with Fr. Lim October 15 to 26, 2007
A diary of the Pilgrimage:
Day 1 - October 15, 2006 Monday - Depart USA to London
After months of preparation the thirty-four of us were on our way to SFO for our flight to London. The shuttle vans arrived on time and took us to the airport quickly and safely. The check in was efficient. The 747 British Airways Flight 286 to London was pretty full. There were groups of French tourists who were on their way back home after visiting San Francisco and other points of the West Coast. The flight was somewhat bumpy as we flew over the USA and Canada. It became smoother as soon as we left the American continent.Food was fine for airplane standards; there was nothing spectacular about it. As a general rule, dinner was better than the snack served that was served sometime before we landed on Heathrow airport.
Day 2 - October 16, 2006 Tuesday - Arrive London
After going through the passport control we headed for the baggage
claim area. Outside the customs area, our local guide, Hazel Docherty met us
and took us to the coach that brought us to the Kensington Park Hotel. On the
way to the hotel, Hazel pointed out some of the significant spots of London.
Since London is a crowded city the government charges anyone who drives
into the city. But buses and taxis have special reserved lanes they use. The
hotel provided us with nutritious meal for dinner.
Day 3 - October 17, 2006 Wednesday - London
After a hearty breakfast we headed for Mass at the Carmelite Church of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock. Fr. Lim concelebrated Mass with Fr. Michael. After Mass we toured the city. Our first stop was the Buckingham Palace. Hazel pointed out that the Queen was in the palace because her flag was very much visible. After the usual picture taking we proceeded to see the Westminster Abbey. It was interesting to note that the historic church is also a national shrine. War heroes, poets, monarchs and other national figures are buried in the abbey. It is the principal Anglican cathedral and continues to function as a place of worship. It is a place of coronation, marriage and burial of English monarchs.
The Methodist church in front of the abbey provides a good service to people who come looking for reasonably priced lunch. The lunch was a good preparation for the tour of the abbey and later of St. Paul Cathedral. Built by Christopher Wren in 1675 it boasts of its impressive dome, actually two domes. The Abbey is where liturgical services are conducted for the Anglican believers and where monarchs are crowned and buried. It is also a burial place for historical and important figures of the nation.
The visit to the shrine of the Tyburn Martyrs helped us see the terrible price Catholics paid for their faith. A young sister gave us a short, but concise talk on the history of the establishment of the Anglican Church by Henry VIII and the heroic lives of men and women who were martyred because they refused to follow the dictates of the rulers. Among the noted Saints who gave their lives for the faith are St. Edmond Campion, Margaret Ward, Robert Southwell and others.After the visit we came back to the hotel and a good number explored the Kensington business section of London on our own.
Day 4 - October 18, 2006 Thursday -
After breakfast we headed for the Canterbury cathedral, the ecclesiastical capital of the Anglican Church. Founded by St. Augustine it was for a long time a place of pilgrimage in honor of St. Thomas Beckett who was martyred in 1170. Henry VIII put a stop to the pilgrimages to the shrine.
On the way to Canterbury our guide Hazel pointed out that Kent is the garden city of England. It is a landscape of rolling hills and wooded valleys, vineyards and orchards. On either side of the road one could see orchards and a few number of hops used for the production of beer. There is hardly any cultivation of hops since it is cheaper to buy it from other places such as Poland.
As we traveled towards Canterbury, Hazel gave us a broad outline of the break away of England from the Catholic Church. Henry VIII wanted an annulment of her marriage to Catherine of Aragon, but that was not feasible. Since only the head of the Church can grant annulment, it was logical for the king to declare himself as the head of the Church. This way he could grant himself the annulment.
The Canterbury cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Church. It is a magnificent building: its spires point upward towards the heavenly throne. The beauty of the stained glass windows is something to behold and contemplate.Since the town is laid out on a grid it is easy to move around and not get lost. There were various shops that catered to the tourists who come to visit the magnificent church. But our group didn’t find much bargain in town.
Day 5 - October 19, 2006 Friday - London/Dublin
What an awful day! We had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to get to the airport for our 7:00 a.m. flight to Dublin, Ireland. When we got to the reception area of the hotel, we found our breakfast in boxes. It was simply too early to take any food at that time of the morning. Some simply went without taking much food with them.
