Walks 24 - 36 - All-Ireland Mothers' Union

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Walks 24 - 36

Fifteen ladies and gentlemen assembled at Skreen Parish Church in Co Sligo for morning prayer, led by the Rev’d Canon Noel Regan. It is a beautiful small church sitting in the countryside and is so much larger than it looks from outside. After assembling for a diocesan photograph on the steps, about ten of those present travelled the short distance by car to Aughris on the coast of Sligo Bay.

Three ladies tackled a shorter walk while seven folk joined June on her final 7km walk, walk number 29, in Tuam Diocese. They were the Diocesan President, Myrtle Nairn and her husband David, the Diocesan Chaplain Canon Jen McWhirter, Canon Noel Regan, Diocesan Trustees Audrey Moore and Sheila Bourke and the Churchwarden of Skreen Parish, Alan Greer.

The walkers left the car park opposite the Beach Bar at Aughris Beach and made their way along the road to join the cliff path, passing first above Aughris Pier to their right. As they climbed the slight gradient to the Head, the views across southern Sligo Bay were good but slightly impaired by cloud. However in the distance they could see the outlines of Knocknarea and Ben Bulben.

As they walked the path – both on grass and hardcore – they observed the very contented cattle grazing beyond the fences and fabulous wild flowers all around, as well as the rock foundations and beaches below them. One of these was Pollaree Beach which traverses an excellent example of an iron age promontory fort. Further along the trail the walkers passed St Patrick’s Holy Well where the local people went to pray in penal times when Catholic worship was prohibited; its waters are said to have healing powers.

After a further kilometre the path turned inland towards a look-out post - one of 83 such structures built along the Irish coast to enable German aeroplanes to be spotted and identified in World War II. Rain had swept in from the Atlantic and the walkers sheltered there for a short time. They then followed the path down to and through the deserted village of Aughris; its decline began with the Great Famine in the mid-19th century when it had a population of over 800 but by the end of the century this number had reduced to 100 inhabitants - the last resident died in 1993.  It was a very sad, forlorn sight.

The path from the village was downhill (an interesting experience for all the walkers as the road was slippery and covered with slurry!). It joined the access road which led back to the Beach Bar but as 7kms had not yet been covered in the first hour and a quarter, most of the group headed across Aughris Beach, towards Dunmoran Beach, before retracing their steps across the firm sands; subsequently they again walked along the road to Aughis Pier which was originally a working pier but is now a centre for adventure water sports.

The group decided not to participate in any such activities that afternoon and headed back to the Beach Bar for a very welcome lunch and to meet up with the others who had already completed their shorter walks. Every part of this cliff path walk has spectacular views – from the Ox Mountains on the Mayo/Sligo border to the mountains of South Donegal. June felt it had been one of the most scenic, and dramatic, of her 7km walks.    

This walk, walk number 28 - June’s final one in Limerick and Killaloe – was organised by the Ballinasloe Branch Leader, Jackie Eastwood and was planned as the “Walk of Seven Churches” as well as a conducted tour of this historic town.

The group of walkers gathered at Ballinasloe Christian Fellowship Church in the centre of the town – this was a converted storehouse which now serves all parts of the community and, in these times, also acts as a food bank. Seven walkers set off - as well as Jackie, June and Diocesan President Lucy Kavanagh, there were the local rector, Rev John Godfrey and his dog, and MU members Jill Cooke, Frances Hurley and Kathleen Newtown.

Leaving the first church, the group headed round the town to the park where the annual horse fair is held each October and overlooking it was the second church - the local Church of Ireland church, St John the Evangelist, situated on Church Hill, one of the  highest points in the town. After sheltering under a tree from a heavy shower, they proceeded up the main street passing en route the now abandoned Presbyterian Church – a rather sorry sight. The next church they passed was much more vibrant – the large limestone, St Michael’s Roman Catholic church, situated on St Michael’s Square.

