Tag Archives: Irish Chaplaincy London

10 October: Prisoners’ Sunday 2021

For forty years now, Prisons Week has encouraged Christian individuals and churches to pray for the needs of all those affected by prisons: prisoners and their families, victims of crime and their communities, those working in the criminal justice system and the many people caring for those affected by crime inside and outside our prisons.

Prisons Week raises awareness and generates prayer. It motivates volunteers to step forward and give their time and gifts, in prisons and in their own communities. It provides an annual focus and reason for Christians to work together, building capacity and motivation to make a difference for people who are out of sight and often out of mind.

Today is Prisons Sunday – the second Sunday in October – marking the beginning of the week of prayer, which runs until Saturday.

Here’s a reflection from our friend Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish Chaplaincy, which supports Irish prisoners in England. It shows how effective this ministry can be, in God’s good time.

The Power of Kindness

By Eddie Gilmore

“We never know, at the time, the ripple of consequences set in motion by the slightest act of kindness.” Those words of the late Jonathan Sacks seem especially apt in the case of a man helped recently by the Irish Chaplaincy.

One of our team, Fiona, had, before the pandemic, begun to visit a Traveller man in one of the big London prisons. He was in segregation, ‘seg’, due to making threats to prison staff and having a weapon smuggled into the prison via a corrupt officer. His original sentence had been four years but he had served sixteen due to poor compliance and aggressive behaviour. Like many of those we meet in prison he had lived a chaotic lifestyle. His childhood included his father committing suicide when he was ten and his mother becoming a drug addict shortly afterwards. I can imagine that he had not received a great deal of kindness growing up. Tragically several of his sons are also in the criminal justice system. Fiona took an interest in him and she would often tell me in supervision about the hilarious comments he would make about various things. He was clearly responding to someone simply giving him a bit of positive attention and treating him in a different way to how he was probably used to being treated.

With prison visiting not possible through the lockdown the contact continued via phone. His aggressive behaviour diminished. He also heard that Fiona had managed to get two other Traveller men from the same prison into a rehab. facility following their release and he began to see this as a possible future option for himself. Eventually Fiona managed to get him considered for parole, and supported him closely through the process. And then one morning we all received an e-mail from Fiona with the incredible news that the parole outcome had been successful. He has just been released and has gone voluntarily into the rehab facility. It’s very early days and there is a lot of anxiety on his part but for him to have got to this point from where he was is nothing short of miraculous.

My background will have been very different to that of the man mentioned above: a stable home with a loving family and lots of opportunities. And yet, there have particular times in my own life when a simple act of kindness has been transformative, and has almost certainly inspired in me the wish to do likewise to others. When I eat my pre- big cycle bowl of porridge I’m often reminded of an act of kindness that was shown to me over twenty years ago. When spending a year in Seoul with Yim Soon and our three then young children I used to go once a month to spend twenty-four hours with the Columbans, a bunch of very welcoming and very entertaining Irish missionary priests (and it was the Columbans who founded the Irish Chaplaincy back in 1957). It was a little oasis for me: a chance to rest, relax, speak English, hear some funny stories, drink ‘real’ tea. One time at breakfast one of the guys, Pat Muldoon, was served with a big bowl of porridge which had been made specially for him. A usual Korean breakfast is much like lunch or dinner: rice together with various side dishes, some of them very spicy, a bowl of soup, meat, maybe even some raw fish for a special treat! He must have seen my eyes light up at the sight of the porridge because he put the bowl in front of me and walked off. True enough, after months of Korean style breakfasts, delicious as they were, all I wanted that morning was a bowl of simple, plain porridge served with a little sprinkling of sugar and a little bit of milk. I’ll never ever forget that gesture of Pat that meant the world to me at the time, nor the words he said to me on every visit, “Be nice to yourself.”

Sacks goes on to say that every day gives each of us an opportunity to change a life and by so doing to change the world, and he concludes that, “We mend the world one life at a time, one act at a time, one day at a time,” and that, “Every good act, every healing gesture, lights a candle of hope in a dark world.”

(Quotes taken from: ‘To heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility’ by Jonathan Sacks)

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30 August: Holy Leisure

The American writer Henry Thoreau claimed that we should not judge our wealth by the things we possess but by the amount of free time that we have.

By Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish chaplaincy. Welcome back, Eddie!

