Churches are often quiet and contemplative. At a recent Toastmasters meeting I gave a speech on why I love churches as silent spaces. Over the coffee break, several members approached me and told me about their favourite church in Galway.
The one closest to me, and the one I’d never really considered entering, is the Barracks Church by Renmore Barracks. In early April the trees are just waking up and eggs are making ready to hatch. There's a rookery in the trees to the right. The birds were nesting at the time and certainly didn't like it when I walked closer to them.
I have walked past this church umpteen times on my way into town. It’s the scenic route into the centre of Galway along a path that follows the railway line (referred to locally as ‘the line’).
The church is in Renmore next to the Dún Uí Mhaoilíoas army barracks. The chapel was built in 1854 for the soldiers in the then British Army barracks. It was announced in the local paper as “a Catholic Chapel for Renmore Barracks”. Up until then, the soldiers (who were mostly Catholic), would have had to walk the mile along the line to the church in Galway town. Galway is the rainiest city in Ireland. According to the report it was common for soldiers to spend most of the service and the journey home in wet clothes.
The Church inside is a beautiful space. Most impressive, though, are the stained glass windows.
I went to this church to meditate. I don't identify as Christian but I grew up in a Roman Catholic family. I understand the imagery. The space is also very much a community church and is used a lot for weddings. The woman who told me about it goes there for mass every week. I might go along one week to see what it's like there.
I will certainly be going back to spend time in the space and to meditate.
There are two windows I would like to look at in detail.
This is a window dedicated to Irish UN forces. My brother spent five years in the Irish army and some time based in Liberia with the UN. Even though he is no longer in the army, I feel a sense of connection with this. At the back of the church is a memorial dedicated to the members of the armed forces who died abroad. And it's impossible to forget that the church was built for the soliders first. When I was there I heard the sounds of rifle fire from the Barracks. All that feeds into the history and the spirit of the place. What a fascinating history it is too. In my research I discovered that the site has a long military history. The name Renmore comes from the gaelic and means Great Headland. It was originally a very strategic site. It was home too to the Connaught Rangers. And now it is home to the First Batallion of the Irish army. Interestingly this is an Irish language batallion so it is known only as An Chead Cath originally founded in 1924 as an Irish language batallion. According to my reading Irish is no longer the daily language of the batallion. I discovered too that The Renmore Historical Society gives talks in the barracks and an army museum exists there too visitable by appointment.
I plan on organising a trip to the museum with a bunch of friends. Imagine, all this beauty and history came simply from being direct and honest about what I enjoyed when I spoke at Toastmasters. It demonstrates to me just how much the world is ready to give when we are generous with our truth.
The words on this window are written in the Irish language and are from a prayer called the Breastplate of St. Patrick. Versions of it are used in song in both Church of Ireland (Anglican/Episcopalean) and Roman Catholic church services in Ireland. I think the words are quite beautiful.
The words translate as:
Christ beside me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me
Christ within me, Christ below me,
Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand,
Christ at my left hand,
Christ in the fort, Christ in the boat,
Christ in the charriot,
Christ in the heart of everyone
Thinking of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone
Speaking to me,
Christ in every eye
That sees me,
Christ in every ear
That hears me.
Galway city is one if Ireland's foremost tourist destinations. People come here to see the remains of the medieval city, to drink and experience the vibrant social life of the city. The Barrack Church is outside the city centre. It represents a chance to tap into a stream of Galway's history that most visitors will never see. An ideal way to visit the Church is to 'walk the line' on the footpath that runs parallel with the railway line. Start the walk from beside bus and train stations. If the sun is shining, the view across Lough Atalia ('Lake of the Willows' in Gaelic) is beautiful. The Church is at the end of the walk, which takes about fifteen mintutes. Phone ahead and make an appointment to visit the Barracks museum.
For more information, click through the following links.
Renmore Barracks Museum info: The Military Heritage of Ireland Trust:
"The museum does not have a full time staff but has a few dedicated individuals who give freely of their time to cater for interested groups to come and experience the rich and varied story of over a hundred years in the life of a barracks.
Personnel wishing to visit the museum in Dun Ui Mhaoliosa should apply in advance to either of the u/m."
The Adjutant, Dun Ui Mhaoliosa: +353 (091) 751156
Sgt PJ Maloney, Dun Ui Mhaoliosa: +353 (091) 751156
This post was written by Paul of Thinking Barefoot.