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Advent Walk: big skies, a little silence, and a chance to escape the 'to dos'

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Inishowen Head, at the Northeast corner of Donegal, where Lough Foyle, having pinched itself in a few miles further south, widens out again and meets the Atlantic.  We started our walk at the Inishowen Head carpark: up on a height overlooking Shrove Beach & Lighthouse. The ‘tight pull’ up  a narrow windy road was well worth it. There were amazing views: down the Foyle all the way to Derry; while on the ‘far side’, the County Derry coast rolled out flat under the imposing sheer basalt cliffs of Binevenagh.  Further around, beyond Castlerock and Portstewart, Fair Head jutted out forcibly into the sea. Out to the left of it, Rathlin Island, and because the light was so good, just beyond that we could glimpse Scotland: the tip of Mull and the Paps of Jura.

And above all this land, came the huge sky. Big banks of cloud hung fluffy in the sky, just waiting for their part in the sunset show which would start as we ended our walk.

We had come – a gathering of local women, some visitors, some not entirely persuaded children, and one man- for an Advent Peace Walk.  Originally conceived us as a chance to ‘get a bit of fecking head space’, in light of all that’s happening in the wider world, particularly in Gaza in recent weeks, it seemed appropriate to widen the focus out: peace for our world as well as ourselves. 

So, we came, to chat, to connect with ourselves, with others, and with the God of our understanding, whatever that might be.  In this beautiful, rugged wild out of the way place.  There were some gentle prompts, based on environamental activist,'s Joanna Macy's Active Hope's approach. In many instances the conversations flowed naturally without these, but what they helped to do perhaps, was to signal that a different tone of conversation was welcome.  It was OK to move beyond daily chit chat and acknowledge more of what mattered.  Before we considered what concerned us in our lives and in the wider world, we took time to bring to mind things we love to do, what (and who) we are grateful for. Some took the risk to share first things that mattered to them, and made it easier for others to follow suit if they wished.   We took time to hear and honour the pain of what concerns us in the world, and where we see responses that inspire us. At the top,  we took time in silence as we looked across the North coast of Inishowen, across Culdaff Bay to Glengad, and on to Inishtrahull, the island just off Malin Head.  We got in touch with what we deeply hope for in our world, and considered how we’d like to be part of making that hope real.

While we adults wonder, wandered and chatted, the kids who had been brought along (not with complete enthusiasm!), joined in at times, and at others amused themselves with the ice sheets in the puddles.  They cracked and lifted, dropped, and shattered many panes of ice, while the few dogs that had been brought along, looked on bemused.

As we came to the last stop, we had a reminder in this Advent season to slow down, walk gently, breathe deeply so that we might bring peace and joy with us[1]. We finished at the spot where Colmcille is reputed to have last set foot in Ireland, remembering those no longer with us physically, but very much in our hearts. We heard an Emily Berry poem, ‘Because of Us’ , which tells of her realisation that the word, gauze, comes from Gaza; ‘1how many of our wounds have been dressed because of them, and how many of their wounds have been left open because of us’.  Even if, as an Irish person, I feel I can take a slight sidestep the full impact of that final sentence, it still packs a punch. As does the haunting beauty of Sinead O’Connor’s Make Me  Channel of Your Peace.  (If you haven’t heard this it truly is a mystical experience). In a podcast interview with Blindboy a few years ago, Sinead mentioned that she always prayed before going on stage, and her prayer was that she ‘would be a priest’, by which she meant that she hoped she be someone by whom others would know God.’ You can so hear that desire in this song.

This wasn’t the first such event I’d been a part of, having been lucky to be part of many such informal strolls and gatherings with friends over the years when based in Dublin.  Those walks had been informal, co-convened, word spread largely through word of mouth.

They were creative, often coming together a bit on a wing and a prayer. No matter how last minute however, they always had something special.

Based in Donegal now, and keen to establish if it’s feasible to provide these walks here, I had put a lot of work into this Advent Walk.  It was one of my first under the Rewilding Faith banner, and one of the first times I was asking those who could afford to, to pay for it. Given the effort that had gone into promoting it, in local press, and on social media, both of which brought me well beyond my comfort zones, I was surprised by how easy the walk itself actually was.  I simply created the space, gave people prompts and permission and the magic happened.  People stepped into the space and filled it with their own insight, reflection, and hard-won wisdom.  Once I had a vision of releasing my own inner sense of God so that others – insofar as it was useful - could feed from it, The book I have written was an attempt to do that. I realise that the space created yesterday - those loose circles we stood in on on the path up the hills - are spaces where each of our sense of God/ Spirit/ Truth could be shared, enriching all of us who stood around the edge.

[1]Still Points – A Guide to Living the Mindful Meditative Way, 2022, Hachette Books, Ireland

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