I am a convert to our faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and was baptized as an adult, only after many years of searching and after having learned of the beautiful and ancient truths revealed through the restoration. I am so grateful for the personal mercies received and for the heavenly direction throughout that long journey, and I am very grateful for my Heavenly Father who guided me and spoke to me according to my own language and understanding (2 Nephi 31:3), and who prepared the way long before I even knew I was on it.  

I was born and raised in rural Ireland and grew up surrounded by the green fields and rolling hills of south County Meath. Raised by kind and hard-working parents and in the Roman Catholic faith and tradition, I had a quiet and happy childhood with my three brothers and a scattering of neighbours and friends. The nearest village to us was three and a half miles from our home, but each school day, rain or shine, we would walk the half-mile-or-so to the local primary school, Saint Patrick’s, often taking shortcuts across the fields when it was dry enough to do so. It was a lovely time and place to be young.

In Ireland then, we enjoyed a very good and generally high standard of education. Some aspects of the normal public education experience in Ireland were quite different to what many people in my now adopted home, the United States, would have been used to. In Irish schools, our regular religion class was essentially a Roman Catholic theology and seminary class, where we learned bible stories, Catholic prayers, and where we prepared for the important Catholic rites of First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Even as a young boy, I remember being occasionally quite skeptical about some of what I was taught and told regarding religion, but I mostly enjoyed this experience in my youth. We really didn’t experience much in in terms of religion or theological messages or perspectives of any other kind then – I was about 10 years old before I first met and spoke with someone who was not Catholic. But I must credit this time, as well as the teachers, priests, and family involved, for contributing to developing in me the foundational faith in Christ that I still treasure to this day. I served as a Catholic altar boy, and I believed in God, however mysterious and hard to understand it all was at the time.

Our schooling also consisted of a good deal of Irish history as well as learning about our traditions and ancient mythology and legends. We were told countless stories, some part real history but more mostly legend and mythology, of the old heroes, sagas, magic, and mysticism of ancient pre-Christian and early Christian Ireland. As a child, I loved this part of my education. My parents would also take us out on Sunday afternoon drives to visit castles, ruins, ancient monuments and abbeys, and all of these things and their associated stories fascinated my brothers and me as children. Back then, I did not know that one of those ancient Irish stories, told to me as a curious child in school, would many years later come to have special significance for me in life and in my faith journey.

When I was about eight or nine years old, I was told the following story for the first time, and it centers around one of the ancient kings of Ireland who is mentioned in many of the ancient Irish stories and legends. King Conchobar mac Nessa (anglicized to Conor Mac Nessa) was the legendary king of Ulster. We were told that King Conor lived about two thousand years ago and took part in many wars and fabled and magical stories throughout his life. In one of these stories we were told of how Conor eventually died. In one final battle that ushered in a period of many years of peace, Conor was severely injured by a wound inflicted by Cet mac Mágach, a champion warrior from the rival Irish province of Connacht. After the battle concluded and Ulster had won, Conor’s doctors and chief advisors advised him that if he retired and lived a quiet life of moderation, abstaining from alcohol, violence, vices of any kind, horse riding, and any other physical or mental exertion, then his health would be sustained, and he would go on to live into old age. They warned him that any violation of this advice would risk his life and health. Seven years of peace and relative prosperity passed in Ireland and Conor carefully heeded the advice of his doctors, living a quiet and moral life, abstaining from excesses and activity as instructed, and judging disputes between his people.

The story I was told a child continued that after seven years had passed since Conor’s injury, one day the sky was very suddenly darkened at midday, and earthquakes, thunder, lightning, and extreme winds ravaged the island for many hours. Trees and houses were blown over and damaged, and the people who witnessed all this were shocked and very afraid. You see, Ireland is many hundreds of miles from any tectonic plate boundaries, hurricanes are almost unheard of in the historic record, and extremes of weather and natural phenomena are very rare indeed. Shocked by these strange and destructive natural phenomena, people sought an explanation and answers as to why this was happening from their king and pagan religious leaders.

King Conor then called his people and religious leaders together and told them that the reason all these things were happening was because the God of Nature had just died at the hands of unjust men. In another version of the story, the King asks his chief druid, Barach, “Are the gods that we worship offended?” Barach responds that “the truth unto me has been shown…” that “there lives but one God, the Eternal… He looked upon men with compassion and sent from His kingdom of light His son, in the shape of a mortal, to teach them and guide them aright. …in the kingdoms of the east He taught, toiled, and prayed, till this morn, when wicked men seized Him, bound Him with nails to a cross, and that moment of gloom and confusion was earth’s cry of dread when He died.”

As children we were told that although these people in ancient pre-Christian Ireland had been polytheistic pagans, God communicates with all righteous people who seek to commune with Him, and that God had revealed to people in Ireland, in words that they would understand (“the God of Nature”), that Jesus had died on the cross in the Holy Land. The King was so disturbed and distraught by this knowledge of the death of the God of Nature that he then also passed away.

