26 January 2021
I had hoped to be in Wexford this week, staying for two nights in the Ferrycarrig Hotel from yesterday until tomorrow. I was looking forward to waking up this morning looking out onto mouth of the Slaney and watching the sun rise behind the small hills that overlook the estuary.
Those plans for a small celebration today were made before the latest pandemic restrictions were introduced at Christmas. As the Covid-19 figures continue to remain high and the roll-out of vaccine keeps on being delayed, it seems it may be some months before I get back to Wexford, and an even longer time before I can think about planning to travel further beyond.
I cannot recall this morning when these January mini-breaks became a traditional celebration, but they have been fixed firmly in the family calendar for the past decade or so.
At times, they did not coincide with the day itself: timetabling and teaching commitments in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute for many years, followed by parish Sunday commitments in the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, have made a virtue of flexibility.
In the past, these January mini-breaks have often combined celebrations with a mini-retreat in Lichfield, staying at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, and walking into Lichfield to following the cycle of daily prayer and the mid-day Eucharist in the cathedral and finding time for prayer in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital.
But these have always been retreats that allowed appropriate celebration, with dinner in the Hedgehog or in favourite restaurants such as Ego or the now lamentably-closed Olive Tree and Eden on Tamworth Street.
In other years, there were short visits in January to Wexford, that allowed time to meet friends and former colleagues.
We spent a few days in the Ice House in Ballina, Co Mayo in 2014. We were in Lichfield again in 2015, waking to snow covering the grounds of the Hedgehog one morning. But we were back in Dublin in time for the consecration of Bishop Kenneth Kearon as Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe in Christ Church Cathedral on 24 January. In 2016, teaching commitment meant I was in Dublin, but there had been the customary visits to Bunclody, Enniscorthy and Wexford earlier that month.
Then, in more recent years, the celebrations have sometimes been moved a little further. We spent almost a week in Rome in early January 2017, knowing I was moving to the Rectory in Askeaton later in the month, and the day itself was celebrated in Eaton Square, a restaurant in Terenure that has since closed.
We were back in Lichfield once again in 2018 (24-26 January), staying once again in the Hedgehog.
In 2019, we were in Prague (22-25 January), and returned to Dublin in time for the funeral of my friend, colleague and former student, the Revd Robert Lawson, in Castleknock on 26 January, before going back to London for a residential meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
Last year, I celebrated in Valencia (26-29 January). I had been in London earlier that month (20-21) for a launch in the House of Lords for resources for Holocaust Memorial Day, and returned to London in March for a meeting of USPG trustees.
I have not been outside Ireland since then. In recent days, as I was clearing up some photographs to make space on my Google account, I realise how much I miss those visits, especially to Wexford, Lichfield, Rethymnon and Cambridge.
But this morning, as I think of how much I miss this week’s planned few days back in Wexford, I am conscious of the many people working in hotels and restaurants whose future now looks very precarious, and the frontline workers who are trying to make this a safer Ireland and a safer world to travel in.
But I would rather miss these trips and be able to travel again later this year, or perhaps even wait until next year, than to travel now and regret not being able to celebrate again.