Culture & Reference
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Hello again from Ireland where the the citizenry are still in a state of semi-lockdown. The Covid-19 virus Pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the country with huge swathes of the economy being closed down while over 1000 deaths have been thus far attributed to the disease.
This month we remember the Irish Mythical character An Gobán Saor who was the Craftsman to the Tuatha Dé Danann. Thomas Kelly has sent us another tale of being a rural Donegal vet while Brian DeVon offers us another reminisce of old Ireland.
If you have an article or story you would like to share then please do send it to us.
Until next time,
P.S. Please Do Forward this Newsletter to a friend or relative. If you have a website or Facebook page or Blog (or whatever!) then you can help us out by putting a link on it to our website: www.ireland-information.com
There is still no new Government in Ireland, despite the General Election being completed on 8th February. At the precise moment when a Pandemic and all of its economic and social consequences have hit the country hard, there is the appalling sight of the main Political Parties in Ireland still refusing to come together in the national good.
The redundant Fine Gael Government that was preparing for the 'opposition' benches only a few weeks ago, having seen their Parlimentary representation severely reduced in the General Election, have instead decided to make some of the most dramatic and long-lasting decisions that this country has witnessed since the economic collapse of 2009, and possibly in the history of the Irish State.
These decisions include ramming through emergency legislation severely curtailing the freedoms of every Irish citizen, closing huge swathes of the Irish economy and then dispensing billions of euro in payments to those who lost their jobs. They have effectively nationalized private hospitals while simultaneously having a conversion of biblical proportions when it comes to appreciating the work done by Doctors and Nurses.
Remember, this is the same Government who in January of 2019 threatened to impose severe financial penalties against Nurses if their restrained series of one-day strike actions were to continue.
'Nurses are also relatively poorly paid in Ireland. Imagine a nurse in an Emergency unit treating elderly and badly injured people with the wards jammed to the hilt, with patients lying on trolleys, chairs or even the floor.'
The above is a quotation from our 2016 article about the poor conditions of certain Public Servants in Ireland. 2016! Now these same Public Servants are daily being lauded as heroes.
Save the rhetoric. Nurses cannot buy food, housing or child-care with rhetoric. Just pay them better.
And this is the same Government who stated that a national rent freeze (to help prevent the escalating homelessness crisis), would be unconstitutional in December 2019, before implementing that exact same rent freeze in March of 2020.
And what of Fianna Fail and the Green Party? Both seems content to sit on their hands while Fine Gael make these massive decisions, perhaps calculating that the inevitable financial devastation will be forever 'owned' by Fine Gael. Their participation in talks about forming a new Government has been at a snails-pace, with meetings and policy positions taking weeks to create and discuss.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein has been effectively excluded from Government by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, despite that Party winning as many seats as Fianna Fail and more than Fine Gael!
We need a new kind of Politics in Ireland, and a new Social Contract.
A century after its creation our Constitution is not fit for purpose, while our Politicians are a national disgrace.
'An Gobán Saor' is pronounced 'on gow-in seir'
The Gobhan Saor (An Gobán Saor) was a famous craftsman of Irish legend, being a rather more homely version of the smith god Giobhnu. He was as famous for his quick witted responses as he was for his great skill. He had no airs or graces about himself, always creating objects of beauty and craftsmanship, no matter how little the person was able to pay him for the work, and he hated any sign of meanness.
Many of the stories of An Gobán Saor are about outwitting people who try to cheat him out of a fair payment. As a craftsman he had such skill, finesse, deftness and accuracy that he could hammer a nail into a high beam by tossing both nail and hammer into the air. He could fashion a throwing spear while the recipient counted to five, and shape a spearhead with three strokes of a hammer.
Once, while building a monastery the monks demanded that he lower his price. To force him to agree they removed the ladder from the tower he was working on, trapping him. An Gobán Saor started to remove stones from the structure and toss them on the ground, jovially saying that it was as good a way to reach the ground as any. The monks swiftly returned the ladder, and paid him in full.
On another occasion An Gobán Saor and his son built a fort for a foreign King that was of such exquisite quality that this King grew jealous and devious and decided to kill An Gobán Saor lest he replicate his work elsewhere. In this manner his fort would go unrivalled.
But An Gobán Saor was astute. He took but a solitary look at the King and realized his intention. He told the King that he could not complete the work without his 'crooked and more crooked', a tool that he had left at home. Unwilling to let him leave, the King sent his son to fetch it, not realizing that the name of this implement was actually a coded message for Goban's wife who immediately held the King's son hostage, and ransomed him for her own husband and son.
On their way home they came across a group of carpenters who were desperately trying to figure out how to build a bridge without pegs, dowels or nails, as had been demanded by their King. An Gobán Saor helped at once and proceeded to build a sturdy bridge, cleverly using its own weight as a means of holding it together, so it became stronger the more weight was put on it. The carpenters were impressed, but grumbled a bit that he was more able than they at their own trade.
The group stopped at a house where there lived two sisters. An Gobán Saor set them a riddle and advised the sisters to keep the head of an old lady by the hob, and also to warm themselves with their work in the morning, and finally to take a sheepskin to the market and come home with the skin and its worth!
Not to be outdone by these riddles the sisters set about their tasks. One of them dug up a skull, then burnt her carded wool to keep herself warm, but then made a fool of herself by asking for the price of the sheepskin without handing it over.
The other sister had more success. She fetched in an old destitute lady to sit by her fire thus fulfilling the first task. She the warmed herself by her industriousness, and sold the wool from the sheepskin, while keeping the skin as An Gobán Saor commanded.
