I’ve written earlier of Tim McDonnell’s efforts to start a food collection to help feed the hungry in Tampa through the Salvation Army in the spirit of St. Patrick. It’s been quite an accomplishment for the former executive director of Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center since he arrived in Tampa about two years ago.
Tim just got back from his third trip to Ireland/Northern Ireland at the beginning of October. (His mom is from Brownstown, Co Kildare; his paternal grandparents from Westport, Co. Mayo and Bruree, Co. Limerick.) Below is Part 1 of Tim’s guest post:
The Spirit of St. Patrick
Absolutely worth visiting is the St. Patrick’s Trail and all of the St. Patrick sites on the northern half of the island (where St. Patrick spent his time). The top 3 ‘must do’ sites, though, are: 1) the St. Patrick Centre exhibition and his grave in Downpatrick (he is buried alongside St. Brigid, St. Columcille, and Arthur Guinness’ grandfather – truly ‘holy ground’! – next to Down Cathedral); 2) St. Patrick’s first church at Saul – one of the more spiritually engaging sites on earth, comparable to the experience we had at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sisteen Chapel in Vatican City (as my friend Tim Campbell says “Saul is very ‘thin’…..the distance between heaven and earth there is very slight”); 3) Croagh Patrick – we lucked out with clear skies and were able to climb Ireland’s holy mountain, where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and by legend ‘drove the snakes out of Ireland.’ It will take a bit of faith and endurance to get all the way up, particularly at the top with the loose rocks and vertical climb – but it is the most spiritually rewarding thing that I have ever done, and it also blesses all climbers with the best views on the island.
Also worth visiting is Ulster Scots country up in the northeast. People of this heritage informed us that they believe that Northern Ireland is a Scottish province on the island of Ireland and that calling the Ulster Scots Irish is like calling Canadians Americans. They also told us that the inhabitants of Ireland were referred to by the Romans as the “Scoti” in the 4th and 5th centuries and were known to be part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dal Riata, which spanned the west coast of Scotland and the eastern part of Ulster in what is today’s Northern Ireland. They characterized the creation of the Ulster Plantation of the 17th century, which helped lay the foundation for a few hundred years of conflict, as ‘just the Scots returning home.’ Interesting stuff and worth a bit of homework. Although the history, cultural dynamics, and politics are a bit complicated, the north is breathtakingly beautiful, and the people are as welcoming as anywhere else on the island.
Check back within the week for Tim’s thoughts on food in Ireland and a story of the country’s most famous jockey. MH