Culture & Reference
Dermot, Strongbow and the Invasion of Ireland
The Titanic and Ireland
The Vikings in Ireland
The Ancient Ogham language
Charles Stewart Parnell
IN THIS ISSUE
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ATTITUDES SHARPENING IN ABORTION REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN
Ireland is to have an abortion Referendum on May 25th. The proposal is to repeal the eight amendment to the Irish Constitution which currently provides for equal rights to the life of the mother and the unborn. The amendment also limits Irish lawmakers to only allowing abortion in cases where the mothers life is at risk.
Abortion is probably the most divisive and contentious social issue in the Western world. The current clamor for an appeal of the eight amendment gathered pace in Ireland after the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012.
In a surprising development both Google and YouTube have decided to ban online advertisements on their websites that relate to the Referendum. This is considered to be a response to criticisms of the web giants following alleged manipulation of their internet platforms in both the recent US Presidential election and the Brexit Referendum in the UK.
In both of these votes the opinion polls incorrectly predicted the outcomes to such a degree that pollsters were left pondering just how they had managed to interpret their data so badly. The manipulation of social media channels was cited as one particular area that needed further scrutiny.
Facebook is to remove all 'foreign' ads relating to the Referendum and will insist that any ads must emanate from organizations legitimately registered in Ireland. Ads that are funded from abroad but filtered through Irish organizations will still be allowed on Facebook though, so it remains to be seen just how limiting the Facebook action actually is.
'Concerns have been raised about organizations and individuals based outside of Ireland trying to influence the outcome of the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland by buying ads on Facebook.' said the company in a statement.
The campaign co-director for 'Together for Yes' is Ailbhe Smyth:
'This creates a level playing field between all sides, specifically in relation to YouTube and Google searches, who can now seek to convince the Irish electorate by the strength of their argument and power of personal testimony, not by the depth of their pockets. We believe this referendum will be won on facts, and now when undecided voters are searching online, they'll see the most relevant answers to their questions - not the ones that are paid to be put in front of them.'
Those in favour of retaining the eight amendment (the 'No' side), are very unhappy with the decision by Google and YouTube to remove ads relating to the Referendum and they view this action as a bias in favour of those who wish to repeal the amendment.
John McGuirk speaking on behalf of the 'Save the 8th' group:
'This decision by Google is not about 'concerns about the integrity of elections'. It is about concerns that the 'No' side might win. It is very clear that the Government, much of the establishment media, and corporate Ireland have determined that anything that needs to be done to secure a Yes vote, must be done. Online was the only platform available to the No campaign to speak to voters directly. That platform is now being undermined. '
A recent opinion poll (for what it is worth) published by the Sunday Independent on May 6th credited the 'Yes' vote with 57% and the 'No' vote with 43% (after excluding undecided voters).
Too close to call.
IRISH POLITICIANS ATOP THE RICH LIST
In a report that is sure to confirm what many Irish citizens have for long suspected it has been revealed that over half of Irish T.D.'s (members of the Irish Parliament) are millionaires.
The 'Sunday Independent Political Rich List' reported that a central part of many of the T.D's net worth are the massive pensions that they will receive. Independent T.D.'s Michael Lowry and Michael Healy-Rae are estimated to be worth 6.4 and 5.4 Million euro each. The current Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, is estimated to be worth 4.9 Million Euro.
On a Political Party basis Fine Gael easily tops the chart with a combined wealth of 80 Million euro (average of 1.6 million for each of 50 T.D's). Fianna Fail have 44 T.D.'s with a combined wealth of 70 Million euro (average of 1.59 Million euro). Sinn Fein have 23 T.D.'s with a combined wealth of 12 Million euro (average of 0.52 Million euro).
In total 75 of the 158 T.D.'s have wealth in excess of 1 Million euro, with just 11 being female politicians.
This survey will do little to dispel the commonly held view that the majority of Irish politicians actively promote their own self-interests and given that these are the same people who create laws, including tax and pension laws, it is clear that there is a major conflict of interest with regard to political salaries and pensions.
