This January Celtic Footstep welcomed a youth group from Timothy Christian High School, USA to Ireland. This group tour was customised and planned by us especially for them and by all accounts was thoroughly enjoyed by all participants. They have very kindly shared their thoughts and experiences in this blog written by the group leader.
Introduction by Group Leader Rev Mac Wiener
"Our trip to Ireland with Celtic Footstep was beyond our expectations. Ireland is simply a wonderful, unforgettable place. The rich history and ancient places speak to the heart of the pilgrim. Adventure is around every corner from the fun cities to the quaint villages, from the
dramatic coast to the rolling, green countryside. Celtic Footstep made our journey a dream realized. They were by our side at every step. They offered great suggestions for lodging and places to visit. During the trip, they were available to help with whatever we needed. My students came away with a stronger faith in God and experienced a trip of a life-time. Thank you Celtic Footstep!"
Saturday, Jan 10, 2015 - Grey Abbey & the Clonard Monastery
Our breakfast was a full breakfast buffet. Our food has been so good on this trip! We met for a 40 minute devotional time. We read & journalled from Psalm 27, prayed, and each person shared how yesterday affected them. Such a great way to start the day.
We then left for Grey Abbey in the Strangford Lough (Lake) area. After another beautiful drive through the Irish countryside, we arrived around 11:40. We explored the cemetery and found that the ancient monastery ruins of the abbey were locked. We met a young man, named Richard, who grew up in the village (just over 1,000 people). He answered questions, walked with us into town, and showed us some "wee" shops (small and dripping with quaintness). We had lunch at a restaurant called No. 14. Once again, great Irish food.
When we walked back to the bus, Richard met us. He talked with the "Earl" who owned land next to the abbey and said that we could walk on the private property to get into the grounds of the abbey. It was kind of weird leading a group past a sign that read "Private Property". Once there, we were rewarded with the captivating and large scale ruins of a famous abbey from the 11th century. We had a prayer in the center of what used to be a grand sanctuary. Thank you Richard of Grey Abbey for helping us!
Once back at the hotel, we had some free time. Many, but not all, went shopping. Our dinner was early. We then attended the 7:00pm Taize service at Clonard Monastery. This place is one of the most respected houses of worship in Belfast. It was at the forefront of Christian reconciliation in Belfast during "The Troubles". The sanctuary was majestic and beautiful. The service was worshipful. They were very hospitable. One of the most well-known priests, who was instrumental to peace in Belfast, came out before the service to welcome us. During the service we were welcomed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. Once everyone had left the sanctuary, I chanted and an usher recorded it.
Sunday, Jan 11th- The Church & The Forest
We checked out of the hotel and attended the 11:00 am service at St. Anne's Cathedral, Church of Ireland (Anglican). We sat right in the front. The choir sang throughout the service. Their voices amplified by the echo lingering in the lofty cathedral ceiling. The service was worshipful with both a majestic and contemplative feel and clearly lifted high the name of Jesus. The congregation was very friendly. After the service, the dean of the cathedral and the bishop wanted a photo with us (for the church's website). The dean personally met with us to thank us for coming and gave us some background to the cathedral. The main part of the sanctuary was built during the early 1900's. This was when Belfast was a prosperous city due to the ship building and other flourishing industries. The stone carvings took one man 12 years. The four mosaics took two women 7 years.
After a quick lunch, we headed to Castlewellen Forest Park. We were there from 2:45 to 4:30. We hiked near a lake, and mansion on the property. Then we walked through the arboretum section (of course). This was beautiful! In fact I thought the evergreen section was more picturesque than Morton Arboretum. I was literally jumping up and down with excitement when we saw the Sequoias/Redwoods that had been planted over 100 years ago. I was privately pleased with the students taking so many photos in this part of the park. We also walked through the Peace Maze, that was formed by 6000 Yew trees. What a fun time we had in God's creation. It was a bit cold with the wind but no rain.
