“Ah sure we will make a video, a bit of storytelling and poetry, some music and song, telling the story of Colmcille” says I. Well naivety is a wonderful thing! If I had any notion of what I was taking on I wouldn’t have done it but here we are now with an hour long programme about Colmcille filmed in multiple locations around Donegal, Derry and Argyll in Scotland.
June 9 is Colmcille’s feast day but a year of celebrations began on December 7, 2020 and runs until December 7, 2021 which is the 1500th anniversary of his birth. Many events have been planned over the year and you can find out more on www.colmcille1500.com. I felt that it was important that Lionra Leitir Ceanainn should be involved and should make sure that Irish is at the heart of the celebrations.
Indeed we have experienced the richness of working with contributors in Argyll and the Islands on the west of Scotland who are Gaidhlig speakers. Joy Dunlop has attended many of our online planning meetings and we regularly share emails – Joy writing in Gaidhlig and me in Irish. Initially I worried that I wouldn’t understand enough but I have found that if I listen for overall meaning rather than worrying about individual words I can understand very well.
I have been enjoying the challenge of that and it has got me thinking. If Joy was talking on some random theme then I probably wouldn’t have a notion but we have a shared context – Colmcille – and that gives me enough of a foot-hold to be able to follow her Gaidhlig. When I can relax and listen for meaning then the similarities between Irish and Gaidhlig become more apparent and I delight in making the connections.
We have an elderly man on the video talking about Colmcille in Iona, the life of the monks, the legacy of Colmcille. Initially I was at a loss but when Joy broke it down a little for me I gradually found that I could follow John and could delight in the way he talks about Colmcille as if he had been a much loved next-door neighbour. The programme Slí Cholmcille will be launched on the Líonra Leitir Ceanainn Facebook page – with subtitles – on Friday June 4, at 8pm.
So often in life we make presumptions about people. We decide in advance that we will not be able to communicate with them, not necessarily because we speak different languages but because we have different outlooks, different life experience, different goals. And yet somewhere beneath those differences there are things that connect us, a shared context which could help us listen for meaning, understand what matters. I think that as we move towards a process for the Synod in Ireland we would do well to remember that.
I spoke last night at the launch of the book Maynooth College reflects on Covid-19. Across all the inputs there was an awareness of the challenges and trauma of the past year. There was also the sense that we are now being offered an opportunity to recalibrate our lives, to do things differently. That applies to the wider society – how we deal with inequality, with environmental degradation, with isolation – and also to the Church. How do we re-animate parishes? How do we re-engage people whose last thread of connection was broken when Mass went online? How do we draw out and reverence how people have experienced the presence – or absence – of God over these months?
I wished last night that we had been in a room in Maynooth College for the launch, that we could have continued the conversation late into the night because there was a lot to talk about. That is what we need going forward, the capacity to engage in open and honest conversations, not just with the people who agree with us but more widely. We have a shared experience of vulnerability and insecurity, a shared desire for well-being and fullness of life. I want to sit down with you over a cup of tea and ask, “How are you?”