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Hello again from Dublin in Ireland where all the talk is of the 'same-sex marriage' referendum that is to be held on May 22nd. The debate is certainly heating up - read more in the 'news snaps' section below.
This month we have a biography of Wolfe Tone, one of the most important leaders from Irish history. We also have the latest in our series of popular Conan stories. Please do forward this newsletter to your friends!
Until next month,
INEXORABLE RISE AND RISE OF SINN FEIN
The landscape of the Irish political scene looks certain to be changed after the next General Election. With the Government coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party keen to run down their term of office through the Easter 1916 centenary commemoration it will not have gone unnoticed that an economic recovery is well under way. Economic growth of 3.5% in 2015 is predicted by the European Commission. By contrast the German economy has predicted growth of 1.5%, the French economy just 1%. Some commentators are predicting that unemployment in Ireland will fall to 7% during 2016.
So it is obvious that Fine Gael will try to see out the year and try to take the credit for the improving economy in the hope that it will improve their current opinion poll standings that have caused some anxiety among the Party faithful.
They have reason to be concerned. The most recent 'Red C/Sunday Business Post' opinion polls lists the state of the Parties thus:
Fine Gael 25%
Sinn Fein 22%
Fianna Fail 17%
Labour Party 8%
Despite the improvement in the economy Fine Gael continue to be stuck at about the 25-27% mark with Fianna Fail still in the doldrums, ranging from 17% to 23%. The vote for the Labour Party has collapsed and all but transferred to Sinn Fein who remain incredibly popular despite recent scandals. The connection with some Party members to previous murders and crimes does not appear to have any lasting damage. It is as if the violent history of the Party is already factored into the equation with the electorate.
How can this be so? Is it a case that the Irish public are so fed up with the status quo that, having tried everyone else, even Fine Gael, that they are now prepared to offer power to what is in effect a radical left-wing Party? Or is it simply a case of saying one thing now but when it comes to the crunch, voting for the establishment. That has been the case in previous elections when Sinn Fein failed to convert favorable opinion polls into actual votes at the ballot box.
Despite this, Sinn Fein will surely be a force to be reckoned with after the next election, making a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail coalition or merger a very real possibility.
IRISH BUSINESSES MISSING OUT ON ONLINE REVOLUTION
A recent study by the company that manages the .ie Irish domain registry has found that as many as 68% of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Ireland cannot process credit cards online and are losing out on a market expected to be worth 21 Billion Euro by 2017. More than half of the SME websites surveyed do not have 'responsive' web sites that are capable of being easily viewed on a mobile phone.
Six in ten Irish SMEs do now have an online presence which is relatively good but the news that so few of these are offering anything more than a brochure-type website is surprising considering the degree to which this area is subsidized by the Irish Government.
DECLINE OF RURAL IRELAND HIGHLIGHTED
Accounts of entire towns and villages in Ireland being decimated by the scourge of emigration have been a staple of Irish newspapers for over seven years now. The mass exodus from the country really took off after the 2008/2009 economic crash. Many of these towns also have 'ghost estates' on their outskirts, half-finished apartment blocks or housing schemes left to rot and blight the local landscape.
To make things worse, now that the economy is recovering the rebalancing of the economic scale seems to be uneven.
James Claffey is a spokesman for 'Irish Rural Link', an organization comprised of over 500 rural community groups dedicated to sustainable rural development:
'There is a two-tier recovery going on at the moment. Rural areas are seeing a bit of a resurgence in economic activity and in consumer optimism, but just not at the same pace as Dublin.'
During the demise of the 'Celtic Tiger' unemployment in rural areas increased by 192% while in urban areas that statistic was 114%. But a report by the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas has revealed that unemployment in Dublin has now reduced to 8.9%, down from its peak of 13% and over 15% nationally.
One of the key indicators of how an economy is performing is the traffic situation. In Dublin the traffic is approaching boom-time levels while Dublin Airport has also reported a huge increase in traffic, approaching the levels experienced before the banks collapsed and the country went bankrupt.
Consumer sentiment is at its highest level in 12 years with over 70% of Dublin consumers expecting the economy to continue recovering. These numbers are in stark contrast to the reality of life in the small towns and villages in the Irish countryside, many of whom are unlikely to ever recover.
SAME SEX MARRIAGE REFERENDUM IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Opinion polls and bookmakers alike indicate that the upcoming referendum to confer the same rights to homosexual people as afforded to heterosexual people in respect of marriage will most certainly be carried.
Estimates of support for the proposal are in the 70% to 75% range with the media commentary moving on from debating the merits or otherwise of the proposal to examining the way that both sides of the argument are conducting their campaigns.
At times this has been a nasty affair with those in favour of a 'Yes' vote often being verbally or even physically abused while those in favour of a 'No' vote often receiving much the same sort of treatment. The extremes of both camps have been very vocal which begs the question: just how many of those in the middle ground will vote the way they have said that they will vote?
For example, consider those liberals who fundamentally want to vote 'Yes' but have concerns, justified or not, about gay adoption. And equally there are those who are conservative, more likely to vote 'No' but are unhappy with denying their fellow citizens the same rights as they themselves enjoy.
This is a quite complex overlap of concerns, the extent of which will only become apparent after the votes are counted. The deciding factor may well be down to which side is most motivated. If there is a low turnout with those among the 'Yes' camp expecting that the vote will easily be carried, then the 'No' campaigners could win the day.
Apathy and over-confidence now seem to be the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a victory for the 'Yes' side. But dont underestimate the power of the silent masses in the middle.
IRISH TAOISEACH COMPARES MEDITERRANEAN REFUGEE CRISIS TO 'COFFIN SHIPS' ERA
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has compared the plight of the thousands of refugees who risk the journey from North Africa to try to reach Italy, Malta and Spain to the experience of the hordes of Irish peasants who left Ireland during the nineteenth century aboard the infamous 'Coffin ships'.
As many as 1200 people are estimated to have drowned when five boats carrying 2000 people sank in the Mediterranean during April, most of the vessels having departed from Libya.
Enda Kenny committed Ireland to taking in more refugees, relative to the countries size and resources: The scale of this problem is unprecedented in terms of numbers.'
INEXORABLE RISE AND RISE OF ALL THINGS 'GLEESON'
News that Dublin actor Domhnall Gleeson is to star in a movie opposite Tom Cruise should come as no surprise to Irish celebrity watchers. The Gleeson family have been all over the media recently with the exploits of Brendan Gleeson soon to be overshadowed by his two sons Domhnall and Brian. Brendan Gleeson is a very well known and respected actor who has starred in movies such as 'The General', 'Michael Collins, 'Braveheart', 'Gangs of New York' and the critically acclaimed 'Calvary'.
Hi son Domhnall is a hot property at the moment with the former 'Harry Potter' actor just completing the filming of 'The Revenant' with Leonardo DiCaprio. He also has a role in the new Star Wars movie and received fine reviews for his performance in thes sci-fi thriller 'Ex-Machina'.
Success sometimes takes time though as the Malahide man revealed:
'Everything seems very slow to you when it's happening. I mean I've been the lead in three films, maybe four, and I've been acting since I was 19 years old. I'm 31 now.'
His brother Brian is also an actor who has starred in 'Snow White and the Huntsman'. With his father and brother the talented trio of Gleesons recently performed together on-stage at Dublin's Olympia Theatre in 'The Walworth Farce'. No stopping them!
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WOLFE TONE: THE FATHER OF THE IRISH REBELLION
Wolfe Tone is one of the most famous and important Irish historical figures. His place in Irish history can scarcely be overstated as he is regarded as the father of modern Irish republicanism.
He was born Theobald Wolfe Tone on 20th June, 1763 in Dublin to a Protestant family. As a young man he attended Trinity College, qualifying as a barrister at the age of 26. His law practice was in London where he soon turned his attention to Irish politics and wrote an essay attacking the ruling administration which became popular among the liberal 'Whigs' of the time.
At about this time the French Revolution had had a profound effect on not just French but on world politics. Ireland was no exception with the ideals of that revolution fuelling a desire for separation from opressive English rule.
Henry Grattan was the Whig stalwart of the time, who wanted Catholic emancipation without breaking the tie to England. Tone was adamant that the Irish people should be governed by an Irish parliament and, although he was an Anglican he proposed co-operation among the various religions as a means to make progress on the issue of separation from England. This was quite a dramatic step for the time.