It is very unlikely that any of the current cabal will do anything to kill their very own golden goose.
'REVENGE PORN' OFFENDERS WILL BE LISTED AS SEX OFENDERS
Proposed new laws will place anyone found guilty of distributing 'revenge porn' as a sex offender, if the offender serves a prison sentence. The new laws are among one of many that are sure to follow as Irish legislators struggle to keep up with the advances in technology and the crimes that may be committed using such technology.
'BAPTISM BARRIER' TO BE REMOVED
A significant change to the way places are allocated to children in primary schools is to be implemented. The 'baptism barrier' that has prevented children from accessing places in a local primary school is to be removed. Schools currently are allowed to consider if a child has been baptized into the religious faith of a particular school and if not, to favour those children who have been.
This has resulted in reports of families having their children baptized for no other reason than to gain school access.
FIND YOUR NAME IN OUR
GALLERY OF IRISH COATS OF ARMS
The morning air had a quality only found on an island: cool yet warmed by the rising sun and the rocks still giving off yesterday's heat. The three men tramped up the gravel track, the slope steeper as they neared the western end of the island.
The sun was diagonally behind them, low enough to pick out in detail every feature of this rough and ready place. To the left the light was reflected in a sparkle from the surrounding seas. Ahead the cliffs rose to breast the Atlantic. To the right the bulk of the island swelled steeply upwards like a whale's back, the sparse grass, rushes and heather pushing up between the rocky outcrops through the thin living layer, reminding all who passed that wresting an existence from this soil meant unceasing toil. The patient sheep grazed and bleated, wanting rid of their thick winter coats.
'And wasn't that a grand wake now, last evening?' asked Mick Mickey. More a statement than a question, in honour of the dead man and his family and to mark the fact that they had given old John a good send-off. Michael Gerry nodded assent.
The Outsider recalled the previous evening. He had arrived on the island unannounced and had been offered lodgings at Mick Mickey's. At dusk they had tramped up this same path to where Old John had been laid out in his home. The cottage crouched under its thatch, pressing itself down, away from the gales crashing in from the Atlantic. A single-storey cottage, whitewashed on the outside and with a bright red door, surrounded by exotic fuchsias that seemed out of place in this land of greens, greys, blues.
Old John had been laid out in his coffin, dressed in his Sunday suit, surrounded by candles. The eldest daughter, her mother long dead, had the responsibility for the wake helped by the neighbours. They had seen to a plentiful supply of cake, tea, tobacco, whiskey... plus some arcane potions distilled locally without the intervention of the excise men.
The women had been gathered round the bier. Theirs it was to wail and keen, joined at intervals by newly arrived men who would recite a decade of the rosary for the dead man's soul. The Outsider went in with Mick Mickey and did his best to participate. His contribution went no further than kneeling down, joining his hands and half-closing his eyes, while the Paters, Aves and Glorias buzzed around him like a swarm of bees, the high women's voices alternating with the men's grumbling throats as they prayed their relays with the skill born of many years' practice. A non-believer, he felt nothing for the ritual, but he could imagine that the repetitive drone of half-understood formulae could bring about a certain peace of mind, convince the participants that they were doing something meaningful, as the marathon runner must feel after passing the finishing line having taken fifty-thousand identical steps to get there.
Once they had done their duty the men retired, leaving eternity's business to their womenfolk. They gathered in the kitchen, the air thick with tobacco smoke and the fumes of alcohol. This was the socially important part of the ceremony, where Old John would be set into the minds of the surviving islanders. The Outsider observed quietly, marvelling at this rich collection of individuals. Not that these people were rich in terms of money: they simply had a richness about them. They smelt rich, felt rich, sounded rich, moved richly. His own people at home smelt... well, they smelt too, but the smell usually came out of a bottle. These people smelt warm, like contented cows. The people at home felt and looked rich on the outside: soft clothing, soft skins, warm handshakes. Here they looked solid, little regard for clothing except as protection against the elements, skin like the bark of an oak, grooved and greyish-brown. And they were sparse in their rich touching perhaps no more than a handshake from a calloused hand. Here an arm around your shoulders was like being included in the honours list. The people back home moved like the White Rabbit continually glancing at his watch. Here they moved richly, slowly and ponderously, counting each step, measuring effort required and advantage gained. Watches and clocks were scarce. Their speech was rich and colourful.
