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Hi again from Ireland where St. Patrick;s Day is nearly upon us. The annual celebration of all things Irish marks the beginning of Spring for many people. And there is certainly a feeling that the Irish situation is improving with the very worst of the economic downturn behind us now.
This month we have another 'Conan from Tirdevlin' story. Thanks to those of you who emailed us about this series of yarns - Please, tell your friends!
Until next month,
DECIMATION OF IRISH TOWNS AND VILLAGES CONTINUES
One of the quieter and yet more devastating effects of the economic crash that occurred in the wake of the 2008 property market collapse is the degree to which life in small-town Ireland has been destroyed. The collapse of the banking sector and the EU/ECB/IMF coup-de-tat that followed was the signal for massive emigration from the country with as many as 40 to 50 thousand Irish citizens fleeing Ireland annually in the years following the crash.
The effects on small towns and villages in Ireland has been dramatic. Entire generations of families have left for Canada, the US, Australia and beyond.
Businesses in small towns have been devastated with the combination of no customers and higher taxes forcing many shops and outlets to close forever. One of the biggest problems facing retailers in Ireland is that the commercial rates that they must pay to the local Town Councils are still set at levels pitched during the height of the 'Celtic Tiger'. Many Town Councils see local businesses as an easy mark for short term financial gain, hitting them with high taxes, penalizing their customers for parking in the towns, many operating a military-style enforcement of parking meters, and all the while driving the shops to ruin.
Such short-term thinking is, of course, counter-productive. Essentially the Government and Town Councils are converting employers (business owners who are tax-payers) into claimants (of state services, welfare payments, etc.) and all in the interest of balancing their own accounts.
Perhaps the penny has finally dropped with the Irish Government?
A new scheme is being considered that will provide a 'rate holiday' for businesses in small villages. Ann Phelan is the Rural Affairs Minister in the Government and is keen on the idea:
'We'd look at an incentive where if people are interested in setting up a new business, the local authority, through an incentive on enterprise, could say for the next number of months you can have a 'rate holiday' while testing the market and testing to see could the business work.'
Lamentably though, she has also stated that the co-operation of Local Councils is crucial to the success of any such idea and since Local Government (the Councils) and National Government operate in very different ways it remains to be seen if any such scheme can even get off the ground.
In the meantime the destruction of Irish village life continues unabated.
BLASKET ISLAND DEVELOPMENT PLANNED
For many Irish people of a certain age their knowledge of the Great Blasket Islands off the South West coast of County Kerry begins and ends with Peig Sayers.
The tales of Peig were taught to countless tens of thousands of Irish school-children and students through her famous memoir, chronicling her deplorably hard life on the wind-battered rocks that are the Blasket Islands.
The island was evacuated in 1953 when the Irish Government effectively abandoned the 150 inhabitants who were forced to settle on the mainland or emigrate to the next parish to the west, Springfield in Massachusetts. The stone cottages that had served to shelter the islanders from the extreme weather fell into ruins but now plans are afoot to renovate at least one of them.
Tomas O'Criomhthain is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the Irish language and is best know for his 1929 book 'An tOileanach' ('The Islandman'). It is planned to renovate his former home and convert it into a Visitor and Interpretive Centre for the 10,000 tourists who make the short journey though the choppy waters to experience for a few short moments what life must have been like on the Blaskets.
MAJOR SHAKE-UP OF IRISH POLICE FORCE
The newly appointed Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, has certainly hit the ground running in her new job. The most senior law enforcement official in Ireland has ordered the largest reorganization of the Irish police service in the history of the State. As many as 100 senior managers and superintendents are to be relocated in a move that has shaken the establishment of An Garda Siochana to its core.
Commissioner O'Sullivan is the first female leader of An Garda Siochana and famously revealed the degree to which she experienced sexism as a young recruit:
As a young Garda, I was sent home for refusing to make sandwiches'.
O'Sullivan feared that she would be fired for taking such a stand but was surprised when she was subsequently appointed to one of the countries first ever under-cover units formed to tackle the drugs scourge. She joined the Police in 1981, during the decade when Ireland had just started its move from away from Catholic Church indoctrination towards a more secular and open society. She was surprised though by the sexism still shown within the ranks of the Irish police:
'It wasn't what I expected. I joined because I was brought up in a family where we were all treated as equals, we were all made do the same chores, we were all made work as hard as each other - that was the expectation.'
