Our Camino of Hope – to the sea and back
We had been tracking the weather all week. We knew on this day of all days we needed the sun to shine. We had invited Ukrainians living in Waterford to join us in the seaside village of Ardmore for a special ‘Camino of Hope’ in the steps of St Declan who walked this very cliff path some 1,500 years ago. 10am and the sun breaks out on cue as we gathered by the sea. Buses and cars arrived from Lismore, Cappoquin, Dungarvan and Waterford city as 125 Ukrainians of all ages descended on this beautiful outpost not quite sure what to expect from the day ahead. Gentle smiles radiated from trusting faces. Waves rolled to shore as if to assure us that all would be well.
Ardmore on a sunny morning is an amphitheatre of beauty. The receding tide left space for all to gather on the beach. We lingered awhile listening to the ebb and flow of the tide as footprints dissolved with quiet abandon into to the strands of time from whence they came. Children played as mothers stared out beyond the horizon to somewhere only they knew. Out at sea, the local fisherman and his dog checked in on the lobster pots as we watched on from the shore. So many solitary lives gathered on a faraway beach, suspended in one timeless moment, free from the noise and confusion they had left behind.
We’ve walked this same path with many over the years. This day lingered that bit longer into the night. There was something about these people. They laughed, they chatted, they sang, they joked… not in denial of all that is happening in their homeland but in the unspoken belief that one day they would return home again. Their hope is of a kind you cannot crush. You can see it in their eyes. Their focus is on their children, on giving them every chance – on helping them to keep their dreams alive no matter what. They’ve distilled life down to the essence. Family matters, people matter – being there for others matters.
The 6 hours we had together passed so quickly. None of us were in a rush for this Camino to end. We navigated our way from beach to cliff path by the Round Tower on our looped walk right back to where we started. Our team of volunteers made sure we all arrived back safely. Jeannie, our service dog, was the star attraction. She led the way. I had planned a few reflective ‘compass points’ but soon abandoned notes and went with the flow of all that was happening around me. It’s the unscripted moments you could never plan for that made the day so memorable. Just a few thoughts that struck me on my way home…
Every person needs to take one day away, a day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Take that looped walk along the shoreline wherever it may be. Here by the water’s edge, you connect to stillness, to peace.
A visit to the dimmed enchantment of an old monastic ruins on a hill has the power to draw us deeper into the vast expanse of mystery that surrounds us. The spirit of Declan is never too far away. It was to this hermitage above the bay he moved to find solace in his latter days. Listen carefully and you hear the chimed bells of ancient times by the lonely cell above the sea. There is healing in the waters for all who still seek. No matter how small or insignificant we may appear each one of us is part of something greater than ourselves. This is the mystery of life made simple. Pick up a stone as we did. Make it your wish then cast it to the sea. The ebb and flow of the sea bears witness to the rhythm of the universe. It pays to trust the life force that makes all this possible.
In difficult times, never give up. There are moments in life when the elements turn against you in ways you could have never foreseen. Out of nowhere, a deluge descends leaving you exposed to the ravages of the elements. It can be a scary place to be. We can stumble along the way, we make mistakes, we overrule our better judgement, we invest our energy in people who are nowhere to be seen when we need them most. We become participants in a drama that takes on a life of its own.
It’s then you have to see your own value. Keep that spark lit especially when you are tested most. There is a part of you that no one can take from you. Honour that voice within. Allow it to shape the course of what is to come. No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. Do not allow the tough times crush you. Shape your destiny as only you can. Starting today, learn more, laugh more and do what you truly love to do. Do not be denied your destiny. For what lies behind you and what lies in front of you matters little when compared to what lies in you.
Choose the path you follow with care. Give the main aim of your life over to whatever it is that helps you to tap into your highest potential, giving of yourself to others and making a difference by living for something more important than yourself. Success is fine but significance is the real name of the game. Ultimately, you and you alone can shape the course of what is to come. Real happiness is not earned cheaply. It comes from giving of yourself to others not for reward but in the knowledge that kindness is everything in life. It is all that matters.
Strive to be the best version of you, complete with all your strengths and limitations. For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. The peace we seek along the way doesn’t come from superiority and might. It flows from the deepest, most vulnerable part of our being, that unmistakable core within that makes us unique. So do not be denied your rightful place in the universe. Stay true to you no matter what the world might tell you. Remember the purpose of life is a life of purpose. Invest your energy wisely lest this time pass you by…
When all the walking was done, we enjoyed our lunch by the beach from where we started. It was a case of the loaves and the fishes only this time round the sandwiches and the goujons. The Ukrainian cakes prepared by the Waterford contingent went down a treat. Miraculously, there was enough for everyone. Swallows passed in telepathic streams through crimson rays as if to pay homage to the unbroken spirit of those below. The universe reaches out in ways we least expect. Our ‘Camino of Hope’ had come full circle.
We were humbled to spend time with people we’ve come to know as friends. Their appreciation for all who had made the day possible was of a kind that I have rarely seen before. They thanked us with their smiles, with their hugs and with the warmth of their goodbyes. We knew we would meet again. Many spoke of the peace they felt along the way – a little respite on a difficult road. These people have known journeys in recent times we can only imagine. Our paths crossed and we are the better for it.
It’s the circle of life and it moves us all
Through despair and hope, through faith and love
Til we find our place on the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life.
***Special thanks to Catherine Power and Waterford Area Partnership for their help in funding our ‘Camino of Hope’ and to Mary Kearney of Waterford County Council for helping us to rally so many to share the path with us.
Dr Phil and Elaine are looking forward to rolling out our Celtic Ways Series in 2023 aimed at connecting iconic pilgrim walks and trails in Southern Ireland with the Way of St David along the Welsh coastline. Our May, June and September St Declan’s Way are now fully booked with places available for July (16th to 21st) and August (20th to 25th). Our next St David’s Way is in September (25th to 29th). Our Camino tour offerings include coach transfers, ferry crossing, accommodation, guest guides, packed lunches, evening meals, pilgrim passports, memorable cultural experiences. We tailor everything to suit you. For further information, check out www.waterfordcamino.com or email Phil and Elaine directly on email@example.com