Thursday 2 May
From 1 - 8 May, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling all over Ireland, hunting down stories of faith, life and reality. As she zig-zags her way across the country, her daily blogs will capture a few highlights with stories of the inspirational people she meets and some of her adventures along the way. During this epic road trip, Ruth is counting the number of election posters she passes (highlighting plastic waste) - and VOX magazine is running a competition to see who can guess the number (post your guess on the VOX social media pages or email firstname.lastname@example.org for your chance to win the prize!)
DAY TWO: Cavan to Ballina, Co Mayo via Longford and Boyle, Co Roscommon.
I was glad of the slower start this morning when my planned visit to Enniskillen didn’t work out. Instead I had the chance to chat to my good friend Vincent Hughes from UCB Radio Ireland before heading to Longford for my lunchtime appointment.
Frowning skies greeted me as I set out from Cavan but small patches of blue began to appear here and there as I crossed the county border. The landscape in Longford is quite different. I travelled along tree-lined roads, intrigued at the way ivy is wrapped around so many tree trunks - as if they had pulled on 80s style leg warmers to ward off the morning chill.
Longford town, Co Longford
The modern retail park in Longford town seems a far cry from rural Ireland as I enjoy a coffee at Esquire’s. Ludie Creech, the pastor of Hope Community Church, joins me to talk about this new faith community, which was launched on St. Patrick’s Day 2018. The small church is seeking to serve the local community by volunteering with Tidy Towns, supporting the local marathon and helping to raise funds for the Women’s Refuge.
“In a town, an area and a nation where lots of people feel there is no hope, we want to share a message of hope and Jesus is that message. Apart from Jesus I have nothing to say that is of any value.” Ludie says.
Noel McAuley, a member of Ludie’s congregation, joined us for lunch and he shared his amazing journey to faith. Unable to sleep during a business trip when he was 38 years old, Noel thought it might help to read. But the only thing he could find was a Gideon’s Bible in the bedside drawer. He thought, “If anything is going to put you to sleep then this is it. This has to be the most boring book every written.” Those proved to be “famous last words”. As Noel read, he felt as if a ‘double-edged sword’ had cut through his hard heart. “I started to read that Jesus died for people like me!”
I spent most of my spare time reading the Bible and getting to know Jesus. The more I read about the Lord Jesus, the more I loved him!
Moving to Longford a few years ago, Noel (now 71) was overjoyed to spot an advert for Hope Community Church in the local newspaper. “I’m standing alongside Ludie as he seeks to develop a Christ-like church here,” he said.
From Longford, I travelled through County Leitrim along roads lined with dainty silver birch trees and on into County Roscommon. With a few minutes to spare, and once I’d filled up the petrol tank (the low fuel gauge had begun to beep rather incessantly), I spent a lovely few minutes wandering through the ruins of Boyle Abbey - the best preserved Cistercian Abbey in Ireland - pondering how our ancestors would have articulated their faith.
Galilee House, Boyle, Co Roscommon
My next stop is Galilee House, close to Boyle where Srs. Olive, May and Margaret welcome me with afternoon tea and scones. Anne Francis is the new spiritual director of this small community, which provides a place of welcome, retreat, sanctuary and spiritual refreshment for old and young.
As I walk inside I’m struck by the stone plaque outside bearing the words of John 10:10 - the same words I read this morning before I set out from Cavan! At the top of the house, the chapel looks out over stunning views of the Roscommon countryside. In this place of prayer, the sense of peace is palpable.
All too soon, I’m back on the road again heading north through Co Sligo and then west towards Co Mayo. I have a wee chuckle to myself as I misread a neon sign by the side of the road - instead of plant vehicles “exiting ahead”… I read “Exciting Ahead” - perhaps this sign is a “sign”?
The skies have cleared and the sun is splitting the rocks for my early evening drive. Occasional glimpses of the sea take my breath away as the odometer passes 500 kilometres. I’m still counting the number of election posters along the way (remember to send us your guess for a chance to win a voucher in our competition) but I feel nostalgic for the year when I was counting tractors… that was a much less arduous task, I can tell you!
Ballina, Co Mayo
Reaching Ballina at last, I’m delighted to catch up with the team from the Big Blue Bus run by Ballina Churches Together and Church Army. Emma and Marian have just returned from running a kids club on a local housing estate along with their intern, Matthew. They are buzzing with news of the club where they were telling the children the story of the resurrection. At the end, one child handed them a beautiful hand-made “Thank You” card! A converted library bus that Emma found on “Done Deal”, the Big Blue Bus has created an mobile venue for a weekend “drop in centre” for teenagers or adults seeking a cuppa and some company as well as weekly kids clubs and other programmes.
Fr. Liam shows us around St. Patrick’s church where the stunning stained glass windows depict stories from the life of Patrick. The evening sun streams though the west-facing window, splashing light and colour across the pews. I’m reminded of a conversation with a Donegal minister who shared how God’s light needs to shine through His people, like sunlight through stained glass! As I pray with Emma and Marian, I’m struck by how God’s light is shining through them as they serve the community in Ballina and share the good news of Jesus with people they meet! It’s the perfect ending to another day on the road!