48% OF IRISH YOUNG PEOPLE ARE COLLEGE EDUCATED
The Central Statistics Office Report entitled 'Measuring Ireland's Progress 2013' has compared various aspects of Irish life in the decade up to 2013 with the habits of our European neighbors. The results are surprising.
* Divorce in Ireland is relatively rare with a rate of 0.6 per thousand people compared with the EU average of 1.8.
* Irish Life expectancy is above the EU average and stands at 83.2 years for women and 78.7 years for men.
* Ireland has the third highest number of College Graduates in the EU, many of whom are forced to emigrate. The high level of College graduates is at odds with another statistic detailing the class-size of Irish schools. The average of 24.4 pupils in Irish school-rooms compares poorly with the 15 pupils average in some EU countries.
* Irish school-children are more likely to complete their schooling to at least secondary school level (US High School equivalent) with only 8% dropping out at Junior Certificate level (aged approx 15 years) compared with the EU average of 12%.
* Proof that the reason so many multi-national companies locate in Ireland is not just for the favorable Corporate Taxation regime but also for the Irish workforce is borne out by the statistic showing Irish workers to be 36% more productive than the EU average. Thats a big number!
* Recycling in Ireland has greatly improved. A combination of a bin-collection charge and an emphasis on recycling has greatly changed the Irish attitude to recycling which has seen the amount of waste sent to a land-fill reduce from 61% in 2003 to 38% in 2013. A staggering change.
* Perhaps one of the most revealing statistics during this decade relates to house building. In 2006 almost 90,000 homes were built but in 2013 that number was 8300.
The full CSO Report can be accessed here:
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CONAN STEALS FROM THE CHURCH
From 'The Adventures of Conan From Tirdevlin'
Whirrrrrrr - then a short quiet buzz, followed by another longer whirrrrrr.
The turntable worked beautifully and Frank Donnelly was very pleased.
'Thats a fine job Conan! You really know your stuff.'
Conan was at the front of Donnelly's Department Store, a sprawling building that spanned both the front and back of the Main Street in Tirdevlin.
The store sold everything and included a small Delicatessen, Coffee Shop and Newsagent to draw in the passing trade. At the rear a customer could get everything from a washing machine to a tin of paint to a fashionable coat.
The owner had been reading up on customer behavior and had explained to Conan that he wanted a display that would automatically rotate at different times of the day. In the morning the small stand on the rotating table would showcase newspapers and quick take-away sandwiches for the breakfast rush crowd and then a few hours later spin around to display lottery tickets, TV guides, eyeglass cleaners and other products aimed at the more mature and slower-moving audience.
'It's called 'Consumer Behavioral Analytics' Conan. In the morning the fast-moving crowd fly through the shop and in the afternoon the 'grey Euro crowd' amble through.
The 'grey Euro crowd' was Frank Donnelly's way of describing the retired and unemployed.
'Research has shown that turnover can be increased by pitching an offer to the right person at the right time of the day you know....'
Conan's eyes were beginning to glaze over.
He had made the mechanism himself from an old record player and expertly rigged it up to the shop-stand, installed a timer, added a frame to disguise the inner workings and presto! He had created a beautifully smooth automatic Product Rotater. Two hundred Euro from Donnelly with the promise of an order for four more if it all worked out.
'There you go Frank, I'll be in tomorrow and you can show me where those spotlights are you wanted me to look at. I can install an on-off timer on those too that will pay for themselves in no time at all.'
'Excellent Conan, thats a great job - looks great too. Nice and neat.'
Conan smiled and started to put his tools in his toolbag slowly, letting the seconds of silence linger. He was well practiced in encouraging the arrival of the moment when he should be paid for his work.
Frank got the hint.
'Let me get you your money now Conan. You really are a whizz at all things mechanical aren't you.'
'He most certainly is Francis and always has been for as long as I have known him.'
