We forewent the option of a pilgrimage walk from Saul, and just drove directly to Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, for the cross-denominational church service.A trustee at my former employer, Ulster Historical Foundation, advised me to park my car at the nearby high school, which would prove fateful. It was good to see this familiar face straight away. Upon entering the church, we were handed small brown paper bags — stamped with a large green shamrock, of course — which was a delightful surprise. Inserts included a booklet on the history of St Patrick, and a financial appeal in conjunction with the church’s 400-year-old royal charter status.
After some Irish dancing as part of the church service, which I found strange but that’s just me, Reverend Harold Miller gave a very direct message on how the ethos of St Patrick calls upon us to come together in response to the recent dreadful events.Dermot Nesbitt MLA and I caught each other’s eye during the service, and afterwards we had a bit of friendly banter (something he seems to relish!). I last saw Dermot and his wife at an academic conference in Loccum, Germany, last October.
Madame Oui and I then enjoyed some Irish stew, generously provided by the churches (presumably) for all the congregation. We remarked how this felt like the true spirit of St Patrick.We then called into the St Patrick’s Centre, where I got some gifts for my niece and nephew, and discovered a group called the Friends of Saint Patrick, with chapters in Minnesota and Milwaukee. We went down to the main street to watch the parade, which was in good flow. Our poor vantagepoint prevented me from taking photos — surely to Madame Oui’s relief. But we found the rescue dogs, wearing green garlands, particularly charming. Back to the car, we were locked out of the lot! Of course we were, as Down High only had a half day today. Thankfully we remained calm, and I was able to ask the right locals to discover a keyholder. I had visions of early next morning bus journey to retrieve my car, but alas we were soon homeward bound in a pleasant late afternoon.