St. Brigid of Ireland

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St. Brigid in stained glass from the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon, Georgia. Image in the public domain. (c)2019

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

St. Brigid’s Cross. My collection. (c)2017-2019



Travel – A Look Back at Our Irish (and Welsh) Adventure

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​On August 14, 2017, my family and I boarded an airplane and flew across the Atlantic Ocean to the western side of Northern Ireland, the land where my mother-in-law and her family was born and raised. Our trip was for many reasons, primarily returning my mother-in-law’s ashes to the land of her birth to be put to rest with her father, as per her request.

It was also an opportunity to catch up with our Irish cousins, for me to take a side trip and pilgrimage to one of my saint’s holy wells, and for our family to have a much needed break and time away together. This would really be one of the only vacations we’ve taken for this length of time.

Between leaving at night, the eight or so hour flight, and the time difference, we arrived on Tuesday, August 15th at approximately ten in the morning.

That was two days and one year ago, and for the next two weeks or so (perhaps a bit longer since I began this project later in the week than I had planned), I’d like to include you on my look back, my reminiscence, my retrospective, my journey, contemplations at no extra charge. In fact, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about aspects of this trip (as well as my previous trips to Wales) and I know it holds a tender place in my heart as well as my family’s.

Let’s begin.

My two youngest children and my brother-in-law had never been on an airplane before. I am a nervous flier. Everything couldn’t have been smoother, although the plane was quite loud and bumpy. It wasn’t terrible; I think it was normal, but it still rattled the young ones. We held hands for parts of it, and my son couldn’t really eat his dinner. He was much better on the return flight, I think because the first one was over.

We arrived at Belfast International Airport, got our luggage, got our rental car, loaded up the sat nav as they call the GPS there and headed to our cousins’ in a nearby town, about fifteen minutes east.

More to come in the days ahead.

Belfast travel collage. (c)2018

Travel – 15 Quick Tips When Visiting Belfast, NI

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Recently, an acquaintance of mine left for a trip to Ireland on a group tour. Her travels were taking her to Ireland as well as Belfast in the North and as far north as the Giants Causeway. She had been asking for advice, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of those tidbits here.

1. You will not receive a bag with your purchases. 

Not even at the grocery store. You will need to bring your own reusable bag or pay 5p to receive one. I did notice that there weren’t plastic bags swirling around the streets in the breeze.

2. Bring an umbrella and a lightweight jacket.

We visited in August, and we wore our jackets every day. It was colder than I expected. As for rain, it will rain every day. Sometimes it’s no more than a mist that you would feel at a waterfall, but we had at least two downpours, and without an umbrella, we would have been soaked to our skin.

As I joked with my brother-in-law: Ask yourself if you’re still in Ireland. If the answer is yes, then you need to bring your umbrella.

3. Across the street from City Hall in Belfast is a large information center with great pamphlets, maps, and a gift shop. If you can’t get to that one, try and find an information center before you start wandering around. They are very helpful. Visit Belfast Welcome Center.

4. Around the corner and down the road a tiny bit is Carroll’s, an Irish gift shop with clothes, magnets, mugs, candy, everything and anything at a price range that makes something affordable for everyone.

5. The candy selection is amazing.
Even if you find something similar to what we have in the States, the use of local water and milk in the candymaking makes it spectacular.

6. Toffee. Eat all the toffee.
We can’t get good British toffee in the States. It is my go-to when I can get it.

Also, eat all the cheddar. 

7. Visit Titanic Belfast. It is an incredible museum dedicated to the building of the Titanic. I think they did a really wonderful job balancing their pride for building the great ship and the respect for the lives lost in the disaster. They also have plenty of on-site parking at a reasonable price, a cafe, and a gift shop.

8. St. George’s Market.

9. Botanic Gardens. One word of warning, there is very little parking in this area.

10. Wear comfortable shoes. There will be a lot of walking regardless of your prime mode of transportation.

11. Download maps to your smartphone or prints them out. If you can’t do that, get them right away, especially street maps, if only to get your bearings. We tend to drive in circles the first couple of days.

12. Carry cash. The general consensus is £200 to start and then use an ATM as needed.

Visa and MasterCard are taken at most places. 

Notify your bank that you will be traveling and for how long, so they don’t freeze your cards when you need them. (This includes your Debit/ATM card as well.)

From personal experience, I would not recommend Discover. In the two weeks we were there, we found two places that took them. Not even the petrol stations did.

13. £ Stores. Poundland, Pound World, All for a £. The same as our dollar stores, but everything’s £1.

14. Petrol is in litres; road signs are in miles. I have no idea why. If you find out, please let me know.

15. Leave space in your case to bring things back without having to pay baggage fees.

Titanic Belfast. Museum. (c)2018

Sundays in Lent – 4th Friday

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A pilgrimage is one of those things that is encouraged throughout most religions. Each Friday I’ve been trying to offer you a virtual tour of places to take time to visit and meditate and pray on.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Armagh

St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Dublin

St. Patrick’s Cathedral – New York City

Down Cathedral and St. Patrick’s gravesite (more of an exterior tour) – Downpatrick

Sundays in Lent – 4th Thursday

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With his feast day approaching in two days, I thought I’d share two photo collages of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland and the adjacent park named forr him where one of the wells attributed to him is commemorated with an engraved stone.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland. (c)2018

St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Park, Dublin, Ireland. (c)2018

Sundays in Lent – 3rd Friday

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Pilgrimage

Whitefriar Street Church, also known as the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Dublin, Ireland was one of those places on the map that i expected to see from the outside, take a few pictures of, and move on down the street. We were on a very limited time clock, one of the only ones on this trip. The map wasn’t even a real map; it was a tourist map – not every street and not to scale. The boys were going to search out the comic stores of Dublin, and my daughter and I were going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Dublin item n my bucket list.