The voice at the shop entrance belonged to Father Eamon Croghan the newly appointed Parish Priest in Tirdevlin. He was Tirdevlin born and reared, and had served as a Priest for over a decade before climbing the ladder.
Conan stood up from his toolbag and faced the Priest square on, extending his hand in friendship.
'How are you Eamon, long time to see.'
Genuine affection so easily offered was not Conan's forte and was a commodity he reserved for those he really liked.
'How is it you come to know this vagabond Father?'
Frank Donnelly thought the two men before him made unlikely friends.
'Oh sure we go way back. It's a long time ago now Conan that you saved my hide from a tanning when we were caught stealing apples from the Ryan orchard.'
'That was a long time ago Eamon, but if memory serves it is me who is in your debt ultimately.'
The Priest brushed that off.
'It's also been quite a while since we have seen you at St. Michael's Conan. Are you visiting a different Church these days?
Conan shuffled his feet before patching together an answer.
Very busy working away right now Father, I let the missus take care of the Religion for the both of us.
'Oh I see. You take care of this world while she takes care of the next.'
Hah! Conan recognized the quote instantly.
'Very good Eamon, but this is not 'Strumpet City' and you are not Cyril Cusack.'
How amazing it is that even after years apart it is often just a matter of seconds before friends can fall back into a familiar rhythm of chat and banter.
'So how are things at St. Michael's Father?'
Frank made it his business to have the low-down on everyone and everything - even the Church.
'Ohh fine ....fine.'
Conan could easily see a cloud envelope his old friend, his face altering immediately.
'Thats doesn't sound too good. What's the trouble Eamon? Is it the Chalice?'
The Chalice held in the inner sanctum of St. Michael's Church in Tirdevlin was more than just famous - it was priceless. It was a spectacular piece of Silver metal that had been fashioned into a gorgeous shining cup that was decorated with jewels by Monks centuries ago, and then lost for over a millennium. It had been recovered by chance in a local bog some thirty years previously.
The Chalice had transformed the fortunes of the town which was now firmly established on the tourist trail, with a steady supply of pilgrims and sight-seers alike making their way to Tirdevlin.
It was securely housed in the Church and even had its own personal caretaker, local man Vinny Conroy, who had worked at the Church as a Sacristant before having the care of the Chalice entrusted to him. It was a huge responsibility that the humble man felt honored to have.
But the passing of the three decades since the treasure was found had also seen a change in the attitudes of the people. Of some people.
Respect for the Church was at a low ebb in certain quarters and there were those who saw religious icons as fair game for theft. Some had even taken to stealing stone crosses from graveyards.
'It is the Chalice in a way Conan. Vincent's job is on the line.'
'The Bishop has been approached by an outside Security Company who say they can install a foolproof Alarm system at the Church, and guarantee it will be more effective than employing a Sacristant to oversee the endless stream of tourists and visitors we get at St. Michael's.'
Conan was amazed.
'How can any Alarm system be more effective than Vinny - sure isn't the fact that the Chalice has survived this long evidence enough that he is doing his job perfectly.'
'I agree Conan but the Bishop has had his head turned. The Security Company are at the Church right now putting in their new system on a trial basis. I fear this could be the end of Vincent's job, or at least the removal of a lot of his duties. It is weighing heavily on my mind.'
Conan was less than impressed by electronic security systems. His main experience of them had been the constant incessant bleating of one such device located on the upper wall of his neighbors house that he had to secretly disarm one particularly noisy evening. He was less than happy to consider that a noisy box like that could replace Vinny Conroy.
'Sorry to hear about this Eamon. Is there anything we can do?'
'I fear not. The Security Company say that their system is foolproof. The Bishop is arriving this Sunday to view it in action after morning Mass. Anyway, I am sorry to heap this on you two gentlemen. Can you direct me to the housewares section please Frank, I have to collect a lot of cleaning items so we can prepare the Church in advance of the great visit!'
Conan never expected to hear his old friend regard the Bishop in such terms. His surprise must have showed on his face.
'Please forgive me. You can see I am not quite myself today.'
And with that the Cleric hurried off about his chores.
