By Geraldine Hannigan

All the recent controversy in the news about the Aer Lingus takeover bid reminded me of my first trip on an airplane many years ago. My brother Hugo and I had been watching ‘The Song of Bernadette’, an old black and white movie. We decided there and then that we were going to go on a trip to Lourdes!

The day for our trip finally dawned. We hopped on a CIE express and left a sleepy Lifford behind as we took off on that misty Thursday morning.

We arrived at the airport and had a few hours to spend before our flight was due so we relaxed in the lounge with a nice frothy cappuccino. Afterwards Hugo suggested that we watch some of the jets coming in to land.

When our flight was called we made our way to the departure gates. We were travelling on an International Military Pilgrimage and the Irish Army looked resplendent in their smart green uniforms. The pipers, in particular, stood out wearing their saffron kilts.
Despite my nerves, I enjoyed the smooth flight and before we knew it we were touching down at Tarbes airport. We made the short trip by bus into Lourdes, where we were staying at the Hotel Mediterrane. Members of the Italian army were staying there also as part of the Military Pilgrimage.

Our first morning in Lourdes began with a 6.30 call and after a continental breakfast of delicious, buttery croissants and tea, we made our way to the lower Basilica.
Thousands of invalids on wheelchairs and stretcher beds – lovingly attended by the many volunteers – made their way towards the Grotto where they deservedly received pride of place.  It was humbling to witness their smiling joyful faces.

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