It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step. Likewise a story of a million moments and a hundred tales begins with just one word. Long ago, in a land far away my ancestors walked through fields of clover, worked along cobblestone streets and sang songs and stories by the sea. They fought for their faith and for lives well-lived, and set out to grow as a country before immigrating to the land of opportunity. The land that they loved and called home was Ireland. This past summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the land of my ancestors and discover what truly created the backbone of my family, our Catholic faith and my heritage. Thanks to the generous support from the Fund Drive, I was the recipient of the Teacher Excellence Award, and used the grant to explore my heritage, the Irish culture (political, social and religious), and the impact of our Catholic faith on Ireland, and throughout the world. Along my journey of more than two-thousand miles, the story I have to share is far greater than what could be summed up in a few small paragraphs, and is more than could be captured in four thousand photographs. An adventure of a thousand miles may begin with just one step, but the impact it had on my soul is far greater than could ever be put into words, but rather experienced with the heart. Read more…
The best part of the trip was not the beautiful scenery, the painted sheep, the driving on the wrong side of the road (and car), or the wonderful food, the amazing castles, the historical sites, or the stories of faith. Rather, it was the people, their perspectives and outlooks on life. To say that the Irish were welcoming would be an enormous understatement. Listening to stories and sharing meals and laughs with locals in small, far away towns and villages, I learned a great deal about the Irish culture and history, that I did not find in museums or in books. Take for example Paula Rooney, a woman I met in a small pub in Northern Ireland on a rainy evening who shared stories of being in Belfast during The Troubles, Ireland’s political and social unrest that lasted for decades. She shared about her time as a rebel rouser and about her brother who was the first child lost to violence. I heard about her perspective as a Catholic in Protestant Northern Ireland, and the reason that she and her family did not lose their faith despite the many opportunities and reasons to fall away from God. When I visited the County Down museum the following day, chronicling Irish History over more than 5,000 years, there was only one small plaque about The Troubles, saying that it was “a relatively peaceful time” despite the countless lives that were lost. Had I only visited the museum, I would have not understood the true impact that The Troubles had on citizens who had a different, non Protestant perspective.
Traveling throughout the country, I learned an enormous amount about why my faith is so important to me, as an Irish Catholic and as an individual. I was able to make connections to our Catholic Social Teaching, and was able to gain a better understanding of why people left Ireland in hopes for a better life. I found that we walk in kinship with the Irish people, who lost their ancestors to America, just as we gained ours from Ireland. Their love of America and the American culture was something that was rather overwhelming, and not something that you find everywhere. However I was not the gift, they were. Never a kind word unspoken, never a helping hand not given. The country was alive as it celebrated 100 years of independence, and the pride they shared was obvious.
In my journeys I learned about my own family, even learning that one of my ancestors was one of Ireland’s final governors prior to the country’s independence. I was able to visit the areas where my ancestors lived, and was able to see what kind of life they had, both as members of the wealthy class, and as members of the poorest class. I was also able to learn more about the impact of St. Patrick on the pagan culture of Ireland, and how one man’s kindness, ability to find connections with others, and a dedication to his faith changed an entire culture and country.
Although on the wrong side of the road, and the opposite side of the car, my travels lead me on an adventure to exactly where I needed to be. My time in Ireland may have been limited, but the impact will be something that I will carry with me forever. Standing on the Cliffs of Moher, high above the sea below, I was reminded of how large the world is, and although small, we have the power to impact the greater good. I have come to understand that just like St. Patrick, and like Paula, the woman I met in Northern Ireland, our charge as Christian people is not to lose faith, but to leave this world better than we found it. My time in Ireland reminded me of this, and has helped me to share the impact of compassion and kindness with my students. Our past impacts our future, but we are given a great gift-the ability to listen, to learn and to grow. Ireland was a perfect example of a culture that learned to listen, and decided to grow. Surrounded by beauty, Ireland has made its history part of everyday life and takes to stories that begin with just a word, to inspire journeys of a thousand miles.
Thank you for the opportunity, and the gift to travel to Ireland. Your generosity will impact my life the rest of my days. May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind be at your back. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palms of his hands.