I have not made an entry on my blog site for several days now. I had the opportunity to take a week away and I visited Ireland with two of my friends from seminary days: Bishop Paul Coakley of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, and Bishop James Conley, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Denver, Colorado. The three of us met in Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday, July 18th, and we flew together to Shannon, Ireland.
Bishops Coakley and Conley studied in Ireland in 1976 as young college students from the University of Kansas (Jayhawks) where they were part of an integrated humanities program. They spent four months in Ireland with 150 of their classmates. They would stay two weeks in Galway and then rotate to Inishbofin, an island in the Atlantic, seven miles off the western coast of Ireland. The students were divided into two groups of 75 each. Half would stay in Galway and half in Inishbofin and every two weeks they would rotate. The students became very close to the residents of Inishbofin. Five days after the students arrived in 1976, two of the students drowned in the tide off Inishbofin. There were only 200 permanent residents of Inishbofin at the time and each of the families on the Island had lost members to the sea. Our trip was a renewal of memories and old friendships for the Bishops. They were kind enough to allow me to accompany them on this journey.
When we arrived in Shannon we rented a car and began our journey up the western coast. We first drove to Clifden and spent the night at Foyle’s Hotel. Clifden is a little larger than Morganfield, but not much. We had dinner at the home of Mrs. Una Walsh. Mrs. Walsh had a brother, Msgr. Charles Walsh, who served as a priest of Wichita, Kansas, the home Diocese of Bishops Conley and Coakley. Msgr. Walsh preached at Bishop Conley’s First Mass and presented him with his chalice. It was a lovely traditional Irish meal of lamb and mint jelly, and a few potatoes!
The next morning we drove to Cleggan, a seaside city and took the ferry to Inishbofin. It was a seven mile ride out into the Atlantic. When the ferry got halfway to the Island the captain of the boat sighted a huge moon fish (Pesca Luna), also known as an Ocean Sunfish, floating on the ocean. This sighting caused quite a stir amongst the passengers. The boat circled the fish for a better view. This caused some of the passengers to become sea sick! It was a memorable experience for all! We finally arrived on the Island, where at least 30 people still remembered Bishops Coakley and Conley from their stay 34 years prior. The drowning of the two lads formed a bond that had never been broken.
There were ten times more sheep on the Island than there were people. There are less than 200 permanent residents on the Island today. The accommodations there are still quite primitive – perhaps like living in Morganfield in the 1920s or 1930s! We hiked all over the Island. The beautiful picture shown is Bishop Coakley overlooking the Cliffs of Doonmore! We spent Tuesday and Wednesday on the Island and on Thursday morning boarded the ferry again for the return trip to the big island!
We traveled on Thursday to the famous shrine of Our Lady of Knock. The priest who was stationed on Inishbofin in 1976, Fr. Martin, met us at the shrine for dinner and brought with him the Archbishop of Tuam, His Grace Michael Neary, and two other priests of the Archdiocese! It was a lovely meal full of memories for all who had gathered! On Friday morning we said mass in the apparition chapel of Knock. This was a special privilege indeed. We then headed out again and drove to Donegal in the north. It is a picturesque place famous for its wool products and for the traditional music. While in Donegal we also drove to Killeybegs, a port city.
On Saturday we drove to Letterkenny where the Bishop of Raphoe, His Lordship Philip Boyce resides. When the British took all of the Catholic churches in the 16th century, the Cathedral of Raphoe was confiscated and made into the Church of Ireland (Anglican). After the persecution ended the Catholic Diocese of Raphoe was reconstituted, but the seat of the Diocese was transferred to Letterkenny. We had a lovely meal at the home of Bishop Boyce. We were also able to visit a beautiful National Irish Park at Glenveagh.
On Sunday morning we celebrated mass at the Cathedral in Letterkenny and began our drive back towards Shannon for our return flight on Monday. Along the way we stopped at Bunratty Castle, which was probably the only real tourist attraction we visited on the trip. Most of our days were spent in little villages with the local people – a real treat for me on my first trip to the Island!
I hope you will enjoy the pictures that I have attached from our trip and, of course, the music provided!