This story was retold over the centuries and survived in the oral tradition until it was written down in medieval times and continues to be told in Ireland today. Modern conventional wisdom holds that this story of an Irish king knowing about the death of Christ because of the witness of destructive natural forces was superficially Christianized and added to in the years after Christianity reached Ireland in the fifth century. And I do recall also having that same skeptical thought as a young boy when hearing this story for the first time.

More than a decade later, when I was eighteen and in between college semesters, I went to Germany for a summer to work for a couple of months and to see some of the continent. While there, I worked for a time on the assembly line in an Audi car plant in Bavaria, and quickly became friends with one of the other young men I worked on the line with. He was from Colorado and was, unbeknownst to me, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was not active in the faith at this time, but he knew that I was very interested in and curious about faith and religion – I kept a small Gideons New Testament with me and was hoping to find some direction from God therein. One day, at the end of our summer in Germany, he and I travelled together to the beautiful city of Salzburg in Austria. While there and walking the streets of the old city, my new friend from Colorado told me that he would be right back and went to talk with two young men wearing the typical suits and name badges of our missionaries. I waited some minutes, and when he came back, he presented me with a copy of The Book of Mormon in English, saying only “There you go, that’s your kind of thing. You should read that.” He wouldn’t be drawn any further on what this book was, but he did say that I seemed to be searching and might appreciate it.

During that time of searching, I was very open to hearing what everyone and anyone had to say about God, religion, the meaning of life, and things of this nature, so I happily accepted and started to read this curious new book that I had been gifted. Intrigued, I read chapter after chapter, soon getting to 1 Nephi 19, where Nephi prophesies of the life and crucifixion of the Savior many centuries before the birth of Christ. In verse 10 I read:

10 And the God of our fathers, …yieldeth himself… as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up… and to be crucified… and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.

When I read this verse for the first time it sounded familiar to me, referencing the “isles of the sea” and signs that would be given of Christ’s death. I thought to myself: “well, I come from an isle of the sea” and that sounds a little like the old story I had been told many years before as a child in Ireland.

With a new depth of interest I continued reading in verses 11 and 12:

11 For thus spake the prophet: The Lord God surely shall visit all the house of Israel at that day, some with his voice, because of their righteousness, unto their great joy and salvation, and others with the thunderings and the lightnings of his power, by tempest, by fire, and by smoke, and vapor of darkness, and by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up.

12 And all these things must surely come, saith the prophet Zenos. And the rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God, to exclaim: The God of nature suffers.

I could barely believe what I had just read. This was, almost word-for-word, the ancient Irish story that I had heard as a child. I knew then that this book might just be something very special indeed. How could a young Joseph Smith have known about this ancient Irish oral tradition and have woven it into his book? That seemed amazing to me, and near unbelievable. The more I later learned about Joseph Smith and his life and background, the more unbelievable it seemed to me that he could have known this obscure cultural myth from another continent, and in a time when people did not have easy access to information as we do today.

Indeed, I imagine that everyone reading this now has within reach a smartphone capable of accessing almost all the world’s knowledge and requiring very little effort to do so. And yet, with all our relative wealth, high education, leisure time and magical electronic devices, how many of the people I have ever met know about this ancient Irish story? The answer is that I only occasionally meet people in Ireland who remember this story and have never met a non-Irish person who has ever heard any version of it. What are the odds that a poorly educated farm boy in upstate New York knew about this two centuries ago? That seemed to me to be extremely unlikely. And so, this book intrigued me, and I read on, gradually gaining a testimony of its divine origin and truthfulness.

Finding this within the scripture was not proof to me that The Book of Mormon genuinely was an ancient record of peoples in the New World who knew, at times, about the life and mission of Jesus Christ. But what I did learn from this experience is that this beautiful book was worth investigating properly and with genuine effort and open-mindedness. This experience also led me to an increased faith and conviction that the Creator of the universe knew me, my past, my present, and my future. My Heavenly Father had known all those years before that I would read Nephi’s prophesies in 1 Nephi 19, and that connecting what I would read there to the story I had been taught as a child would be significant in encouraging my spiritual direction, effort, and journey almost a decade later.

I am so grateful for a merciful Father in Heaven who knew the end from the beginning of my life and who has been in the details throughout all these years, and who is still with me today and always. I am also very grateful for those two young missionaries in Salzburg in the summer of 1999, and for my dear Coloradan friend from whom I received that first copy of The Book of Mormon. I have occasionally wondered where those Austrian missionaries might be today, and how they might feel about their time serving the Lord and the good people of Austria. I don’t imagine that they have any idea what positive impact their faithful service has had on my life. I hope to thank them someday. How blessed I was also to meet and come to know the faithful and light-bearing missionaries that I met in Ireland after returning home. Elders Lind, Olson, Weinberg, and Bake taught me the beautiful religion of Jesus, and about the wonderful news of the restoration. And this has changed the course of my life. I was converted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, and then returned to Germany as a missionary soon thereafter.

Above all else, I am grateful for answered prayers and for the spiritual witness I have received, many times, of God’s reality and goodness, the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

And I do love and often miss my beautiful and rainy island home.

Example sources for the story:

https://www.libraryireland.com/Atlas/V-King-Conor-Mac-Nessa.php https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922087/4851127