I had to travel to Ireland last week for two meetings, one in Dublin on Tuesday, and the other in Belfast on Wednesday. I’ve no doubt that when I say in this log from time to time that I was over in Ireland for meetings, there will be some who think “lucky him”, however the reality is that, setting aside the fact that meetings are often tedious, short haul travel is not always all that pleasant. These two days last week, for example, coincided with Storm Ali. The journey to Dublin had been okay but the storm was in full force on Wednesday morning when myself and Fr. Eugene, the rector of Holy Cross, Ardoyne, where the meeting was taking place, left Dublin for Belfast, and it took us a long time to get out of the city. At one stage, as we were driving through a tree-lined section of the road. we found ourselves assailed by conkers blowing off the trees and battering our windscreen. For a while it was a wee bit scary as we felt the windscreen was going to come crashing in on us at any moment.
All along the road we saw signs telling as that it was European Day Without A Road Death. The idea was that no one should die on the roads of Europe on that very day, Wednesday 19th September, and in the lead up to it road users were asked to think about the risks they face, the risks they pose to others, and how they can go about reducing those risks. Issues highlighted were speeding, drink-driving, not wearing a seat belt, using the phone while driving, using vehicles that haven’t been kept roadworthy, parking cars on bicycle lanes, blocking pedestrian crossings, not turning on lights, and engaging in risky manoeuvres. Nobody said anything about avoiding flying conkers. I don’t know how the day went but please God it was a success and there were in fact no road deaths, although I doubt it as I witnessed many selfish people on the day taking those very risks, especially using their phones, and I do know that at least two people died in Ireland as a direct result of Storm Ali.
The middle part of the journey was okay, although we did experience the car being buffeted by winds on high sections of the road around Newry. When we reached Lisburn, however, and tried to get onto the M1 into Belfast, everything came to a standstill. Traffic was either crawling or not moving at all. We put the radio on and heard that some electrical cables had been blown down and that part of the motorway was closed. We had no option but to stick with it and, as a result, our final section of the journey, that should have taken around 15 minutes, in fact took us an hour and 15 minutes. After the meeting I was supposed to get dropped off at Dublin Airport to fly home to Glasgow, but the person who was to bring me, on finding the M1 closed, had abandoned their journey and returned to Dublin. I was then dropped off at Belfast Bus Station to get a bus to the airport. I got my ticket and was told which platform the bus would leave from. I saw a bus with Airport Express written on the side and got on. Just before it took off it occurred to me that many of the people on the bus didn’t look as if they were travelling very far; it turned out I was on a bus to Belfast Airport with local stops along the way. I was just in time to hop off and jump on to the right bus.
When I arrived at a very crowded Dublin Airport I was still wondering if my plane would take off at all, as I knew that many flights had been cancelled during the day. Luckily, Storm Ali had abated enough for the flight to be enabled, although it was going to be delayed by about an hour and a half. An egg sandwich, a Bounty Bar, and about 100 pages of my novel later, I was at last Glasgow bound, and I was grateful to Brother Antony for collecting me at Buchanan Bus Station and having me home in Bishopbriggs before midnight. So, the next time I head to Ireland for meetings, don’t say “lucky him”, say “poor him”.
Almighty God, creator of all, like the disciples who were caught in the midst of a mighty storm, we ask you to come to our aid. We feel small and helpless before the great power of a storm, and so we place our trust in You, to shelter us, and to lead us to safe harbour, Amen.