I had done no research and so while I rushed to the Cathedral, I had no idea that we couldn’t get in without a ticket and we didn’t have the time to wait in line for one, having arranged to meet back at Starbucks and then drive north and back to Belfast.

In hindsight I would have skipped the Dublin cathedral and spent some actual time in Downpatrick in the north. I had dismissed it, clinging to my childhood stereotype that St. Patrick was of the south. I seem to always make the mistake of lack of research despite mounds of research.

Before heading to St. Patrick’s, we, my daughter and I, stood on the corner adjacent to the Starbucks which was adjacent to our hostel to get our bearings and plan our foray through the streets of Dublin. It was then that we heard the bong of a church bell.

We quickly realized that on the corner directly across the little alley where the hostel was, was a church, and upon further investigation discovered that it was the very church I had wanted to see.

Right place, right time were both on my side as we entered to gape at the first of sixteen shrines, a life size depiction of Calvary. It was beautiful and sad, thrilling and literally breathtaking and haunting and everything all at once. We stepped around and into the small alcove that was St. Albert’s Shrine and holy well dedicated to him, and as I contemplated taking a cupful of water from the shrine in my hand I was made aware that mass was about to begin.

Mass. In Dublin. Among sixteen shrines. I couldn’t pass this opportunity by.

For today’s pilgrimage I’m going to show you what I saw. They have a beautiful church with a guide to each of the shrines as well as a 360° virtual tour.

I found the mass fulfilling, the shrines inspiring, lighting the candle prayerful. I love that technology allows me to share this with you.

Finding Mary

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Finding Mary on my UK trip: Mary, Untier of Knots medal. Ballintoy, NI. Our Lady of Lourdes replica, Dublin. Mary, Mother of G-d, Dublin. Our Lady of Dublin, Dublin. Praying the rosary at Ballintoy, NI. Tiny Saints, Mary, the Blessed Mother. Mary statue at Cranfield Church, NI. Mary, Untier of Knots color charm. (c)2017-2018

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Tea

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​I love tea.

Not only do I love tea, I love the idea of tea.

It cures all ailments.

All ills made better.

Whether it’s taken like coffee – a caffeine pick me up – or a cup alongside a candle – for either prayer or writing time – or High Tea with finger sandwiches and mini pastries, it doesn’t matter to me.

I do draw the line at most herbal teas preferring my infusions to have actual tea leaves in them, and my preference is black tea rather than green, white or others.

I visited a group of friends a few years ago, and one was an immigrant from Wales. He brought me proper tea to wait on my bedside before I even got up for breakfast. While I was visiting, after my Welsh friend and his wife went to sleep, another friend put on the kettle to make us two cups of tea or hot chocolate or something that needed warm water. When the kettle whistled, we were a moment too slow, as my friend, while more or less still asleep or very groggy, came out of his bedroom, went straight to the kitchen without saying a word, turned off the kettle, and fixed the tea for us. Then he went back to bed. If there was ever any doubt if the British have tea in their veins, this settled it for me.

I am the kind of person who brings tea with me when I travel even to retreat weekends. I have loose leaf tins and an infuser that goes with me as well as investing in a travel tumbler with infusion attachment. It keeps my tea hot for a ridiculous amount of hours.

As I made my packing list for my last holiday to Ireland and Wales, I began to write “tea” under the space I left for food until I very quickly realized that to bring my own tea to Britain would not only be insulting, but redundant.

While my son needed ot buy an extra carry-on for his candy (truly, I am not exaggerating), I saved what little space I had for two large boxes of Welsh tea and two boxes of biscuits to go with them. I like candy as much as the next guy, but I do have my priorities.

37/52 – My Mother-in-Law

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​Having just returned from Ireland, with October upon us, and our applepicking happening just this afternoon, my mother-in-law has been much on my mind. Jean. Our trip was visiting her home, her cousins, and interring her ashes with her father, and applepicking was her “holiday”. She came up every year for applepicking and was also here for most of my middle child’s birthdays. He was born in October. She didn’t drive, but that didn’t stop her; not one bit. At home she traveled by public bus or walked or with friends. She used to take bus tours for those senior casino trips. She rode Greyhound or Trailways or whichever line was available to see us, arriving in New York’s capital in the afternoon before the roads were seized by rush hour. She also took Amtrak to visit my sister-in-law when she was in Virginia or Maine. She knew how to pack and only brought what she could carry, leaving plenty of room to bring home loads of apples.

When she left home in Northern Ireland, she traveled the world, meeting new people, finding adventure. From the UK to Afghanistan to India to Australia to America, where she settled, getting married, and having kids.

So many stories to tell, tea to drink, food to create and share, not to mention her Christmas dinners that I can only try to emulate and her trifles that I won’t even attempt for fear of not meeting anyone’s expectations, least of all mine.

Growing up in Northern Ireland to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, she was not a fan of the church and its rules, especially because of the way her father was treated back in the day. However, she was remarkably supportive when I became Catholic with no warning or preamble. She encouraged me. She found items that she had from her mother – a book of Catholic prayers for example, signed with her mother’s name and dated 1919. She said she didn’t know why she had kept it for so long, but now she knew and gave it to me along with a small First Communion statuette and a key chain with tiny figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

She was kind and generous and gave more than we could have ever given back.

Every step, every rock, every drop of rain in Ireland reminded me of her, especially always bringing an umbrella along.

Just in case.