Sure, he was a grand man, was Old John.
Sure, he was indeed. You would have thought that Bridie's death would have finished him off.
You would, too.
Not John. He knew what was what. He was made of stern stuff.
Well, you may be right, but surely to God he knew little about sheep.
That's no surprise. He had the cows.
He had but three cows, to be sure.
Aye, but he knew them. And he had the best grassland.
And he knew about vegetables, sure he did.
Now what use is vegetables? A man needs good red meat to keep him on his feet.
And the Guinness!
To knock him off his feet, more likely.
Aye, but John knew all about that too. Sure, didn't he need five pints before that recitation of his?
You can talk, Mick Mickey. We don't get a peep out of you till you've chalked up ten pints.
Ach, but Old John could hold his drink a treat. And he knew when to hold off, so he did.
So you didn't see him when young John came back from Australia?
Sure, I did. He was still in O'Brien's at six the next morning!
Ach, a father needs to celebrate at a time like that, sure he does.
Aye, that's true enough. And Old John was never one to throw good money away on drink.
Sure he wasn't! Never known to pay for the last round!
The to-and-fro remarks were punctuated, sometimes by laughter but mostly by deep silences and quiet guffaws, back of the hand against the mouth. The men were re-telling John's life story. As they remembered him. The Outsider had nothing to contribute except his respectful presence. Despite his fairly frequent visits to the island he had not known Old John except by name. Now his contribution consisted, once again and for the umpteenth time, in a sense of wonder at how this tiny isolated society had managed to continue to exist with its unspoken and unwritten customs intact, its uniqueness untouched.
He listened as the remarks and quips flew across the room. This was neither eulogy nor condemnation. It was the beginning of an oral tradition that would immortalize Old John for as long as people lived here.
It had been late when they left the wake. Michael Gerry had accompanied Mick Mickey and the Outsider home, weaving a familiar path down to the sea-level northeast end of the island. They had passed Michael Joe's cottage, and the Outsider had thought he recognised a few places where Michael Joe had extracted lethal bottles of home-brewed liquor from the bog the previous summer, all the while conducting a discussion on the rival merits of Plato, Aristotle and Sartre, and any philosophers in between. By now, thought the Outsider, this island has no more surprises for me. He was wrong.
The three of them had covered the last mile in silence. As they neared Old John's cottage the coffin was being carried out on broad shoulders, over the spine of the island to the church and graveyard. Nobody hurried. There was no traffic. A few people working in the fields uncovered their heads, stood still until the procession had passed and then resumed work. Or laid down their implements and joined the procession.
The church was full, most of the congregation unknown to the Outsider. The Requiem Mass was standard, the kind of ceremony you would get anywhere in the world. The Outsider found it incomprehensible, even more so than the rosary of the previous evening and far less significant than the exchanges between the men in Old John's cottage. He disliked it. He looked around for the face he hoped he knew best. The face was absent.
The Outsider was on the back row of the benches in the tiny church. When the service ended he was first out. He found the face he had been looking for: Michael Joe, sitting on the ground with his back against a dry stone wall, puffing at his pipe, disreputable hat on his head, eager panting dog with lolling tongue at his feet, bicycle propped next to him against the wall.
'Were you not inside, Michael Joe?' asked the Outsider.
'I was not. Sure it's better out here. You can hear it all drone on and know where they're up to gives you a chance to light the old pipe at strategic times but you don't have to listen because you've heard it all before. And it gets no better. Anyway, out here I have the dog and the pipe and the rest of the universe around me. That gives me more cause to contemplate life and death than the words of our beloved parish priest, no matter how well-intentioned he may be.'
