Dun na nGall

I left Cork city and began yet another day-long bus journey through Limerick and Galway.  A stopover in Galway on a rather sunny afternoon was a welcome respite, as I sat in Eyre Square and munched on some random snacks, even running into Jenna once again.  We determined that I'd stay with them again for my final night in Ireland after my trip north to Donegal.

On the bus again, through Connemara and Sligo, seated next to people who were keen to not talk to anyone unless by cell phone.  After too many hours, we finally arrived in front of the Abbey Hotel in Donegal Town.

Armed with my travel book, I set off out of town and onto the road to Killybegs, looking for the hostel I'd read about therein.  Some wanderings back and forth in the darkness finally led me there.  Up the stairs I went; the doorbell I rang.  I waited a bit, hearing sounds from within, until, somewhat surprisingly, a window behind me opened and a young woman popped her head out: "Sorry, we're closed for the season!  You'd be best trying Diamond Lodgings."

Walking the mile back to town, I suddenly realised that this was probably why no one answered my rings at the hostel in Sixmilebridge.  I'd be the only traveler they'd get for two months!  Undaunted, I found Diamond Lodgings, nestled secretly behind an imposing gate on the street surrounding the town center.  I rang the bell several times.  No response.  A cab driver, noting my lack of success, suggested I head down the road to the Atlantic Guest House.

Third time's the charm, and I got my room for my two nights in Donegal.  Satisfied, I headed off to the Reel Inn, where I spent my evening listening to traditional music, talking to a couple from Asheville, NC, and generally enjoying myself.

The next day brought rain.  I had a huge breakfast at the guest house and then wandered around town amidst the raindrops.  Thankfully, the once-a-month Saturday market was on, so I spent most of the morning wandering between the little shops and talking to the shopkeepers.  It was great to hear of their lives and experiences, and even ask them about my ancestral clan - the McMonegals.  Some were still around, they said; in fact, McMonigal Stone Company was just down the road.  Distant relatives, perhaps, alive and well, despite spelling differences!

That afternoon, I took the bus to Ardara, being informed as I got off that there was no return bus to Donegal Town.  The driver rang some other drivers and we figured out a return schedule for me nevertheless.  I spent the afternoon wandering around and taking photographs.  I had hoped to visit the Maghera waterfalls, but was disappointed to see I'd have to walk 30 km or so.  No time for that!  I settled for a random road that took me past several farms and a pen of sheep that all glared at me as I passed.

Returning from my wanderings and having a half hour left before the bus arrival, I stopped in the bar on the corner of the street.  An elderly gentleman immediately struck up a conversation with me, sipping on what was probably Brandy.  We talked a while and he told me of his childhood, running around Donegal with nothing in his pockets and no shoes on his feet.  He was also quite proud to share the name of American senator and astronaut John Glenn.

On the bus again, from Ardara to Killybegs.  Upon arrival, we discovered that the other bus driver, who was supposed to wait for me, had gone on.  "You're gonna have to thumb it, then," said the driver, who was going in the opposite direction.

And so I stood on the side of the road for half an hour in the cold windy darkness, thumb extended.

Finally, a car stopped and a half-hour ride began, during which Kieran told me all about Irish Gaelic Football and how amazing it was and how great that Donegal won the all-Ireland final this year.  A fun glimpse into the culture.  My second successful hitchhiking experience.

That night, I went to another pub and had a conversation with a creepy Romanian man for a while.  It was mostly a college-aged crowd, and I had some conversations with other young Donegal folk before wandering outside to pray for the town and those students in the pub, spending their Saturday drinking heavily.  Oh, that they would know the glory for which they were created, the glory of the One who created them!

Sleep came soon afterwards.  Another day on the buses; another night with Nathan and Jenna.  One more bus, two flights, home.

Thinking Mechanically About Organic Systems

Over the course of the past year or so, I've had discussions with several friends about thought processes and metaphors, specifically those relating to engineering.

A mechanical engineer, in many respects, is concerned with efficiency.  We want our cars to drive the most miles for the fewest gallons.  We want the aerodynamic drag coefficient to be as low as possible.  We want the maximum lift-to-drag ratio to be as high as possible at the highest mach number possible.  We want our HVAC system to move the most air at the lowest power requirement to reach the desired room temperature the most quickly.

Mechanical thinking: How do I make this system as efficient as possible?

And yet, I've noticed this assumption of efficiency as the most valuable factor invade other areas of life where I do not think it should be applied.  Public education, agriculture, and Christianity are organic systems (note that I balk at the idea of Christianity being reduced to a "system," as it really is much more of a complex idea) that have been tarnished, in my opinion, by an obsessive search for mechanical efficiency.

I've been meaning to write an essay on this.  I've culled quotes from thinkers such as Neil Postman and A.W. Tozer that suggest they see a similar issue.  I've got my main arguments and understandings.

Yet I've waited, mostly because I've been focusing on other work.

Last week, however, I read The Goal, a fascinating book about constraints on systems and bringing about improvements.  And I realize I've got more thinking to do before writing that essay.