It was in 1791 that Wolfe Tone founded the Society of the United Irishmen, together with Napper Tandy and Thomas Russell. The moderate aims of this society (parliamentary reform) soon became overtaken with the desire for full independence from England and especially once Tone's opinion that there was a need for armed insurrection took prominence. At this stage the difference between Henry Grattan and his pursuit of parliamentary reform without democratic consequence and Wolfe Tone's view of revolutionary democracy came into stark relief.
The English were quick to acknowledge the threat and sought to promote religious intolerance and sectarianism, thus dividing the Catholics and Presbyterians who otherwise were of the same Irish stock.
The recently formed 'Orange Order' was also a useful tool used by the English in stoking religious discord. By the year 1794 and after much political manoeuvring it became clear to Wolfe Tone that no political party would fully get behind their movement and they began to lobby for French military support in the form of an invasion. A dramatic tactic.
Communications between the United Irishmen and the French were betrayed when the go-between, an English clergyman named William Jackson, was arrested and charged with treason. Given that England and France had been at war since 1793 any collaboration between the United Irishmen and the French would certainly have greatly alarmed the parliament in London.
Thus it was that the organisation was effectively broken up by the English with several of the leaders fleeing the country. Wolfe Tone was able to use his connections to negotiate safe passage from the country and he duly emigrated to America, arriving there in May, 1795. He had first stopped in Belfast however, and made what became known as the 'Cavehill compact' with Russell and McCracken, swearing:
'Never to desist in our efforts until we subvert the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence'.
He stayed in Pennsylvania until 1796 but disliked the new American revolution, declaring that the birth class system of England had been replaced by one decided by wealth in the US. He travelled to Paris with Tandy to try to persuade the French to invade Ireland.
He provided the necessary intelligence to the French who were impressed with his proposal. The result was an co led by Louis Lazare Hoche consisting of 43 vessels under sail and 14,000 men. Much to Tone's disgust the French could not land off Bantry Bay due to severe weather and eventually returned to France. A further attempt at invasion by a Dutch expedition in 1797 also fell foul of the weather with Tone returning to Paris only to find that his greatest French ally, Hoche, had died of consumption.
The records of the time show that membership of the United Irishmen numbered 280,000 volunteers, or about 5% of the entire population, a huge number by any standing. Had the French force under Hoche been able to land at Bantry, and been joined by a popular native uprising, then the country would surely have been liberated from English rule. But it was not to be.
By the time of the arrival of the winter of 1797/98, with hopes of a renewed French attempt fading, the United Irishmen were forced to adopt a go-it-alone military strategy focused on Dublin. Their organisation was strengthened in and around the capital and it also expanded in south Leinster. The planned insurrection was to have been a three-phased affair: the seizure of strategic positions within Dublin city co-ordinated with the establishment of a crescent of positions outside in north County Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. The engagement of government forces in the lo beyond was designed to prevent reinforcement.
More disaster struck on the 12th March 1798 with the arrest of most of the Leinster leadership. Further arrests on the very eve of the rising in May effectively decapitated the movement. The seizure of Dublin from within was aborted as the rebels waited for orders that never came.
United Irishmen positions outside the city succumbed one by one with only Wexford showing any success. A fortnight later (7-9 June), despite the mauling at the hands of Lake's forces the year before, the United Irishmen of Antrim and Down managed to rise up but they too were quickly defeated.
Early success in Wexford proved short-lived. The rebellion was contained within that County with defeats at New Ross (5 June) and Arklow (9 June) proving costly. Massive government forces began to move in for the decisive military showdown at Vinegar Hill, outside Enniscorthy (21 June). Although the insurgents suffered defeat, the bulk of their forces escaped encirclement and carried on the struggle for another month, one group in the Wicklow mountains and the other in a 'long march' into the midlands before being worn down and forced to surrender.
On 22nd August over a thousand French troops under General Humbert landed at Killala, County Mayo, but it was too little too late. Despite some initial successes, including a spectacular victory at Castlebar, Humbert and the United Irishmen who flocked to his standard were defeated at Ballinamuck, County Longford on 8th October.