We took off early for the airport. A guide from the tour company was expected to come with us to Heathrow airport to help facilitate the departure for Dublin, but unfortunately he missed us because he came later than our departure from the hotel. The self-check in at the BMI counter was quite an experience. There were more than enough computer terminals for the passengers to use. One could either use a credit card or the passport to start the check in process. But not everyone was computer savvy and it took a while to punch in the proper information to secure the boarding pass. After this one had to bring the luggage to another counter to check in our luggage. That was all there was to it. The plane to Dublin was fully loaded. If you wanted drinks or food you had to buy it from the stewardesses that wheeled the food on the aisle.
Jack Burke met us at the airport in Dublin. But some of us had to wait for Emelina’s luggage that apparently was left in London. BMI brought her luggage in the evening. Jack first took us to see the book of Kells. It is the four gospels written in colorful texts and preserved today in Trinity College. There was not much time to see the texts to really appreciate what the monks at the Monastery of Kells in county Meath around the year 800. The 680 pages of Latin script and painting present a display of the richness of the imagination, humor and wit and careful observance of the world of nature. Quite a number of the pilgrims were tired and hungry to really appreciate such a treasure.
Lunch followed the viewing of the book of Kells. Since we were in the university district there were plenty of reasonably priced restaurants. But we had to change dollars to euro. The bank we went to refused to exchange dollars to euros. It would take smaller denominations. Some settled for quick lunch at the Burger King since going to a regular restaurant would not give sufficient time to get back to catch the coach.We celebrated Mass at St. Mary’s proto Cathedral since a private Mass was not possible. The staff at the Cathedral was very helpful and friendly. In fact the main celebrant called everyone’s attention to the fact that Dublin has a sister city connection with San Jose. It is good to feel welcome in a place away from home.
Day 6 - October 20, 2006 Saturday- Dublin/Waterford
The wake up call at Alexander Hotel in Dublin surprised most of us. The wake up signal came from the TV set rather than the telephone. It took a while to figure out how to turn off the beeping sound coming from the TV.
After a full Irish breakfast we got on the bus to celebrate Mass at the Oratory of St. Teresa of Avila, a church run by the Carmelite priests who belong to the same community as the Carmelite priests who say Mass at St. Victor parish on week-ends. We used a small chapel in the church to celebrate our own liturgy.
When Mass was over we headed for Glendalough, an area tucked away in the Wicklow Mountains. Founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century, the monastery was the site of pilgrimages in the past. The monastic site incorporates a 12th century tower, a view of the lake and its mountain background. The monastery gained the reputation as the center of learning. The serene and lovely mountains invite all travelers to enjoy a quiet contemplation of nature and God’s presence in the world.
Today the site of the monastery has become a cemetery for the local people, but our guide told us that the local authority has allowed only ten more people to be buried in the hallowed grounds. It will then be possible for experts to excavate the area to know more about the glorious past of St. Kevin’s monastery.It time to proceed to Irish National Heritage Park, which gave us a good introduction to the development of the Irish nation. The large forest park is located besides the River Slaney, three miles north of Wexford. We took our lunch at the cafeteria of the Park before visiting the reconstructed structures that showed how the early inhabitants lived in Ireland. After the hour long guided tour we headed for Granville Hotel on Meagher Quay, Waterford for a much needed rest.
Day 7 - October 21, 2006 Sunday- Dublin/Killarney
Mass was celebrated at the cathedral of Waterford, providentially about two minutes walk from the hotel. It gave Fr. Lim just enough time to run over to the church to say the Mass at 8:00 a.m. Unfortunately his automatic wake up clock didn’t work that morning.
