Friday 3 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 .
Day Three: Ballina, Co Mayo to Kildare via Ballinrobe, Galway, Offaly and Ballylynan, Co Laois.
It’s day three of the tour and there is a chill in the air as I set out just before 8am, travelling south to Ballinrobe. Arriving at Fresh Start, I have just enough time to fill my travel mug with a much-needed coffee before my meeting with Paul Maloney... or so I thought. But a mix up with the dates means Paul was waiting for me on Thursday morning and so we have to do our interview over the phone instead.
Fresh Start, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
Along with two friends Joe and Donna, Paul and his wife Lynn have opened the Fresh Start second-hand shop as a way serving the local community. They are in the process of applying for charitable status but already the proceeds are going to support local charities. The shop itself employs two people with intellectual disabilities from the nearby Day Centre
We believe that everyone needs a fresh start in their lives at some point, Paul explains.
“We are inundated with donations,” he adds. “I get emotional because of the love that we’ve been shown. We are trying to show Christ’s love to this community and they are loving us back.”
People call into the shop struggling with all kinds of challenges in their lives from loneliness to domestic violence to suicidal thoughts. “I think of an artist taking broken pieces of glass and putting them together into a stained glass window. And then the sun shines through! We see all the brokenness of life but God is making something beautiful,” Paul shares.
“Did you read my blog from last night?” I ask Paul. “No, why?” he responds. “Take a look,” I tell him. “It seems as if there is a bit of a theme emerging!”
Travelling on to Galway after our conversation, I ponder the way broken pieces can be made new as I notice that the patchwork fields in Mayo and Galway are marked out with dry stone walls... painstakingly (often painfully) constructed by craftsmen who fit together different shapes and sizes of local stone to create the beautiful and useful structures!
Redeemed Christian Church of God, Bethel Parish, Galway
After a wee bit of a turn around (why do I always get lost in Galway?), I eventually find the right business park and arrive at the home of the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s Bethel Parish in Galway where I’m to meet with Pastor Kola.
Ireland was a very different place when Pastor Kola and his wife Sola arrived in Dublin from Nigeria 21 years ago. After working to establish congregations in Dublin and Mullingar, the couple moved to Galway 16 years ago with their son.
“Next weekend (10 - 12 May), our church will host a three-day conference to celebrate 16 years in Galway,” Pastor Kola tells me. “It will be a time of thanksgiving and the place will be packed! We are still standing and we will praise God for what He has done in the past year. Our people can testify to God’s goodness; there have been a lot of blessings. We have a passion for prayer because we believe all things are possible with God. We have seen evidence that God answers prayer!”
Recently, Pastor Kola and his wife, Sola were praying for Sola to get a new job. She went to deliver her application form and was immediately invited for an interview (somebody had failed to turn up for their appointment). She was offered the job on the spot!
Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly
Leaving Galway, I turn east heading towards County Offaly. Clonmacnoise wasn’t too far out of my way, so I enjoyed a peaceful interlude among the ancient ruins.
Plotting my route, I discover that I’ll be driving through Tullamore, so I dash off a quick text to William and Rhona Hayes (to take them up on the offer of a cuppa and a chat). As I drive, I’m struck by the long, straight roads in Offaly - not flat mind you, it’s quite a bumpy ride!
Tullamore Presbyterian Church
Over a cup of tea (and a coffee - I couldn’t resist the smell of freshly ground coffee beans) - we catch up with news from Tullamore Presbyterian Church. I visited here a few years ago but it is exciting to hear new developments. They are in the process of ordering new chairs because the congregation has grown by almost 50% over recent years!
William and Rhona share one brilliant initiative being run in their by Offaly Travellers Project. Homeless families (currently housed in hotels with no cooking facilities) use the church kitchen to cook low cost, healthy meals. After enjoying a community meal together, they can then pack up additional portions to heat up later in the week. Refreshed by hot drinks and good news, I’m on the road again, heading into Laois for my final appointment of the day.
The landscape has changed dramatically and now lush green fields stretch out either side of me interspersed with the occasional fragrant sea of golden rape flowers. Here boundaries are marked with sentry plain trees, like rows of exclamation marks.
Charis Garden, Ballyadams, Co Laois
My final stop in the Laois / Kildare border is the home of Claire and Jeremy Haworth with their two children Toby and Olwyn. This young couple has embarked on an inspirational restoration project converting a derelict space in Claire’s parent’s home into a separate apartment and clearing a wilderness to make way for an organic garden, which they’ve named Charis Garden.
I spot a tray of broken shards of pottery, china and glass. Around the fireplace, in a labour of love, Claire has created a beautiful and meaningful artwork using these broken pieces (even incorporating a fridge magnet that the couple brought back from honeymoon). The magnet broke and attempts to mend it failed but now it has a permanent home as part of the mosaic.
In the garden, Jeremy shows me the huge stretches of bare earth. This area had been completely overgrown for years and it took back-breaking work to get to this stage. Now comes the exciting bit as green shoots are starting to spring up.
This is a such a picture of Jeremy and Claire’s vision for Charis Garden. Right now it may look like bare earth but they see the potential for growing food and for creating beauty, for hospitality and healing as people are brought together into community and for enabling people to encounter God in the garden (echoes of creation, resurrection and new creation).
I’m preparing to leave but Jeremy persuades me to stay a little longer as he dons a beekeepers suit to help David (Claire’s dad) with their three beehives.
Memories of the day swirl through my mind, lingering like the sweet taste of that fresh new honey, as I head towards my B&B across the border in Kildare.