By any measure the 1798 Uprising was a military catastrophe. The French and Irish forces were severely out-gunned in the field and in one battle 2,000 revolutionaries faced 30,000 English regulars. The captured French were shipped home, but the Irish were executed after their surrender. It is estimated that 30,000 Irishmen were killed in fighting that terrible Summer, many of the victims were peasants who faced cannon with pitchforks, and a great number of these were women.
Wolfe Tone himself had sailed in a French raid at Donegal in October 1798 but here too his hopes were dashed. He was captured and taken to Dublin where he was court-marshalled. He requested that he be afforded the death of a soldier, to be shot, rather than hanged. His request denied he died in Provost's Prison in Dublin of a neck wound in November 1798. He was 35 years of age. History records his death as being a suicide but there remains some doubt.
The defeat of the United Irishmen signalled the end of Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland as the Act of Union of 1800 abolished the powerless parliament in College Green and moved all authority back to the parliament in London.
Some United Irishmen welcomed this development as the first step on the road to parliamentary reform as did many of the Catholic peasantry who envisaged their election in the English parliament. The great leader Daniel O'Connell secured Catholic Emancipation in 1829 by which time the context of separation from England had changed from being a wholly national issue to being a Catholic issue.
The famine of 1845 to 1849 destroyed the countryside and for those who survived and did not emigrate left a lasting legacy of hatred of English rule.
Wolfe Tone is remembered by republican groups as the father of their cause. When examining the timeline to Irish freedom it is certainly easy to view him as the political ancestor of O'Connell, the Young Irelanders, Parnell and Davitt, Pearse and Connolly, Collins and DeValera, on the ultimate path to independence.
The annual commemoration at his graveside at Bodenstown in County Kildare hears his words recited again and agin:
'To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country - these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter - these were my means.'
KATYA TAKES CONFESSION
from 'The Adventures of Conan From Tirdevlin'
Conan was in full swing at the Hotel Bar. Negotiating a deal for fifty home alarm systems was a serious business and he had two hours and several pints invested in this project with Joxer Mack the object of his attention.
'I'll give you a hundred a piece and that is the best I can do Joxer. Come on now you know that is a good price. Where else are you going to shift them?'
Joxer eyed Conan dubiously. He knew well that he had been plying him with drink to try to get him into a relaxed frame of mind. Still, knowing what is happening and preventing its outcome are very different things and he was inclined to accept the bid.
But one last rally. He had come down from one hundred and seventy Euro. Quite how he had arrived at one hundred was beyond him. One of the many powers of alcohol he surmised. And the noise in the bar with the music thumping out from the adjacent function room also distracted him. A twenty-first birthday party looked to be in danger of getting out of control with the guests spilling in and out of the double doors into the main bar. High spirits abounding.
Adamant now. Time to put on one last stand.
'One ten and not a Euro less Conan. Take it or leave it.'
He thrust out his hand which was grasped with surprising speed.
Conan reached for his wallet and handed over a thousand Euro good-faith money.
'I'll collect them off you at noon tomorrow and have the rest of your cash for you then.'
Conan was delighted. Beautifully done Conan he thought to himself.
As fine a piece of negotiating as might be witnessed anywhere.
Self-praise is always more flamboyant.
Katya watched the exchange with a mixture of admiration and disdain. Her husband's many dealings were well known to her and while she was glad that he was pleased she was concerned that Conan had taken advantage of the situation. The noise had finally driven Joxer out into the beer garden for a cigarette and she used the opportunity to scold her husband.
'Those alarms are worth a lot more than that Conan. Did you buy that last round of beer just to loosen him up?'
'Heavens to the thought Katya my darling, heavens to the thought!'
His cheeky grin was enough to disarm her for a moment but when she resumed her frown her husband gave her some reassurance.
'Joxer Mack took me for a grand last year with a gross of DVD players that proved to be all but useless. I was only able to sell half. When I approached him about them he quoted me some Latin and told me to talk a walk.'
'Caveat Emptor sweetheart. Caveat Emptor. Except he never said sweetheart!'
'And what makes you think that this batch of Alarms are any better?'
'Because I have had one of them tested out myself and as you know I am fairly well accomplished in the art of examining all things mechanical.'
Several glasses of Carlberg had heightened Conan's already high spirits.
'Didn't do you much good with those DVD players did it Sweetheart!'
