Croagh Patrick Songs of Praise


Croagh Patrick

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This week, we've crossed the Irish Sea,

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to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland,

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to join thousands of pilgrims

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as they make their way up to the peak 700 metres above us.

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Welcome to Songs Of Praise.

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On the programme this week, I discover the origins

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of this historic annual pilgrimage and the legend of St Patrick.

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30 miles inland, Sean Fletcher explores the revered Knock Shrine,

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visited by 1.5 million people every year.

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There's an interaction, there's a connectivity.

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This is a special, unique, sacred place where people can come.

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And I find out about the Celtic Christian who became a Pirate Queen.

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Croagh Patrick, known as Ireland's Holy Mountain,

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rises high above the west coast of Ireland.

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Six miles from the town of Westport,

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its summit commands views of Clew Bay and onto the Atlantic Ocean.

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For over 800 years, pilgrims have been making their way

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up this mountain, named after the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick.

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And I'm about to join them. But first, our opening hymn today

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comes from St Colmcille's in Holywood near Belfast.

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And its message is about appreciating the simple things in life.

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Each year, on the last Sunday of July, known as Reek Sunday,

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around 25,000 people climb up this mountain in memory of St Patrick.

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But the true start is further inland.

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Ballintubber Abbey was built in 1216

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and is traditionally the starting point for the pilgrimage to

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Croagh Patrick, which is 20 miles west of here.

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Legend has it that in 441 AD, St Patrick spent the 40 days of Lent

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fasting on top of the mountain now known as Croagh Patrick.

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On his journey home,

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he stopped at an ancient spring here to baptise converts.

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Shortly afterwards, pilgrimages began.

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And this abbey was built on the site of the well in the 13th century.

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The abbey was built partly to serve the pilgrims.

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This was a place where they would get refreshments,

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they would have Liturgy, it was also a significant place establishing

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pilgrimage as of a way of practising or getting in touch with Christ.

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Because that's what pilgrimage is.

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It's a way of shedding what we have

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in order to let God speak to us in some way.

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Tell me about the elements of the pilgrimage.

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The first one is penance.

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The penance is not imposing something to make us miserable,

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it's to free us, to be free to love and to think.

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The second thing then is change of heart.

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Going on a pilgrimage without change of heart brings no reward from God.

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People going on pilgrimage is different to tourism.

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If you're going as a tourist, you can select your own companions

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and walk with the people you like, and ignore people you don't like.

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With pilgrimage, you include people.

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Because that person you include that you'd like to exclude may be Christ.

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And the whole idea is to celebrate

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because, you see, the pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick is

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penitential in its essence, but it's celebratory in its expression.

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A traditional penance is to complete the pilgrimage barefoot.

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Today, only a handful of people brave this,

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and each has their own reason for doing so.

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I mean, might as well do something right if I'm going to do it.

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And since I've been over here as a student for about a year, I figured,

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why not take the chance to go up on Reek Sunday and do Croagh Patrick?

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-How are they doing so far?

-We're halfway and not feeling anything,

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-so we're almost there!

-THEY LAUGH

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Emma and Joe, great to see you on the mountain as well. Is this the first time without shoes for you?

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I've done it once before when I was younger, in school.

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It's Joe's first time doing it barefoot.

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-And how are you finding it, Joe?

-It's not too bad.

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A bit rough at the start, all right, but once you get used to it, sure, it's grand.

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And, spiritually, what do you get out of it?

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Well, we try to get to Mass at the top to kind of make it worthwhile.

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It's just that everyone's kind of united in it.

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And all doing it for their own purpose, I suppose.

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It's powerful, like.

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You look down and see all the people on the way up.

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It's a good achievement, like, when you get to the top.

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We're off to Tideswell in Derbyshire for our next hymn.

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Written by Irish songwriter Cecil Frances Alexander,

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it's a celebration of God's creation.

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Croagh Patrick isn't the only place

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pilgrims flock to in this part of Ireland.

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Every year, 1.5 million people visit Knock Shrine,

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and it's so popular that they even built the airport next to it

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to cope with the number of visitors.

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Sean Fletcher has been along to find out more.

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In the middle of this tiny village,

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with a population of less than 1,000 people,

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is one of the most spectacular sights in Ireland.

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This is no ordinary parish church.

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The village of Knock is 30 miles east of Croagh Patrick and the

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shrine and the neighbouring basilica dominate the landscape around here.

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I'm joined by Father Richard Gibbons to find out what

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happened in the 19th century that led to this tiny village

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becoming a place of worldwide pilgrimage.

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Father Richard, tell us what's happening here.

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Well, this represents the apparition

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that occurred on the 21st of August, 1879.

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A rainy evening - surprise, surprise!

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At eight o'clock in the evening, some people saw a bright light at

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the gable end of the parish church, which is what you're in front of

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-here.

-So this was outside.

-This whole area was outside.

