William Rooney - “Encountering the heritage of "Eire"”


William Rooney

Wills Rooney studied for an M.A. in Philosophy of Religion at Maynooth University during the 2016-2017 academic year through the George J. Mitchell Scholarship. Prior to this, he graduated from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he ran cross-country and track & field and wrote regular columns for the student newspaper. In July 2017, he will enter the novitiate for the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph (the Eastern Province of the United States) and begin formation toward becoming a Dominican bother and a Catholic priest.

One of the joys of this Mitchell year has been the opportunity to explore Ireland and to encounter the depth of its spiritual and historical heritage. Just by living here over the past 7 months, I have been well exposed to the enthusiasm of the Irish for all things Irish, but two trips this spring semester have particularly sharpened my appreciation for the Irish emphasis on ritual and historical memory.

The first was in late January, when a friend from Maynooth and I went out to County Mayo in the west to climb Croagh Patrick, the mountain upon which Saint Patrick famously made a forty-day retreat, fasting, praying for the conversion of the Irish, and living in a cave amidst the harsh elements. Climbing “the Reek,” as it is called, is a traditional spiritual rite of passage for the Irish—a pilgrimage of penance, sacrifice, and prayer and an act commemorating the saintly man who brought the Catholic faith to Ireland.

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To this day, on “Reek Sunday,” the last Sunday in July, tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over Ireland flock to follow in the footsteps of Saint Patrick, while countless more go every other day of the year. Amazingly, a substantial percentage of them, including many elderly, make the whole trek barefoot—and this climb is no joke, filled with steep inclines and many sharp and loose rocks! Though my friend and I did not go barefoot, we certainly faced our own share of challenges, including heavy rains and, at one point, 70-plus mph winds on a flat about halfway up the mountain.

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