The men gathered round in a loose circle and lit up cigarettes and pipes. The women stayed behind at the church door in a clump, quietly whispering among themselves. Michael Gerry and another of the young men, Michael Bob, took centre stage as if on a signal, doffed their jackets, spat on their hands and started to dig.
It dawned on the Outsider that for the purposes of burial the two men were the gravediggers. And how the devil will they do that here? he asked himself. The island is a lump of solid rock. You'd need dynamite to dig a grave.
But he had still more to learn. Though the church was built on rocky foundations its tiny graveyard easily yielded to the combined spades. When the two lads were about three feet down they slowed their pace and began to dig carefully. The reason soon became apparent: they were unearthing human bones. These were laid with a fair degree of reverence and care and in comparative silence on top of Old John's coffin, until a skull came to light.
- Would you look at that now?
- Sure an' all, it must be old Padraig.
- D'you think so?
- Och, it must be. He's been gone now all of...
- Must be eighty years.
- Well, he'll be having another burial today. Not everybody can do it twice...
And the discussions continued quietly until the hole was deep and wide and long enough for Old John. Then a signal the Outsider missed the women filed out of the church and ranged themselves with the men around the grave. The coffin was lowered, Old John's remains on their first step towards slowly becoming one with the foundations of the ancient island. The unearthed bones were carefully returned and the soil and rocks shovelled over them.
The congregation remained awhile, heads bowed. Men took off their hats and caps. Praying? The Outsider was not. He was quietly and he hoped unobtrusively observing. So was Michael Joe, still wearing his disreputable hat, smoking his pipe but making no effort to be unobtrusive. The observer, the recorder of otherwise unrecorded history.
At a second imperceptible signal, like a cloud of starlings wheeling with perfect precision, the congregation turned and began, in ones and twos, to exit from the graveyard.
'Coming?' asked Mick Mickey.
'Where to?' asked the Outsider.
There was the long trek downhill to the harbourside pub and the comfort of the foaming pints.
There had been two observers there that day. Michael Joe and the Outsider. Michael Joe stored it for the island's history. The Outsider was not sure what to make of it. But he stored it too.
HELP KEEP THIS NEWSLETTER ALIVE!
by Ray McEnaney
Well here I am again back where I like to be, sitting at my favourite vantage point overlooking the seacoast at Seapoint near Clogherhead. It's still a bit chilly but I don't mind because spring is in the air and the long dark winter has finally loosened its death-grip on nature. I haven't sat here since last October and I'm eager to see how things are looking since I last surveyed the seascape.
I decided this time that I would make myself more comfortable by bringing along one of those fold-up director type chairs. I unfold it and proceed to position it carefully so that when seated it will afford me the best available view. There's not that many people out walking on the beach at the present time so it's almost like having the whole beach to myself. Sitting down I make myself comfortable by wriggling into the chair to make the best impression possible. Settling in I get the notion that this chair was made exactly for situations like this. My body starts to relax as I begin to take in all that the eye can see while knowing that time was on my side, at least for today. It's my day off so there's no hurry and soon there'll be no worry as I slowly start to sink into the scenery with that feeling you get when you're absorbed by the scene of a beautiful painting.
There's a coolness in the breeze today that seems to come from the distant horizon almost as if the wind and the waves were working in tandem to provide those elements that would help create the great spectacle and experience I would patiently wait to see unfold. Thinking back to how cold it was when I was last here, I made sure that I came better prepared this time. But today was a much better day. There was a welcome freshness to the soft breeze that was gently blowing and I could feel my face strangely warming as it touched my cheeks. Fresh air at last, how I pitied those poor souls who had to endure the smog of a city.
It's early February and the sun is appearing more often now as the cold dark days of winter slowly fade into the increasingly longer brighter days that lie ahead. The breeze carries the smell of the sea as it sweeps in and up to where I sit. It has a distinctive salty smell, the type that one gets when breathing virgin air that has been imbued with the essence of the sea. I'm happy to be here!