Frank remained in his rigid upright position. Eyes gazing out onto the Main Street he was obviously deep in thought
'This is no good Conan. I know Vinny Conroy well, he is a fine guy. Old school, you know.'
'I do indeed Frank. When I was an altar-boy dodging off school for an hour to help out with Monday morning Mass he would always have a treat for me or the other altar-servers.'
'Every time. I will never forget it. A Macaroon bar. As sweet a piece of chocolate as any eight year old lad could get. I can still taste it.'
'That does not surprise me at all Conan. He is a decent fellow. If only we could do something?'
Conan joined the shop-owner in his gaze out the shop-window and into the distance.
'A few more moments passed before Conan reached the only realistic conclusion. He stared at his companion intently.'
'There is something we can do Frank.'
The merest pause for effect.
'We must steal the Holy Chalice of Tirdevlin!'
It was Saturday morning and the Bishop was arriving the following day. Conan arrived at St. Michael's Church and was met by Vinny Conroy at the massive wooden door.
'This is very kind of you Conan, and you Frank.'
'Not at all Vinny, we are always only too glad to help out the Mother Church in any way we can!'
Conan grimaced as he looked sideways. 'Easy does it Frank' he managed not to say out loud.
Now there are some men who struggle for years with their job and there are others who grow into theirs. Vinny Conroy was neither of these two classifications. He was made for his job. The perfect Sacristant and 'Keeper of the Treasure' as one article in the 'Tirdevlin Chronicle' had described him when he was profiled some years back.
He was a small slight figure but his frame looked like it had sinews composed of refined rolled steel. Thin steel, wiry. He was economical in both body and movement. Never rushed. Could add calmness to any driven situation and had a heart of gold.
Conan was nervous now. And his anxiety increased even more when he spotted Father Croghan moving purposefully towards them.
'Conan, Francis, twice in one week, lucky me!'
'Good to see you have recovered your cheerful disposition Eamon.' Conan wondered if he had overstepped the mark.
'How could I not be in good cheer Conan with Frank offering to pay for the new spotlights in the Chalice Room and you offering to install them. Very generous of you both.'
'Ahh that is no bother at all Eamon. And anyway, Frank here can afford to spring for a few electrical fittings, despite the fact that he does look like Rashers Tierney.'
Eamon chuckled deeply and internally, surpressing his joy at his friends wit in deference to their current location. He approached the Chalice Room while Conan and Donnelly gathered their toolbags.
'Who is Rashers Tierney?'
'Never mind that now, who is that fellah there?'
The Alarm system had been disarmed on condition that a representative of the Security Company could stand guard. Clearly they saw a lucrative and long-term contract was up for grabs and did not want to take any chances.
Frank all but stopped dead in his tracks.
'Look at state of that guy Conan, he is bigger than a whale.'
Now it was Frank's turn to be nervous.
'Easy does it Frank', this time Conan whispered it.
Father Eamon addressed them as they approached.
'Gents, this is Raphael who is visiting us from the Security Company today.'
'Ralph is just fine Father, thanks. The last person to call me Raphael was a school-teacher when I was twelve.'
'Of course! And this is Conan and Francis!'
Conan smiled easily.
'What is it with School-Teachers and Priests that you always have to enunciate the full version of a person's name?'
'Do I do that Conan? I hadn't realized.'
The pair exchanged the briefest of looks before moving on to the tour of the Chalice Room. It did not take long. The tiny room was encased by two foot solid stone walls. The floor was just as impenetrable and a steel cage had been installed in the roof overhead. The Chalice itself was presented in all its magnificence within a wooden cabinet, austere and plain, in order to contrast with the beauty of the object within.
They all stood perfectly still while they observed the wondrous historical artefact before them.
No words were necessary.
It was Father Croghan who broke the silence.
'Ok then, I 'll leave you too it. If you need anything then Vincent is just next door going about his duties.'
Conan set to his task.
Now stealing a national treasure was no small matter and it was readily enough that Conan could envisage his future nights being spent in a place just as confined as the one he was in now.
This just had to work.
He first set about installing the new lights. Two above the pedestal inside the cabinet and four more above the entrance door shining back into the room. He started there first.
