The Castle Park is where my wife and I take our daily walk these Covid-19 days.
And what a treasure the Park is – an absolute blessing, and how lucky we are to have it. Spatial distance is no problem, especially down the lower field – I feel sure, however, that the Butlers didn’t call it a field. A meadow perhaps? I doubt that too; Frank Kavanagh, Kilkenny’s ‘King of the Castle’, will set me straight on its proper appellation.
Some days I wander off on my own (a bit of spatial distancing from my missus who’s glad to be rid of me) and so I strolled up the Callan Road last week and found myself standing outside the Grotto. The Grotto! A place I haven’t visited in over 50 years or more. The Grotto, which our family visited regularly on Sunday afternoon strolls. The Grotto where, as school kids, we prayed, sang hymns and recited the rosary.
The memories came flooding back. But it’s never open I thought, surely it’s in lockdown. Not so. And in I walked, a little apprehensively, not quite sure what to expect all these years later – half a bloody century later!
The Grotto is a huge, brooding-green, cavernous hollow, surrounded up top by trees and bushes and down at its earthen centre – a statue of Bernadette, kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary high up in an alcove in the ‘cliff’ face. It was pretty much as I remembered. Several bouquets of flowers were strewn before both statues as it was the month of May, the month of Mary, ‘Queen of the May.’ (And I’ve never heard that song played so often on Lyric FM) And I remembered now the May processions to the Grotto, the rosary being chanted, the hymns wafting on the early summer breeze and the giggling and tricking that went on as we processed along.
The Grotto was empty and eerily silent, a silence punctuated by raucous crows. Like all sacred shrines there was a holiness, a reverence permeating the entire place. And although I’m not overly religious – I’m not even underly religious if there’s such an expression (there is now, says you) I said a prayer.
A Hail Mary. What else!
Usually when I find myself in a church (mostly in historic ones on holiday abroad) I say a little prayer for my family, for their health, happiness and wellbeing.
Today I included another family – the family of front care workers who are sacrificing their safety for our wellbeing, and I included in particular our two Kilkenny heroes, Catherine Hickey and Jim Kenny, who lost their lives saving the lives of other. And a post on Facebook, came to mind: ‘Let’s remember when this is over it wasn’t the CEOs and billionaires who saved us but the janitors, nurses, truck drivers, shop workers and food workers.’
Amen to that. And my sincere thanks to each and every one of you.
Another day I wandered down College Road and seeing, to my surprise, that the door of St Patrick’s, my parish church, was open I decided to go in. And it’s wonderful, I’m thinking, that there are places open to the public during lockdown, quiet oases to get away from the, at times, suffocating isolation of home, places to sit down, kneel down, places to reflect and simply relax. Owing to the menacing presence of Covid-19 all around, the church seemed more silent, more still, more sacred than usual. Sitting halfway down the aisle I look up at the tabernacle containing the sacred host while beside me on the table for the gifts I see a bottle of sanitiser! Sacred, in its own way, these Coronavirus times. Outside I meet Seamus Delaney, of the famous Delaney’s pub, with his faithful Yorkshire terrier.
As we pass some pleasantries I have a bad, very bad, thought – ‘Seamus, any chance of a…of a ….’ Ah but I quell the thought immediately. Damn it I didn’t want to have to go back in and go to confession! As if.
I head home knowing that if half a loaf is better than no bread, a can of beer is better than no pint! And I just know that when the pubs reopen there will be tales to tell of covert, clandestine Lockdown Pints; tales told over the ‘late one’, or even the ‘early one’, so eager will we be to get in the pub door!
In keeping with all things pint related, where’s the best pub in Kilkenny? Turn to page 8 to find out how to vote for your local