Breakfast in Granville hotel was somewhat different from all other hotels. First everyone was given a bowl of dried cereal. When we finished that, waitresses brought in hot Irish breakfast on a hot plate for each individual – eggs, sausage, potatoes, black and white pudding. This was good preparation for the visit to the Waterford Crystal factory. Watching the craftsperson transform silica sand, litharge (lead monoxide) and potash turn into a thing of beauty is like watching a magician perform his art. A guide guided us from the beginning of the glass making until the production of the world-class crystals. No rejected crystals are sold to the public. They are simply broken and recycled for production of other work of beauty.The next stop was the famous Blarney castle where all go to kiss the Blarney stone so they may receive the gift of eloquence. A number of us climbed the steep and narrow steps of the battlement to get a view of the scenery. However, not everyone kissed the stone since they felt they were already full of blarney. Others too preferred to some shopping in the Blarney Woollen Mills. Sometime in the afternoon we departed for Killarney, situated in a spectacular location with mountains, glens and lakes. We stayed at Brehon Hotel on Muck Ross Road, Killarney. It was by far the best hotel we stayed in our journey.
Day 8 - October 22, 2006 Monday- Killarney
Today we had a more humane wake up time and followed by a hearty Irish breakfast. At 8:15 a.m. we headed for St. Mary’s cathedral where we celebrated Mass. We had the huge church to ourselves for the celebration of the Mass. There was something unique about this church. Several video screens were located in various parts of the church that showed the main celebrant and readers. Everyone was able to follow the liturgy especially those who were blocked by the pillars.
Today was the first day we experienced the proverbial rain of Ireland, but the rain didn’t last the whole day. It started in the morning and by noon the heavens simply opened up and allowed us to enjoy the tour of the Ring of Kerry. The scenic route around the Iverag Peninsula is one of the most beautiful of Ireland. We saw wild bog lands, wonderful coastal views and fine hill scenery. We stopped to have lunch in a restaurant along the highway. Some where along the road we stopped at a tiny park to get a group picture in front of the statue of Our Blessed Mother. The warm soup and piece of bread kept us going for the rest of the afternoon.We stopped also to see the lake of Killarney. The area reminds one of the Crystal Springs reservoirs in Belmont, California. The Killarney Lake is a natural lake, fed by the rain that is common to Ireland. After enjoying the beauty of the Ring of Kerry we were back in the hotel at about 4:30 p.m. for a well-deserved rest.
Day 9 - October 23, 2006 Tuesday- Killarney/Galway
Wake up call was at 6:30 a.m., but most people woke up earlier and they were ready for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. At 8:15 a.m. we were on the bus to go to celebrate Mass at Holy Trinity Church in Adare. The Fitzgeralds for the Trinitarian monks built the abbey in the 13th century. It was badly damaged during the reign of King Henry VIII, but restored and enlarged in the 19th century. The Trinitarian Order was founded to ransom Christians who were captured as slaves. Adare is considered one of the prettiest villages of Ireland.
From Adare we traveled to the western seaboard of county Clare to see the most visited mighty Cliffs of Moher. The first building one sees as the coach enters the parking lot of the park is the facade of a structure built against the hill. It is actually the self-service cafeteria where visitors can get their lunch.
The Moher cliffs boast as one of Ireland’s spectacular view. At the highest point they dramatically rise 700 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. It was however difficult to take any decent pictures since one had to aim the camera against the sun. Sir Cornelius O’Brian built the stone tower located at around the midpoint of the cliffs, as an observation tower for tourists in 1835.
Johnny our coach driver took us to the Burren after the breathtaking view of the Moher Cliffs. The Burren is 500 square miles of hilly ground in the northwest corner of county Clare. It is a waterless almost deserted area made largely of naked gray limestone. Yet in this bleak setting one finds colorful wildflowers. It also has its own reverse climate – cool during the summer months and warm during the winter. Farmers bring their cattle to graze during the winter where the grass and climate help produce well-contented cattle. We also saw scattered across the landscape monuments to human habitation of the past. The people of the past built the Poulnabrone portal dolmen – the stone uprights and capstone of which would once have been covered with earth to form a tomb chamber.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped briefly at a spot to take picture of the Bay of Galway. We had plenty of time to say the Rosary as we approached Galway, the city of tribes. Hotel Radisson is a comfortable hotel, but it took a long time to get to our rooms from the entrance of the hotel.A couple of us went walking to the center of the city after dinner. It was a lovely walk, which helped us explore the city on foot.