'Can I just move you out of the way there Ralph?'
'I cant leave this room while you guys work, sorry.'
Gruffness seems to be a prerequisite for employment as a security guard everywhere.
'No bother at all. Can you just move over to the back of the room then while I position these lights, dont want anything falling on top of you, do we!'
The giant of a man positioned himself in full view of Conan, behind the cabinet. Conan worked fast and had the lights in position above the door quickly. He called to Frank to get the Sacristant.
'All ok Conan?'
Vinny Conroy was beside them now.
'Vinny, can you take the Chalice out of the cabinet for a moment and stand beside Ralph there while I connect these lights in the cabinet.'
'Sure thing Conan, these lights will really make a great difference in this room.'
With an air of ceremony the Sacristant pulled a pristine but well worn pair of white gloves from his jacket and carefully placed them on his hands. He gathered the Chalice to his person and stood beside the massive security guard.
Conan observed the two men beside each other.
'By God I wish I had a camera right at this moment!'
The whale of a man was dwarfing the tiny Sacristant and the contrast was only exaggerated by the cramped room they were occupying.
'No photos are allowed when the Alarm system is disarmed.'
'Sure thing Raphael, no problem.'
Conan removed the curtain and lining from the cabinet before fitting the new lights and reassembling the inners of the cabinet.
'Ok Vinny, you can put the fancy goblet back in place now.'
The Sacristant smiled at the insolence before carefully placing the priceless Chalice back on its pedestal in the cabinet. It seemed to be displayed a wee bit higher than usual. Conan must have adjusted the pedestal too. The security guard could not wait to usher them out of the room before glancing back when they had left to ensure that everything was in order.
'Thanks for that Conan and you too Frank. Lovely job. Doesn't the Chalice look great with those lights on it. Father Croghan will be very pleased.'
The two men gathered their toolbags that were surprisingly lighter now that their work was complete, and quickly made their way back out to Tirdevlin Main Street, glad to be away from the ever-present gaze of Raphael the Security Guard.
'God Almighty Conan!'
Frank was ready to burst.
'Yeah, I hear you. Let's head for the Hotel Bar. I need a gallon of Carlsberg.'
'I'll help you dispose of it.'
Conan looked over his shoulder as they left the Church behind.
'I hope to God this works.........'
It was rare enough that Conan darkened the door of a Church but he made it his business to be there the following day. With his beautiful wife beside him and wearing his best Funeral suit he looked the very picture of a solid citizen.
'By God you scrub up well Conan'
Conan eyed Frank Donnelly carefully for any sign of panic. All clear.
'Thanks Frank, yes, I would love to return the compliment but I dont want to tell a lie in a Church.'
The Bishop had arrived to much fanfare and a flurry of activity among what Conan called 'the busy-bodery of Tirdevlin' with a plethora of Tirdevlin's more devout congregation queueing up to pay their respects.
Conan spotted Frank staring at him. Easy does it Frank - not yet.
The head of the Security Company had made a special trip to the town to seal the deal with the Bishop. He paid little attention to the crowds of people who swarmed by the Chalice Room. That security system was state of the art. No way it could be breached.
Vinny Conroy caught up with Conan.
'How goes it Vinny? How come the Chalice Room is not open?'
'The door is always closed during Mass Conan, so as not to distract from the proceedings.'
'Why is Ralph here again today?'
Conan nodded towards the Security Guard outside the Chalice Room.
'Oh, he arrived with the Security Company chap. They asked if he could open the Chalice Room door to display the Alarm system in all of its glory.'
'I see, so they are putting on a 'show' then are they?'
Vinny winked at him.
'Looks like it! They are trying to seal the deal. But it also looks like it will seal my fate too.'
'Ahh dont say that Vinny. Who is going to give the kids a Macaroon Bar if you dont work here then? We're not going to have that now are we?'
Conan smiled widely at the smaller man who looked back at him quizzically.
By now the Bishop and his courtiers had assembled outside the Chalice Room where Ralph was about to open the door.
Conan sprang into action.
He nearly knocked over two pensioners before bumping into a much more substantial member of the Tirdevlin Gaelic Football Team. All received his muttered apologies.
