Lismore

Lismore Castle

Monday 8th July

Andy Compton said that the drive from Youghal through the countryside of West Waterford to Lismore would be delightful, and he was right. But that still didn’t prepare us for the beautifully manicured little town we discovered, with its lovely historic castle, quietly beautiful St Carthage’s Cathedral, and peaceful riverside Lady Louisa’s Walk.

The citizens also still seem to be rightly proud of their town with a pristine town square and lovely Millennium Garden which we frequented with the local mums and toddlers as we soaked up the Mediterranean style sunshine.

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Midleton Evangelical Church

Andrew and Sharon Compton

Sunday 7th July

The primary reason for Ruth and I recently being in Ireland was to meet up with various pastors of newly founded churches in the Republic of Ireland, to understand their challenges, and to see whether we might be called to such an environment. I had met some of those guys in Indiana last summer when we were receiving training together in approaches to “church planting and multiplication” with One Mission Society. For a while I became an “honorary Irishman” and we enjoyed great “craic” together as we cooked and ate together, and discussed all matters scriptural and theological long into the night – as so often seems the habit of the Irish!

One of the folk I got to know in Indiana was Andrew Compton who is the pastor at Midleton Evangelical Church in County Cork just down the road from Youghal where we were camped. The church has been going for a good few years now and, having outgrown their original premises, they now meet in some function rooms in a hotel in the center of the town.
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A lovely welcome in a troubled land

Yougal harbour

At the start of our recent tour of Ireland, during the evening of 6th July, Ruth and I arrived at our little campsite a few miles outside Youghal as the sun moved fast towards the horizon and the midges, that love my skin so much, started to rise out of the grass. It was a beautifully green and manicured site, if a little cramped for our not-so-pop-up tent.

The lovely people around the camp site seemed determined to fit our British stereotype of the Irish: friendly fun loving hospitable people. The campsite owner welcomed us like long lost friends, and invited us to attend the rather noisy but good natured “Mad Hat” birthday party barbecue underway for her 30 year old daughter. And while erecting the tent I was hindered by the good intentions of an older relation of the owner’s, giving me his life story, his favourable prognosis for the weeks weather ahead, and his depressing if realistic prognosis for the Irish economy for the decade ahead.

But it was when we took an evening walk in Youghal itself that we really saw the contrasts that make this beautiful, welcoming, but troubled land so intriguing.

For Youghal is a lovely place resplendent in the faded 18th century splendour of an ancient walled port. So much so that it reminded us of a wonderful architectural mash up of the grandeur of Crieff in Pershire, the quiet harbour delights of North Berwick in Lothian, and the faded Victorian seaside attractions of Felixtowe in Suffolk! 

But Youghal is also a place where – post tiger economy boom – only the pubs and the national church seemed to be getting any investment. We found the local park teaming with youngsters who were partying in the dusk; literally intoxicated by the worlds temporary liquid pleasures in a seemingly vain attempt to forget the spiritual and economic challenges their country faces. Perhaps it is little surprise that we discovered the net influx of young from around the world in the first decade of the new century has now reversed with emigration jumping back to 87K a year in 2012 as Ireland’s young once again strive for a better life overseas.

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The more we talked to people as the week went on the more we understood that, with under 200 evangelical churches in the whole of the Republic, and despite the impressive buildings of the established church all around, their was a desperate shortage of people to quietly witness in word and deed to Jesus, the one true hope for a people who feel betrayed by their political class and betrayed by their national church.

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While English speaking Ireland might look like an obvious place for us to consider spending the next phase of our lives, it fast became clear that despite the common language we needed to remember the huge cultural differences that appeared to lie just below the surface.

Like so many places we have recently visited, Ireland may give the visitor a lovely welcome, but it is also a troubled land that desperately needs to be loved and reached anew with Jesus’ Good News about true life in all its fullness.

Why do the Celts have all the best vistas?

Pembroke
Driving across Wales to Fishguard on 6th July on the start of our Ireland trip, in the beautiful weather that came as such a surprise in our normally dismal British summers, I could not help but be struck by the beautiful rolling green vistas of Pembrokeshire as we approached Fishguard. It reminded me of so many spots in the foothills of the Highlands, but that was only a foretaste of the beautiful drive we had from Roslare to Youghal.

The Republic of Ireland that Ruth and I first started visiting back in the eighties had at least one key similarity with the Romania we visited recently – the roads! Wherever you went you were faced with narrow winding roads and with potholes that would swallow a car, or at least wreck a suspension. So much so that almost every car was an old banger – why invest in a decent car that could be wrecked on the first outing?

If not mangled in a pothole then any car was at risk of being crumpled in a head on collision on the “shared overtaking lane” roads that were the ubiquitous low cost alternative to a dual carriageway. For my younger friends who have not had the privilege of driving on these types of roads let me explain: cars traveling in either direction were given the right to move out into a shared central third lane for overtaking. Of course two cars coming in opposite directions could be lulled into a false sense of priority, move out to overtake, and crunch! Just as when dealing with the overtaking and tailgating habits of the average Romania, the visitor had to keep their wits about them!

But decades of “Tiger Economy” status and EU development fund investment has transformed the roads of the Republic of Ireland into snaking smooth ribbons of tarmac that rivals anything seen in the UK. And with the low density of traffic, on a quiet island that is one again exporting its young to the rest of the world, it is easy to cruise at the generous speed limits while watching the beauty of the rolling fields and broad coastal estuaries of the south coast of Ireland as the sun slowly falls in a rate pale blue sky.So, my friends, am I biased do you think? Wales and Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland – the best of our islands countryside seems to be westward facing where the Celtic people in all their forms have clung tenaciously to the green coated rocks over the millennia. Perhaps it’s that the countryside that shaped the people. Or perhaps – like so many parts of the world – the weaker Celtic tribes were left with the marginal corners of land that more successful invaders did not sufficiently value.

What do you think? Why do the Celts have all the best vistas in these emerald islands of ours?

Stepping out with God

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Saturday 6th July

It is 2pm Sat 6th July. Ruth and I are sitting in the sun on the ferry in Fishguard harbour after a drive from the east to the west of mainland Britain on our way to Youghal, County Cork in Ireland.

This is the second part of our great adventure this summer as over the next few months we visit and share with Christian missionaries in Romania, Ireland, Kenya and Malawi. (Our second visit to Belgium has been postponed to October). It’s all part of our quest to understand God’s call for this next phase in our lives.

The first part of our summer adventure was a return visit last week to Daniel and Danny Ispas in Carand, western Transylvania, Romania. Over the coming weeks we will post more about that physical and spiritual journey as time (and internet connection) permits.

Please support and encourage us by following our posts on Facebook and on our new WordPress blog. At both places you can leave your own contributions and comments to help us on our way.

The idea of the blog is to allow our friends to share in our thoughts and experiences as we spend time in so many different places. However, perhaps more importantly, it will give Ruth and I a mechanism with which to reflect on the experience and the lessons learned.

We hope you enjoy sharing in our great adventure this summer as we step out with God.