Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20 From Dublin....

We arrived in Dublin yesterday after an extraordinary week in Drumconrath, an hour north of here.   I will write about our Ireland adventure here, and try to pick up the rest of the Ways in the Wilderness adventure at another time.

Drumconrath is close the the town of Ardee where Susan's grandfather. Francis Martin, had been born before he immigrated to the United States as a teenager.   We had rented a "self-catered" cottage for the week.  It was perfect, quaint and comfortable and  the owners, Larry and Attracta Ward were dear and gracious people.  We had tea and coffee with them on a couple of occasions and were touched by their warmth and hospitality.

Our cottage in Drumconranth
Mae and Joe Smith
Larry and Attracta helped us get in touch with the Smith family, Mae and her husband Joe, and their grown children Mary, Ann and Phillip and their spouses and children who were unbelievably gracious to us and showed us all over the area.  

Anderson's Pub used to be Martin's Pub.   Susan's grandfather was born in the apartment above the pub!
Susan's father and mother had hosted all the Smith children in the United States when the Smith children were teenagers and Susan's parents used to visit Ardee regularly and were very close to the Smiths.   There was a time when the Martins and the Smiths owned farmland adjacent to one another, so the long-term connection between the two families goes back well more than a hundred years and, it is likely that they are even distant relations of some sort.  We had a chance to see the pub which was owned by Susan's great grandfather who lived above it with his family (it also served as small grocery).  

We certainly felt we were among family and it was wonderful to hear stories of Susan's parents and other family members.  We even went to the local parish office and found baptismal, wedding and baptismal records thanks a wonderful secretary in that office who took the time to do this with us.   During our time in that part of Ireland we also visited a number of sites of historical and religious significance.

Newgrange Passage-Tombs - We spent an afternoon visiting Newgrange, a World Heritage Site, which is in the Boyne Valley and was constructed around 3200 B.C..  This megalithic site predates Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza.  It consists of a large mound where the cremains of the ancients were buried. Around the mound are large "kerb stones" etched with a variety of designs. A long passageway into the tomb is clearly oriented to the sun's rising on the winter solstice.   While there is on-going debate about the specific purpose of the site, it seems likely to me that it was primarily for worship and secondarily for burial, in much the same way that St. Paul's Episcopal Church is primarily for worship even though funerals and memorials are a part of this and the cremated remains of the faithful are found on our "site" in the columbarium. As I visited Newgrange, I couldn't help wondering if sometime around 6000 A.D. future archaeologists will discover the site of St. Paul's and the columbarium and declare that were an ancient burial site?!

The tomb-mound at Newgrange

Monasterboice Abbey - In County Louth, about a half hour from where we were staying are th ruins of the historic abbey of Monasterboice, which was founded in the late 5th century by St. Buite who died in 521 A.D.    This was of particular interest because this is directly related to St. Columba and the Iona community, which ties it also to Cutherbert and the the community at Lindisfarne which we had visited when we were in Scotland.   The Celtic monastic experience also ties into the early Desert Fathers and so it is is fascinating to seer the threads of this whole monastic experience interweave with one another.   There are three wonderful examples of so-called "High Crosses" at Monasterboice."  As my favorite on-line source, Wikipedia, notes about the high-crosses at Monasterboice, "The 5.5-metre Muiredach's High Cross is regarded as the finest high cross in the whole of Ireland. It is named after an abbot, Muiredach mac Domhnaill, who died in 923 and features biblical carvings of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The North and West crosses are also fine examples of this kind of structure, but these have suffered much more from the effects of the weather."   As the Coptic and Orthodox monasteries in Sinai and Judea were subject to raids from "Barbarians" (raiders mostly from Libya) and built high walls and draw-bridges to protect themselves, the monks in Ireland built high round towers where they would safeguard themselves and their goods and a prime example of such a round tower can also be seen at Monasterboice.  
The Round Tower with a High Cross in front of it at Monasterboice Abbey

Mellifont Abbey - Mellifont Abbey was founded by the Cistercians in the 12th century to replace Monasterboice and there are impressive ruins similar to those we had seen in Scotland when we visited the "Border Abbeys" there (we saw the ruins of Melrose Abbey, Kelso and Jedburgh - we missed Dryburgh this go round, thoughj we had seen it on a prior trip with the youth of St. Paul's).  As with those Border Abbeys, Mellifont was closed down by Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries of England and confiscated their property.   It is sad.   As I stood in silence in the midst of these ruins, it seemed to me I could hear the echoes of the ancient chants and prayers and that they still live.   We also visited the new Mellifont Abbey which is a living monastic community of Cistercians (also known as Trappists) who live on a newer site that is also a working farm.   Sadly, there are only about 11 monks there now.   Susan and I attended Vespers at the monastery.  The monks are mostly pretty aged and we couldn't help thinking this monastery was dying. 

The ruins of Old Mellifont Abbey

During our time in Drumconrath and Ardee, we also visited St. Brigid's Shrine.  Brigid, along with Patrick, is one the patron saints of Ireland.  We visited Slane Abbey on the Hill of Slane where Patrick is reported to have lit the first Pashal fire (Easter fire) in Ireland which was taken by the local king as a direct challenge.  Christianity, however, took hold and became the faith of the land.  We visited the ruins of the Abbey at Kells, from which the Book of Kells came (we saw that at Trinity College in Dublin); the ruins of Four Priory, another ancient Celtic Christian site with very impressive ruins.  

St. Brigid's Shrine in Faughart

Ann Smith Dowling and her daughters Alana and Courtney.

Courtney shows Susan her sheep, Bella

Susan with Courtney and Mary, Mae and Joe's eldest, who visited us in New York when she was in her teens.

The ruins of Four Priory.  People visit holy trees leading to the site and say prayers, leaving pieces of cloth or other items as a token of their prayers and petitions, especially for the cure of illnesses (see below)  

High Cross at Kells

Entrance to the exhibit containing the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin

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