By Thoreau’s reckoning I’ve been pretty wealthy during the pandemic due in part to working from home. My working day used to involve three or four hours of commuting and so I’ve had that time for other things. After the first lockdown had eased I was cycling with a guy in my club called Steve who, pre-Covid, I would see from time to time on the train back from London. He said that previously at a quarter to five he would be clearing his desk and getting ready to head to St Pancras to catch the train. “Now,” he explained to me with evident delight, “I walk down the garden path to the shed to get my bike out and I’m off.” It was a bit the same for me last summer: down to the shed at the bottom of the garden, bike out and away. I needed something a bit different this year and the Korean study has filled up a lot of my free time nicely, although I’ve still relished the extra time for a variety of sporting and other pursuits.

St Augustine described the monastic life as otium sanctum, which can be translated as holy leisure. The American Trappist monk Thomas Merton touches on the theme of otium sanctum in his book ‘Spiritual Direction and Meditation’. Business is not the supreme virtue,’ he writes, ‘and sanctity is not measured by the amount of work we accomplish.’ That’s not to say that no work or business is conducted in a monastery. On the contrary, monasteries through the ages have been hives of activity, and you’re also as likely to find workaholics there as anywhere, Merton himself having been one of them! Yet, there’s a structure and a balance to the monastic day that gives time to work, time to pray, time to eat, time to read or study, time to rest, and time just to gaze upon the flowers in the fields. It’s the active in harmony with the contemplative, and a little sign that all of our time, ultimately, is a gift.

Having free time doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing but being perhaps less driven and more conscious and intentional about what we’re doing in any given moment. I like that the word leisure comes from the Latin licere, meaning ‘to be permitted’ or ‘to be free’. I also like one of the definitions of that Latin word ‘otium’: ‘leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors.’ The key, perhaps, is taking time to enjoy and savour each moment in the day, and to take pleasure in the world and in those around us; to sit on a bench, to smell a rose, to listen to the birds singing. It could even be experienced in the midst of  writing a report or a funding application, or when doing a 100 mile cycle ride! All is given, all is gift.

The key for Thick Naht Hahn, the Vietnamese monk and poet, is mindfulness. He counsels that when eating a tangerine, be aware that you are eating a tangerine! When drinking a cup of tea, be aware that you’re drinking a cup of tea! Just as in a Japanese tea ceremony, each step of the process is important and given the right amount of time and awareness: boiling the kettle, preparing the vessels, warming the pot, pouring the water, waiting for the tea to brew; and then sipping, smelling, savouring. Perhaps even giving a little thought and a blessing to those who grew the tea and picked and dried the leaves.

I’ll shortly have the great gift of two week’s of holiday in which Yim Soon and I will walk the West Highland Way in Scotland followed by Ben Nevis and then a few days on the Isle of Skye. I will consider myself the wealthiest person alive to have such otium sanctum and to be able to spend it in such a place and in such company.

Happy holidays (i.e. holy days) to everyone!

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Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Mission

25 June, Today this is my vocation, X: being a kind friend is powerful.

Volunteers have a vocation which they might admit to, if pressed. Here is part of what the London Irish Chaplaincy has to say for itself.

The Irish Chaplaincy today

Today, we continue to meet and walk alongside Irish people, especially those most isolated and vulnerable such as Irish prisoners, older Irish people and Travellers. Our work stems from our spiritual roots, embracing the core meaning of Catholic, which is ‘universal’ and ‘inclusive’. We work with people regardless of their religious background.

Who said innovation was the only route to revolution?

Although the term ‘innovation’ seems to be the buzzword, we’ve found that most of the time it’s the little things that make a big difference. For example, simply talking to someone, holding a Travellers’ forum in a prison to offer someone a voice, or writing a letter to a prisoner are the most effective ways to lift their spirit. We know people’s needs change over time and we’ve carried out plenty of research to be sure we’re offering the most helpful services. But the message is clear, that in most cases simply being a kind friend is powerful enough to change someone’s life. For us, these simple actions have stood the test of time.

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3 May: 500 Miles – in Hope! (Going Viral LXXVII)

Time to catch up with Eddie Gilmore and the Irish Chaplaincy team who have been walking around London in Hope.

After a year in which I’d gone to London just three times I had the prospect of four trips in one week, thanks to our Walk with Hope event.

The event was due to launch on the Monday with a shortish walk from the Irish Centre in Camden, where we have our offices, to St Bride’s church on Fleet Street, named after our patron saint at the Chaplaincy, St Brigid. I was so excited to be going out for the day that I left home earlier than I needed to. I caught the 7.48 High Speed train from Canterbury, my former daily train, whose twelve cars used to be packed with commuters. Now it has six cars and there was just a handful of people in my carriage when we pulled into St Pancras International. I had a chat with the train guard as we strolled down the platform and I realised that it’s those kinds of little encounters that I’ve missed.

