A damp retreat!

Low on the mountainside below the cloud.

A few days in an Irish monastery have been my retreat this year, and I got back last night. The Holy Cross Monastery in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains is a place of peace and reconciliation - and silence! No conversation in corridors; no chat over coffee or meals; no TV, radio, piped music; no e mail; no phone; no noise.

The weather was cool and damp; the cloud never left the mountains. It was a wonderful few days. On Thursday afternoon, though the weather was still dreary and wet, I decided that I must get into the hills. As it was so misty, I took a well worn track that was familiar. I couldn’t get lost. A few others were about; dripping; hats and gloves to the fore, but happy smiling, with a, “There’s never a bad day in the hills, just the wrong clothing”, kind of remark to keep us up-beat. Five Duke of Edinburgh lads were toiling with their heavy packs over the Hare’s Gap, one of the finest viewpoints in the Mournes, but that day it was all in the mind, as the wind whipped through the pass and bore us away with a Tolkiensian moan.

Not a flowering plant was in bloom anywhere above the gorse line far below; but life is there all the same. An off-shoot, eddying pool, filled from the gushing mountain stream, held frogspawn well-on towards hatching; brown unidentifiable birds of the hills silently moved across the hillside, just seen as a blur in the cloud.

Back down the path, much of it like the bed of the stream, I filled my lungs with fresh mountain air for the last time before opening my hire-car door and being comforted by its snug interior. Back to the monastery for Vespers, a fine Supper - Vigils, the last office of the day, and bed. Nothing was moving, bar some car headlights far in the distance. Peace.

John Mann