An Gobán Saor was so impressed by her wit and cleverness that he asked her to marry his son.
Helpful, jovial and always generous. The trait An Gobán Saor found hardest to forgive was meanness, and the trait he liked best was to see the same quickness of wit he had himself. This smartness gave him an air of brightness and an irrepressible twinkle in his eye.
Such was his immense popularity in Irish folklore that a saint was canonized with his name in the seventh century, Saint Gobain. The line between myth and reality blurred forever.
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After speaking to a group of high school students about veterinary recently, two of them approached me.
First, the boy asked me if I was ever afraid.
Assuming he meant afraid of animals - large ones - I told him, honestly that, purely out of ignorance and stupidity and lack of experience, no, I was not…or not, at least, until, maybe 25 years into my cattle-wrestling career when, one night, alone in a cow house, knocked sideways by a big suckler cow, for once, I slipped on the wet rubber mat and fell down between two startled cows.
The one on my right began to kick me hard as soon as I moved to get up. Her sister to my left, infected by her frenzy, and then perhaps by my own fear, too, joined in, raining down blows on my head, my back, my arms, my legs.
I felt like a stricken snake under wild mustangs’ feet.
Just lay absolute-doggo-still, Tom, or die, I thought.
I felt totally vulnerable, as never before.
Too terrified to move, to try and rise or to try to slither backwards or drag myself forwards and out of reach of their feet, I wondered if I must lie there all night. The rest is blank, but, somehow, I must have eventually crawled to safety, and found that no bones had been broken.
Mercifully, I did not lose my nerve after that, but I am not sure that I was ever again as blase in pushing my way up between tethered cows.
And, more than once, I thought back to the day, years previously, when a couple of farming brothers, both of them Nature’s gentlemen, had told me how pleased they were that it was I who was carrying out their herd TB test that year.
“Jayzus, Tammy, that woman they sent us out last year, she was pregnant, and she was afraid to go up between the coms, so she was, even though we told her them cows was fine and quiet and she’d nothing to fear!”
Hmmm. Now I finally knew something of how poor Ulrike had felt - for her own and for her baby’s safety!
Religion was at the core of my mothers life, a fact that created many disappointments for her. When the guidelines of your life are set in stone and life itself is not, conflict will abound.
It all seems very simple, here's the book of rules, follow them and everything will work out, but it doesn't work that way.
The book of rules doesn't take account of humans, nor are dogs well represented. Humans are best at screwing the rules up completely, all the best laid plans of church and state fall victim to the vagaries of human nature and in an odd or maybe planned twist of fate, it's the very failings and frailties of the human condition that most profit the rule makers. For it's the makers of rules that benefit most from the breaking of rules. The courts of society would not find a ready income without the transgressions of the inhabitants of society. There's slim pickin's to be found among the law abiding. They can't be fined for being obeyers of rules and are therefore of no use or interest to the judicial system.
Our dog Jeff knew the ways of the world and of humans better than most. Being the only canine representative in our family stood him both well and ill. He presided over his dog kingdom, our neighborhood, in the days before political correctness had drowned common sense in a sea of regulations with unintended consequences. He had no dog license, no collar, no microchip, no rules and no regulations. He did however figure out his place in life, which included service to our family in small and endearing ways.
I was the youngest child by some 14 years. I was what they used call a surprise baby. The reason to mention this is that Jeff had been around in the family some years before I was aware of his peculiar services. I have no idea who trained him, if anyone, or whether he took it upon him self to fulfill his duties.
One of those duties was to head off to the newsagent about a block and a half away at 4 o'clock each day and return around 5 o'clock with the Evening Press carried in his teeth and drop it on the front doorstep. What he was up to in that hour was a mystery, but every house in the neighborhood had a dog that looked remarkably similar to Jeff and a homeowner who seemed to resent his presence.
When Dad got home and pulled up the drawbridge of his castle at days end he would retrieve the paper delivered personally by Jeff and sit down to discover the events of the world and as would happen every day curse the 'bloody dog' because some of the headlines would have been dissolved in dog drool and key facts would be missing. Jeff, however, would be sitting on the front porch enjoying the influence he had on world events.
His religious views manifested themselves in some peculiar ways.
As I said my mother was a woman guided by her religion and as such, was a daily church goer, penitent and confessor of her, no doubt, grievous housewifely sins on a regular basis.
She attended the local church, entirely funded by the community, with the heavy participation of my father, to make her confession on a regular basis. All the family followed this tradition, as they say religiously, except me the black sheep, I would only perform under duress.
Jeff felt the need to participate and would follow my mother to church, dare I say again religiously, and sit beside her during mass. Just far enough away from her to be outside striking range, for she was mortified by his presence but close enough that everyone knew he was with her.
When she entered the confessional he would move in for the kill and lie down against the door to the confessional and fall into a deep sleep. When the sainted mother had been relieved of guilt for her transgressions and rose to leave the confessional she would find the door blocked by Jeff. It was almost as though he felt more penitence was needed before he would allow an escape from the confessional.
Pushing and shoving at the door, and making far more noise than was appropriate in the holy church, the now mortified mother would eventually escape when Jeff felt his role had been served and he would be off like a rocket lest he feel the mothers shoe of justice in the area of his behind.
By the time she got home she would have forgiven him for she was a kindly woman and forgave easily.
On her next trip to the confessional she would lock Jeff in the back yard to be free of mortification. She never knew how but sure enough when she tried to leave the confessional there he'd be against the door snoring as usual. I had absolutely nothing to do with it .....honest!
Brian DeVon is author of the 'Flavour of Ireland' website.
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