Conan mirrored her frown jokingly for a moment.
'The exception that proves the rule my love!
Katya thumped him playfully on the shoulder just as another gang from the party fell out from behind the double doors. The music blared for a moment before subsiding as the doors automatically closed.
'Someone is having a good time then.'
Conan was a keen observer of the human condition.
'Conan will you send me over a drink. I am going to have a word with Paddy-Joe in the snug.'
Paddy-Joe and his friend Paulie James were well known fixtures in Tirdevlin. They were the best of friends and could be seen regularly at the races, at the local Gaelic football matches or such as tonight, enjoying a few classes of Guinness in the Hotel Bar.
Katya made her way over through the mass of bodies that had suddenly appeared. She smiled as a young couple ran by her at speed, hand in hand.
'Evening gentlemen how is everything with you tonight?'
Katya always had a soft spot for the two old warriors.
Paddy-Joe made a short attempt at standing before falling back into his seat. Ever the gentleman.
Paulie James greeted her as he always did.
'How finds the world with you Mrs. Conan?'
The greeting never failed to make her smile.
'All is well Paulie. I hope that noisy gang next door are not bothering you both too much.'
'Not at all Katya. What else is it but life at its finest. Young people enjoying themselves.'
Paddy-Joe nodded in agreement with his friend.
'I am out the back door to have a smoke. Will you keep an eye on this guy when I am gone Mrs. Conan?'
'I will Paulie, dont worry a bit.'
'God thanks you for your kindness Katya!'
Not the first time that Katya had heard this Blessing from these two.
As he watched his friend depart Katya noticed a shadow seem to descend over Paddy-Joe's face for a moment. Instantly he banished it.
'Are you all right Paddy-Joe? You look a bit worried.'
'Not at all Katya. What would bother me?'
Katya tried to make light of it.
'For a second there you looked like the Guards might be after you!'
Paddy-Joe stopped dead still for a moment and stared at the wooden and glass partition in front of him.
'You know Katya there was a time when they did come for me.'
Katya stared at him in amazement.
What was this likely to be about. Surely a gentle soul like this could never have been in trouble with the law before?
But of course you never know. You never know what troubled history might be lurking behind the most benign of facades.
'I find that hard to believe Paddy.'
'Oh you can believe or not but I actually spent six months in the jailhouse before being shipped off to Australia. Forty years ago it was. Ireland was a very different place. A lot has changed. But of course a lot is just the same too.'
Katya thought to ask him what happened but then thought it might be rude. Of course it would be rude not to ask him now that her companion had broached the subject.
Paddy-Joe released her from her torment.
'I hit a Guard. At least that is what I was convicted of, for the truth is that I got in a scuffle after they would not let me see my wife.'
'Your wife! I had no idea you were married Paddy-Joe.'
The older man took a slow drain from his glass.
'We were never legally married. Not with the paperwork and the Church Registry and all of that codology. But we made a promise to each other years ago and as far as I am concerned Nora Flynn is my wife and always will be. For good and forever and damn anyone who says otherwise.'
Katya was shocked. The moment was punctuated again by a huge noise from the function room as a glass crashed to the floor. Hotel Bar staff ran in with some towels and a mop. The music started again and the party continued.
Conan had the drinks dropped over to the their table. A Vodka with some Tonic for sweetness for Katya and two pints of plain for 'the two PJs' as Conan often called the elderly friends.
Paddy-Joe turned slowly in his seat and waved to Conan who was propped at the bar.
'God thanks you for your kindness Conan'.
Conan waved back before catching Katya's eye. All right?
She nodded quickly before facing Paddy-Joe again.
'What happened to her Paddy? To Nora, your wife.'
A long pause.
'She died Katya. She died.'
Paddy-Joe stared into his pint glass for a moment. It was as if he was deciding if he was going to continue.
'She was sent to a Magdalene Laundry when she was only twenty one years old. Back in the sixties and seventies a young women could be sent to an Asylum for anything Katya. For being ill, for being too beautiful! For being flirtatious. And of course for being with child.'
'This was the seventies Katya. Did you know that it was still going on even then? The last Laundry Asylum did not close until the mid-nineties. Heaven save us.'
'I had no idea Paddy. I though these were places from the forties and fifties and even earlier.'