Moving behind the Square, the walkers had to shelter again for a short time from another torrential storm under a tree beside the Ballinasloe Canal. When that lightened they turned right to cross the main the bridge over the River Suck, a tributary of the River Shannon – and for few moments watched a heron fly down the river. They then walked for over a kilometre on Bridge Street and Church Street before turning left into the estate of the former St Brigid’s Hospital - also over time known as Connacht District Lunatic Asylum and St Brigid's Psychiatric Hospital; built in 1833, the hospital which in the 1950s housed over 2000 patients, closed in 2013 and has sat abandoned ever since. In the grounds they passed the fifth and sixth places of worship - two former Roman Catholic churches (both known as St Brigid’s) which were deconsecrated when the hospital closed; both are now boarded up, like most of the buildings in the estate, which is owned by the health authorities.

Having walked around this vast complex, they retraced their steps back to the main town, diverting slightly en route to the seventh church of the walk –– Our Lady of Lourdes, Roman Catholic Church, usually known as Creagh Church as it stands on Creagh Road.  Then it was back to the Christian Fellowship Church for a welcome cup of tea and fellowship with the group of walkers and some additional members of local MU branches.

Lucy and June had calculated that they had only completed just over 6kms so after the refreshments they set off to walk to Ballinasloe Marina and then took the path along the bank of the estuary towards the River Suck. Subsequently they returned to where the cars were parked and the trackers showed that the total distance for the day had exceeded the 7kms target by another kilometre! June said that the seven churches was a very different concept for this walk and had been a very interesting way to create a trail around Ballinasloe.

June’s second walk in Limerick and Killaloe, walk number 27, began with over 20 members and friends gathering in the beautiful parish church of St Nicholas, formerly known as the "Black Abbey" - an Augustinian Friary founded in 1316 by the Earl of Kildare, on the outskirts of Adare to have a short service of morning prayer. This had been arranged by the Branch Leader, Jessie Griffin, and it was led by a local lay reader, Dorothy Brislane. Not only were MU members present but there were several ladies from Adare Methodist Church and the local “Active Retired” group as well as visitors from the dioceses of Derry and Raphoe and Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

After gathering outside the porch of the church in the sunshine for photographs, seven walkers headed off on the 7km walk, under the leadership of Rosemary Shier from Adare MU Branch. The other members of this core group were June, the L and K Diocesan President Lucy Kavanagh, Pearl Mitchell, Ann Drew, Mary Dunden and Hazel Sherlock (VP in Cork Diocese). At various points of the day some ladies left the group and others joined.The walkers first made their way along the path beside the River Maigue, a tributary of the Shannon, admiring the wildlife, which included a statuesque heron on the far river bank.  They turned left along a path which brought them to the Methodist Church and Embury Close, a beautiful sheltered housing complex which was founded in 1987 by the Methodist and Church of Ireland congregations in the area. They then passed the Village Hall and across a green in front of houses originally owned by the Dunraven Estate.

The group turned left along the Main Street, passing beautiful old thatched and other quaint cottages - most of which had been originally built by the local patrons, the Earls of Dunraven for their estate workers - before turning right into Adare Town Park and making their way to the rear gates of the former manor house. They retraced their steps through the peaceful park to the main thoroughfare, passing the Countess Dunraven Fountain beside the Heritage Centre; this imposing fountain is currently being restored by a heritage grant, having originally been donated to the people of Adare by the Countess Caroline in 1844 to thank them for saving part of the manor house in a fire.
They walked behind the Roman Catholic Church to admire the Dovecoat which interestingly has been converted into a columbarium and then along the main road out of Adare, passing to their right the quainter thatched cottages and the Dunraven Arms Hotel to their left. The imposing gates of Adare Manor, now a hotel, were to their right. When they arrived back at St Nicholas Church they noted that they had only walked 5.5kms!!!!  They then drove the short distance to the Woodlands Hotel on the outskirts of Adare where 13 members and friends had a delightful lunch and a great deal of chat and celebration as it was Hazel’s birthday!

To make the full distance of 7kms, five stalwarts – still under Rosemary’s supervision – braved the afternoon heat and walked around the Woodlands estate which is on one side of the grounds of Adare Manor. This is a recently created woodland walk to allow the hotel’s clientele to appreciate better the environment in which the hotel is situated. The walkers passed beside the hotel spa, across Mary’s Garden, through a picnic area and followed the path beside a wood and round a field with grazing cattle.  It was the most glorious day without a cloud in the sky – probably the best weather of all June’s walks!

