“For whatever is born of God, overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” 1John 5:4
A number of theories exist over the origin of the Celtic cross. The most likely explanation is that the design represents a cross adorned with a victor’s wreath, which was stamped on the back of a gold coin, called the Liudhard medalet, from Canterbury, England around 590 BC. It is speculated that this medallion was worn to proclaim a person’s conversion to Christianity. Indeed, the faith of a new believer is a victory worthy of celebration. Moreover, it is an event to be proclaimed and shared wherever we go, and in all we do. One’s faith in Jesus Christ is a mighty victory over evil, and it is celebrated by our Lord in Heaven, as He welcomes us into His loving arms.
It is about time to wrap up discussion on my Ireland trip, so this will be my final post focused on the subject. My “victories” in Ireland pale against coming to Christ, but the many things I was able to see and experience offered me a number of reasons to celebrate. As mentioned in a previous post, visiting Ireland has been a nearly lifelong dream, so just being there was pretty darn amazing. Beyond the landscapes, castles, and all the other things a person normally would expect to find there, some of the best things were not really anticipated.
Before we headed “across the pond,” Leah suggested we look into catching a glimpse of the Quiet Man Bridge. This small bridge served as a prop for John Wayne in one of the early scenes of the movie, The Quiet Man, in which Maureen O’Hara co-starred. I am not a person that generally holds movie stars in any special regard, but I have to admit that John Wayne has always been my favorite. And The Quiet Man is a fun show that our family has watched a number of times. So with seeing the bridge in mind, we scheduled a night at a Bed & Breakfast in Oughterard, only a short distance away from the bridge.
The Cliffs of Moher are a popular tourist destination, which normally would make me want to avoid them! After all, they’re just cliffs along the coast, how different could they be? Well, they are actually very spectacular when you see them up close, and I am very glad we took the time to do so. In fact, they are so spectacular that at the time of our visit there was a campaign in progress to get them voted as one of the seven natural wonders of the Europe. These nearly vertical cliffs rise from a measly 390 feet above sea level at their point, up to 702 feet near O’Brien’s Lookout, not far from where I took the photo below. Just to get a little perspective on the size of these cliffs, if you look closely, you will see a few people walking along the top edge of them on the left side of the image.
As impressive as the many sights were, I think the people and culture I encountered had the greatest impact on me. Over the 7 days in the country, I never met anyone that wasn’t polite or helpful. Most evenings I had supper in pubs, yet I never ran across loud, obnoxious drunkards. It took me awhile to competently drive on the left side of the road, and in the meanwhile I made several rookie mistakes that created hazards, or at least impediments, for other drivers, but I never was the recipient of any reaction remotely close to the road rage that is so prevalent in the states. As a whole, the culture with which I interacted seemed to be comprised of regular, unpretentious folks that couldn’t have been more hospitable. I may never have the pleasure of returning to Ireland, but I will always remember how welcome I felt as a visitor to their remarkable land.
“A man’s steps are of the Lord; How then can a man understand his own way?” Proverbs 20:24
I spend a lot of time traveling to and through places I’ve never been, and I am fairly adept at reaching destinations without too much trouble. Often I will glance at a map to make sure I know where I’m going and how to get there. However, I have learned that there are times when a GPS can be a handy tool. Upon landing at the airport in Shannon, Ireland, we proceeded to the car rental counter and the clerk suggested I include a Garmin “Sat-Nav” with my rental. My daughter, Leah, and I had plans to visit a number of sites in the southwest quarter of Ireland – places in a country neither of us had previously visited – so I quickly agreed to rent the Sat-Nav. With said Sat-Nav in hand, we headed out the doors to our traveling partner for the week, a Peugeot 207. The local time was 8:00 am, and we had the whole day to work our way toward the village of Blarney, where we had B&B reservations for the evening. This was only a 110 km trip, or 68 miles to us Yanks, so we had plenty of time for side excursions along the way. We intended to see a few sites along the route and spend the afternoon touring Blarney Castle – and potentially kiss the Blarney Stone. At least that was the plan…
I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the car, getting comfortable sitting on the wrong, I mean right, side. The car was equipped with a manual transmission, so I worked the shift lever through the pattern a few times, adjusted the mirrors, turned on the headlights and started reciting what became my mantra for the week; “drive on the left, drive on the left, drive on the left…” Leah set our destination in the GPS, and with a direct, British female accent, the Sat-Nav launched us on our adventure.
