Finding Faith in Ireland Day Two

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Sunday 4 August - Ballina to Kilaloe

This summer, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling around Ireland to hunt down stories of faith, life and reality. Each day, she will share the story of her journey and some of the stories she encounters along the way.

Editor's Note:  Here's a random fact. My itinerary could have said Ballina to Ballina.  The small Co Clare town of Kilaloe has a twin town across the river (and the county border) in Tipperary and that is also called Ballina, not to be confused with my starting point of Ballina, Co Mayo.

[roadtoGalwayweb] Sunday morning came rather too early after a late night editing stories and pictures. After my epic first-day journey of over 240 miles, I was pretty exhausted.  A lovely cup of tea and breakfast with my hosts and I was hitting the road en route for Galway.  I was immediately stuck by how much the landscape had changed from the wild and rugged beauty of the previous day. Here it was lovely but altogether gentler and more refined!  

By the time I'd stopped to take photos and to fill up with petrol and coffee in Ballindine (cheapest petrol I've seen so far at 156.9 / litre unleaded), I was cutting it a bit fine but sure, I've been to Galway before and I had my Google map so what could possibly go wrong?  I figured I'd be driving up to the front door of the church with one minute to spare for the Sunday service.

Instead, 20 minutes later I was still randomly driving around trying to recognise something, anything from my previous trip! It turned out I had been travelling in completely the wrong direction (I'm sure there is a lesosn in there somewhere) and once I turned around and retraced my steps, I soon found the check.  Sneaking in so late was a little embarrassing but at least the door is at the back! 

Even in the middle of holiday season and on a bank holiday weekend, the church seemed full with over 60 people of all ages singing worship and joining in enthusiastically with a children's song. 

I was especially intrigued by a story told by Brian about a recent family outing. Playing by a river, his children discovered a lamb that had fallen down the bank and was unable to get up again.  Presumably the poor creature had struggled for a while but by the time the children found him, he appeared to have given up hope and didn't even have the strength to bleat.  Brian quickly headed over to the nearby farm to alert the farmer, who instantly dropped everything.  It took some doing because the lamb's wool had become completely waterlogged but together the men hauled him out of the water and loaded him into the farmer's van.  A while later the family called over to the farm to find the lamb up and about, munching away at some grass and apparently restored to health and strength.

Comparing God to that farmer who dropped everything to come and help the lamb, Brian also faced the more challenging faith question - what about the times when it feels like you've been crying and crying for ages and God still hasn't showed up? 

"I’ve been where that lamb was... things have gone terribly wrong and I’ve ended up feeling helpless and crying out for help but nobody came,"Brian said. At those times it can be tough to have believe that God cares or even to doubt His existence. Quoting from Jeremiah 29, Brian talked about the Israelites in exile who had been expecting God to show up and rescue them instantly. Instead they got the message to sit tight and wait for 70 years. it wasn't what they wanted to hear at all!  "This is difficult stuff. It is not sweet and fluffy!" Brian shares with refreshing honesty.  

After the service, there is a cup of tea and a chance to chat. I think I've scared them off asking for faith stories because several folks promise to email me their story but no-one wants to share right then and there. By the time I head off it is close to 1pm.  It's a hot and hungry drive south and I stop in Gort to try and find food (the name seems familiar and I remember that this is where the Bikers' Church meets).  Sadly my experience in the town is less-than-welcoming.  After waiting to be served at a hotel for over 20 minutes, I finally give up and go to the counter, only to have the waitress give my table to someone else.  Sigh!  Instead, I drive a bit further to Ennis and find a hotel there that serves lunch both faster and cheaper! 

Driving into Ennis I had noticed the sign for Clare Abbey and with a little time to spare, I decided to take a quick detour and have a look. I was expecting a visitor centre and stories of the glory days but instead a bumpy roads leads to an empty car park and I have to climb over the fence to reach the rather forlorn abbey walls (Hope I wasn't trespassing).  Getting inside appears impossible. With no information, I'm determined to do a bit of research and find out a bit more about the place... just haven't had a spare minute since.  Watch this space! And in the meantime, enjoy the pics :)

I had been invited to join a worship service at the Abundant Life Church in Limerick City.  Part of the thriving Assemblies of God network, the church is led by Pastor Kevin Fitzgibbon and as I was to discover, it has to be one of the most multicultural churches in Ireland.  Flags cover the walls representing the nationalities of members.  The rich diversity is lovely but my lasting impression of the church is one of welcome and warmth. I lost count of the number of people who greeted me.  

The worship services was vibrant and colourful. Children played happily on pieces of carpet and cushions laid out on the floor.  Young and old waved flags, some extremely skillfully in time to the music and the band consisted a wide range of musicians including traditional African drummers. 

The church pastor had mentioned I was to be in town and asked for someone to offer me accommodation so I was delighted to meet Soo Ling from Malaysia at the end of the service.  Soo Ling married Michael from Kilaloe three years ago and has been slowly adjusting to her new life in Ireland.  It has not been an esay journey but one which has been made more bearable by support from some of the other women in the church.  

[memory_bookweb] Driving back to Soo Ling's house we're both amazed to notice a rainbow that stays with us for the whole journey home.  it is only just beginning to fade as I get out of the car (with my camera) when we arrive in the village.  Here I'm bowled over by Michael and Soo Ling's warm hospitality.  A comfortable bed, tea and Malysian "pineapple rolls" for supper and then an amazing surprise - Soo Ling, who is gifted in arts and crafts, has created a memory book for me, already filled in with photos from the first two days of my journey.  

At the end of another long day, there is still uploading and more updates to be done.  I hadn't quite anticipated the full impact of the tour around Ireland. I'm encouraged and inspired but utterly exhausted as I drop into bed around midnight!

For those who are interested... Mileage at the end of Day Two stands at just over 454 miles / 730 km.

Read DAY THREE of the Finding Faith blog.