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And they saw,

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it was identified as Our Lady, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist,

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and right at the centre of the apparition itself was the altar,

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the lamb and the cross, surrounded by what was seen to be angels.

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The apparition lasted two hours.

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There are 15 official testimonies from the local parish here.

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And this is what they would have seen.

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This is exactly what they would have seen

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because the apparition lasted for so long,

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they were able to examine it in absolute minute detail.

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So people got to hear about it, it was reported in the newspapers,

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and people just started coming then.

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In fact, there were pilgrimages from Canada

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and Australia within a year or two.

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Of course, immediately after the apparition, there were many

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testimonies as to miracles that would have taken place.

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Cures and people that said that they would have

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received their sight again and that kind of thing.

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But you do see very old photographs with the wall here festooned

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with sticks and crutches and all of that,

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as a testimony to people who would have perhaps received a cure.

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Next-door to the shrine is this remarkable basilica.

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Built in 1976,

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it's recently undergone a massive refurbishment, in the hope

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that Pope Francis will visit on his trip to Ireland next year.

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Well, it's an amazing place,

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but there's one thing you just can't miss and it's up there.

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That's the mosaic.

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It's one of the largest single pieces of mosaic on a single

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flat surface in Europe.

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It depicts the apparition, of course, of 1879.

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And what we incorporated,

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which hasn't been really done before, are all the witnesses

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that came out on the evening of the apparition itself.

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These were people that came from various different

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parts of the village to see the light at the gable end.

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-What I really like is the rain.

-Yes.

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It's coming in at an angle, isn't it? Almost horizontal.

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Irish rain gets you, no matter where you go!

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Since we have refurbished the basilica,

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we've seen people simply coming in, sitting down, contemplating

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the mosaic, and reflecting on what Knock means to people.

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And that's what separates this from being just a tourist

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attraction to being a place where people come as pilgrims.

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That's precisely the point. Absolutely.

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This is a special, unique, sacred place where people can come.

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There's an interaction, there's a connectivity,

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there's a religious dimension.

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Otherwise, what's the point of it?

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And to celebrate God's Amazing Grace, performing in front

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of Croagh Patrick, on Clew Bay, are Celtic Woman.

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# Amazing Grace

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# How sweet the sound

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# That saved a wretch like me

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# I once was lost

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# But now I'm found

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# Was blind but now I see

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# 'Twas Grace that taught

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# My heart to fear

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# And Grace, my fears relieved

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# How precious did

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# That grace appear

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# The hour I first believed

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# Through many dangers

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# Toils and snares

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# We have already come

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# 'Twas Grace that brought us

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# Safe and thus far

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# And Grace will lead us home

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# And Grace will lead us home

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# Amazing Grace

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# How sweet the sound

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# That saved a wretch like me

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# I once was lost

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# But now am found

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# 'Twas blind but now I see

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# Was blind but now I see

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# I see. #

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The islands of Clew Bay attract tourists from all over the world,

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who come to admire their natural beauty and tranquil setting.

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In the middle of the 16th century, one family ruled the land

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and the sea around these parts,

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and their new young leader broke all the rules.

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What's unusual is that these islands were ruled by a woman -

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Grainne - or Grace - O'Malley.

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She was born in Clew Bay,

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the daughter of the chieftain of the O'Malley clan.

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And she took charge in her mid 20s.

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Anne Chambers has written the history of this remarkable woman

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and is meeting me here, at Grace's Castle on Clare Island.

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Anne, tell me, who were the O'Malley clan?

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Well, the O'Malleys were one of the many tribes of Ireland,

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or the clans of Ireland,

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but the big difference between the O'Malleys

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and most clans in Ireland were they were a maritime clan

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and they controlled the seas off this coastline,

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off the west coast of Ireland.

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Tell me, how did Grace become chieftain?

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A woman could not become chieftain by right of Brehon or Gaelic law,

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but Grace O'Malley simply made herself a chieftain by bravery,

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by courage, by being successful

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and by establishing her own little seafaring empire.

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And also, a little bit of piracy and plunder on the side,

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which was part and parcel of maritime life everywhere.

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This side-line earned Grace the title, the Pirate Queen.

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Such was her confidence that when her son was held on grounds of

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treason by the English Tudors, she took her case straight to the top.

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Tell me about the time that Grace O'Malley famously met Queen Elizabeth I.

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Well, in 1593, with the aid of some letters that she wrote

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personally to the Queen, these two elderly ladies sat down,

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did a deal, Grace's son was released and, more importantly,

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I suppose, as well, Grace was allowed,

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with permission of Queen Elizabeth I,

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to go back to her former trade, as she euphemistically described it

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as maintenance by land and sea.

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Despite making a living through piracy, Grace had a faith,

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and was baptised here at the abbey on Clare Island.

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Grace was a Celtic Christian. Tell me about that, Anne.

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Well, Christianity in Ireland at the time of Grace's birth

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was still, in theory, Catholic.