Day 10 - October 24, 2006 Wednesday- Galway/Knock
After breakfast we were on our way to celebrate Mass in the cathedral
Jack also showed us the Lynch Wall. Walter Lynch, the son of the mayor and judge James Lynch Fitzstephen was accused of murdering a Spaniard in dispute over a woman. The mayor and fair judge found his son guilty and the punishment at that time was death by hanging. However, no one wanted to be the executioner. So the mayor took it upon himself to hang his son from the window of his house, that very window in the wall with skull and crossbones underneath. .
After Galway the next stop was Knock, the final point of our journey. We passed by Connemara an area of Ireland outstanding in beauty and loveliness. It is land of boggy fields, knobby mountains and rough seacoasts. But this is a tough place to live with poor soil over beds of harsh granite. As we traveled we saw sheep and cattle grazing over the grassland.
The destination for the afternoon is Kyle more abbey, home of the Benedictine sisters who run a boarding school for girls. Bought from a wealthy English family, the abbey welcomes people from all over the world. We visited the castle as well as the Gothic chapel that the nuns use for the liturgy. Unfortunately we were told that the abbey would be closed since there are not enough sisters to run the huge complex.After visiting the abbey we headed for the final destination of our pilgrimage – the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock where 15 villagers saw the vision of Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist. The Knock House hotel provided comfortable rooms and sufficient food for the weary travelers.
Day 11 - October 25, 2006 Thursday- Knock/Shannon
After a restful night we woke up for a filling breakfast. We then visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. Jack led us to the site of the shrine complex. Since the museum was still closed we decided to say the Rosary by doing the rounds outdoors. After the rosary we went to the museum to get a glimpse of the way the village people lived around the time of the apparition. Carpenters’ implements were neatly laid on tables for visitors to see. It looks like the staff trusted very much in the honesty of the visitors, but there are always people who simply want to take things for the sake of taking them.
We went to the chapel of the Apparition after visiting the museum to celebrate the liturgy. Before Mass we were given the opportunity to get water from the wells of Knock to bring back home. There were other local people who joined us during the celebration of the liturgy. Those who wanted coffee or sandwich went back to the hotel to purchase from the restaurant.We departed for Limerick to go to stay overnight at Radisson Hotel. After checking in at the hotel we got ready to have a special dinner and show at the Bun ratty castle. The castle was built in 1425 and this structure in an authentic example of medieval castle in Ireland. We were first greeted by the butler and brought to the large hall where a lady played the harp for all. As we got into the hall we were offered mead or water. After everyone arrived at the hall we were led down the narrow stairs to go the banquet hall where we sat on long tables. The MC welcomed everyone to the hall and informed everyone that we would eat like the medieval people – with our fingers. The only concession was a knife for each participant who may need it for cutting the meat. . The Lord and Lady for the evening were crowned and then the fun began. Food was served and there were endless songs that the ladies and the gentlemen sang for us. It was an unforgettable experienced. We ate, we were entertained and we will treasure the memory of the castle experience for a long time.
Day 12 - October 26, 2006 Friday-
Shannon to USA Return
Wake up time was at 4:00 a.m. There was coffee and bread for anyone who wanted to eat before heading for the airport at 4:30 a.m. When we arrived at the airport, Jack and Johnny helped us get to the check in counter of Aer Lingus. We said goodbye to them and before we knew it we were on the way to London. Our luggage was checked all the way to San Francisco.
The flight from Shannon to Heathrow, London was uneventful. But looking for the correct terminal for our flight to San Francisco was something else. First, there was the endless walk from the airplane to the buses that would take us to the terminal for the British Airways flight287 to San Francisco. Second, we had to go through long lines for the security check up to allow us to the next stage. Then comes the waiting for the passengers to board the plane.Thanks be to God everyone got on the plane to San Francisco and we took off for home almost on time. We had one more hurdle to go through when we got off the plane. The man in charge of the airport shuttle vans just flat out did not read the contract that was agreed upon. It caused considerable confusion in the boarding of the passengers since some wanted to get back straight to San Jose. They did not want to stop at any place on the way to St. Victor. Fortunately, all came back home happy and with lots of memories of the wonderful visit to the Isles!