The sea is quite calm today and it seems to mirror the spring blue sky with the sun on high shining brightly. On a dull day it would look sea green or maybe I should say turquoise. With the exception of the odd wispy cloud, the sky is clear. You would think from looking at it that it was a fine summer's day, but looks as they say can be deceiving and so they are today and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.
I start counting the fishing trawlers. If you come early enough you will always see them stretched out across the horizon with each one fishing their own small area of the big Irish Sea. There are ten in total today, which is more the pity for the fish as they've herded them closer to shore where they'll be easier to catch. The sea birds are mostly busying themselves feeding along the shoreline looking for sandworms and whatever else sea birds might decide to have for breakfast. I think how well the sea provides for them and how lucky they are that they don't have to work and shop as we do to survive. The waves continue to roll and break onto the shore as they exhaust themselves into one final splash of oblivion. The sea birds take no notice and continue feeding with the odd one taking to the sky while calling out to those below. Perhaps they take turns in keeping watch and I wonder if they're watching me as I watch them?
Time ticks slowly by as I observe more people now walking along the beach. Most are alone while others are out exercising their dogs. A few have brought their children to play on the beach and as I watch them I start to reminisce about the time when I was a child on this very beach. Suddenly the chair I'm sitting in is no longer an ordinary chair, I feel like Rod Taylor in his time machine as I'm transported right back to that time when I happily played with my siblings in that very same spot. I'm a child again as I run amok splashing through the waves pretending I'm a pirate with the fleet waiting off-shore for me while I secretly bury my treasure - all six pearly shells of it that I had spent all morning collecting, choosing only the best ones for their size and colour. It'll soon be my turn to fly the kite that my brother has but what he doesn't know is that it's really a Jolly Roger that I'll use as a signal to tell me shipmates that I'm done burying the treasure and to come and collect me. I'm almost ready when a dog starts barking loudly and the spell is broken as I return to the future and stark reality. Who would believe so much time could pass so quickly; as the sun bids farewell and the daylight fades I pack up my time machine and leave.
Ray McEnaney livs in Drogheda in County Louth.
You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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by J.I. McGovern
Saint Kevin was the founder of the Abbey of Glendalough in County Wicklow. There are all sorts of attractive stories about his relationship with animals that represent an aspect of that real closeness to nature which was such an appealing feature of 'Celtic Christianity'. He died on 3rd June in the year 618.
Saint Kevin and the Cow
Saint Kevin did not like people, but he was very kind to animals! He lived in a tree in Glendalough in County Wicklow. The tree was near a farm. One day, the farmer saw that one of his cows gave as much milk as fifty cows.
He was amazed and followed the cow to the tree near the farm. He found the cow licking the feet of Saint Kevin. The farmer asked Saint Kevin if he would live in his house. Saint Kevin did not like the idea but he said to the farmer that he could send his cows to him daily. After this the farmer had the best farm in all of Ireland.
Saint Kevin and the Monster
One time in Glendalough people from all over Ireland came to see Saint Kevin. There was a monster living in the Upper Lake that ate people. The people wanted to kill the monster but Saint Kevin loved all animals and asked the monster to move to the Lower Lake. The Lower Lake is now named 'Lake Peist', the Lake of the Monster.
Saint Kevin and the Blackbird
One day Saint Kevin was standing in a lake where the water was deep and very cold. He was praying with his arms outstretched and his palms upwards when a blackbird flew down and put a twig in his hand.
The bird repeated the process until she had built a nest. Saint Kevin loved animals so much he stood there until the eggs were hatched and the young birds grew and flew away.
Saint Kevin and the Woman
Saint Kevin especially disliked women. While in Glendalough he was living in a cave high above the lake. There was a woman in Glendalough who was madly in love with him. One day Saint Kevin came home and the woman was cleaning his cave and cooking dinner. He became very angry and threw the woman out from the cave. She fell into the lake and drowned. But thereafter, Saint Kevin remained kind to animals.
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