From the five-thousand-year-old ruins of New Grange and Knowth, to the ports of Waterford, Kinsale and Kenmare; there was so much to see in Ireland. We saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College and strained to see through the fog to Skellig Island where monks chose to build so long ago. It was from the Island of Cobh that the Titanic picked up it’s last one-hundred-and-twenty-three passengers. The same port from where the Coffin Ships sailed to Australia and other places across the Atlantic. The Lusitania sank just off the same coast. The ruins of the great potato famine still stand. No roofs left, only remnants of walls now where the ocean winds freely blow. Religious and political persecution certainly have taken their toll. My dear friend, Ann, tells a story of her great uncle who once did time in Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) for being in the possession of a dead hen. Castles and ring forts abound in the countryside. Points of defense mark the coastlines. So much has happened over time in a country only the size of the State of Indiana!
Roger and I drove the Ring of Beara on a beautiful sunny day. The Ring of Kerry the following day couldn’t have been more different. Thick, dense fog obstructed our every view. Our photos from the best Ring of Kerry viewpoint were… not to be. We enjoyed ourselves though. No tour busses on the roadway… because why would they bother? The beaches were empty so we walked for miles, picking up shells and skipping rocks.
The following day we set out for the Cliffs of Moher. We arrived in the late afternoon. Except for a few clouds, the sky was clear and blue. The water below looked rough and frighteningly inviting. The views were spectacular no matter which direction you happened to look. At one point, we stopped and looked out from what seemed like the precipice of certain death. When suddenly Roger spoke, “Hey, that guy looks like my cousin Mike.”
“Which guy?” I asked.
“The guy in the hat.” Roger said.
As they passed our way again I asked, “Is your name Mike?”
“Yes.” He said. “Mike Schwab.”
At that moment Roger reached out his hand and re-introduced himself, “Roger Hoy.” He said.
Turns out Mike and his wife, Gin, were there with a tour group, not just any tour group though. They were traveling with my publisher, Oregon Catholic Press (OCP). I didn’t know Mike serves on their board. What I’m up to is pretty out in the open. If I had known OCP was going to be in Ireland at the same time I certainly would have offered to connect with them and serve as I could. I didn’t know we would be there at the same time, and certainly didn’t know they would be at the Cliffs of Moher that sunny afternoon. It seems difficult to be seen when they are only forty miles from me… but four-thousand-six-hundred-and-sixteen miles from home God manages to schedule a Divine appointment.
If you’ve ever been to the Cliffs of Moher you know there are miles of dangerous trails to walk along the cliffs. The fact that we ended up at the same viewpoint, at the same time was truly miraculous. We climbed on their tour bus as though we belonged. We smiled and laughed at the serendipity of our meeting. We missed Roger’s big family reunion this year but God knew where we were supposed to be and when. It was great to connect with Mike and Gin and OCP.
Roger and I made it our mission to find the small town of Roscrea. If you’ve heard the story of Philomena, you know she was an un-wed, Irish, teenage mother in the fifties. She was sent to St. Anne’s Convent in Roscrea to have her baby. Along with many other girls she was forced to work until she delivered and for many years after. Most girls were treated very poorly, their babies sold to wealthy couples from other countries. I don’t want to give away the ending so I won’t say much more than that.
Roger and I, well truthfully, mostly I, wanted to find St. Anne’s. There were no obvious directions to be found. It seemed as though the locals didn’t know about the place and didn’t want to talk about it either. The only tourist information office in Roscrea was closed that Saturday. Finally, a woman working at the travel agency in town suggested we head to the White House Pub and talk to John.
John, the bartender, was a soft spoken and very nice man. Roger and I ordered a sandwich to share and eventually struck up a conversation with John about why we were there. He told us how to find St. Anne’s. His directions seemed simple and straight forward.
“You won’t see any signs from the road,” He said. “Just turn at the big metal gate.”
Well, after driving five miles too far we turned around. We feared we would have to return to the White House and and ask John to repeat his directions when suddenly there it was, the big metal gate. We drove in slowly, not completely sure if we were in the right place. There were still no signs or directions, just a long paved road. We drove past a modern looking nursing home, probably built for the aging Sisters, around a couple more corners and there it was. Again, no fanfare. No signs. No indication that we were at St. Anne’s. We were also the only people on the property. We wandered around for a good long while, still not completely sure if we were where we were supposed to be.
Roger and I separated to search. He hollered from the other side of a grassy knoll. “Here it is! I found it.” I can’t tell you what we found, in case you haven’t seen the movie. I will tell you this... our pilgrimage was not easy but was nothing compared to Philomena’s. I felt in my heart we had made the effort for her and all who were subject to life at St. Anne’s in those difficult times. After more walking and prayers sent for all the sadness which had been experienced in that place, we headed back down the long lonely road to the exit. After being there we understood much better why there would be no welcome center or gift shop. We left humbled yet fulfilled. Mission accomplished. Hearts moved. Souls touched. Life blessed.