'Sorry about that. Pardon me, Coming though.'
Vinny was amazed to see that Conan was so keen to get a good view.
'He is just proud of his work Vinny. He wants to see how the lighting in the room looks on the Chalice.'
'He must be very very proud of his work then Frank. He nearly knocked over Mrs. O'Reilly the Postmistress just then.'
The Bishop gave the nod and the door to the Chalice Room was opened. Conan lurched forward one last time to improve his position and pointed to those nearest to him that it was he who had installed the new lights. He waved his arm in the direction of the Chalice Room again, and then once more in case any of the bystanders did not quite get the message, just as the door was opened.
Great collective gasps followed by the amazing sight of a group of people all taking a step forward in unison and then veering slightly backwards.
Mrs. O'Reilly gave voice to the sight before them.
'Its gone. My God, the Chalice has been stolen. Bishop, Bishop, BISHOP, do something!'
To say that there was uproar would not do justice to the scene that followed.
The crowd lurched forward again knocking the two pensioners that Conan had previously bumped practically out of the side door.
Mrs. O'Reilly grabbed the Bishop's arm and tried to drag him into the Chalice Room, imploring him to magically make the Chalice reappear while alternately blessing herself with her free hand.
The water fountain that had stood beside the Chalice Room was completely destroyed as it crashed to the floor, water and shards of fine ceramic everywhere.
The Bishop was furious and added to the surprise of those in attendance by the use of words that really ought never to be used by anyone in a Church, let alone a Bishop.
Conan and Frank positioned themselves in a pew, sat down, with arms folded like two young scuts waiting to go in for their First Confession. They observed the scene with more hope than expectation.
By now the entrance to the Chalice Room had been breached by Ralph who forgot that the Alarm was still active. The bell let out a hideous industrial screech that might have emanated from the depths of Hades itself.
The awful bleating noise was tremendously exaggerated by the confines of the tiny space. The doors rattled. The gorgeous stained glass in the windows above was in mortal peril of shattering at any moment.
Mrs. O'Reilly let go of her grip of the Bishop's arm and covered her ears to ease the pain.
'TURN THAT BLOODY THING OFF!!!'.
It was the Bishop.
Conan elbowed his companion. Shouting now above the noise.
'LOOK AT HIM. HE'S STARTING TO LOOK LIKE BISHOP BRENNAN NOW!'
'WHO IS BISHOP BRENNAN?'
Conan rolled his eyes again.
Ralph punched in a code to the Alarm Panel and the wretched noise stopped.
'THANK GOD FOR THAT!'
'NOW! WHO WAS THE LAST TO SEE THE CHALICE?' demanded the Bishop.
Father Croghan stared at the empty cabinet and then cast his eyes to Vinny, hoping against all hopes that the Sacristant had not spirited the Chalice away somehow, in some desperate last attempt to keep his job.
'It was me your honour.'
Raphael seemed to have shrunk several sizes in the last few moments alone.
Father Croghan was relieved.
'I registered its presence this morning at nine o'clock. The Alarm has been on ever since and the computer logs can confirm this.'
The Security Guard attempted to shove his extra large phone in front of the Bishop. It was grabbed by his boss who confirmed that the Chalice was where it was exactly supposed to be at nine o'clock. Their Alarm system had even taken a photograph of it at the moment the alarm was enabled. Foolproof.
The Bishop's face was reddening with every utterance. He was now bright crimson.
'You people were asked to look after the Chalice for a week. Without your Alarm System the Chalice has been perfectly fine for over three decades. You clowns come along and it is stolen from right under your collective noses!'
Mrs. O'Reilly added a new layer of shock to her already contorted face. Did the Bishop really just call that big security man a clown?
Moments of opportunity rarely fall into a person's hands with ease but for Garda John Burke today was his lucky day. He was new to the town. A rookie who had landed upon one of the most astounding crimes ever.
He was off-duty, attending the Mass but quickly seized charge of the situation.
'You..' pointing to the Security boss,
'..dont let anyone tamper with that Alarm log.
Everyone here will have to give a statement Bishop.
And that Chalice Room door is to be closed to preserve the scene for technical examination.'