I’d been interested to read an article in the Guardian the week before called ‘Has lockdown given you brain fog?’ It explained how the “brain is stimulated by the new, the different,” and that “We have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes and to pay particular attention when things do change.” Like many people over the last year, I’ve been working at home, and therefore spending a lot of days on my own sitting in the same position with the same zoom background behind me, and without many of the stimuli that would occur naturally in a day when I was out and about and seeing people. It seems that our brains have begun to switch off!

Don’t switch your brain off there, but follow the link to the rest of Eddie’s story.

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Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, poetry, Spring

Irish Chaplaincy: walking with hope.

Irish Chaplaincy

Are you ready, boots? Start walking!

This week, from April 19th– 24th 2021, many people will be walking to raise funds for the work of the Irish Chaplaincy, and to raise awareness of the elderly Irish we support in Britain, whether living alone or in care homes or in prison. To join in, contact Declan.ganly@irishcaplaincy.org.uk . Put the Spring in your step!

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30 March: The great feast of Easter will follow.

We turn again to Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy. We are at the end of Lent, and hopefully – say it again, hope-fully – we are nearing the end of a much longer period of penitential living, as the vaccines begin to push the covid virus into the margins.

“Hope is an essential part of being human.”

So said Bishop Richard Harries in a recent ‘Thought for the Day’ and he cited an example of Allied prisoners in the second world war. Those who had something to look forward to, he explained, perhaps a wife and children to eventually return home to, were more likely to survive long years in captivity than those who didn’t.

Many of us will be looking forward to a variety of things, and it can be a way of getting through a challenging current reality. We might be looking forward to being able to meet up with friends and family again, to sharing physical touch, to singing in choirs, to attending live events. Many parents will, I’m sure, have been looking forward to the schools reopening! All of my children are dreaming of going travelling, and I must say that I’m quite keen to jump on a train or plane again too! After the long cold winter we might be looking forward to the coming of warmer weather, and perhaps even fantasising about lying on a tropical beach somewhere! Any beach would do me at the moment, tropical or not. In the Church’s year we may put up with a little self-imposed hardship during Lent, in the knowledge that the great feast of Easter will follow, and we’ll be able to stuff ourselves with chocolate again! The bible is filled with references to hope, often expressed in times of adversity, such as in Isaiah 40: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles, they run and do not grow weary.” In Jeremiah 29 we hear of God promising those exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon, “a future full of hope.” And we are assured in Psalm 9 that, “The hope of the poor is never brought to nothing.”

We need to be careful that in our looking forward we do forget to receive whatever is given in the present moment. I’m sure I’m not alone in spending much of my waking time alternately dwelling on the past or either worrying about or anticipating the future, and missing therefore what’s right in front of my nose. When the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello was asked if he believed in life after death he replied, “I believe in life before death.”

During my interview for the Chaplaincy at the end of 2016, I ended my presentation to the panel with the words: ‘Irish Chaplaincy…Looking Ahead with Hope’. I’m not quite sure where those words came from but they seemed to strike a chord and they duly appeared in bold letters on the homepage of our new website. In looking for a name for our upcoming fundraising walks in April we decided on the name ‘Walk with Hope.’

Bishop Harries quotes a line by the poet R.S. Thomas, having noted that much of his poetry could be quite bleak. Thomas apparently wandered into a Welsh village one day and was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense that, “There is everything to look forward to”.

Harries concludes with a suggestion of how we are to live in the day ahead, the hour ahead: “In the present, but with hope.”

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Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Easter, Lent

10 March: Sunny Spring Cycling with Eddie

By 

More from Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy, on his day off.

Having just a fortnight before been looking out at snow in the garden, I was thrilled to have the first days of sitting outside in the sun with a cup of tea.

After a couple of busy months with work I’d decided to treat myself to a Friday off at the end of February. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I vaguely thought I might have a lie-in and listen to ‘Desert Island Discs’ in bed. But when I woke at my usual early hour and looked out of the window I was greeted by the radiant sight of a clear and perfectly round moon on its way down behind the distant trees. From the other side of the house I beheld a deep red sky with the sun beginning to rise. This was no morning for lying in bed. I dressed quickly and went into the street to find that nature had completed its stunning spectacle with a frost, whose delicate shapes I always love to see on the cars. With the birds in full voice it was all quite magical.