Perhaps my frustration is not with thinking mechanically; that is, making efficiency a priority.  Perhaps my frustration is with applying that thinking myopically - making a subsystem more efficient when it has no (or even a detrimental) effect on the larger system as a whole.

Take public education: by some necessity, there needs to be standardization.  Yet, if our highest-priority efficiency is to churn out graduates with a certain set of skills and knowledge, tested in the same standard way and taught in the same standard way, I wager that the final "product" of our system will be vastly inferior to the potential "product:" Graduates with highly diverse skill sets, innovative problem-solving abilities, confidence in their perhaps unconventional abilities, etc.  Maximizing the efficiency of a school system will have negative effects down the line.  A localized efficiency can negatively affect the broader system.

More thought required!

What is your system?  What is its goal? 

What do you need to change?  What do you need to change to?  How do you effect that change?


After visiting the OM Ireland office on Tuesday, I got a ride to Roscommon town, spent two hours wandering around, and then caught Bus Eireann for the 6+ hour journey to Cork.

I finally arrived around half-ten (10:30 for the Americans) and began walking from the bus station down the main thoroughfare to the house where I would be spending the next three nights.  Arriving at the downtown home after a 15-minute walk, I rang the doorbell and the door swung open to reveal dozens of students from the local college.

This night was the weekly gathering of the Christian Union, Ireland's equivalent to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Students were talking, playing various games (Dutch Blitz!), and making music.  There was a fantastic energy to it; a great sense of welcome.

My host offered me some pizza and introduced me to several of the students.  I immediately hit it off with Abigail and Dominic, talking with them for quite sometime before heading upstairs to the piano room, where Joel was playing Like a Lion, a song that's been on the Christian radio station a whole lot for the past few months.

Somehow, we got on the topic of politics, and several of the Irish students were happy with my intention to vote for Romney.  "I mean, how can you vote for a guy who hasn't done anything the past four years?" I now recall this moment with a sense of irony.

Soon, the students went home, and I went to bed.

The next day,  I wandered the city, walking along the river out to University College Cork and back through the English Market, where I purchased a delicious sandwich and some strawberries as well.  Then, hiding from the rain, I found myself in a small cafe with Naomi, a girl from Singapore who recognized me from the previous night's gathering.  We talked about culture and faith a bit, and then traveled on.  I noticed then that the house in which I was staying was just across the street from where I had stayed 3 years earlier on a study abroad weekend at the Cork Jazz Festival.  Funny how these things work out.

Much of that afternoon was spent reading Tim Keller's Reason for God and N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope - both very thought-provoking books.

Instead of going out for Halloween - whether the usual revelry or the alternative Christian Union party - I had the privilege of praying for the city of Cork with my host family.  We prayed for all those out on the streets, in the clubs and bars:  that fights would not break out, that no one would fall in the river (as has happened), that they might know God's love for them.  It was a joy to pray with them and witness their love for the city of Cork and its people.  They told me of the Street Pastor ministry, in which church members stay up until 4 AM on weekend nights, helping people make it home after a night in the club, giving flip-flops to girls who can't wear their 5-inch heels anymore, talking to whoever might be lonely or angry.  Christ's love, Christ's light still shines.

The next day, I was off to Cobh (pronounced Cove), a small town just a half-hour train ride away.  It was from this town that the Titanic set sail for its one and only voyage.  The pier at which it docked is still there, though in severe disrepair.

I wandered this little town for several hours, even venturing a few kilometers outside town to visit a nature reserve and have a good-natured conversation with several geese and muskrats.

Back to Cork I went for more time with my wonderful host family - dinner, conversation, and reading.  Another night of sleep, an early morning, and off on the bus again.

Off to Donegal, where my ancestral clan once lived.


A rather painless first experience with Ireland's railway system brought me into Galway in the late morning.  I left the train station and headed straight to the farmer's market.  It has been nearly three years since I lived in Galway for a semester, yet my memory of the town was spot-on, right down to the location of the donut man, whose booth was still situated next to the painter's stall in the shadow of the church.

He and the girls in line behind me were amused that I had gone to him for my first stop.  "Three years?  Ah, my prices haven't changed either - that'll say something about the economy, to be sure!"

Next, a call to Nathan and a wander through Shop Street while he wove his way through traffic to come collect me.

I spent the next few days with Nathan and Jenna, recently-married friends who I'd met in the Christian Union while at the college here.  It was wonderful spending time with them:

Videos about bowl cuts featuring Chris Tomlin

Wandering through the nearby forests

Trad at the Crane

Driving the Clifden Sky Road

Meeting Paul and his parents and listening to their stories of faith

It was a true blessing to be the recipient of their hospitality and share many adventures with them.  Soon, however, it was time to head on.  They were back to work and I had more to see.  Tuesday began early, at 5:45 AM, as Nathan graciously drove me to the bus station so my next leg of the adventure could begin.  And so I was off to Lacken House, the headquarters of OM Ireland.