'You...' pointing to Ralph,
'...shut the door but dont touch that door handle.'
Father Croghan added some calmness to the situation.
'Perhaps it would be better if the Sacristant closed up the Chalice Room?'
The Bishop nodded intently.
'Very good idea Father Croghan.'
Regaining his composure now.
Vinny was ushered forward, the Bishop barely able to look him in the face. Shaking but trying to be calm, he took his glove from his jacket, placed it on his right hand and began to close the door.
This was it! Conan lurched from his seat nearby and pointed several times into the room again.
'I installed those lights, those ones there.'
Vinny was amazed.
'Ok Conan, now is not really the time.'
'Oh right so Vinny.'
Conan rejoined Frank Donnelly in the pew.
What a disaster this was.
The sacred Chalice stolen.
The town would be ruined.
The scandal. The outrageous scandal.
To be in charge at a moment like this is a joy for some people and Garda Burke took his role seriously.
'Everyone here will have to sit down in the pews yonder and await their turn to give a statement.'
Several people made a beeline for the side door.
Ralph used his size to block their way, hoping to redeem himself.
Attracted by the Alarm noise the Garda Superintendent arrived at the Church. He had not been to a crime scene in years.
'Burke! What is going on here?'
It's the Holy Chalice of Tirdevlin sir'
He paused gravely.
'...its been stolen.'
More gasps but fewer this time.
Conan and Frank sat still, hoping, even praying. Not a word between them now.
Conan thought again about the confines of the Chalice Room and what it might be to spend an eternity within such walls.
The Superintendent was not done yet. He was in charge now.
'Who closed the room up?'
'I did sir.'
Vinny approached the burly Garda and showed him his still gloved hand.
'I wore this.'
'Very good, very good. And you are the Sacristant here?'
'Yes sir I am, for the last thirty years but perhaps not for much longer.'
He resisted the temptation to look sideways at the Bishop.
'Very well, can you open the door again so we can conduct a proper search.'
Vinny slowly opened the huge door to the Chalice Room and stopped dead in his tracks. His slight frame managed to obscure the view from all those beyond. It was with some surprise that when he turned around he had a huge smile on his face.
Father Croghan looked at him with incredulity.
'Its back Father, it's back!' He stepped aside to reveal the Chalice exactly where it was supposed to be, with the new lights bouncing glistening daggers off its Jewels and Silver.
Magnificent, historic, sacred, and not stolen.
Mrs. O'Reilly grabbed the Bishop by the arm again.
'It's a Miracle Bishop, IT'S A MIRACLE!'
Conan tried a quick taste of the bitter liquid in the tiny cup.
'What..... is that supposed to be?'
'Its an expresso.'
'An expresso - it is a shot of coffee - perks you up - gets you going.'
Do you mean 'espresso' Frank?' asked Conan reluctantly.
'Thats what I said. Are you not listening?'
Frank Donnelly was in full salesman mode now. His new coffee machine had set him back a small fortune but he had crunched the numbers and worked out that with the ever increasing tourist trade it would pay for itself within the year and after that it was all profit.
'I'll pass on the 'expresso' Frank. Any chance of a cup of tea?'
Frank scowled as he took the miniature cup and saucer away.
'A cup of tea is it? Last of the big spenders!'
It had been three days since the theft at the Church. Well, calling it a theft is a bit inaccurate. It was more like a mysterious disappearance and reappearance.
Many among the plethora of Tirdevlin's more devout congregation had begun to speak of a Miracle. Father Croghan played it down, remarking that it was just a mistake by the Security Company while never quite sounding convinced.
'I know what I saw Father.' Mrs. O'Reilly was adamant.
'I have told everyone in the Post Office about the Miracle of Tirdevlin.'
The Bishop let the story run for a while. He had no choice. On the one hand he wanted the embarrassing loss of the Chalice to just go away but on the other hand he could hardly contribute to the talk of a Miracle.
In the end he did what all senior people do when faced with a delicate situation. He did nothing.
Vinny Conroy was back in charge of the Chalice. The Security Company had been banished from the town by the Bishop, never to be seen again.
