The Sky Road – mountains on one side, bogs and loughs and inlets on the other: the Connemara landscape is stunning. And on this road, you do really as though you’re climbing into the sky.
Kylemore Abbey – “Forget Hogwarts,” said the tourist guide, “this is where I’d have liked to go to school.” And until 2010 you could, if you were a girl (and your parents could muster the cash), because the Benedictine nuns here used to run a small but high-powered girls boarding school. Now they produce hand-made chocolates instead. (And maintain the divine offices of course.) A beautiful building in an idyllic location (amidst the mountains, beside a lough, within many acres of landscaped estate), built as the forever home of an Irish-Manchester Victorian industrialist and his new bride, whose life was tragically cut short by dysentery on a foreign trip. A great place to visit, but the nuns really do need more and better space of their own away from all us international tourists.
Anam Cara – recorded talks by the late lamented spiritual writer John O’Donohue. Coming from the Celtic tradition, he is strong on seeing God as imminent in the natural world, so it felt only proper to listen to his recorded talks in that part of Ireland from whence he sprung. Hearing him talk about the spirituality of the senses, while driving through the rich and raw Connemara landscape with a good breakfast in my belly and the taste of damn fine coffee in my mouth, it was easy to feel the wisdom of his words.
EPIC Ireland – brand new exhibition centre in Dublin docklands, about the Irish diaspora, but really easy to relate to and making you feel proud to be Irish (even if you’re not). (EPIC is supposed to stand for Every Person Is Connected.) I think this is the best designed exhibition I’ve ever seen: every gallery, every exhibit, allowing engagement at multiple levels – aesthetic, emotional, intellectual, seriously specialist – with very good use of touch-screen interactivity. Coupled with a visit to the Irish Family History Centre, where the super-friendly staff helped my wife with tracing her Irish ancestry. I wonder what an equivalent exhibition for the Chinese diaspora would be like?
The Deer’s Cry – The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage, performing at Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes. The usual sensational performance, this time unusually combining William Byrd and Arvo Pärt. Two particular take-aways this time. (1) Pärt’s setting of The Deer’s Cry: basically what’s better known as St Patrick’s Breastplate, but this form of words is more suggestive of the uncertainty and potential danger of the world, in which the protection of Christ is sought. And why “The Deer’s Cry” anyway? Isn’t a deer usually silent, so its crying out is significant? (My wife reminds me that the deer, or the hart, is a medieval symbol for the soul which makes sense.) (2) The proximity it’s now possible to feel between the world of the Psalmist and our own: for example, “Set free my soul from the lying mouth and from the deceitful tongue”, and “I spoke of peace, and they called out for war” (Psalm 120). Of course Byrd’s time too was characterised by wars and persecutions, and the pre-concert talk pointed out how his music conveys the pain and insecurity of which he had personal experience.