I thought before filling anyone in on news, it’d be cool to know the background of why on earth I am living in this little corner of Ireland. Here’s the story…
When I was about 8 my then best friend asked me to go to Belfast to stay with her aunt. My mum refused to allow me to go because at the time, the troubles in Northern Ireland were constantly in the news. Looking back, I believe that was the beginning of God’s plan to get me here – it planted the seed of one day being able to come.
12 years later, when I was almost 20, I was in a job I absolutely hated and was 6 months away from starting my course at Bible College. I sat down one evening and thought “Right, I’m gonna do something about this… where have I always wanted to go and what do I like doing?” as a result I sat at my computer and emailed all the equestrian (horse riding) centres in Ireland.
2 months later I was in Wexford in the far south of Ireland, working at a riding holiday centre for kids. I loved the job but was on the farm 24/7 and didn’t see a bit of Ireland. I had a friend in England who was a fan of the band Westlife. She called me while I was in Wexford and suggested that before I headed home from Ireland, she meet me in Dublin and we go across to Sligo (the town where the band come from). I was desperate to see some of Ireland so I agreed and we had a brilliant weekend!
But something deeper than just a fun road trip happened to me in those couple of days. I can’t explain it only to say that when I returned home and dreamt at night, I never dreamt I was in England anymore, then or since, home was always Sligo. Another thing that happened on this trip was that as we were driving down a road into town, a sign for a holiday hostel called Eden Hill jumped out at me. I had no idea at the time why because I’d never stayed in a hostel and never intended to!
I went back to England and started preparing for my first year at college. Just before I started I went to a Christian Youth festival and was standing one morning in the worship and thinking about a load of things. Mainly was I doing the right thing going to college? I caught myself and remember thinking how rubbish I was at worshipping my God. I closed my eyes and gave myself to Him. I felt a hand on my shoulder… a girl had come up to me and she said “I was just standing over there and God pointed you out to me. He told me to tell you not to worry about the future, you’re doing the right thing and He will lead you to the right people and the right places. And He said He loves when you worship Him.”
I was pretty blown away! When the meeting was over I walked out with my friends into the “market place” I picked up a cassette tape and bought it there and then. It was a tape of worship from Ireland. There was one particular song that struck me every time I heard it and it was taken from Psalm 121:
I lift my eyes up to the mountains-
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD. The maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip –
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you –
The LORD is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm –
He will watch over your life;
The LORD will watch over your
Coming and going
Both now and for evermore.
I loved this Psalm and studied it loads. Over the next year people kept giving it to me and speaking it over my life to the point that I finally got the hint and thought God must be trying to tell me something!
Towards the end of my first year at college, I wrote to every business I could find an address for in Sligo asking for summer work. The only response I received was from Eden Hill Holiday Hostel. The guy said he had a job but wasn’t sure about it yet as he was selling the place and wasn’t definite about when that would happen. The job didn’t materialise and I spent the summer working in England. However I was chatting to my friend from college one day and she suggested we take a holiday before going back to study. I agreed and said I knew exactly where we could go!!!
So in September 2001 my friend and I headed for Sligo. I was worried that I’d built it up in my head to be something it wasn’t but as we were coming into the County on the coach, I remembered why I loved it so much. I sent up a throw away prayer “Please God don’t let this just be a holiday but show us more of the future you have for us.” From that second weird stuff started happening! The coach went the wrong way as it drove into town and as it did, it passed the Sligo Elim Church. I pointed it out to my friend and we agreed we’d try and find it again so we could go on Sunday. The coach then turned round, passed the church again and went the right way to the bus station.
We settled in our accommodation and then went to look around the town. When we decided to go back to where we were staying, we came out of a shop and turned left (the opposite way to where we needed to go). My friend said “why are we going this way?” I told her I had no idea but we both continued to walk. 10 minutes later we were outside the Elim church and as we crossed over to have a look at the service times, a lady was coming out of the charity shop below and locking up. We got chatting and as we were, another lady crossed over to join us. She turned out to be the pastor’s wife. We chatted about what we were doing at college and Fiona (pastor’s wife) said that they needed people like us here. At that point I looked up and saw Benbulben, the mountain that Sligo is well known for. Something clicked in my heart and I heard the words “I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from?” I felt the Holy Spirit so incredibly and as we carried on speaking, Ursula (the other lady) said that she was closing the shop for the last time that day. She explained how the church had bought a building up the road that was a holiday hostel. My jaw dropped when she said it was called Eden Hill!
The rest of the week was wonderful. I remember writing in my diary “Is it possible to fall in love with a place?” I really did, particularly a place called Hazelwood, which has a beautiful view of a mountain called Killery… the mountain I’m looking at out of my sitting room window as I type.
On the Sunday, we went to church and Noel Mills, the pastor told us that Fiona had relayed to him our meeting outside the shop. He took us for lunch and we talked of our dreams, mine of my calling to Sligo and he of his plans for the hostel. With every word my spirit was lifting and the pull of God’s call was getting stronger.
In the following months, Noel arranged for me to come back during the Christmas break and to work alongside him for a few weeks. I remember the frustration the church was feeling over the fact that still, they had not moved into Eden Hill. One day I was working in Noel’s office and I took a call from the estate agent to say the Hostel was ours and we could collect the key whenever we wanted. That very day, a group of us walked into the huge Victorian house and began cleaning and decorating in preparation for the Sunday service.
When I returned home, I absolutely knew that Sligo was where God wanted me. My struggle was over my family… I didn’t want to leave them. Eventually though, I gave this to God and told Him I would go wherever He called.
A few months later, I started having really vivid dreams about my parents standing in a street in Sligo. I would wake every time feeling restless. Eventually I one day absentmindedly threw into conversation that the Church in Sligo were looking for a couple to run the hostel. Within a week I was in Sligo with my parents visiting and on their return home, they put their house up for sale. I never had that dream again!
That summer (2002) I worked as warden in the Hostel. It was an amazing three months and I met some awesome people and learnt tonnes about myself and about God. I was fully expecting that by the time I left that summer, I’d be fed up with Sligo and it’d be out of my system… no way! My next visit was the week my parents moved here (January 2003). I still pinch myself when I think that they ended up moving here at all, let alone before me!
My heart and soul are tied up with this place. Its stunning natural beauty and yet it’s cold spiritual darkness. I both love it and hate it all at the same time but I know beyond doubt that it is my ‘Promised Land’ and that God has me here for a reason. That prophecy from the girl all those years before came to pass… God did lead me to the right people and the right places.