Catholic Heritage Tours on (800) 290-3876 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Further details can also be found on the internet at www.catholicheritagetours.com/ACJP.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This essay originally appeared in Aquinas College Magazine (Spring 2016) and is republished here with gracious permission of the author.