Saturday 4 April
Day Four: Athy, Co Kildare to Tralee, Co Kerry
Without WiFi on Friday evening, I was unable to post the blog so I was up with the birds (partly because they were singing so loudly outside my window) to finish off. I’ll confess that copious amounts of coffee were involved! It took me some time to find a service station with free WiFi but once “Day Three” was live I could finally focus on today’s journey.
Thurles, Co. Tipperary
My first appointment was at Thurles Baptist Church and I carefully followed the driving instructions from the centre of town without realising that I had come into the town from the opposite direction! I followed the instructions to the letter but I was going the wrong way... hmm I’m sure there is a sermon illustration in that!
Eventually I discovered my mistake and arrived back at the church, albeit 20 minutes later than planned. One of the leaders there is Trevor Slattery. He grew up in the church and remembers when it met in a house back in the 70s, under the leadership of Dick Keogh, before God provided the current purpose-built premises. “There was never a penny owed on this building,” Trevor smiles.
For years, Trevor has worked in a factory and he sees every day as an opportunity. “On a Monday morning, you can say, ‘Oh man, I have to go to this place for nine hours.’ Or you can say, ‘Another spiritual adventure... here I go!’ Work can be hard and stressful but every day someone comes into my office and I ask myself, ‘Is someone praying for this person? Has God brought them into my life for a reason?’”
After a lovely chat, I’m on the road again, this time winding my way through the Tipperary countryside en route to Limerick. The sleek smooth crop fields of Kildare and Laois have given way to lush grazing meadows, edged with neat hedgerows and clumps of golden flowers.
Limerick Christian Centre, Mungret College, Limerick
Arriving at Limerick Christian Centre in Mungret College (once a Jesuit school), I’m astonished at the size and scope of the transformation that has taken place here. Founding pastor Dorothy Hall arrived in Ireland in 1984. When her congregation were seeking for a permanent home, she never imagined where they would end up. In 1994, they had just 1,132 pounds in the bank (the asking price was 350,000) - and the building was completely derelict! But through a series of miracles, they took it on and, over the last 25 years, it has been renovated and transformed into a church, school, coffee shop, art gallery and accommodation.
Dorothy’s own story is one of total transformation. Losing her brother to suicide, at 15, Dorothy dropped out of school and attempted to take her own life. But she survived and a young Christian girl began to pray for Dorothy and encouraged all her friends to pray too. When Dorothy arrived at their church, this group of friends welcomed her with open arms. By the end of the service, Dorothy’s life was turned upside down as she gave her life to Jesus - the work of restoration had begun!
They sang, “Jesus in me for every tomorrow, every heartache and every sorrow” and I thought, “Wouldn’t that be something, if He really was a friend!”
Limerick artist Anne Fitzgerald has been part of Pastor Dorothy’s church since the early days. One floor of the centre has been transformed into an art gallery and Anne’s paintings hang in the corridors and on the walls of the coffee shop. Parting company with these inspirational women, I head towards Co Kerry - passing 100 election posters in the first ten minutes of my journey out of Limerick!
400 Miles 4 Uganda
When I heard that Barry Forde (Chaplain at Queen’s University in Belfast) was planning to cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head this week, I decided to check out whether our routes might intersect. Barry and his team were set to arrive at Tarbert, Co Kerry early this evening, just as I was travelling down towards Tralee so we met up for a few minutes as they waited to board the Shannon Ferry! The intrepid cyclists will top 400 miles in the next four days (even riding through my home town en route to Malin Head). They are raising funds for for Abaana and Waakisa, charities working with children and young women in Uganda. Find out more on their Facebook page: @400miles4uganda.
As I drive past sparkling water, under a clear blue sky and along winding Kerry roads (the straight roads of Offaly are long gone), I’m filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude.