I saw 3 ships come sailing in? Not quite. On this day in 1606 three ships left England and supposedly “began the British Empire”. They were the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed and they founded the first successful English colony in Jamestown Virginia.
It is hard today to understand what these men (they were all men) faced, but let me try to put it in context. The English had tried and failed to establish colonies in Ireland. The plantation of King’s and Queen’s Counties of 1556, an Ulster Plantation in the 1570s and the Munster plantation of 1586 were all failures. The “wild” local tribes rose up and drove out the settlers. Not enough new settlers could be found to “undertake” the plantation contracts.
In 1606 the potential colonist had two immediate options. The lands of O’Neill and O’Donnell in Ulster were open for plantation, and the Virginia Colony was open for business. Neither was very attractive. Cross 60 miles of sea to Ireland and set up in a country that has driven out all previous attempts to colonise it, or sail thousands of miles across the Atlantic and set up in a land of savages. Previous English colonies in the new world had fared no better than those in Ireland. Colonists disappeared such as those at Roanoke.
To board one of these three ships and sail for Virginia must have been the equivalent of joining an expedition to Mars today, except we know a lot more about Mars than the English knew about Virginia.
I have no doubt that we will colonise some of the planets or moons of our solar system, and that mankind will gradually push out into the great unknown. It is what we do!
A Christmas Childhood; by Patrick Kavanagh
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.
To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again.
The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.
My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.
Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.
A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.
My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.
Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.
And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.
I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
there was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.
My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.