Kevin O’Hara tells us of his travels around Ireland with his princess of a donkey, Missie, in his more-than-wonderful book, Last of the Donkey Pilgrims. I have a particular fondness for Kevin’s stories of his Grannie Kelly.
With Kevin’s permission, I will quote some words from his book…!
When Grannie knew that Kevin was going to embark on his great adventure, she had this to say…”I’m not going to allow a wayfaring grandson of mine to roam the earth with a donkey without first making a pilgrimage to Knock.”
After arriving at Knock, Kevin tells us that after obediently filling “two bottles with the holy waters of Knock,” he and Grannie went to Mass. Kevin says that Grannie preferred the “off-season…she liked prayer without fanfare.”
After Mass and the Stations of the Cross, putting “two coins into an Offering Box,” lighting candles, and kneeling in prayer as well as writing her intentions on paper, Grannie then put “two more coins into the Offering Box,” did more lighting of candles, and put her written intentions “into a brass box beneath the statue of Mary, marked PETITIONS.” Then, more prayers (“soft and sweet and endless,” as Kevin says!) with much contemplation!
Then Kevin says, “Finally, as though she had received a heavenly answer, she stood, genuflected, and walked back to join me. ‘Now, then,’ she smiled, taking hold of my hand. ‘Now you and your Missie can travel the Ring of Ireland.”
Would that we all began our endeavors with such spiritual preparation…Thank God for the Grannie Kellys of the world!
Another “Kevin” story, and one which has found a firm place in my mind’s treasure house of stories that have made quite an impression on me…
Kevin tells the tale of meeting Brother Malachy Daly, “a plump, jovial, middle-aged Passionist”, who smokes a pipe. Kevin became acquainted with Br. Malachy when he (Kevin) was blessed with hospitality at Mount Argus Monastery, in the Dublin area.
Kevin tells us…(excerpt from his book)
After Br. Malachy made something for Kevin to eat, they “sat alone in the large kitchen” of the Monastery. As Kevin told Br. Malachy about kindnesses he (Kevin) had received during his travels around Ireland, Br. Malachy said, “God has always provided the pilgrim…in Ireland, especially. We have a long tradition of generosity, going back to the ancient kings of the Seven Provinces who set up countless ‘Houses of Hospitality,’ for pilgrim, tramp or wayfarer. A blessing, that, for haven’t our roads been filled with the destitute over the centuries, with eviction, wars, and famines? You’re living proof such benevolence continues today.”
“Many Irish, especially old country folk, believe Jesus takes up disguise and walks our road,” the kindly brother went on. “Saint Caesarius of Arles tells us that ‘Christ comes as often as a poor man approaches you.’ You wouldn’t be Our Lord, now would you?” he smiled, watching me (Kevin) break bread.”
“I’m afraid I’d fail miserably as one of His disciples, ” I (Kevin) demurred, stuffing my mouth.
“Nonsense! You’re the last of the donkey pilgrims, humbling yourself before God and Man about our country.
I was reaching for another slice of bread when Brother Malachy intercepted my hand with a clasp of fervor.
“Tell me, have you been touched by His grace? What has changed within you on this roundabout?”
I looked at Brother Malachy, his eyes fixed and watery.
“Well, I have had some hints of grace lately,” I replied, taking back my hand, “but I think it has more to do with being outside all the time, or meeting kind people who thank God for everything but the odd hole in their shoe.”
“Go on,” pressed Brother Malachy, topping off my tea.
“Sometimes I feel the exact moment of the evening Angelus. It’s as if there’s a pause, a silence, a moment of thanksgiving. And sometimes prayers just pour out of me, out of the blue, like I’m ready to burst or something.”
“A wellspring of grace.” He (Br. Malachy) nodded in satisfaction. “Any other movements of Spirit?”
“I don’t claim to be any St. Francis, but whenever the road starts to seem particularly long and lonely, a pied wagtail shows up and hops before us, or a swallow goes zipping between Missie’s ears. Just idle fancies of a wandering mind, I suppose.”
“Rubbish,” he admonished. “You do a great injustice to dismiss these blessings from God as random occurrences. You’ve tapped into a Higher Power that many strive for, but few attain. Blessed birdbrain, don’t discard God’s boundless love as mere coincidence. Remember, coincidence is simply God’s little miracle in disguise. The Presence is everywhere for eyes that see and ears that hear. Keep your journey on the way of the pilgrim.”
I (Kevin) nodded in thoughtful agreement, as my hand grabbled for the breadbasket again.
Grannie Kelly’s prayers had big-time results with this Br. Malachy incident!
Now, our Finney just loves the Missie and Kevin stories…especially the story of Missie being part of the Nativity scene as they neared the end of their Journey…Finney always makes sure the donkey figure is able to not only be sure to be included in his Nativity scene, but as close to Baby Jesus as possible!
Last fun fact has to do with when Kevin was proud of Missie for being a real “little trooper” when she forged ahead “in spite of the elements.” As he stroked her, he said, “You’re a credit to your noble breed, you are. This day (Christmas Eve) two thousand years ago, one of your kind was on the long Judean road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as reliable to its precious cargo as you are to me.” I ran my hand over the dark marking on her back and said, “You wear your cross well, dear asaleen.”
A few years ago, I had the fun of being at a County Fair, and I saw among the animals at the Fair, donkeys which were of a smaller type and had a definite “cross” marking on their backs. Here is a picture I took at the time…
Of course, there was a story to go along with the unusual marking. I have had to try to find the story again, so the following information (and a more complete presentation) can be found at http://www.mdresort/legend-christian-donkey
The idea of the “story” is a connection between the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem, and the donkey that carried Jesus to Jerusalem (which we celebrate on Palm Sunday). “To ride on a donkey signified coming in peace…Many Christians believe that the donkey had known what Jesus was about to go through with His trial and suffering. They say that seeing the tragic event of Jesus’ crucifixion, the donkey wished he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus, as he was the one who should carry such burdens. The donkey turned his back on the sight, but he could not leave Jesus whom he had carried He wished to stay until all was over because of his love and loyalty. In reward for the loyal and humble love of the donkey the Lord caused the shadow of the cross to fall across his back and the donkey has carried the cross ever since…”
I believe you can see why Kevin’s comment to Missie brings this story to my mind!
God bless you, and thank you for coming to visit Finney and me!
*should be written Inis Mór ; also St. Ciarán
**Shamrock picture courtesy of Betsey Towne