All was well in Conan's universe. He had gotten some more work from the local gift shop, installed some lights, another Stock Rotator and even installed a sound system to play what he called 'skiddely eidel' music for the passing tourists.
He leafed through the 'Tirdevlin Chronicle' as he drank his cup of tea.
'MIRACLE IN TIRDEVLIN' blazed the headline.
A photo of Mrs. O'Reilly was followed by an interview with the earnest postmistress.
'Well as far as I am concerned it is a proper Miracle. One moment it was there and the next it was gone. A proper Miracle it was!'
Conan laughed to himself.
His attention was broken by a mechanical sound.
Whirrrrrrr - then a short quiet buzz, followed by another longer whirrrrrr.
Conan eyed Frank Donnelly who was smirking back at him.
'You know what would be handy for this thing Conan.....?'
Conan took another sup of the tea and looked back at his friend.
'A Remote Control Frank?'
BALLINTUBBER ABBEY: THE ABBEY THAT REFUSED TO DIE
The Irish countryside is dotted with countless buildings from Ireland's religious past. Of course the most famous of these are renowned tourist attractions but it is still amazing how many of these sites are unknown beyond the local villages and towns that surround them. Visitors can traverse the modern roads and motorways of Ireland at high speed without ever realizing that there is a golden hidden treasure nearby, and available with just a little bit of effort.
One such place is Ballintubber Abbey in County Mayo. To say it is 'off the beaten track' is to risk misuse use of that phrase. It is hidden deep in the Irish countryside and is perhaps all the better for that fact.
The 'Abbey that would not die' is unique in Ireland as it was founded by an actual Irish King and is perhaps the only such site that is still in active use today. The Abbey was founded in the year 1216 by Cathal Crovdearg O'Conor, King of Connacht and of the royal bloodline of the famous O'Connor families of Ireland.
Legend has it that, as a boy, the young O'Connor sought refuge in Ballintubber and was befriended by a local man named Sheridan. As an adult he became King and returned to visit his former protector to ask if he could assist him in his old age. Sheridan replied that he wanted for little, but asked if the King could restore the local Church which was in disrepair. The year was 1226 and the Abbey of Ballintubber came into being.
This was the Ireland of the Norman conquest and it is remarkable that the Abbey survived at all. The first fire to damage the Abbey occurred in 1265. A more severe threat occurred in the year 1536 when Henry VIII and his agent Thomas Cromwell dissolved the Monasteries in Ireland! Clearly this was an attack on the Catholic Church but was also a way to plunder the often substantial wealth from the Monasteries.
Ballintubber was somewhat protected by its isolation. County Mayo was a long way from the British influence that barely extended beyond 'The Pale', encompassing Dublin. The Abbey was again burned in 1653 by soldiers of Oliver Cromwell's army but while many of the buildings were destroyed the actual Abbey Church somehow survived.
Restoration to the site was attempted in 1846 but the Famine took hold of the country and building work stopped. It would be more than a century later, in 1966, that the Abbey was re-roofed in time for its 750th anniversary. 2016 marked the 800th anniversary of 'The Abbey that refused to die'.
So that is the history of this incredible place but what of visitors to the site today. Well, there is much to see with the grounds offering a beautiful walk in fine weather. St. Patrick's Well, the Celtic Furrow Visitor Centre, Church Island, the Rosary Way and the Abbey itself are all waiting to be explored. Marvel at the wonderful stained glass and statues. If visiting during Easter then you can also view the Annual Passion Play performed by the local inhabitants of Ballintubber since 1982.
Ballintubber is located approximately 7 miles south of Castlebar in County Mayo, near to Westport and to the north of Cong, Oughterard and Galway City.
|PHRASE:||An bhfuil pian ort?|
|PRONOUNCED:||On will peen urt|
|MEANING:||Are you in any pain?|
|PHRASE:||Beidh an dochtuir anseo gan mhoill.|
|PRONOUNCED:||beg on docktoor onshuh gon vwill|
|MEANING:||The doctor will be here soon||PHRASE:
||Gheobhaidh me an bhanaltra duit.
||yo-igg may on bonn-altra dwit
||I will get the nurse for you