Cross Your Heart

We visited Ireland two years ago and it felt like home.

I could say it was my Irish ancestry, but my last ancestor set foot in Ireland four generations ago – it’s not like I have relatives beckoning me back. I could say it was my vague Catholic upbringing, but it seems I only attended church (and Sunday School) to please my grandmother and The Church because my mother had to prove she’d denounced Protestantism. Pretty much like my Protestant grandmother did in the previous generation.

Hypocrisy aside. I’m getting off track.

Australia is home too, but Ireland resonated with me in a way I cannot easily explain.

As readers here probably know, I’m not especially religious, in that, I no-longer attend church. And while religion plays a part here, this post is mostly about people. Random people who briefly shared a moment of their lives with us when we visited Ireland.

1166 Rock of Cashel 08

The Rock of Cashel

In Kilkenny, I followed an older woman down the street carrying two grocery bags, one in each hand. As she walked, she shifted the groceries from her right hand to her left. She crossed herself and returned the bag to her right hand. We’d walked past a church.

I don’t know why I loved this so much. It was so real and honest and an action I’d never witnessed outside of church.

I have always loved churches. They’re like buildings of made of peace. History has shown us, of course, religion has caused much conflict. But churches for me are sanctuary, bundled by walls and pews. I’ve always found them to be peaceful, beautiful places.

I lingered around the entrance of a church in Wexford and wondered if I should enter – could I take photos? A woman bustled up beside me. She dabbed her hand into the font at the entrance, crossed herself and went in. I followed her. She lit a candle and rested it, flickering amongst the others. She said a prayer.

I crept around to the aisle of the church – my camera a heavy thought at my side. I marvelled at the windows and the architecture. With old habits I crossed myself and took a pew and noticed others already had – their heads lowered in thought, or prayer.

I mentally confirmed with myself it wasn’t Sunday.

Then I had another thought: People are actually using this church.

It made me feel so areligious. Australia is so full of empty churches.

I sat there. I took a moment.

I didn’t take any photos.

While in Wexford, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast. It was unlike any other B&B we’d stayed in, simply because the owners had made little attempt to separate their business from their house. Essentially, we were boarding. We’d had an awkward introduction because minutes before we’d arrived, our host had received unexpected guests looking for a bed. We were ushered to our room, which wasn’t quite ready.

‘Weren’t you arriving on the 4 o’clock ferry?’

The next morning, our host was calmer, but frustrated because the other guests had decided to sleep in for breakfast. Which was a shame, because it was delicious.

We returned to the B&B after a day’s touristing, but struggled to get a park. Once inside, our host had prepared some salmon for us. She knew Seamus, who knew Peter, who knew a fisherman. She asked about my Irish roots and the places we’d been in the day, adding comments like, ‘you would have seen Eamon’  or ‘you must eat at Patrick’s’. Our host was a living street directory.

There was a knock at the door.

Our host’s neighbour’s neighbour greeted her. ‘Oh, I’ve just come from Siόbhan’s, I don’t know if there’s more I can do.’

They entered the kitchen and my husband and I were sitting there, munching on salmon. Introductions were made, but their conversation continued.

‘I’ve just taken around a casserole.’

‘I went around and did the dishes.’

‘You’re a good woman, Caitriόna.’

An elderly woman in the street had passed away. Everyone knew her. She had five children and several more grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The street was in mourning and a funeral procession was expected in the coming hours.

‘Will you go?’

‘Probably,’ our host nodded, ‘You?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t like an open coffin…’

Conversation circled like this for a while. Talk of life and death and family. We asked questions which were answered honestly.

The sense of community was overwhelming.

We saw many wondrous things during our travels through the UK and Ireland.
These unexpected and beautiful moments were among my favourites.

Do you have an unexpected, wondrous moment to share?


14 thoughts on “Cross Your Heart

  1. This is *beautiful* – and really true. I can just imagine the lady in Kilkenny blessing herself passing the church; it’s something I also do, always, even though it’s rare to see someone young making the effort. (Or, comparatively young, at least!) I think it’s a beautiful tradition and a moving evocation of faith, and I will always do my best to keep it alive. I’m glad you saw people in the church in Wexford, as we have plenty of empty churches in Ireland too. A lot of harm has been done by members of the Church, in this country and all over the world, but there is so much good and so much to be treasured too, and so many good people of religion and faith who work every day to make the world better. You’ve really found words to move my still-Catholic heart here. Thank you. xxx

    • I found these complex memories to put to paper, although in their essence, there is little to them. It’s difficult to convey the warmth they have for me – such heart. One of the things about being in a different country is you’re directed towards touristy things, yet, *these* moments cannot be planned,they are real, I love them and mean more to me than kissing a bit of rock, upside down at Blarney Castle.
      [Aside: I swear at some point, that was *really* down to two folk having a laugh at a pub
      ‘I bet, I could get tourists to kiss a rock!’
      ‘Well, I bet, I’d get them to kiss a rock bent over backwards!’
      ‘I could get them to do that, *and* want a photo of it!’]


  2. Love this post. Love the little snippets of life. For me churches and my religion are like a warm fuzzy blanket to pull down around me when the world gets too crazy.
    SJ is right. There are a lot of empty churches here too and a lot of damage was done but there is still so much that is good and beautiful.
    What I also really liked was the B and B conversation. Painted a very typical picture of life here especially when there’s a tragedy or death. Everyone mucks in. People come out of the woodwork to help in whatever way they can.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. Please read my reply to Sinéad’s post, it’s for you too. Obviously, we didn’t visit every church during our time in Ireland, but I certainly didn’t get the sense of empty churches. I don’t think I’ve ever been into a church and found people using it for its intended purpose on a not-Sunday.
      I loved our time in Wexford and speaking of Irish hospitality, did you know that some crazy Irish woman spent her time with some strangers she’d met on the internet showing them around Dublin for a day?

      • Imagine. Maybe things aren’t as bad here as everyone thinks. There are often people in the churches here. Even if just popping in for a minute.
        I heard rumours of said crazy woman. You’d want to be careful. I made pals with a crazy woman once and try as I might, I can’t get rid of her…..

  3. I’m looking forward to unexpected moments when I visit Ireland. It’s on my bucket list to spend 6 months there. 🙂 Thanks for posting about it. I continue to get inspired to see it.

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