St. Patrick’s Lost Years

Today marks the second St. Patrick’s Day in a row without celebrations in Ireland, St. Patrick’s country, which is perhaps more appropriate than it sounds. Patrick would understand the experience of having plans upended. The only reason we think of Ireland as his homeland today is because his life did not go to plan. At all. Growing up in Wales (probably), he never thought that his future would be in Ireland, and he didn’t much care for God, either. Then, disaster struck. He tells us in his autobiography: “I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.”

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The Reason For Windows

It’s a good thing I like my house. As Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown drags on with no end in sight, we’re all getting used to being in our own spaces. One of the reasons I like my house is the windows, especially the ones in the back that let the sun stretch all the way across the floor whenever it takes a fancy. From those same windows, I can watch the songbirds gather at our bird feeder, and I can see the flowers bloom in our little garden. All of these things remind me that the world is bigger than the box I live in.

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An Irish Christmas Selection Box

It’s Christmas week, and we’ve already ended up with more chocolate selection boxes than is good for us, which is traditional. I can’t share those with you, but I would like to share a selection box of some of the things I’ve enjoyed online from Ireland this Christmas season…

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We Get Used To Things

When we moved to Ireland, we were cold all the time. Our bodies were used to heat, and for all the truly wonderful things Ireland has to offer, it simply doesn’t come with that feature. There’s a reason the Romans called this island “Hibernia”, the “land of winter”. But unlike the Romans, we stuck around. At first, we got funny looks from our neighbours because we wore coats even when they were breaking out their shorts. Over time, though, we acclimatised. Now we say “It’s roasting”, and mean it, on days we used to describe as chilly. Our temperature scale really is different. Once, when we visited America, one of our young children asked me, greatly concerned: “Dad—I’m getting wet? On my forehead..?” He didn’t know about sweat yet. He didn’t know that I grew up in sweat. When he walks out the door into an Irish summer, he doesn’t hit a wall of heat and humidity, and neither do I anymore. We’re Hibernians now.

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The Church Is Not A TV Show

Ireland is in the midst of her second Coronavirus lockdown, where the restrictions include an order that “church services move online”. The government’s goal is to limit physical interaction wherever possible, while still keeping prioritised institutions open—primarily schools and crèches, and also certain elite sports and greyhound racing (?). Church gatherings are considered to be an unnecessary risk, and have been banned not only in the current Level 5 restrictions, but also in the lower Levels 3-4 as well. While churches do (mostly) have the ability to broadcast aspects of their services, the blunt requirement to “move online” displays a misunderstanding of what the church is, how it works, and the role it plays in society.

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Strong Trees Don’t Grow Overnight

A few weeks ago, I posted a poem about an oak tree. In the poem, and in my mind, oak trees are big, spreading trees with thick trunks and impressive reach. They are a picture of solid stability, untouched by passing storms. Which sounds nice, doesn’t it? With Ireland now entering another full lockdown for at least the next six weeks, the ability of oak trees to stand unshaken in a turbulent world is enviable. Right now things look awfully unsteady, from where I’m sitting. 

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Anger, Panic, And The Psalms

Halloween is coming soon, but I’m not interested. The celebration of demons and death has never held much attraction for me, but this year the holiday seems especially out of place: haven’t we had enough to scare us already in 2020? Who needs a horror film, when we have the news? Brexit, which would normally dominate European headlines, has taken a back seat to Coronavirus, and then of course there’s my own homeland, the (Dis)United States of America, trying to hold an election like Jerry Springer used to try to interview guests. When the world isn’t panicking, it’s angry. When it isn’t angry, it’s panicking. It’s a rollercoaster that refuses to end. 

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A Trip To The Embassy

I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us. 

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33 Wildflowers

In the weeks we’ve lived in lockdown, we’ve discovered that Parcheesi is a fun game, car parks make good bicycle playgrounds when there aren’t cars in them, and there are paths to walk on near us that we never knew about. Having a 2km travel limit for weeks on end has forced us to be creative, and to look more closely at the familiar things in front of us.

Normally, if we want to see flowers in the Spring, we go to the old mansion house a few minutes away, where the formal walled gardens are open to the public and kept blooming with exotic beauty from around the world. Ever since we moved here, we’ve felt lucky to live near such a place. Now that place is closed. Instead, we walk in the industrial estate.

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Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day In The Midst Of Calamity (Like The Man Himself)

It’s always a busy holiday, with parades and parties and overflowing pubs. The airports are full, and the tourists have their phones out, taking pictures. 

But not this year.

This year, St. Patrick’s Day looks very different in Ireland. The parades and parties are cancelled, and even the pubs are closed. The atmosphere is anything but celebratory. This year, the air is heavy with fear. A slow motion disaster is shaking the foundations of our prosperous security, and death itself is whispering threats in our ears. Can we really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the midst of all this?

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