HCPT FROM THE SOUTH WEST OF ENGLAND VISIT KILCUAN SUMMER 2000
Armed with a book of Irish ballads, the singers at the back of the minibus kept us entertained - and the driver awake - by singing at least one song about every county we passed through on the long road from Rosslare to Clarenbridge. It was going to be a very good week.
When we said we were "retiring" from leading groups to Hosanna House, people asked ‘what will you do with yourselves?’. The obvious answer (‘have a rest!’) seemed too easy. Inspired by the conjoint meeting at Kilcuan of the Trustees/Governors and Doctors of The Irish Pilgrimage Trust and HCPT, soon after the house opened, we hit on the idea of a week in Galway for 30 longstanding members of our South West (England) group. It would be a way of saying thanks to those who had supported us for as many as 20 years.
Having run so many weekend reunions for 50+, self-catering held no terrors for us, and we found the cheapest way to travel was by 2 minibuses. It had to be cheap so as not to affect the continuing HH group. To our surprise, almost every invitation was accepted. We had no chaplain and our liturgical music would be unusually limited, so there was no danger of ‘wall to wall religion’ - as one pilgrimage was famously described! It would be a group of people with special needs, including several with learning difficulties as well as wheelchair users, but this was to be very much a holiday.
One Saturday morning in June, we set out from Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, roof racks laden. A relaxed ferry crossing - Sue got us exclusive use of ‘Captain’s Corner’ - and a McDonalds in her father’s home town of Clonmel were welcome breaks before we hit Clarenbridge just before midnight, but not too late for a great welcome from Pat Jordan and a thankful night prayer in the beautiful oratory.
Pat had kindly got in food for our first day or two, so we could have a leisurely breakfast and an excellent Irish sirloin for lunch. We began to explore the marvelous facilities in and around Kilcuan: some went for a swim; others walked the long drive into Clarenbridge to find the crystal shop. A local priest said evening Mass for us, and from near the boat club we saw the sun go down on Galway Bay (now isn’t there a song about that somewhere?).
On the Monday it was off to Coole Park, a picnic in the lovely walled garden with its human sundial; a walk to the Lough and a restful sunny cruise on Lough Corrib. In the evening, we had wonderful meal at GBC in Galway City, after a visit to the impressive Cathedral where Richard could not resist pointing out the mosaics of ‘Saints’ Padraic Pearse and John F Kennedy which he remembered from childhood!
The next day, three of us nearly ruined a massive stocking-up trip to Tesco when we began by loading up bottles long before the off-licence had officially opened. There was more swimming for some and, for others, a visit to the Galway Crystal centre, whose exhibition of Irish culture was made even more entertaining by the guide’s confusion as to which way the happily-married Maggie's Claddagh ring was pointing: was she ‘after a man’ or was she ‘spoken for’?!
A little later than planned we headed for the Burren and after a picnic supper at the idyllic Interpretive Centre we reached the Cliffs of Moher in good time to see the sun go down, this time over the Aran Islands.
Wednesday was Connemara: coffee at a nice new hotel at Maam Cross, a bumpy drive past Clifden and the 12 Pins, a picnic on the shores of Ballynakill Bay and an afternoon at Kylemore Abbey – free entry if you play your cards right! An even bumpier ride back to Kilcuan could not shake us off either the barbecue or an excellent karaoke/disco in which everyone took part, revealing some unsuspected talents.
We could hardly come to Connaught and not visit Knock so, fortified by a full Irish breakfast and with a detour for a riverside picnic in the grounds of Cong Abbey, we went to the Shrine. In just 2 hours, we experienced a rapid Stations of the Cross and Rosary, then Mass of Anointing and Benediction. It made Pèlerinage d’un Jour seem like a 30-day retreat! The shops are not quite Lourdes, but it was a good day. In the evening we were welcomed back at Kilcuan by The Irish Pilgrimage Trust Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson Michael McGloin and Des Keane and a late sojourn at the famous Paddy Burke’s Oyster Bar (oysters out of season but Guinness not!). Joined by Mary Walshe - The Irish Plgrimage Trust Treasurer - we were delighted that three Trustees put themselves out to spend time with us. We very much appreciated the gesture.
On our last day, we had yet another meal outside before the rain finally arrived. We visited the new Aquarium on the shore at Salthill - very interactive and a great success – and then it was a final shopping spree before getting ready for dinner at the Oyster Manor Hotel. The evening was rounded off with a Service of Light in the oratory and then, for some, a return to the Oyster Manor for a final Guiness and some live music.
We had to load up the minibuses in the rain, but we got away in good time on the Saturday. A trip on the Bog Railway and a stop at Clonmacnoise Abbey had to be rescheduled but a break with copious amounts of tea at Maynooth strengthened us for the tedious ‘south circular’ journey around Dublin to join the road south. In the mist, we had to take on trust the beautiful views of the Wicklow Mountains. Our final detour was to Avoca (‘Varicose Angels’ to one of the group). Conveniently, the only parking was right outside Fitzgerald’s so we could not help but finish off the gin and various other bottles while everyone took their photos!
It was then a short journey to Rosslare, and after dinner and 2 hours’ sleep on board for the drivers we were ready for the final leg, arriving at Bristol, exhausted but happy, at 5 a.m. - bang on time!
It was a great trip, made all the better by the kind hospitality we received at every stage and the fact that so many of the group had never been to Ireland before. Our grateful thanks to our own drivers, cooks and bottlewashers, but above all to Pat Jordan and The Irish Pilgrimage Trust for giving us such a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the well-thought-out facilities of ‘Hosanna House in Ireland’. Yes we did actually spend some time in the house - we thoroughly recommend it! Slainte!