Before I left the country, I spent a few hours researching churches in Ireland. Where they were, what denomination they were, and when their services would be held. I created a list of all of the churches in Dublin and Galway with all of their information. However, when abroad, time seems to fly away. We often went out on field trips on Sunday mornings, and when we didn’t, I justified not going to church by my exhaustion. I had morning classes throughout the week, so I tried to sleep in when I could manage it. But as my trip was drawing to a conclusion, I was getting hit with all of the things that I had wanted to do but somehow never did. The largest of these was my desire to go to church, so I pulled up my list and decided that whether I was tired or not, I would be going to two masses at the Galway Cathedral: one in Irish and one in English.
At the Irish service, we were given a bulletin with all of the words of the service written out, those of the priest and our responses. I’ve spent the last six weeks learning the Irish language, but this service was far beyond my capabilities. I knew enough to recite the words, albeit slower than those at the service who were native speakers, but I did not fully understand what was being said. Somehow, though, it didn’t really matter. There was some larger element at play in that church than just the words that were being said. Even when I went to the English service, the power was not in the words, which I could then understand, but in the feeling of genuine divinity in the building.
The Cathedral is laid out with the altar in the center and four sections of pews positioned around it. There were also side rooms for specific services and a timeline of the church’s history. During the Irish service, most of us were seated in one section of the pews, facing the pastor. There were only around twenty of us for that service, though. In the later English service, there were people seated on every side of the altar. I have to wonder what it would have been like to attend the service from behind, where the focus was less on the presentation of the service, but on the words and feelings alone.
Going to church was one of the best decisions I made while in Ireland. The service was spiritually fulfilling, as well as an excellent occasion for me to immerse myself in the Irish language, which is sadly not used by most Irish citizens. The cathedral itself is stunning, presenting itself as a beautiful stronghold for the Christian faith in western Ireland. In every way, attending church in Galway enriched my entire trip and easily ranks among the top five places I saw in my entire trip.