Happy Earth Day

A news story hitting the net today is how in Taiwan an art installation made of garbage has achieved popularity.  The installation uses thousands of waste plastic bottles to re-create elements of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.  Visitors can walk through the installation and effectively be inside the painting.  Nice idea……except……..


Where did all those plastic bottles come from?  I found another image on the net.  This one from the Estero de Vitas river in the Philippines.  Effectively it is a river of waste.  It takes a river of waste to yield enough plastic bottles to make an art installation.

On this day, International Earth Day, we have to ask ourselves what we are doing to the planet.  We live on a very small raft, an ark in space.  We as a race are killing it.  Humans are vermin, a plague upon the planet.

We need to be fewer.  We need to use less.  We need to return to renewable living cycles where we return to the planet all that we take.

Of course it is easy for me, with my comfortable lifestyle to say all this.  Try selling that approach to the poor person wading through the waste searching for a living.

The truth is the planet is being destroyed to satisfy greed.  The greediest people on the planet are the wealthiest.  The richest countries are gobbling up this planet.  The impacts are not very visible in the wealthy countries.  Our impact is reflected in rivers of shit like this one below, in third world countries.






Evensong; by Donal Clancy


The high priest raises the chalice.

Our heavenly Father.

He holds it reverentially beneath the spout.

Thy Kingdom come.

With considered deliberation he fills it to the brim.

Thy will be done.

Turning, turning, to raise the angle until the vessel is upright.

Give us this day!

Before him the congregation stands mesmerised by the ceremony.

Lead us on.

Cold Ichor meets the sultry night air and the glass surface sweats

as he lays it on the altar.


As it was in the beginning.

Hymn to Ninkasi


One of the oldest pieces of literature we have is the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi.  It is a hymn but it is also a recipe.  It is an instruction on how to make beer.

In a pre-literate society poetry, song and prayer were all useful mnemonic forms.  Encoding a recipe in a prayer makes it into a duty.   The woman of the house is bound to supply her husband with his daily bread and beer.

The beer in question was not a sparkling Czech Pilzner lager.  It probably looked more like a bowl of porridge.  Still, beer is beer, and beer is the oldest drink made by mankind.  Made by womankind more like.  In primitive tribal societies it falls to the women to make the bread and the beer.

The archaeological record demonstrates that the arrival of farming led to arthritis in knees and hips, elbows and wrists, particularly for women.  They spent a good part of every day on hands and knees with a quern stone grinding wheat and barley.

The men became priests and were clever enough to turn the production of Bread and Beer into religious duties.  That made a reluctant wife into a blasphemer.  It was a control mechanism to keep women in line.

However if its’s blasphemy you want deny beer to a poet.  The pen is mightier than the sword and hell hath no fury like a thirsty poet.


A Glass of Beer ; by James Stephens

The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer:
may the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair
and beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.

That parboiled imp, with the hardest jaw you will ever see
on virtue’s path, and a voice that would rasp the dead,
came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me,
and threw me out of the house on the back of my head.

If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day;
but she with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten and may
the high king of glory permit her to get the mange.





A poet paints with words.  They select words carefully, one at a time, and fit them together like a jigsaw.  The finished article, if it is a success, is an emotion capture.  It is a perfectly recorded moment in time, which conveys the feelings of the poet.  Really successful poems open those same emotions in the reader.

I think what makes Paula Meehan even more tangible to me is that she grew up in my part of Dublin both in place and time.  Like Dermot Bolger she speaks with the cadence of Finglas when it was a village of Dublin perched on the edge of the countryside.

I grew up in the City, with a cow-field at the end of the street.  There was a short cut that way, so we literally walked to school “through the fields”.  My sister fell in the ditch once and had to go home covered in mud and get my mother to drive her in.  The notion that anyone would be “driven” to school; preposterous!  Of course in those days kids were skinny.

All the above just erupted out of my brain from reading the Meehan poem below.  Yes, there were horses in gardens!  Big gardens we had in those days.

Back to wordsmithing though.  There is one word in the poem below that sits awkwardly. “Sweaters”.  We didn’t have sweaters in Finglas in the 1960’s.  Americans had sweaters.  We had jumpers, cardigans or geansais.  Maybe her brother got a sweater in the States in the 1980’s before we lost milk bottles.


My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis; by Paula Meehan

(for Brendan Kennelly)
It was the piebald horse in next door’s garden
frightened me out of a dream
with her dawn whinny. I was back
in the boxroom of the house,
my brother’s room now,
full of ties and sweaters and secrets.
Bottles chinked on the doorstep,
the first bus pulled up to the stop.

The rest of the house slept except for my father.
I heard him rake the ash from the grate,
plug in the kettle, hum a snatch of a tune.
Then he unlocked the back door
and stepped out into the garden.
Autumn was nearly done, the first frost
whitened the slates of the estate.
He was older than I had reckoned,
his hair completely silver,
and for the first time I saw

the stoop of his shoulder, saw that
his leg was stiff. What’s he at?
So early and still stars in the west?