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But, of course, the Church in Ireland really had moved away

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in many respects from the Church of Rome.

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For example, the clergy were married and, also,

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the Irish Church was not paying Rome its Peter's pence or its tax.

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Here in this lovely abbey, for example,

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the medieval wall paintings do not depict religious iconology.

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There are no images of saints.

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They represent nature, they represent myth and legend

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and they represent aspects of the old Pagan past.

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The Irish Church could be said to have moved into a secular mode

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during the time of Grace O'Malley.

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And how would Grace have squared her piracy with her faith?

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Although she's known as the Pirate Queen,

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her piracy was very limited, really.

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It was limited to toll-taking.

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This was a very busy and, indeed, a very dangerous watery highway.

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And ships passing through this had to pass through

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Grace O'Malley's waters.

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So she imposed tolls for safe passage.

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Very lovely to see her resting place

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-very well preserved here, in the abbey.

-Absolutely.

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This is the traditional resting place of Grace O'Malley.

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And, as you can see, it was a tomb created for somebody of importance.

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She died in 1603 at the great age of 73 years of age,

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which, in the 16th century, was quite a remarkable age.

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And thousands of people make the pilgrimage here every year to see her tomb.

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And I think myself, it is a fitting resting place for a pirate queen.

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Our next hymn is a favourite of seafaring folk

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and comes from Port Sunlight in Cheshire.

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Throughout history, and in many different cultures,

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mountains are considered to be spiritual places.

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Doug Scott was the first British man

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to stand on top of the highest mountain in the world, Everest.

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And he spent many years since giving back to the people of Nepal

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who helped him to achieve his dreams.

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But it hasn't been easy.

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Sally Magnusson has been to Kathmandu to find out more.

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After summiting more than 40 mountains in the Himalaya,

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including Everest,

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Doug Scott set up Community Action Nepal in 1991

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to fund much-needed community buildings

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in the mountains above Kathmandu.

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I got started reroofing a school and one thing led to another

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and now we have about 60-odd projects.

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Schools, health posts, porter rescue shelters, that sort of thing.

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But in 2015, two huge earthquakes hit Nepal.

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One of the charity's head teachers was lucky to survive.

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Once he knew the children at the school were safe, Purna rushed home.

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They escaped already.

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It wasn't just Purna's school that collapsed.

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All of the charity's projects were affected by the earthquake.

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And Community Action Nepal was faced with a crisis.

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All the trails had been avalanched and were quite unsafe.

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And we were really struggling

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until we came across MAF - the Mission Aviation Fellowship,

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which is a Christian organisation,

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going out of the way to drop supplies in the most obscure places.

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Other Christian charities helping Doug with the rebuilding work

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are CAFOD and the Irish Catholic charity Trocaire.

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It's essential that all of us that are helping to rebuild Nepal

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do build back better and put in the features

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that are going to help buildings survive future shocks.

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What's been so heartening, it's the opposite, really, of being

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crushed by this earthquake - I've only been heartened by the response.

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It's something else to go over there and see these people with

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so little remain incredibly helpful.

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So we're getting a lot spiritually from them.

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We might help them materially, but they always give me

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and friends of mine on expeditions a lot more back.

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After two hours climbing, and by now shrouded in cloud,

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we finally make it to the top.

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Here, the faithful are rewarded with an unique location for Mass.

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But how did our barefoot pilgrim couple cope?

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It was very spiritual.

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We were both doing it for grandparents of ours who we've lost.

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We're glad we did it now.

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It has been painful, but it was worthwhile doing it.

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We're glad we stuck it out to the top.

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It was fairly heavy rain when we were up there,

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but we feel all the better for doing it.

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We can both say we've done it now it's done.

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It should do us for a few years.

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In next week's programme,

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Katherine visits the monastery on Caldey Island,

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near Tenby in South Wales,

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to talk about faith, poetry and modern monastic life.

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Josie d'Arby meets the man behind Angelicus,

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the choir which reached the semifinals of Britain's Got Talent,

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whose faith has helped him overcome personal tragedy.

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And there'll be congregational singing

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from the sandy shores of Tenby Harbour.

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Well, up here in the wind and rain at 2,500 feet,

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surrounded by all these people, you cannot help

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but be impressed by their dedication to come up here and worship today.

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We're going to leave you now with the final hymn,

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but for now, from everyone on top of Croagh Patrick,

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it's goodbye until next time.

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Claire McCollum travels to County Mayo in Ireland to join thousands of pilgrims as they climb Ireland's holy mountain - Croagh Patrick. Sean Fletcher visits another point of major interest for pilgrims, Knock Shrine.

Sally Magnusson travels to Nepal to reveal how mountaineer Doug Scott is giving something back to the people.

Claire tells the story of the Celtic Christian who became a pirate queen. There is also a spectacular performance of Amazing Grace by Celtic Woman.


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