According to my Fit Bit yesterday (Monday) I walked 21,000 steps, nearly 10 miles, and climbed 100 flights of stairs (or one or two rain forest mountains). We hiked out to the home of Margaret's father and brother, the latter known as Uncle Con. Con is remembered for his maintenance and care of a Marian grotto, which is a place of local devotion today. In fact, I have attempted to attach a photo of a highway sign pointing to the grotto; can you decipher the Gaelic names on the sign?
Today was the first day of our stay in Ireland where the weather truly lived up to Irish reputation. Low sky, high winds, cold rain--in fact, we arrived home at 6 PM to discover that our power was out. I went to the pub across the street and was assured that it was an area-wide problem. An hour later I returned home to reassure my traveling mates.
This afternoon I finally got to see Con's grotto. I was expecting to see a little garden, a statue, and a bench. What I actually saw was rather breathtaking: a life-sized statue of Mary several hundred feet up a wall of a working slate mine. Con was one of hundreds who worked on this remarkable project, undertaken to honor the Marian Year of 1954. This would have been just four years after the declaration of the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, declared by Pius XII, in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. (I have been waiting six months to show off my erudition in this regard--actually, the Assumption was the subject of my graduate research in 1972.)
Con's story, I would guess, might be typical of devotional men of his place and generation. Con worked multiple jobs throughout his life, including checking the equipment of international communications outlets on Valentia Island. (The trans-Atlantic cable ends in three places on the island, including next to the Catholic Church down the street.) His surviving relative told me that every day he visited the shrine to say his prayers, and worked as a volunteer at the site, accompanied for many years by his faithful dog. It would seem that devotion to Mary was a major component in sustaining his faith.
I was receiving my first religious instruction in Con's working years, and I recall that Mary was looked to as a mediator of mercy, that devotion to God's mother would soften the divine wrath. This outlook on Mary was true in the U.S., and it was very true in Ireland. Today, in driving about Valentia and the mainland we encountered two modest but well-kept roadside Marian shrines, with turn offs where one or two cars might pull in off the shoulder.
Devotion of Mary allowed a laboring man to put his energies and skills to good use; Con is remembered by his family for his labors at the slate shrine (Even as an in-law, I have heard these stories for years.) The rosary, with its straight formulary and order, must have appealed to task oriented males in the way that monks find satisfaction in regular recitation of the psalms.
These are educated guesses on my part, of course, but the physical landscape of the land and the physical evidence of its devotions seem to me to be clues to the underlying faith of a Catholic land that has had its struggles from within and without.