The Village of Adare
June had her first venture into Limerick and Killaloe Diocese on a lovely late summer morning – this was the 26th walk of the series. Diocesan President, Lucy Kavanagh, Margaret Schutz (Diocesan Trustee and Branch leader of Limerick City Branch) and June joined the worshippers for the normal morning prayer service in St Mary’s Cathedral, led by the Dean, the Very Rev Niall Sloane. During the prayers he referred specifically to Mothers’ Union and their work and included the three members present by name and role. They subsequently had a coffee with the Dean at a local restaurant before DP Lucy, MU member Adrienne Baron, also from Limerick City Branch, and June set off on their 7.2km walk.

They headed away from the Cathedral and the centre of Limerick city along the pathway beside the Park Canal. This cycle and walkway, now known as the Rhebogue Neighbourhood Greenway, has been remodelled in recent years and is an excellent resource for the city and especially for students heading towards the university. The group followed it for over 2kms to where the canal joins the River Shannon and the vista to the left widened with views across the river; en route they saw swans, occasional fishing boats and a few fishermen casting off from the banks, much dense and varied riverside foliage, and the derelict Black Bridge.

They ventured beyond the Bridge for a few hundred metres to see the former fishermen’s cottages which have been modernised as holiday homes – usually by those who wish to fish on the river. They then turned inland, to the right, and headed towards the extensive campus of the University of Limerick, much of which they circumnavigated admiring the many modern buildings set in what had been wonderful undulating parkland.

The estate was originally owned by the Maunsell family and the original Plassey House is still an important part of the university. The estate was in the ownership of Thomas Maunsell from 1770 and it is believed that he commemorated his part in the conquest of India (and even his friendship with Clive of India) when he renamed his estate Plassey. The campus lies along both sides of the River Shannon, on a 340-acre site with 110 acres on the north bank and 230 acres on the south bank – no wonder it has been called the most beautiful setting of any university worldwide.

The three ladies completed their walk by traversing the Living Bridge over the River Shannon – this bridge comprises seven 50metre long spans and alternates between rhythms of bridge and island, with lightweight bridge structures joining to more solid pier locations. The architects designed the bridge to move in a beautiful flowing line across the Shannon, mirroring the river and everyone using it has the sense that they are crossing the river on stepping stones. This, now famous bridge, has joined both parts of the campus since early 2010.

To complete the journey, the group walked round the sports centre and out through the main university entrance on to the main road towards Castletroy. June said she had enjoyed the diversity of this walk - the earlier part had been beside the River Shannon and its canals and this had been complemented by walking through woodland to the university campus with all its architecturally diverse and beautiful buildings.     

St Mary's Cathedral ~ Limerick
June has now finished two thirds of her walks and, after a short respite, is starting the final dozen.  Her 25th walk took place on a dull but dry day in the centre of the Diocese of Meath and Kildare – at the Curragh.

The afternoon began at St Patrick’s Church in Newbridge where the MU Diocesan Chaplain, Rev’d Ruth O’Kelly, led over 20 members in a short service of thanksgiving.  Bishop Pat Storey gave a short, very poignant reflection based on Psalm 46 and, after the service concluded, June spoke for a few moments about Mums in May and the commemoration services for the life and witness of Annabella Hayes which had been held in Dublin a fortnight earlier. Present also was the rector, the Very Rev’d Tim Wright and his wife, Karen. Everyone who attended the service took time for tea and fellowship on the steps of the church afterwards, before driving the short distance to the Curragh to begin the walk.

Twelve members and friends started the 7km walk, which covered the undulating grassland close to the famous racecourse – they included DP Sylvia Wheatley, her daughter Karen with her three month old daughter, Tim and Karen Wright, Diocesan Trustee Rosemary Roberts, Tullamore Branch Leader Elizabeth Redding, Rev’d Carol Hennessey, Violet Beattie, Violet Cole, Gwen Cole, Ena Carter and Mary Maher and the Wright and Wheatley canines!

The Curragh is an open plain of almost 5,000 acres of common land close to Newbridge - the area is well known for Irish horse breeding and training and is of particular interest to botanists and ecologists because of the many rare plants and the numerous bird species which nest and visit there. It is composed of a sandy soil and as a result it has excellent drainage characteristics which makes it a popular location for training racehorses.