Paddy-Joe looked directly at Katya for a moment. At her kind honest face.
'No Katya, they imprisoned so many children. That is what they were called. Any young woman who ended up in such a place. Children!'
'Why was she sent there Paddy-Joe. Was she with child?'
'Yes that is it Katya, you have guessed it now. She had our child who I have never seen. She was sent to the prison, for that is what it was, and our child adopted out to some other family from a different County. I tried to stop them. I made it through the doors of the building but the Guards took me out with the Nuns directing them. There was a scuffle and before I knew it I was serving six months in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin. They actually gave me two years. Two years! Can you believe it! But they took me out after six months and put me on a boat to Australia. It was like landing on the moon.'
'But it was either that or back to prison. I would have happily served the time if it meant that I could see Nora and my child. But they had her write me a letter. Disowning me. Condemning me for her current condition. Her family threatened me as did the local Parish Priest. The Guards escorted me to the docks and I left for twenty years.'
'With my tail between my legs Katya. Like a common criminal. It took me two decades to get back home.'
'And what of your child? Did you ever find out if it was a boy or a girl.'
'No Katya I never did and I doubt that I ever will. I tried visiting the Laundry but was given short shrift by the Nuns there. One of them remembered me. Hated me. I left again with nothing.'
'That was ten years ago Katya and today, of all days, is the fortieth anniversary of my child's birth. And I cant even say if it is a he or a she!'
'Katya extended her hands across the table, clasping the old mans wrinkled hands in hers and sat silently.
She looked at Conan at the bar and then back at Paddy-Joe. His face had reddened with anger, his lower lip quivering, his arms trembling. A tear blearing his eyes.
Conan was still jubilant about his deal with Joxer and the following week saw him take some orders for the alarms as well as striking a deal with the Dancer Driscoll to give him a cut for any business drummed up through his Thrift Store. This was going to be a slow earner but a good one. He had invested five thousand Euro which was an awful lot of money for Conan. But he knew that he could recoup twelve or even fifteen thousand over the next few months. And with the charge for installing the alarms himself he would ensure a steady income for the foreseeable future.
Nicely done Conan. More self-praise.
Katya hovered around the kitchen table as Conan examined the installation manual of one of the house alarms. She made them both some tea before leaning back onto the counter as she observed her husband at his business.
'Something up love?'
Conan knew his wife had been affected by Paddy-Joe the previous weekend. She had told him the entire story. He knew Paddy-Joe for many years and genuinely felt for the man.
'Is there anything we can do for Paddy-Joe do you think?'
Conan lay the manual down on the table. He knew full well that his wife had an idea brewing.
'What do you suggest then?'
'What we need is someone to approach the Nuns in the Convent where the Laundry was located.'
Conan thought for a moment. That was a good seventy miles away. They could be there and back in a day no bother.
But what could they achieve?
'What makes you think they will talk to you now Katya? When they wouldn't talk to Paddy-Joe ten years ago?'
'That is exactly it. Ten years ago. Time changes everything Conan. Changes the heart, changes attitudes. Time changes all of that as you know and.....'
She paused as she eyed her husband directly.
'....and so does money.'
Conan looked at the alarm manual again.
Ah well, easy come, easy go.
'Are you sure you want to do this Katya?'
'Yes I am sure.'
She repeated again.
'I am sure. I have to do it and we both know why I must.'
Joxer Mack clearly had some manner of a conscience as he did not even try to gouge Conan when he asked him for the lend of his car. A fine German-made BMW was the way to travel in style and it was in Joxer's conveyance that Katya and Conan made their way to the Convent of the Sisters of Divine Mercy. Less than two hours away but like stepping back into a different version of reality.
The huge Victorian Convent was encircled by ever dwindling lands that were constantly being sold off to builders and farmers to support the ageing population of Nuns within.
Katya was surprised to be greeted by a young woman in a Nuns habit. She was fresh faced, beautiful even. Katya blushed for having her anger initially show as they greeted. She was disarmed by the simple honest greeting of the younger woman.
Conan stayed outside at Katya's request.
'Text me if you want me to come barging in to rescue you!'
The humour failed. Katya grimaced. Conan hugged her from the side briefly as she departed into the vast prison-like building.