We had only tracked a few miles, er, kilometers, south on the motorway (think interstate, Yanks) when we saw a sign for the exit to Bunratty Castle. Wow, we had been in Ireland less than an hour and we would see our first castle! We exited left and quickly found ourselves in the village of Bunratty. While not necessarily heavy, there was a fair amount of traffic and we had a drizzling rain to contend with and cars seemed to be parked at random throughout the village. With the numerous distractions, I found it necessary to recite my mantra a few more times; drive on the left, drive on the left, drive on the left. We (mostly Leah, because I was too focused on driving on the left) searched for the castle, but didn’t see it. So we did the next best thing to do when you don’t want to park, we selected what appeared to be the biggest road and followed it.
Well, the road looked big when we started, but it quickly narrowed to what I would normally consider a goat trail. But hey, our car was small and as we shortly found ourselves out of the village and in the rural countryside I figured there wouldn’t be much traffic to contend with. Wrong! When we met the first car coming towards us, two things came to my mind: 1) drive on the left, and 2) there isn’t enough room for us to pass. I am now convinced that the driver of every car we met on that first day must have thought I was the biggest road hog in Ireland! After a little practice and experience I learned that if I moved far enough to the left to hear the brush scraping along the side of the car, we could pass an oncoming car without stopping! And I took out full insurance on the car, so I didn’t really care if EuropCar had to re-paint the passenger side after a week of sideswiping the roadside foliage!
We left the village of Bunratty without ever catching a glimpse of the castle, but very soon we found ourselves at the driveway to Knappogee Castle, so we motored our way to the mostly vacant parking lot. We found an older man who had the appearance of a gardener, and he informed us that a film crew was shooting in the castle, so we would need to return another day for a tour. He allowed us to take a few pictures before he escorted us down the driveway to close the gate. Who needs a GPS when you can wander around and discover great finds like this? So we continued down the road in a direction that my internal compass told me was essentially parallel with the motorway toward Blarney. Soon we spotted the ruins of what appeared to be an old church and cemetery on the outskirts of a very small village. We parked the car and hiked a couple hundred metres (kind of like yards, Yanks) to the site. As Leah and I were wandering around the locked up Quin Abbey, we noticed a man arrive and unlock the gate for visitors to enter.
Other than a gardener mowing the grass between gravestones, Leah and I were the only other people there. Entering the Abbey, we were quickly greeted by the caretaker, who began telling us about the history of the site, which was really a Friary (spelled Priory, in Ireland). He probably spent the better part of an hour sharing the history and answering questions before he turned us loose to investigate on our own. The fellow did a great job of helping understand things that we would be seeing at other locations through the week, and we were grateful for that. When we had finished our tour, we checked in with him again to ask a few final questions and bid him farewell. Then he asked where we were headed.
“Well, we are on our way to Blarney,” I replied. Knowing that we had just flown into Shannon that morning, he looked at me with a deep concern, and asked, “how did you get here?” So we explained that we tried to see Bunratty Castle, couldn’t find it, and ended up here. Shaking his head, he pulled an atlas from his office and showed us that instead of being south of Shannon and on our way toward Blarney, we had actually worked our way up to a point northwest of Shannon. At that point he gave us some advice for our travels: 1) use the Sat-Nav, 2) if I find that other cars aren’t passing me, I need to pull over and let them by, and 3) he had me study the Ireland road system on his atlas. He explained that the roads colored blue were large motorways, recommending I use them whenever available. Then he pointed out that the green roads are main routes and we should use them when there aren’t any blue motorways. Finally, he pointed out the remaining roads – the white roads. “Stay off the white roads,” he said, “because God only knows where you will end up if you take the white roads.” After ending up in Quin, while on my way to Blarney from Shannon, this man had zero confidence in my navigation abilities, and did all but blurt it out!
To a large degree, we followed his advice. We used the Sat-Nav and kept an eye on traffic stacking up behind me, allowing them to pass when I was able. Unfortunately we soon learned that the British wench in our Sat-Nav must have been having tea when she should have attended the roadway update sessions. Recent road and motorway construction had been completed in counties we traveled, but old lady Sat-Nav was oblivious to their existence. At first we found this frustrating, as she would send us on what seemed to be wild goose chases as she led us to locations different from our destinations. But she did seem to have an aversion to the white roads. Over time, Leah paid more attention to our soon to be worn out map than to the Sat-Nav lady, calling her bluff and setting us back on course. Pulling out her 3G equipped Kindle, she Googled our way across the Emerald Isle, and became my Little Miss Sat-Nav. She took us on the coastal route to the Cliffs of Moher, navigated us around the Ring of Kerry, and pulled up a little online information and history along the way. And, unlike the old lady, Little Miss Sat-Nav became very good at reminding me of my mantra; “Left, Papa, drive on the left!” However, she was unable to deter me from taking the white roads! If only God knew where we’d end up, we knew we were in good hands as we meandered through the country on the narrowest roads we’ve ever seen. It was there that we could catch a glimpse of the real Ireland – places that, until then, only existed in our imaginations. With the Lord guiding our path, we didn’t really need to know the route.