They came then: birds
of every size, shape, colour;
they came from the hedges and shrubs,
from eaves and garden sheds,
from the industrial estate, outlying fields,
from Dubber Cross they came
and the ditches of the North Road.
The garden was a pandemonium
when my father threw up his hands
and tossed the crumbs to the air.
The sun cleared O’Reilly’s chimney
and he was suddenly radiant,
a perfect vision of St Francis, made whole, made young again, in a Finglas garden.

Breaking Step


All across the world armies have standing orders for troops to break step when crossing bridges.

The reason for this comes down to an Irish Family, the Fitzgeralds.

The Fitzgerald family (Geraldine Dynasty) was one of the most powerful anglo-norman Irish families. It is the “F” in John F Kennedy. Over the years the family accumulated vast estates in Ireland, England and in various colonies.

One Scion of the family, a John Fitzgerald of Castle Irwell House in Manchester, at his own expense built the Broughton Suspension Bridge in 1826.

Some years later, in 1831, another Scion of the Fitzgerald family, Lieutenant Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald, led the troops who demolished the bridge. The 60th Rifle Corps were returning from exercises. As they marched they set up a resonance on the bridge. Finding this to be pleasant they struck up a marching song and pounded their feet even harder. The vibrations caused the bridge to fail. Forty soldiers were thrown into the water. Luckily it was only two feet deep on the day, and nobody died. But many were injured, six seriously.

The British Army issued the order to all troops to break step when crossing bridges. The French followed with the collapse of the Angers suspension bridge, when marching was considered to have contributed to the collapse.

The said Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald was brother to the poet, Edward FitzGerald, famous for his translation of the Rubayiat of Omar Khayyam. We will let Edward have the last word with a poem about the madness of spring.

Old Song; by Edward FitzGerald

TIS a dull sight
To see the year dying,
When winter winds
Set the yellow wood sighing:
Sighing, O sighing!

When such a time cometh
I do retire
Into an old room
Beside a bright fire:
O, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit
Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels,
While the wind sings–
O, drearily sings!

I never look out
Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
Is the leaves falling fast:
Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth,
Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer
And chivalry–
Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend
I talk of our youth–
How ’twas gladsome, but often
Foolish, forsooth:
But gladsome, gladsome!

Or, to get merry,
We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again
In summer time–
Sweet summer time!

Then go we smoking,
Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us,
Save a brown jug–

And sometimes a tear
Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends
So merrily–
So merrily!

And ere to bed
Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
We kneel on the knee,
Praying together!

Thus, then, live I
Till, ‘mid all the gloom,
By Heaven! the bold sun
Is with me in the room
Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part,
Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
And the meadows are green!

I jump up like mad,
Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows,
The meadows again!

Human Sacrifice


Yesterday morning I came across an interesting study which shows that the practice of human sacrifice is more prevalent in highly stratified societies.  Study on Human Sacrifice

In equal societies people tend to work together for the good of the commune.  Where a society develops a ruling class the position of that class is maintained by the labour of the low status individuals.  In many societies the position of the ruling class is supported by organised religion.  One facet of this religion is the act of human sacrifice.

The victims of sacrifice tend to be those from the lowest strata of society, especially slaves or captives.

There is a positive counter argument to all of this.  A highly stratified society is one that can be planned.  Specialist workers can be supported by the labour of the peasant class.  As a result you can have architects, scribes, taxation etc and build a civilization.

The greatest monuments ever constructed by mankind were the products of civilizations that were highly stratified.  Mesopotamian ziggurats, pyramids in Egypt, central America and Cambodia, Harappan step wells etc.  In one sense the subjugation of a peasant class was a pre-requisite for the creation of civilization.  Human sacrifice as a religious act is simply one mechanism for protecting the position of the ruling class.

It is interesting to look at the modern workplace and observe the stratification that exists.  Serfs, peasants and slaves have been replaced with minimum wage workers on zero hours contracts, or unpaid interns.  Partners in law and accounting firms and senior medical consultants all earn large salaries by harnessing the work of their juniors.  What are the modern equivalents of human sacrifice?  Workplace references?

*Spoiler Alert:  Walking Dead Season 6 Finale*

Last night in the Walking Dead we were finally introduced to the character called Negan, leader of the Saviours.  In his speech to Rick Negan laid out all the elements of the new world order.  And it sounds very much like Bronze Age civilization.

The Saviours are a warrior class.  Like the Spartans of ancient Greece they specialize in fighting and killing.  Like the people of the “Iron Isles” from Game of Thrones their motto could be “we do not sow”.

The Saviours need food to survive, but farming is hard work.  So they are outsourcing the farming to a new peasant class.  The peasants need only sufficient weapons to protect themselves from the walkers.  Negan will round up all their projectile weapons and leave them with only knives and spears.

This further cements the position of the Saviours as the warrior elite, as they become the only ones with guns.

Finally, to cement his position of absolute control, Negan practices Human Sacrifice.  It is a raw and powerful demonstration of the mechanism that underlies the academic study into sacrifice in Pacific Island societies.  We see them engage in a manhunt with fatal consequences.  At the end of the episode Negan practices a highly ritualised form of sacrifice.  He has named his weapon, a common feature of bronze age warrior societies.  The demonstration of raw power is aimed not at Rick and his group, but rather at the Saviours themselves.

Of course the question everyone is asking……who did he choose?  Season 7 bait!