The group walked in a large oval from where the cars were parked close to the road from Newbridge and south towards the extensive playing fields: from there they walked for a short distance beside a wooded area and further along towards the perimeter of the Curragh Camp which is an army base and military college - the main training centre for the Irish Defence forces and home to 2,000 military personnel.

They then turned right, crossed the main road through the Curragh, walked across the bridge over the busy M7 and headed north towards the formal racecourse area – admiring in the distance the huge newly-constructed stand. A few of the group had to leave for home at that point but the remaining eight followed a slight incline up towards the racecourse, along the only hardcore path they had encountered, and had a “pit stop” for a short time outside the TRI Equestrian Superstore, close to the racecourse entrance. Subsequently it was downhill for the last two and a half kms back to where the cars were parked.

June said this had been a very different walk from the others she had completed – on very open land and not following designated paths. She was surprised not to have seen even one horse (it was the wrong time of the day apparently for them to be out training!) but the group did encounter thousands of sheep – all bedecked in the distinctive colours marked on them by their different owners. None of the sheep seemed in the least perturbed by this group of walkers intruding on their territory.       

Sheep & Horses on The Curragh
This was June’s 24th walk and planned with the Dublin and Glendalough MU Trustees to be in tandem with the celebrations on 21 August to commemorate the founder of Mothers’ Union in Ireland, Annabella Hayes. The 7.5 Km walk was from All Saint’s Church in Raheny to St Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton North along the seafront at Raheny looking north east towards Howth Head.   

This was a day where the weather threatened a repeat of two weeks earlier when the MU walkers in Phoenix Park had been drenched - storms and heavy rain had also been forecast for the Dublin area on Saturday 21st and those arriving commented on the rain in other parts of the island but this walk was carried out with the occasional shower and certainly no heavy rain - that arrived only at the end of the day’s events.

The walk began with prayers at the parish hall of All Saint’s, led by Rev Ashling Shine, the NSM attached to the parish; she included in her prayers the hope for a dry walk, even with a blink of sunshine! Fourteen members, several husbands, the Diocesan Chaplain Rev’d Leonard Ruddock and his wife Hazel, had gathered at the hall for this quiet time of prayer. Ashling and Karen Nelson (D and G DP) then led the walk from the church grounds. Besides these two ladies and June, those walking included the DPs of KEA, Tuam, Derry and Raphoe and Clogher - Hazel, Myrtle, Jacqui and Irene - as well as David Nairn - Tuam, Barbara Smyth - KEA, and Mary White - D and G. There were ten for most of the walk. Irene left the group as they were leaving Raheny and Sandra Doran (a D and G trustee) joined closer to Sutton

They walked along Howth Road to the centre of Raheny Village where they stopped for photographs at the stone cross in the centre of the village dedicated to Annabella Hayes’ daughter Marie, who died while working in India as a medical missionary in 1908 at the age of 32.  They then followed Watermill Road, past one side of the huge St Anne’s Park which stretches from Clontarf to Raheny, to the fabulous Peace Tree (also known at the Tree of Life) situated at a corner of the Park.  This has been carved in recent years by Tommy Craggs out of a Monterey cypress that was a landmark of the city but was unfortunately dying. In its 10 meters all kinds of animals and sea creatures feature – they reflect the wildlife of St. Anne’s Park and Bull Island. The walkers had to press on otherwise, as June said, they could have spent all morning gazing at it – the sculpture is so impressive, in size, level of detail and beauty.

The group then turned left past the Causeway Road, which leads out to North Bull Island, to walk along James Larkin Road and the adjacent cycle/ walkway to Sutton. The sea - and the rather misty views over to Bull Island - were to their right. This part of the walk (from the Peace Tree to Sutton Village) was over 4kms in itself.

In the centre of Sutton they walked past the right turn towards Howth and headed up Carrickbrack Road South to St Fintan’s Crescent where St Fintan’s Cemetery was to their right. It is a vast cemetery which has obviously been extended as the old part was distinctly different to the newer part. After greeting the 40 members and friends, Diocesan Chaplains and others who had come from all the Dioceses in Ireland to attend the rededication of the grave of Annabella Hayes, the walkers made their way up the uneven path to the oldest part of the cemetery to join the congregation for the outdoor rededication service led by the Most Rev’d Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin. And it remained dry also for the duration of that very special event!  

All Saints' Raheny
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