Tuesday 13 May: Top of the Rock Pod Pairc, West Cork to Raheen, Co Limerick
For one week in May 2014, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling around Ireland to hunt down stories of faith, life and reality. Each day, she will share her journey and introduce the people she meets along the way. Visit VOX magazine on Facebook for more photos and to take part in our competition to guess how many miles she will travel this week!
Day Four begins in the Top of the Rock Pod Pairc and Walking Centre in Drimoleague, West Cork where I've had a really great sleep in my "Pod"! Stepping outside the pod, this is the view at 7.30 am. David and Elizabeth Ross run the farm and walking centre at Top of the Rock and these pods are a new innovation to provide comfortable and affordable accommodation at the start of St Finnbarr's way - an ancient pilgrim route that has been dubbed "Camino de Cork".
David tells me, "In 590 AD, St Finnbarr admonished the people to return to Christ and then went on his way walking to north to Gougane Barra." The route is a two day hike starting from Top of the Rock and in the summer, David organizes a guided "pilgrim" walk including times of reflection.
David and Elizabeth have already left for the morning. They are headed for Galway for an awards ceremony because their Pod Pairc has been nomination for an innovation award!
I'm all set to have breakfast at nearby Glenilen Farm - owned by Valerie and Alan Kingston. As I sit down to "Glenilen Farm" yoghurt, homemade wheaten and homemade butter, I soon discover there is a story here too!
This is a dairy farm and Valerie tells me how when she was first married she began making yoghurt, soft cheese and cheesecake and selling them at the local Farmers' Markets. That "hobby" grew into a business which now employs 34 people making a wide range of dairy products.
As Christians, Valerie and Alan see God's hand in the way their farm has developed and thrived. "We didn't really know the business side at the beginning," Valerie admits, "but we prayed every step of the way." Being able to provide much-needed employment is a great joy to the family.
My generous hosts have arranged for me to meet Elaine and her daughter Zoe who will drive me to Mizen Head - Ireland's most southerly point. It's a quick drive through breath-taking landscape that somehow reminds me of Donegal - wild, rugged and stunningly beautiful! Coming back we have a race against time to try and find phone coverage in time for my morning interview with Spirit Radio!
Coffee and Crafts in Bantry
I collect my car and drive north to Bantry where a group of ladies from Bantry Christian Fellowship are having a "Coffee and Crafts morning" followed by a Bible study. It is lovely to gatecrash for a short while as these ladies chat about their lives and discuss what it means to "wait on God".
Most of them agree it can be hard to stop and listen to God without distractions but when we do, we gain something precious.
I'm conscious of time again so I say my goodbyes and begin the most "interesting" drive of the trip so far. Google told me it would take two hours. Google lied!
Every bend in the road brings a new vista of mountains and valleys, lakes and trees, so achingly beautiful that it suits a gentle Sunday afternoon drive or a holiday tour. With a schedule to keep, it is torture! By the time I reach the Dingle Peninsula, the drive becomes a test of endurance
At long last, I drive into Dingle and almost immediately spot my destination - a small stone gift shop called "The Dingle Elf" but to my dismay the shop is closed! I telephone Maureen who is in the middle of moving house and had forgotten I was coming! Thankfully, she agreed to drop everything and come down to the shop leaving me enough time to get a much-needed coffee before we chat.
Everything is new
Last summer, an earthquake struck Maureen's life when her husband of 10 years suddenly asked for a divorce. Through this time of trauma and heartbreak, Maureen has been comforted and supported by local Christians who have now started to meet once a month as Dingle Christian Fellowship.
"That communal worship and prayer makes all the difference," Maureen shared. "I did really love my husband but he never understood my relationship with the Lord. I felt like one of those Christians who drew the fish symbol in the dirt back in the day, being ridiculed for my faith. A lot of times I was hiding my light."
One of the challenges of divorce was the need to find a new home and a job to support herself. Amazingly, over the last few months everything has fallen into place. Maureen saw that the lease had ended on a small gift shop at the entrance to the town so she worked to create "The Dingle Elf" - an all-year Christmas shop and Irish gift shop featuring beautiful local made crafts.
"I love my little shop. I have created a seating area and when people call in they can sit and have a cup of tea and chat. Some local people call in regularly. I'm also building relationship with the artists and craftspeople who are my suppliers."
I discover that Dingle Christian Fellowship is one of a whole network of new small groups of Christians meeting across County Kerry and County Cork spearheaded by the Methodist Church and making a huge impact on individuals like Maureen, who has lived in Dingle for 15 years and for the first time feels she has found a spiritual "home".
Tiredness has dropped away after such an inspiring chat (plus the caffeine helps too) and I find new strength for the last two hour drive of the day. For those following the mileage… I've now topped 900 miles! (Still time to enter the competition to guess my final mileage!)