Stepping out into new frontiers
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…
It’s almost a year now since we bid farewell to our last international group. We led a family of American visitors on our ‘Greenway to the Falls’ experience. They were due to stay in Lismore Castle for 7 days but had to fly home 3 days early as the pandemic kicked in both sides of the Atlantic. The sun shone down on us for the day we spent together. We cycled the Waterford Greenway from Durrow into Dungarvan, made a detour to sample the panoramic delights of the Copper Coast before lapping up the Irish stew in Kiersey’s, Kilmacthomas. Our walk through Crough Woods up to the Mahon Falls rounded off a perfect day. Little did we all know when we parted 12 months ago what we were facing into.
The uncertainties of the last year were not easy to navigate. In ways, all we could do was anchor in at the isle awhile and wait. Our bookings literally vanished overnight. It has led us into the twilight zone where once reliable coordinates have dissolved into the unknown. Tried and trusted formulas have had to yield to the uncontrollables of this pandemic. Like everyone else, we’ve had to dig deep. We kept ourselves busy; doing some additional research on all our trails, connecting with tour operators from Oslo to Milan to Boston, exploring new trails when we were free to move beyond our 5km, and hosting some amazing Irish groups at the latter end of last summer. We’ve had time to think, to anticipate, to explore… to push out the boundaries of our thought processes. No one said it would be easy. It hasn’t been. We will hoist those sails again… we all will!
Sometimes, when it feels like the elements are conspiring against us, we find that ‘spark’ to guide us on your way. Here on the edge, our antennae hone in on what matters. We put a value on people we know we can rely on when the chips are down, we gravitate to kindness in its rawest most vulnerable form, we learn to laugh again, we feel the pain of those who are broken… we drop the trappings and strip life down to only the essentials. We have to trust our deepest instincts when the going gets tough.
The great outdoors have a way of aligning our lives with the power of the universe. It pays to step off the beaten track every now and then. During the summer, we walked along the path of St. Declan from Cashel to Ardmore. By the end of it, we knew we were alive. Our feet were sore, our limbs ached, but we made it. We walked by the river’s edge as the Suir rolled seawards from Cahir, we took the original pathway of Declan over the Knockmealdowns, we passed castles and forts and tombs along the way… our cadence changed to the rhythm of what was happening around us. You don’t even see it happening. But you know! The world you return to may not have changed, but, somehow you have. There is no turning back!
…Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
In that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Random experiences don’t just always happen by chance. The universe has a way of leading you to where you need to be. We have not created the St. Declan’s Way Camino. It has been there for centuries waiting to be discovered. This is more than a journey of 112km but a journey through time of well over 1,500 years. St. Declan’s Way actually predates the Camino de Santiago by over 400 years. Right back in the 5th Century, St. Declan walked this very path on his return trips to Cashel from Ardmore to meet with St. Patrick. Declan was in Ireland spreading the Christian story two decades before Patrick. Here on this ancient ‘Rian Bó Padraigh’ you come to know that you are part of something far greater than yourself. You sense that you are not alone!
We have met with people along the way and have been guided by them; from hoteliers to walking groups to historians to the monks in Mount Melleray. Our week long Camino includes overnights in Cahir House Hotel, Mount Melleray Abbey, The Round Tower Hotel in Ardmore and the Tower Hotel Waterford. Coach transfers, packed lunches, evening dinners, even stamped Camino passports and all part of the experience.
We are thrilled to announce that Br Phil Ryan will become part of our team into the future. We’ve been working closely with Phil now for years in the Edmund Rice Chapel. He has been missed since he went to Bray but we’ve kept a strong connection with him over the past 2 years. Phil hails from Tipperary so there’s no one better we can think of to lead us out from Cashel across pathways he knows so well. Iain Tweedale in Wales will also become a key part of our team going forward. Iain has become a great friend through lockdown helping us to produce our monthly Virtual Taizé Vigils. Some of our Caminos will take in a little of St. Declan’s Way, then onto St. Kevin’s Way in Glendalough before doing a little of St. David’s Way along the West Wales coastline.
There have been so many people working below the radar for years now helping to open up the old St. Declan’s Way as a pilgrim experience. The St. Declan’s Way Committee and Knockmealdown Active have been the driving force behind making this ancient pilgrim path accessible again after all these years. By this summer, it is hoped that the entire route from Ardmore to Cashel will be a fully way marked and signposted trail. It is due to be inspected and approved by Sports Ireland as a fully validated pilgrim way over the coming months. All the new signage and map boards are being manufactured at the moment. The timing could not be better. It is just what people will need when we come out the other side of this pandemic. Serendipity at its best!
We carry more inside than the world can see. We are creatures that worry, that beat ourselves up, that struggle to pick up the pieces. Now, more than ever, hold onto your belief in who you are. Keep doing what it takes just to hang in there until the storm passes. Do not let go of your dreams for the future. They are more precious now than ever before. Little by little, we will all get there.
My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup.
You see? You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself.
Take another step. Then another.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.
Dr. Phil Brennan and his wife Elaine look forward to rolling out St. Declan’s Way as their signature Camino experience from August 2021. For further information, check out our St. Declan’s Way Camino on www.waterfordcamino.com or contact Phil and Elaine directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.