Katya was led down a long dark corridor with the stonewashed walls adorned with fading black and white photographs of similar looking Nuns in long orderly rows. Row after row.
Sister Mary led her into a small office with huge tall ceilings.
'Well now! What can we do for you today.'
Katya stumbled though her opening sentence.
'I want to make a contribution to the Convent Sister.'
Embarrassed she placed an envelope on the desk before her.
'That is really very kind of you but also unnecessary. Why would you offer such a kindness to us?'
Katya paused before explaining the story of Paddy-Joe. She did not want to be impertinent but found it difficult to contain her simmering anger towards the Nuns. Luckily the young woman before her made it a lot easier to be calm.
Katya was grateful for that.
Sister Mary stood and faced the window before turning again to face Katya.
'Many of the children who were born to mothers who lived in the Laundry were adopted. Some were sent abroad to new families, sometimes at the wishes of the mothers...'
'......but mostly without their consent. A child who was adopted may have no inclination to have their life interrupted by a revelation of a living relative. I am sure you agree that enough damage was visited upon these children without having their pain renewed.'
Katya was amazed at this display of frankness.
'I do agree with that Sister. But what if a child does wants to connect with a lost family. What of those circumstances where they do not even realize that their parents may be still alive, what then?'
'I understand but I am bound by my Vow of Obedience and cannot reveal any information to you about this. I cannot even tell you how many documents we have in the file about this.'
Katya's eyes widened immediately. She suppressed the urge to stand up but instead focused her attention on remembering every word the younger woman now said.
'What I should have said is: If a file even exists.......'
The two women stared in silence before the young Nun smiled brightly at her.
'Do you know the Parish Priest in Tirdevlin, Father Croghan, by any chance?'
'I do know him and my husband knows him very well.'
'That's marvelous. Eamon is a fine soul, will you be sure to tell him I said hello when next you see him.'
She stood as if to leave.
Katya considered her position.
If Conan were standing beside her she knew what he would say:
'Read between the lines Katya. It's time to go.'
A full week after the visit to the Convent Conan was surprised to find Father Eamon Croghan at his front door.
'How goes it Eamon, how is the religion business?'
The Priest threw the insolence straight back at him.
'It's thriving Conan. It's thriving!'
'Hah! What can I do for you today then?'
'Well I hear you have alarm systems for sale and there is an elderly parishioner who really needs one for her house. I was hoping you could install one for her. I will pay you of course.'
'Have you and I not had enough of alarm systems Father, given recent history?'
'Ah yes.. that is true enough Conan, but if there is anything you can do I would appreciate it.'
Conan did not have to think for more than a second.
'Sure thing Eamon, you make the introduction and I will install the alarm free and gratis. Thats no charge to you!'
Father Croghan stopped still to observe his friend.
'Very nice Conan. Thank you.'
'Oh and there is one other thing. It would be a help if your wife would visit me for Confession.'
Conan laughed before quickly realizing that the Priest was serious.
'You're joking Eamon right?'
'No Conan, Saturday evening at St. Michael's after seven o'clock mass is best.'
'You know that Katya is not Catholic right?'
'Makes no difference Conan. She is Orthodox though correct?'
'Emm, yes, she is.'
'Right so. I will give you a shout about that alarm later. See you.'
And before he could say any more the Priest was gone. Rarely had Conan been so dumbstruck.
Katya waited in the pew as the Mass concluded at the front of the Church. The small queue of mostly elderly people who filed in and out of the stuffy Confessional box all had the same look on their faces as they left the wine-curtained box. The expression was relief. With bowed heads they retook their position in a pew, said their penance, sat back a few moments to reflect, before making their way home. Every time.
Katya was the last to pull back the creaky door and close it behind her.
'Bless me Father for I have sinned.... I am not of your faith Father.....'
'I know that Katya but I wanted to speak to you within the confines of the Confessional because I have something to tell you.'
The enclosed box seemed to be utterly silent. Not a sound from outside could be heard.
'The Sacramental Seal is inviolable. There is no circumstance under which a Priest can break the Seal of a Confession,
......except when a Priest is released from the Seal by the Penitent. It is not something I take lightly Katya but that is exactly what occurred a few days ago. I took a Confession from a young woman, I will not tell you who, and she instructed me that I was specifically released from the Seal by her, as a Penitent.'
