Two women travel: abortion

Modern travel isn’t always clear cut and simple.  Huge media publicity was given to two  


@twowomentravel used this logo

women recently who travelled to the UK to have an abortion, in the light of Ireland’s quite conservative legislation which means abortion is illegal under most circumstances, apart from when the mother’s life is at risk.

Whether the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution (which states the rights of the unborn) should be repealed is and will be the issue of the coming year.  Finally some of the law experts are speaking out about whether repealing the eighth would result in abortion on demand, or whether it would likely just allow for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality and rape.  That is simply one of the questions – what would replace it, if anything?

what would replace [the 8th amendment], if anything?

Other questions that strike me as wise in asking, regardless of what side you stand on, or what your experiences have been in life are:

  • When does life start?  At conception?  At the beating of the heart or formation of particular organs?  At the age where a foetus/baby can survive alone outside the womb?  At the age of supposed independence?
  • Why do you think that?
  • How would your criteria for what is life, look compared to a baby outside the womb at 18 months of age?
  • If there is any uncertainty over when life begins, would it really be that bad to watch who you have sex with, or to use contraception?  Given contraception sometimes fails, even when there’s nothing we could have done to control it, shouldn’t that be part of the risk and responsibility we take, abortionwhen we have sex?

I’ll be looking at some of these topics as the weeks go on and as the university campuses I work on, hopefully allow for there to be diversity of opinion on this topic and allow everyone to express some opinions on this.

Tonight, it was a great presentation from UCC final year medic, Lucy Vernon on the topic, with a super chance for discussion throughout.

Thankfully for now, in my opinion, the journey to the UK that virtually anyone could afford, is enough of a deterrent to make people think more logically about their ethics.

What travels the world but always stays in one corner?

Well, officially the joke says “a stamp” (boom boom). But I say…

….people who lead international community initiatives in cities across the world, like this one in Cork, where we got to hear some Bulgarian music last night, played on the shepherd pipes: the Kaba Gaida.  Check it out on facebook



Odysseus and a government monitoring travel!

It seems a bit bizarre, but the government seem to want to know our travels this year (well, for one month anyway).  Sadly the month our household was chosen, was October, in which was my busiest month and no travel was to be reported.  I mean, when I say no travel, I did actually travel a lot.  But not according to their criteria of purely leisure travelling.

I thought I would make a blog post about it just so that it may be noted not only in government records, but also for all to see:

Therein lies the form that speaks of the tragic month where no travel didst occur.

Well, none from me anyway – just my two housemates!  But for every month that one does not travel, one dreams of travel, or one hankers back to the days of travelling.  Like an insatiable desire, the lust of travel isn’t helped by signing forms to say one does not do it.

The response of a Jesus-follower is not primarily that of Homer’s Odysseus, who was trying to sail past the most powerful, alluring songs of the Greek Sirens on the rocks nearby (the fate of many a sailor), by putting beeswax in his crew’s ears and binding himself to the mast so they couldn’t be lured:

“Past the island drove the dark-prowed ship, but the sirens seeing it began their sweet song. ‘Come hither, come hither, brave Odysseus,’ they sang. ‘Here stay thy black ship and listen to our song. No one hath ever passed this way in his ship till he hath heard from our lips the music that is sweet as honeycomb, and hath had joy of it, and gone on his way the wiser. All things are known to us. We will sing to thee of thy great fights and victories in Troyland. We shall sing of all the things that shall be hereafter. Come hither, come hither, Odysseus!’

So sweet and so full of magic were their voices, that when Odysseus had heard their song, and seen them smilingly beckoning to him from amongst the flowers, he tried to make his men unbind him.” (Odyssey XII)

The binding and beeswax does indeed work for Odysseus here, but I’m not sure it necessarily does so in real life when our hearts are captivated by something.  No, when my heart yearns to explore this world and to travel, or spends its unproductive hours mulling over what already was, I need a better song to be sung.  A more alluring one.  One that is so sweet, so clear, so all-consuming that all other songs sound a faint and distant clanging in comparison.

And that for me is the song of my maker.  The song of a Jesus who promises more in due time.  The song of one who knows that I am made for something more.  The song that woos me to taste of sweeter joys and find satisfaction in them.  Come, listen to that song!


A view from the Top of the Rock

Waking up to this view in West Cork was quite something.  But not only that, but seeing it from through the windows of one of those quirky little pods you see in the distance.  Idyllic!  Added to that, once I’d popped my head out the door t0 take the photo, the smell that wafts towards my nose is some freshly baked scones in a bag on the door, with some locally (several fields away) produced jam and yoghurt to go with my breakfast (thanks Glenilen).


So where is this haven of tranquility?  Drimoleague, West Cork.  Not one often on the tourist trails, but for this alone, it’s worth the small detour off the wild atlantic way.  Great for not only getting away from things, but also for those who like walking the scenic paths of west Cork networked together in Drimoleague Walkways or in my case, running the scenic paths, as I don’t have the patience for walks!

And the accommodation?  Top of the Rock Pod Pairc ranges from luxury pods, to standard ones, though truth being said, they’re all glamping and nothing luxurious!  With shower and toilet facilities onsite, a kitchen, pool room and living space and farm life too, it’s a stunning setting to even escape from city life for a few days.

David and Elizabeth Ross who used to farm on this land and now largely just run this Pod Pairc, are the most wonderful hosts, who can lead walking parties, give you interesting information about the area, and are some of the most humble people I have met.

So whether you’re in Cork city and just fancy a break, or if you’re further afield and visiting Ireland, I would thoroughly recommend a night at least, tucked up in a cosy Pod!


Cork’s top 10 coffee spots

My job not only involves a fair bit of travelling but also at least once a week (if not more) for the last four years, I’ve been in coffee shops in Cork with students to study the Bible, pray and share life together.  So with that knowledge, I’m piecing together my top 10 coffee shops in the Cork city area (those outside the city to follow), in no particular order:

  1. Tara’s Tea Rooms

Ok, so this one (as the name suggests) is more suited to tea drinkers, but still does a good coffee, beautifulCC1 cakes and decent lunches.  Don’t be put off by the feminine décor – many an hour has been spent there with working friends in overalls!  Sat in the centre of MacCurtain Street, Tara’s Tea Rooms is a fun people watching spot too.


  1. Cork Coffee RoastersCC2

It’s known by all, loved by most, and so fits into this list not as something that particularly excites me, but because it really has to be there.  The coffee is great, but until recently when they opened up a second shop with more seating in French Church Street, it’s small, quiet demeanor never grabbed me.  But perhaps that’s part of the charm.

  1. Alchemy, Barrack StreetCC10

Arguably my local, this recent add to Cork’s coffee hang-outs provides the best of second-hand books, quirky decor and beautiful coffee.  It’s tight for space but always makes for a chance to meet someone interesting or people-watch secretly from behind a book.CC4

  1. Farmgate Café, English Market

The English Market is a must visit if you’re old or new to Cork, and the Farmgate café gives you a chance to look down on the world and enjoy the smells, sounds and sights of one of Cork’s most famous places

  1. Blackrock Castle Observatory

Probably requiring a short drive or bus from the city centre, the castle now functions as a space observatory for Cork Institute of Technology.  Set on the banks of the Lee, there’s miles of flat CC5coastal tarmac path to cycle or walk before or after your walk.  At low tide the view may deteriorate a tad, but it’s still worth a visit.  This used to be part of my marathon training routes and still a great place to run.

  1. O’Conail’s, French Church Street

Hot Chocolate Heaven!  But even if you don’t drink any of the 40 or so options of hot chocolate, like me, you’ll find the street a perfect spot to quietly chill and watch the locals go about their day’s work.CC6

  1. The BookShelf, South MallCC9

Voted into the top ten by my graduate interns, this quaint setting (accessed just off South Mall) has a beautiful little private area up the stairs.  But be quick in getting it! CC7



  1. Café Rio, River Lee

Sit outside or enjoy a brisk walk by the weir before/after coffee, this delightful, unknown little spot could cost you 2 euro for your parking, but is worth it, if the weather is good.

  1. The Coffee Dock, UCC O’Rahilly Building

Chosen because it’s sadly the only place around UCC that does good coffee (sorry to those who refuse to call Starbucks coffee good), the coffee dock really just gives you an excuse to explore the marvellous old quadrangle aula maxima and ogham writings on ancient Irish stones.  Take your coffee to go and sit out in the mini amphitheatre in front of the Honan Chapel or in front of the quad where George Boole himself would have sat.CC8

  1. Web Workhouse Café, Winthrop Street

Coffee 24/7 at the heart of Cork with a bonus chocolate thrown in with every order.  Not the place for a private chat but a little nook worth popping to at any time of day or night, regardless of whether it’s at 3am after a night out, at 8am before work or a midday catch-up

And a brucey bonus: Gulpd CafeCC12

Crafted into the Triskel Arts Centre, Gulpd provides a quiet spot for a lazy morning or a great place for a buzzing pre-show coffee/wine before a gig or film in the Triskel itself.  It wouldn’t be anything without exploring what you were sitting in!

What’s your story?

An atmospheric Edinburgh Castle on a summer evening has always been a place I’d love to be at a gig or at the Edinburgh Tattoo.  And this year I’m actually getting a chance for the former this Saturday as I head off for a week in the UK (Isle of Skye, Stirling, Edinburgh and London).

This, the last ever Runrig album, has some poignant tracks to evoke happy memories.  It speaks of their story and the story of every life.  A reminder of Corkonians who often open conversation with “what’s the story, boy?!”  What a beautiful question to ask.  What’s your story?

A common Irish understanding…

divine mercy sunday sign

This hilarious sign is on the Cork-Dublin motorway to the side.  I’m assuming the Roman Catholic church must genuinely have some day called this, but sadly the old sign could be interpreted as exactly what people think of God.  A stingy power in sky who occasionally might be merciful enough to forgive.  It reminds me of the Islamic “night of power” a little that has also just happened in Ramadan, where many of my friends said that if they prayed hard enough they’d be rewarded extra that night.

I’m not sure such a god appeals to either my notion of justice or to my heart!  But perhaps the ignorance is mine.

Urgency in Irish life

I’m not sure how much I realised culture impacts things until I’d lived in a few cultures.  Northern Irish culture; English culture; Irish culture; there’s nuanced differences between all of them.  But nuanced differences magnified by living out assumptions that there’ll all the same, sometimes make surprisingly large differences between all of them!  It’s what irks me most about comments from those who’ve travelled in eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) and declare all the cultures to be the same!  And sadly in my first few years of settling in Cork (and probably still) I’d a lot to grasp about those differences.  One of them is urgency.

How do we as Irish people display urgency?

I remember living with a couple of doctors once (yes, you guessed it, one of the ones who got married).  Coming down in to the kitchen one morning, already late for work, he stopped and put on the kettle and sat down to chat.  Looking at him slightly puzzled, he saw my face, said “haven’t seen you in a while bud, you want a cup of tea?”, and proceeded to chat away for another ten minutes.  Much as the British like their tea, I wonder whether they would not have scolded him and shoved him out of the door before the kettle boiled.

Equally I came from having lived in England nearly five years, where task-orientated life dominates.  You send someone an email, and if you don’t get a reply in a few days, it’s a fault on their part.  Landing in Cork, I started sending many, many emails.  I saw one recipient on the street a few weeks later who casually wandered over to me and said “ah Peter, how’s it going?  I see you sent me an email a few weeks ago.  Do you want to go for coffee now?”

Relational life is beautiful.

It took me a while to get round to seeing it as that, but it is.  At times frustrating, but still none-the-less beautiful.

A friend in Limerick similarly noted that when Limerick flooded a year or two ago, the process by which the local councillors and groups got together to work out a solution and an urgent action plan, was not a British task-orientated, exact plan.  In fact, to the on-looking British it may have even been considered lackadaisical.

Some would say to me that Irish people don’t do urgency.  But I’m not so sure that’s true, as I see plenty of situations we react to urgently, although it’s true that we seem to love some sense of spontaneity too.  I just wonder whether Irish urgency is indeed very different.  Which makes me wonder about those who believe they have an urgent message to proclaim.  Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, others.

I have sat down with Mormons who seem to have such urgency that they quite often struggle to engage with me as a human.  Perhaps their dualistic theology also leads to this (see here for more).  Interestingly many of my Muslim friends seem to get relational culture far better, as they come from even more relational backgrounds than I do (perhaps works-based/semi-pelagian religions tend towards a slower, relational lifestyle, given the impossibility of immediate, certain salvation??).  That is, until religion is mentioned, and then many that I know seem to change!


Similarly I’ve sat next to British or some northern evangelicals who with tears in their eyes for the lost, wonder whether anyone else really cares, because no-one else is displaying such passion in the ways they are.  Equally, the lack of effort by us to culturally engage the more African-orientated “Redeemed Christian Churches of God” (the largest protestant denomination in Ireland, I believe), has meant that much frustration and division in CUs comes through cultural misunderstanding of some of these things.  “You’re just not passionate about the good news!” will often be the accusation.

But before this gets too long, I’ll leave you with two things I’m increasingly convinced of, and questions for you, of which I’d be grateful of your thoughts.

  • I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel demands urgency, and that this is part of the offence of the gospel because it shapes our means of bringing the gospel. As a philosopher I love “other possible world” hypothesis, but as a theologian (which we all are too), I’m not sure the Bible spends much time on them.  So when a Cork church leader recently said “I think if we had infinite time, God could bring everyone to Himself because we’d have all the time in the world to show them the warmth, beauty and truth of Christ and Christian community”, I’m not so sure I can agree or disagree (though I lean towards the latter).  Infinite time this side of eternity would so bend the Bible’s message that everything else would look distorted too (election, predestination, His means of bringing Himself glory etc).
  • I’m increasingly convinced that cultural displays of urgency are very different, and that we end up judging others for the way they display it. Street preaching; four spiritual laws; very direct conversations; endlessly posting things on facebook; I’m trying to figure out how an Irish person would do these or if they would at all.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse for not being urgent, just a large question of whether some British, American or Nigerian ways of displaying urgency are really superior.

And so to my questions for you: what does urgency look like in your culture?  Where is it displayed?  What factors go into making a culture’s view on urgency?  Where do Irish values stop and borrowed values start in terms of urgency?  Does Biblical urgency ever call us to trump Irish ways of displaying that?  And where does our humanity fit into all this urgency?

Over to you!

3 models of unity

I’ll take a moment out of exploring what can unite the world to briefly write about what can unite us as Evangelical Christians in Cork.

Trinity Presbyterian Church back room has been an influential place for me.

Trinity PCI Cork

John Faris is a man who (enduring the taunts of those who proclaim rapid church growth models) has turned the church around dramatically over his time in Cork, who has faithfully served this city and who has a profound impact on my life and countless others.  So much of what has happened in Cork, John has been involved in supporting, before quietly stepping back once it was on its feet, to let others take the praise.  But more than anything, he’s been at the heart of a yearning for unity in this city.

The first meeting in that humble back room was between Evangelical Church leaders and “Affinity” representative Peter Milsom.  Peter passionately put forward a case for outward looking generosity in our yearning for unity.  Noting that:

  • Christ is the One who has already bought unity at the cross (Ephesians 2 – we are not primarily the creators of unity), and that
  • Rarely in the scriptures does the Bible mention unity of a full church but it none-the-less does: John 17 is a classic example of this. Ephesians 5 being the other that springs to mind

My thanks to this incredible representation of “John 17 unity” by Heather Irwin, Christian Unions Ireland Relay worker in Cork 2015-16

There in that room, many got heated in their comments very quickly, not because of what Peter said, but over the hint that people may be Christians who we’d join with in mission who do not profess to hold to justification by faith alone as classically understood.  Now that is a topic for another time, and not one I’ll delve into here.

But what about for evangelical Christians (for example, those who would happily hold to the IFES Doctrinal Basis, not only in word but in emphasis [much of liberalism that has killed the church, has been because of emphasis, not always because of false doctrine])?

The second meeting in that back room was one to start to plan Cork city-wide mission 2017.  And as people who all happily believed the Doctrinal Basis and its emphasis, less was at stake.  But questions of unity still arose.  We’ve agreed to keep the main thing, the main thing, but what about the secondary issues that will still arise that we disagree on?  (1 Cor 15 one place that dictates the things of prime importance.  The emphasis of the things in general in scripture being another)

  • What happens when someone wants a female preacher?
  • What happens when someone wants to practice healing alongside evangelism?
  • What happens when an event is held in a pub?

Well there are three models of unity that come to my mind as most commonly used:

  1. Unite round the lowest common denominator. In the above issues, we all agree that males can speak, we all agree in evangelism (but not all healing in that way) and we all can hold events elsewhere.  And so we err on the side of caution on all three.
  2. Work out what you’ll concede to each other for the sake of the gospel and realising that you’ve already got the main thing in common. Perhaps there’s one event all year that would work amazingly better in a pub than it would elsewhere?  Perhaps female evangelists and female testimonies can be prioritised over and above female Bible teaching?  Perhaps offering to pray for healing after you’ve been chatting to someone may be good, but not as the first emphasis of why you speak to them?  It’s about finding a middle ground.
  3. Decide that no matter what the issue, those leading can practice what they want, as long as it is still keeping the main thing, the main thing and within evangelicalism’s bounds. Want a female speaker to give a prophetic utterance in a pub?  Be my guest!  It’s allowing all things in love.

I’ll come back to examining each of these three in due course, but for now, why not take a read of John 17 and pray for a yearning heart of a right kind of unity, whatever that may look like!  And please remember, we’re not concerned as much in this example at what is right, as much as how we hold in tension those within evangelicalism who are different to us.

Travelling mercies, whatever they are…

Christian lingo (Christian-eese as some may call it) is fine until you’re new to Christian things or have those around you who are and are wondering what on earth the last thing you said was.  Part of our International Cafe Team [Cork ISC] ate out last night at Sultan’s Restaurant in Cork as an end of year treat for all our hard work.  It was the last time one of the team would ever be there and the last meal another would have before flying home for the summer.


And so before leaving, I thanked God for them, and prayed for…erm, “travelling mercies”.  I’m not going to debate whether praying for safe travel has much Biblical warrant.  But none the less when I catch myself using such language I tend to think of GK Chesterton who said:

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”—G. K. Chesterton

A constant stream of thankfulness!