Being able to eat my breakfast later on at the bottom of the garden in full sunshine was a total joy. I’ve created a sort of spring bulb lawn near the shed, and was in an ideal vantage point to bask in the glory of clumps of snowdrops, yellow crocuses, purple crocuses and mini daffodils. The sunshine was also creating a beautiful sparkling sheen of water drops on the tips of the just beginning to grow grass. I knew what I had to do that day. I was going to postpone the one or two practical jobs in the house I’d thought I might do and instead get on my bike. There’s a long cycle I did many times last year in the spring and summer that takes me out of Canterbury through various woods to the coast at Herne Bay, then along the seafront to Whitstable. It was the first time this year to follow what had become for me quite a sacred course. It was lunchtime when I got to Whitstable and I stopped at ‘V C Jones’, the chip shop where I often went last year with my youngest Sean son when we were out on our rides. I phoned my order in from outside, as has been the procedure in these days! Disappeared now are the words that were chalked last summer in large colourful letters on the pavement outside V C Jones, ‘As Sting sang, Don’t stand So Close to Me’!

I picked up my scampi and chips and went and found a spot on the beach in full glorious sunshine with my back resting against a groyne. I ate slowly and happily, then took a luxurious siesta on the warm pebbles, followed by a little paddle. The sea was very cold but it felt good, also walking in bare feet on the stones and some isolated strips of sand.

The season of Lent is commonly associated with fasting and abstinence. The word itself comes from the Old English ‘lencten’ which means spring season; and it may also be derived from the Old Germanic ‘lango’, long, and be related to the lengthening of the days which occurs most noticeably and wonderfully at this time.

After a year in which many have died of Covid-19, to simply be alive can feel like a bonus. On a day when I could see and hear and smell the annual miracle of new life springing up so spectacularly all around me, it seemed a particular gift.

The Jesuit Gerry Hughes used to say that he imagined God asking him just one question when he died: “Did you enjoy my creation?” At the start of the spring season it’s difficult not to.

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Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Lent, PLaces, Spring

Reminder: Fireside Gathering Concert, 5 February.

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London’s Irish Chaplaincy will host a ‘Fireside Gathering’ concert on February 5th 2021 at 7.30pm. Headlining again is the London Celtic Youth Orchestra, and we’re delighted as well to have Thomas McCarthy on the bill. Thomas, an Irish Traveller, singer and storyteller was named Traditional Singer of the Year in the Gradam Ceoil Awards 2019. Various other talented musicians and poets will complete the line-up, there will be a special message from the Ambassador and it promises to be a great and uplifting evening. The event will be Live on the Irish Chaplaincy Facebook Page and is free to watch. Follow the Fireside Gathering link to find the flier.

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Filed under Interruptions, PLaces, poetry, winter

Fireside Gathering Concert

Irish Chaplaincy will host a ‘Fireside Gathering’ concert on February 5th 2021 at 7.30pm. Headlining again is the London Celtic Youth Orchestra, and we’re delighted as well to have Thomas McCarthy on the bill. Thomas, an Irish Traveller, singer and storyteller was named Traditional Singer of the Year in the Gradam Ceoil Awards 2019. Various other talented musicians and poets will complete the line-up, there will be a special message from the Ambassador and it promises to be a great and uplifting evening. The event will be Live on the Irish Chaplaincy Facebook Page and is free to watch. Follow the Fireside Gathering link to find the flier.

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Filed under Interruptions, poetry, winter

3 January: And the Angels Sang.

Here is another posting by Eddie Gilmore of London’s Irish Chaplaincy. I’ve just shared a paragraph from the middle, but the whole article, and the links he provides, are worth your perusal. Eddie writes as a musician, so his thoughts on angels and other intelligent beings’ singing are most interesting.

We are told that angels sang at the birth of Christ. Who were those celestial beings that sang at an event that was never going to be on the front page of the Bethlehem Gazette? Whoever they were, I’ll bet they laid down a good tune, with some sublime harmonies and with no one angel hogging the limelight. And what about their unusual audience that starry night? Shepherds, who were outcasts in their community because staying out in the fields at all hours meant that they were unable to observe the normal rituals of the Jewish faith, and who might as well have been a bit tipsy, since they were known to have a little toddy to keep themselves warm. And then those three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who arrived with gifts that the mother of a newly-born wouldn’t exactly find that practical!

I have to say, though, I thought the wise men’s gifts had their uses. Gold would have got the Family to Egypt and bought new tools for Joseph. Frankincense might have sweetened the air of the stable, myrrh helped look after Baby Jesus’ skin, especially in the nappy area. At least, so I used to tell the children!

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Filed under Advent and Christmas, corona virus, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Mission, winter