We drove to our new lodging location, Rock Lodge in Newgrange, arriving around 6:00pm. We were excited about our accommodations for the next four nights. It is a cozy Irish-feel place. It has nice common areas with literal rock walls. After our tasty dinner of Irish stew, we met together. After a fun time with the "sharing ball", we talked about the two worship services we attended (Saturday & Sunday). We ended by reading Psalm 96 and singing Be Thou My Vision.
Monday, Jan 12 - Only Three More Days
Our Bible reading this morning was Matthew 6:25-34. We need to trust in God in all things. Then we can live in peace and spend our energy on seeking God's way rather than worry. We left Newgrange Lodge around 8:30 and traveled to Armagh (silent "gh") in the heart of St. Patrick country. We met with Grace Clunie, the director of the Center for Celtic Christian Spirituality. We were introduced to St. Patrick through a well done one hour film. After a break we had an hour session led by Grace. During this time we were challenged to reflect on our lives, how God has gifted us and how God is calling us to bless others. We ate lunch at the center.
In the afternoon, we were able to spend some time in the town of Armagh. Most explored the quaint streets with shops. Five of us toured the two St. Patrick Cathedrals (one Church of Ireland and one Roman Catholic). Both claim Patrick as their founder.
The hour long bus ride back to Newgrange was silent. Everyone was sleeping. For our devotion time Kiran, our tour leader, Abby and Rachel led us in singing 10,000 Reasons (their harmony was beautiful). My wife shared her testimony, accenting God's faithfulness through tough times. We had an extended time of prayer that was real and powerful.
Tuesday, Jan 13 - In The Mountains
Today we voyaged to the south with a two hour bus ride. Our destination was the Wicklow Mountains and the town of Glendalough. The Christian importance of this area started about 1,400 years ago. A man named Kevin came here to get away from people and focus on God. Over time he became known as such a godly man that people began coming to see him. A monastic community formed. So today was hiking and learning about Christian discipleship from ancient Ireland.
Part of our hike was in silence. The scenery was spectacular: streams, little waterfalls, vistas, tall trees, peaceful forest, blue sky, lakes and even some deer & mountain goats. Everyone loved it. We toured the ruins of a Christian community from a 1000 years ago. We had a guide that led us, making the experience not only informative, but also prayerful. Below we stand in front of the 1000 year old arched gateway.
We were blessed by the weather. Many parts of Ireland had bad weather. But our weather forecast of wind and snow showers turned to a mostly cloudy forecast and ended up being mostly sunny. Wonderful day! After lunch at the hotel restaurant, many of us went back out hiking. We hiked 5 miles before lunch and some us added another 2 miles after lunch.
Wednesday Jan 14th - Discovering Ireland
Our tour guide, Kiran pictured below!
We journeyed into Ireland's biggest city, Dublin. Our bus driver, Phil, drove us around showing us the sights. He would tell me (Mr. Wiener) about what we were driving by, and I would then tell everyone with the bus microphone. I was excited about pretending to be a city tour guide. I thought my Irish accent was pretty good, but was asked to speak normally.
We then visited Ireland's national treasure, the Book of Kells, in Dublin's "ivy league" college, Trinity College. This book is the world's best preserved illuminated manuscipt, and it is of the gospels. This book dates back to the 9th century. One of the original, illuminated pages we saw was the temptation of Jesus. We also walked through the long library that has 200,000 old books and rare books. It was bullt 300 years ago (and looks that way). We walked over to the Natural History Museum, affectionately known locally as the "dead zoo". It is filled with "stuffed" animals all from the Victorian area (late 1800s).
We spent the afternoon exploring Dublin, which meant walking around and shopping. We spent time on the famous Grafton Street. Some of us walked over to the Temple Bar area. This part of the city is dripping with historic Irish character: cobble stone streets, old buildings, quaint signs, planting boxes and colorful shops.
After dinner we had our last devotional time that included sharing memorable moments, reading Psalm 34 and prayer. We are sad to leave but also excited about returning home.
Thursday, Jan 15th - Leaving Soon
Our last breakfast at Newgrange Lodge. Leaving for the airport soon. Sad to leave such a beautiful and hospitable country. Looking forward to seeing family (and our own beds).