By the first evening’s gathering of this 12-day journey, the 30 people gathered — most from FUMCFW and the rest from an assortment of friends loosely connected from California to Ohio to Houston — were laughing, telling stories, singing, and sharing profound moments that brought them all to this trip. The makeup of this group was uniquely blended with professional storytellers, musicians, curious, compassionate, and attentive fellow travelers, and an Irish host who not only lived and breathed Ireland but soon made you feel like you were a part of his family.
Their local Irish tour guide and host, Batt Burns, a professional storyteller, author, and educator who has led dozens of these kinds of groups around Ireland, commented to Rev. Tom McDermott who organized and was leading the trip, “In all the years I have been leading groups, I have never seen a group of somewhat random folks come together so quickly and so openly as I have seen with your group.” And, Tom adds, the group only became more unified and engaged as the trip continued.
This playful pilgrimage began appropriately at the monastic ruins of Glendalough, a 5th century site where the second most famous saint of Ireland, St. Kevin, started his church and community. “The site is one of the most preserved in the world and has a profound mystical quality to the area,” Tom relates, “including mountain trails, fields of peat and heather, dark, Grimms’ Tale-like forests, and the 3,000-year-old Labyrinth Stone.”
One of the trip’s participants, Julie, told Tom, “I didn’t know what to expect from the trip. I’d hoped for a 12-day distraction from my life. But along with my two pieces of luggage, I’d brought some baggage — a painful past couple of years. Instead of distraction, though, I found that by the end of the trip, that pain was gone. I hadn’t avoided it or ignored it. In walking the labyrinths, something I’d never done, I discovered how to simply let pain and anger be a path we walk through. There can be such peace in being present to the path we are on.”
This unexpected kind of transformation and discovery seemed to be shared by many on the trip.
Tom especially remembers their next-to-last night, when the group sat in a circle in a small pub at the castle that had reserved a private room for them to share stories and laughter and poetry. “I was amazed by the talents and charisma of our otherwise quiet travelers,” Tom related. “We truly entertained one another that night. The evening closed with a poem that perhaps best summed up our sentiment and experience, penned by fellow pilgrim Dolores Hydock, who also happens to be a professional, highly sought-after storyteller and speaker.”
“Yes,” Tom adds, reflecting back on the trip’s unexpected joys, playfulness, and mind-expanding experiences, “we all had a general idea of what this 12-day journey would involve, but none of us really knew how profound a journey of connection and discovery this pilgrimage would become.”
When asked, “How would you have lived your life differently if you had a chance?” Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman from Louisville, Kentucky, gave this response . . .
If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else — just moments,
one after another,
instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter . . .