Then annual dawn mass takes place in Cong at Easter every year. Eoin Kennedy narrates his experience.
The long trail of red car tail lights driving past the saw mill at 6am was a good indicator that the annual Cong Dawn Mass on Easter Sunday was going to be heavily attended.
Every year when the signs appeared for the mass I made a mental promise that I would pull myself out of bed to experience it. So this year with a very positive weather forecast I ran out of excuses.
Setting off at 6am with my daughter on our bicycle we cycled past the pigeon hole in the dark and I suddenly became acutely aware of the early morning birds, the light dew and crisp air – small things that get lost in the normal daily frantic rush.
As we neared the entrance to the forest the long line of double parked cars gave an expectation of a noisy busy festival but we were greeted by a quiet procession of shadowed people gingerly making their way through the still night. The only sounds were of shuffling feet and early morning chirping of birds.
I had always imagined that the Dawn Mass was at the small chalet building near the car park and wondered how it would hold such a crowd but a long line of flickering candles guided us through the trees down to lakeshore.
A crowd of couple of hundred people lined the 100 meter long peddle beach with a raised covered pagoda facing out to the lake acting as the altar. The large crackling bonfire on the beach set a sincere atmosphere while the four burning beacons in cradles rising from the lake on 10ft high stilts created an almost movie like setting. The extraordinary stillness of so many people, coupled with the windless weather and the mist covered lake illuminated by fire created a backdrop expectation of something unearthly about to happen. The somber voice of the priest and the gentle singing and music were a reminder that this was still a normal mass but it felt worlds away from the normal routine driven indoor experience.
Respectful silence, the sight of flames rising high into the air and the gradual and gentle increase in brightness seemed to create a hypnotic effect of hundred of people lost in their own thoughts and worlds.
Normally you are aware of only a limited amount of senses during a regular mass but sitting on a moss covered tree trunk, being warmed by fire, hearing the soft hum of the priests words, feeling the presence of man people, surrounded by the smell of pine and crisp air, and experiencing the soft gentle visual entry into the dawn light it was hard to be cynical.
In the line up for communion it was really nice to see neighbours and strangers alike.
When mass did finish the brittle shell of stillness was broken by friendly conversation.
Tea, coffee and treats on the lakeshore gave purpose to the lingering by the bonfire and replaced the usual nods and dash to the car. It also gave a chance to truly savour and reflect on the experience.
A weekly dawn mass would quickly become regular mass but for a magical hour it was refreshing to reboot and reimagine how you should feel.
I also could not help but imagine that penal time celebrations of mass must have been something similarly raw.
Although the weather did help, the smoothness of the whole event was down to the hardwork, planning and attention to detail by a small group of motivated neighbours. The fact that so many people could arrive, park, be guided by marshals and leave seamlessly through the forest is evidence of the thinking that went into this event.
To all involved I pass on my heart felt appreciation.