This is our last day on Valencia island at the very top of Ireland, the precarious peninsula that juts into the North Atlantic, the path to Iceland and Newfoundland. A misty morning turned into a steady cold rain which curtailed our sightseeing by 1 PM. We did get a chance to tour the Valencia lighthouse, and the guide pointed out a small work shed along the ocean. This, as it turned out, was the site of the first terminus of the Atlantic Cable in the 1850's. I learned that there were three tries at laying a cable of about 1800 miles between Newfoundland and Valencia Island. The third and successful connection was completed, as luck would have it, here in Knightstown, several doors down the street from our present accommodations.
I have had a chance to visit about half a dozen churches this week, including both here on the island. As I described last weekend, the church here in Knightstown is an impressive gothic structure but I did not get a sense of what the parish life was like. Yesterday I visited the other Catholic Church on the island, St. Teresa and St. Dorarca, in Chapeltown. This church was less impressive from a structural vantage point; it was built in the late 1930's, as I recall. However, one of my nephews discovered a small cemetery of former pastors dating back much further. We speculated that there must have been a fire that destroyed the original structure. That there were earlier Catholic Churches on the island is a very strong probability, as Cromwell built a fort here that encloses the current lighthouse we visited today. The population of the Island reached 2000 perhaps a century ago; today it is at 400. The first communion class at St. Teresa's (combined with Immaculate Conception here in Knightstown??) totaled seven.
I believe that the custom here is to print one church bulletin weekly; curiously the newsy homemade publication available at St. Teresa's was not available here in Knightstown, though the news pertained to both. The front page leads with an inspirational piece on July as the month of the Precious Blood. Members are reminded that this is the year of St. Columbanus, actually the 1400th anniversary of his birth or death(bulletin was not clear). As the remarkable Skellig monastery is often visible ten miles offshore, devotion to the monastic life is quite strong in Ireland, and certainly here in County Kerry.
The bulletin lists all the feast days of the month (tomorrow, coincidentally, being the feast of the great monk St. Benedict.) The intentions of the Mass are listed along with general requests for prayers for the dead. I found this one quaint: "You are asked to pray for Mary Ellen Burke who died at this time of year." The second collection is for the sick and retired priests of the diocese. An envelope is stapled to the bulletin, along with an attractive bookmark commemorating another saintly monk of local devotion, St. Brendan the Navigator. We drove yesterday to another site of piety, the reputed site of St. Brendan's well.
The St. Teresa bulletin carried several local diocesan events--from a walk in honor of St. Columbanus to a youth convention in Tipperary to a "historical rally" led by two priests, evidently an auto caravan to points of historical interest. There is a note about the American Fourth of July, highlighting the Declaration of Independence. There are biographies of the lives of the saints celebrated this week--Maria Goretti, Killian (a missionary martyr from the 800's) and the aforementioned Benedict.
On the final page is a brief instruction on the general thrust of the Gospel of St. Mark. Aside from the assertion that Mark received his material from St. Peter (a dubious proposition) the paragraph does capture the theme of "cost of discipleship" quite well.
I should note here that I visited several churches on the mainland. The most memorable was a most impressive Gothic church in Cahirciveen. The name of the Church is "The O'Connell Memorial Church" after the great Catholic rights activist Daniel O'Connell. Among other things, this parish has Mass each summer at all the local cemeteries. I have noted in several church bulletins that confessions are heard on Friday. On the way home I passed another smaller church with just one notice on its information board: "EWTN now available on satellite 589."
This time tomorrow we should be in Dublin. I can't wait to experience that, but the two days in Dingle and seven on Valentia Island have left quite an impact on me.
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