'I see Father.'
'This is Sacred Katya, Sacred to me and to the Church, I am sure you understand that.'
'I do Father. I surely do.'
'I made a visit yesterday to Tara in County Meath where I met another woman. She is forty years of age. She was adopted to a fine family from that area when her mother gave her up. At least that is what she was told. I had spoken with her a few days earlier by telephone and told her that I had information about her birth-parents and would she like to have that information. That was not a decision I took at all lightly Katya. I had no desire to possibly cause any distress to her but luckily......... she was most eager to learn what I knew. You have no idea how grateful I am to my Lord God for that blessing. It would have distressed me greatly to have caused this woman pain.'
Katya was shaking now, barely able to form the words.
'But luckily she wanted to know....... Father...'
'Yes she did. The younger woman who gave me her location was forbidden by her Vow of Obedience to disclose the information but managed to do so within the confines of the Confessional, her conscience clear. She absolved me of my obligation, released me from the Seal and here we are. '
The Priest reflected in silence for a moment.
'That was something of a manoeuvre by both her and me Katya. Treading a fine line perhaps, but done in good faith and now the burden is mine, soon to be yours.'
'How so Father?'
Another long pause.
'I have been asked to return this envelope to you.'
The Priest gravely passed an envelope through the small opening under the listening grate. It was the envelope Katya had left at the Convent.
Her face reddened, embarrassed again.
'There is one more thing you can do Katya.'
'I want you, me and Paddy-Joe to travel to Tara and for all of us to sit with this woman a while, as is her wish.'
'Will you do that Katya?'
He did not wait for an answer.
'And now if you wish to tell me your sins I will grant you Absolution.'
Conan chanced it with Joxer and commandeered the fancy car again.
'Pushing your luck Conan!'
'Owe you one Joxer' was his standard reply.
Paddy-Joe and Paulie James sat in the back seats and watched the farmlands pass them by through the tinted windows.
'For sure this is the way to travel. Am I right Mrs. Conan.'
Katya managed a smile but it was forced. She can rarely have ever been more nervous.
'Let that worry fade from your face Katya.'
Paddy-Joe this time.
'You have done me a great service. Whatever happens from here on out I will always be thankful to you for trying.'
'For trying Paddy?'
Conan was surprised.
'Are you expecting defeat here? Come on this is going to be a wonderful day for you.'
Katya glanced at Conan, imploring him to stop.
'Yes Conan, you are right. But all of those books and films and documentaries and investigations. They were all about the Mothers who were held prisoners in those awful places. And that is right! THAT IS THE WAY IT SHOULD BE!'
Katya picked up his train of thought.
'But what of the Fathers Paddy-Joe, what of the Fathers....?'
The elderly man let the bitterness of decades escape.
'We were never considered Katya. Not all of us were gurriers who got a girl 'into trouble' as they used to call it. Some Fathers wanted to be exactly that. Fathers! We were robbed of our lives too. Some of us banished to the far corners of the earth for our sins. Such as they were.'
Conan felt a shiver in his spine as they approached the address given to him by Father Croghan. The Priest was at the gate, eagerly awaiting them.
He took Paddy-Joe by the arm and led him in a few steps up through a pristine garden towards a fine whitewashed cottage. Stopping half-way to the door he looked at Paddy-Joe directly.
The older man looked bewildered.
'It is going to be fine Paddy-Joe.'
'Your daughter is inside waiting on you.'
'She is a fine woman now and wants to meet you, to know you.'
Paulie-James caught his friends glance at just the moment he had turned to seek him out. Paddy-Joe looked at Conan, and then at the Priest again before turning to face Katya who had tears streaming down her face.
'God thanks you for your kindness Katya.'
'Now lets go in.'
|PHRASE:||Tá súil agam go bhfuil tú you mbarr na sláinte|
|PRONOUNCED:||taw su-ill ah-gum guh will tu ih marr nah slawn-che|
|MEANING:||I hope you are in the best of health||PHRASE:
||Ní raibh am agam scríobh go dtí seo
||knee rouh omm ah-gum skreevh guh dee shuh
||I hadn't time to write until now
||Scríobh chugam go luath
||skreevh coo-gum guh lu-ah
||Write to me soon